Here are some ways racism plays out for people of African descent working in the education system:
– Black teachers can be subtly expected to be the ones to deal with “problem” black students, even if they’re not in their class. This means they have a higher workload since they already have their own students to deal with.
– Black teachers are expected to be the ones to organize events like African heritage Month assemblies, or to lead cultural groups for black students. It’s complicated because often black teachers want to be good role models and help create positive experiences for kids from the black community, but at the same time the expectation is stifling when your workload is heavy. Also it’s great when a black teacher teaches a course like African Canadian Studies, but also that expectation can be stifling. Maybe a black teacher would rather teach another course…
– When there aren’t many black students in a school, there’s a sense of “well, maybe we don’t need to do anything for African Heritage Month.”
– Some teachers assume that black kids are going to be problem kids. I’ve heard subtle comments like “that must be a tough group to teach” without knowing anything about the particular kids in the class. What does that say about teachers who came from those same communities?
– People assume that black teachers in positions of authority are only there because of equity hiring. Of course they couldn’t possibly be there on their own merits.
– When you’re the only black teacher in a school people always turn to you and ask “well, what do you think about that?” whenever an issue of race is discussed. As if all black people have the same opinions and the one black person in the room always wants to be the spokesperson. White people need to think: do they think they could speak on behalf of all white people if the situation were reversed?
Reprinted with permission from Working While Black in Nova Scotia.