This post has took time to write or rather to make it to publication. I have given much thought to the usefulness or value of it weighed against anyone who it strikes a chord with and I decided, you know what, I’m going to take a risk with my content (see the quote from Creme 2010 above) and I’m going to put this out there. I’ve heard these things, I’ve been affected by these things and I’m going to lay them out there bare and let people have a look and a think and perhaps even comment. Maybe it will help student teachers to understand E&D issues just a tiny bit better, to avoid causing offence to others and to think twice before making assumptions about the students in front of them. These are some of the more subtle examples I’ve drawn out of the folder of unbelievably and perhaps unwittingly offensive things I have heard.
I have avoided this topic in my blog because I know that whenever it comes up and I give my view point I’m seen as being ‘over sensitive’. I’m over sensitive because I have black children. It makes us laugh, myself, my kids and their dad, to think that people feel I’m over sensitive to issues of inequality because I have black kids. The fact that they don’t reason that I have black kids because I judge people on merit not skin colour or nationality, ability or age, gender or sexuality evades them. The kids came first and I sure as hell didn’t produce them from my lily white flesh on my own. But no, I’m sensitive because I have black children. Think about that in itself and what it says about people who think that, do you imagine that could be offensive in itself? Too right it is. It’s like saying a parent can’t really give an objective opinion on child abuse because they are parents… what so people who don’t have children find these things less emotive? If they do, shame on them, but I don’t think we believe that this is the case, yet I’ve been told to my face more times than I remember that I’m sensitive to issues of racial discrimination because of my children. Like I didn’t care about it before then. It’s rude, it’s wrong, it’s unfair and get this… it’s discriminatory in itself.
We laugh my family and I as an alternative to crying because we know that this perception speaks volumes, it’s already told us something we don’t want to believe, not still, not in 2014, surely.
We laugh because the children are also told during E&D classes and discussions that they are ‘over sensitive’ because they are black/brown/mixed or whatever they are categorised as, I’d just love to get to the day when they are simply ‘children’ but sadly we missed that boat because one of them is already an adult, we’ve got a couple of years left before the youngest is an adult too and sadly I don’t think we’ll get there before then.
We have to laugh because there isn’t much else we can do other than keep sharing our opinion and keep being good people and hoping that one day everyone believes that we feel the way we do because we do not like discrimination on any grounds. We have opinions because we have insight that we are proud and privileged to have. Our humanity extends beyond feeling pained at racist issues, believe it or not we actually care about children, old people, disabled people, mentally ill people, people of other faiths and a whole lot more too being treated fairly and justly. We protest against discrimination both on a personal and institutionalised level, not just racism because the kids are black.
I’m just putting these things out there, things I’ve heard and seen and I ask you to just think about them. What is or could be wrong about them, would you challenge them, would you be offended, would you care? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
“For God’s sake, why are all E&D speakers black?” (Trainee teacher at E&D lecture)
“Some people can’t understand English too well can they? Are you alright following what I’m saying?” the lecturer mouthed loudly to the three guys at the back, the two with the Arabic names and the Russian. The class laughed uncomfortably knowing one was English born and bred, one had lived here for more years than he’d lived anywhere else and for the other English was one of a couple of his country’s official languages. (In an HE lecture on customer communications)
“Why do black people need black role models? I’m white and I’ve got a couple of black role models, why can’t they just have white ones?” (Trainee teacher back in class after an E&D guest speak lecture)
“Could you please stand back and wait” a delegate shouted to a hoard of other delegates as they near trampled the embarrassed lady trying to turn in her wheelchair. (Witnessed at a teaching conference following an E&D lecture)
“Don’t worry about him, leave him in the corner and ignore him, there’s a language barrier”. (Teacher to teacher about student)
“OK so how do we get the service users up to the top floor conference room? Where’s the lift?” “There isn’t one, they’ll have to walk up 8 flights of stairs”. (Conversation between chair of older people’s conference and event organisers)
“What’s he doing here? He was supposed to be on a boat back to China.” (Teacher to class about fellow student)
“Idiot FE students” (Trainee teacher on social media site)
I announced I was going to the shop for some drinks, it was a really hot day and we’d worked hard relocating the QA Department across the city and keeping it operational. The young porter who had been able to lift full filing cabinets into place had been instrumental in it happening and he had worked tirelessly. He sat sweating in a corner having hauled how many kgs around against H&S regs I can only imagine. I came back and handed him a diet coke he thanked me. My colleague took me to one side “Don’t give him a drink, he’s only a porter, he does this donkey work because his kind can’t do anything else”. “Oh you mean his kind as in law students earning some money to get them through final year of university, or his kind as in huge black guys?” I asked. Oh and I didn’t have children at the time so couldn’t possibly have been seen as over sensitive when I reported her inappropriate and offensive comments to her manager.
“WHAT.IS.YOUR.STUDENT.NUMBER?” (receptionist yelling to British student of Asian parentage in a university)
“Well let the Nigerian die as it will save the country money on benefits” (HE student’s first thoughts when confronted with a management exercise which contained no information to indicate the guy lived anywhere other than Nigeria but did inform that he was well educated, employed and of a high social standing)
“The display is ready to go to the cultural centre” I was told by my colleague I looked at it, yards and yards of beautifully compiled work and images on 7 foot high notice boards. “Everyone on the pictures is white” I said “in fact, everyone on the pictures is white and a man” I added. “Oh it doesn’t matter now, we don’t get many foreigners at these things anyway” my colleague responded. “You’re so fussy about this stuff, do you think it’s because of your kids?”. I breathed deeply and counted to ten.
“I couldn’t complete the enrollment process because I had an argument with the administrator who said that because I noted my ethnicity as Anglo African on my form I couldn’t state my nationality as British, I tried to explain that my parents are British, I’m British, I showed her my passport, my driving licence and birth certificate but she just didn’t get it, I got so frustrated with her I left” (student trying to enrol on a university course).
“I’m giving this one a miss aren’t you? I mean, it’s bad enough having to work with him without having to have an image of him sleeping with his partner in my head” (Colleague of a gay man who had offered to host that month’s staff social event)
I’m English, I’m white, I’m not disabled, I’m young (ish), I speak English perfectly well, I’m heterosexual, I didn’t come here ‘on a boat’, but I’m sensitive to all of this, well not just sensitive but OVER sensitive to it, and why? Oh did I mention I found two black kids? Maybe that explains it.
Correction, I’m sensitive to it because it is wrong, all of it is wrong, very subtle but wrong and I could bring up hundreds more blatantly obvious comments but I want to show the subtlety, I want to show how words can cause offence and offence causes alienation and if they can do it to a hardened time served battle axe like me who understands that some people are ignorant, imagine what they can do to a child, a young impressionable person who wants to just be who they are and accepted for that and who doesn’t want to be singled out on any characteristic.
This is how used to it I am, some people reading this will think this has all been about race, they’ve already forgotten or didn’t even notice the gender discrimination, they’ve forgotten the discrimination based on language, the disability examples, the age discrimination and the discrimination based on status and don’t even start me on the stereotyping that was going on.
An earlier post of mine contains a TED talk which says that children do not learn from people they do not like and I’d take that a step further and say they do not learn from people who do not like them. But it’s not just about offending us sensitive folk, it’s much worse than that. It’s worse because much of this comes from educators and we know what educators do, they teach people and if they don’t realise that what they are saying is wrong and offensive, or simply very narrow minded. If we all just breathe and count to ten instead of challenging that behaviour then there is a great danger that they will teach those people attitudes like theirs and it will never end.
As teachers we are responsible for so much. What we make OK, our students see as OK. We are doing them a disservice when they go out into the world and find that OK is actually not OK at all.