Photo by Jeremy Cai on Unsplash
As I reflect on my personal journey and experiences with regard to racism and sexism as an educator in international schools around the world, I wonder what can I contribute to the topic of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion)? What can I say that has not already been said? What makes my opinion any more relevant than any other educator’s?
These were the questions I reflected upon as I read article after article on TIE, LinkedIn, and Twitter. After hours of scouring through the articles, a disquieting trend began to emerge. Here are some of my thoughts and more importantly some of my wonderings as we go forth with this topic.
The fact that we continue to label each other as “white,” “Black,” “Asian,” “male,” “female,” etc. is a practice that concerns me for two reasons. For one, it oversimplifies who we are and therefore disconnects us with the cultural uniqueness and many personal perspectives that we bring with us. Two, it continues to pit one group of people against another and therefore perpetuates the Us vs. Them mentality.
Here is a personal story that jarred me out of thinking through the “white vs. non-white” lens. As a Chinese-American, I left Taiwan when I was nine and did not return to my native country until I was 23. Because I left Taiwan at a such young age and because I did such a great job at assimilating as an American, I viewed moving to Taiwan as my first overseas experience. Not as a native returning home, but rather as an American expat experiencing a foreign land myself.
Like many expats, we tend to find other expats to associate with (an irony in itself, a topic for another article). I thought myself so international because I was now hanging out with “white” people from other countries. At the time, my group of friends consisted of a white South African, a white Canadian, a white Irish person, and a white New Zealander. As an American, I would often throw out phrases like “Oh, white people be like…” or “Only white people would…” or “That’s such a white people thing.”
One day, one of my friends spoke up while we were all having lunch together and said “I’m not just white, I’m a New Zealander.” This statement was enthusiastically cheered on by my other friends who then shared similar points of view. They all shared the same sentiment of not wanting to be reduced to their skin color, “white.”
I was taken aback by their statements. It dawned on me that I have never thought about people in other terms except by their skin color. Growing up in the U.S., you were either white, black, Asian, or other. But, outside of the US, people did not think in terms of the color of their skin. My group of friends shared with me how people in their respective countries identified themselves with their nationalities, their lineage, or even at times by their football team. To group people from all different backgrounds and countries into their skin color is stripping away their identity and over-simplifying the complex issues of -ism. (racism, classism, sexism, etc.)
This created such subjective awareness, where I became acutely conscious of the American practice of grouping and labeling others. From that point forward, I made a real effort to take that lens off and making sure to not label people that which over-simplifies them as individual, whether it be skin color, race, gender, etc. I wonder if my fellow educators can shift the lens themselves and discontinue the spreading of such practice where we oversimplify each other with “labeling.”
Secondly, the grouping and labeling of each other will only continue the Us vs. Them mentality, as it perpetuates the idea of one group is right while another group is not. Or worse, one group is more important than the other group. I would think this is the exact opposite of what we are trying to teach our students? We want our students to think critically without over-simplifying issues, to be open-minded and appreciate a range of points of view, to be caring, and show empathy/compassion towards others.
Therefore, I wonder why educators would continue to use language such as “colored educators” and “white educators”? It bothered me when I read an online article recently with the following opening statement “I’ve had many conversations with white educators…” I wonder, why is the identification of a “white” educator necessary? What would be the purpose of identifying this specific educator as “white”? If the intent is to discuss how we can be more open-minded and accepting of others, I wonder if it is time for us to move past the practice of skin color labeling and simply discuss how we can all be more inclusive.
The DEI movement is the current trending topic and is a topic that many educators are passionate about. However, I urge our fellow educators to reflect on our embedded behaviors before perpetuating a practice that is no longer effective.
Lily Chang is the Head of Early Years at Changchun American International School, an IB Continuum School, an active member of the ISS-Diversity Collaborative and is also a SDG Ambassador.
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04/03/2021 - LilyC
Thank you to those who shared their perspectives. This is certainly a topic worth
further discussion. This is a great PYPx by a 5th grader that is really powerful.
04/02/2021 - Parent Educator
Lily- Thanks for speaking up. As a parent and educator, I think you are correct. We do our children a great disservice by overemphasizing skin color. Let’s get back to focusing on the content of our own character, including mutual respect for all people, regardless of their race.
04/01/2021 - CineFille
I personally do not agree that labels are restrictive, I believe that unfortunately racism and colonization has made people oversimplify what being white, black, indigenous American, Asian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander, etc. really means. I think it would be easiest to understand my POV if I explain this using a fantasy reference. Forgive me those of you who are not familiar with George R.R. Martin, but here it goes. "There is only one king of the North and his name is Stark." Game of Thrones, anyone? As an African-American person, it is sad just how little people know and appreciate about black culture, and that makes people think of black as nothing more than a cheap label with no relevance. Just as the peoples of "Winterfell" were proud to be "Northmen" because it encompassed and understanding of shared common history, art, culture, religion ("The Old Gods"), dress, food, architecture, and collective experience, so does being African-American encompass history, art, culture, language, religion, dress, food, architecture and collective experience. It's just that many people have not taken the time to care to study respectfully these things. With South Africa, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand in there, trust me, your friends were white. LOL! They just "weren't all from Winterfell". You had some "Kings Landing", "Highgarden", and maybe even a little "Bear Island" in there. But they are all from "Westoros". As teachers, I feel it is our responsibility to teach our students to want to truly learn deeply about others and the magic behind these different civilizations so that they can understand how that makes our world so fascinating while also edifying their own respective ancestors.
03/31/2021 - T
Although I agree labels are restrictive, to subscribe to a colorblind ideology BEFORE doing the work of dismantling racism, anti-black thought and systems of oppression, using the labels also signifies there is work to be done. As a non-black but still POC, dig deeper to how the labels of race are not just boxes of identity but have real consequences in terms of treatment and behaviors, depending on how on identifies (or not). As a matter of fact, even if one dismissed the labels, the structures of oppression remain. It is not devices to keep the labels in order to rally for and advocate for an anti-racist agenda. To dismiss them, without the work, will do more harm than good for those who are subjugated by the dominant narrative. Colorblindness has done great harm to BIPOC.