In Their Feelings

Oh boy.

So I am currently running a survey (which you can take if you’re an English Language Teacher, but I’m not putting the link here so that I don’t influence the data). The survey asks, in a few different ways, whether or not ELTs incorporate race into their lesson planning and instruction. It’s entirely okay for someone to answer “no,” because it would give me something to write about in my analysis. In fact, I’m expecting most respondents to say “no.”

But people are in their feelings.

I get it. Despite the things going on in the news, most people do not harbor deep-seated ill will towards members of other racial groups. I do believe that.

At the same time, almost everyone who is a part of a large institution is, by defintion, furthering institutional racism (and sexism and classism and so on, but race is my focus). That’s what “institutional racism” means. That’s what the modifier is for.

And this is hardly just a white/black problem, especially when it comes to adult ELT, where the student population is comprised of many different races. I just read a study from Hawaii where the “old school” ESL students – who were Asian – discriminated against the Micronesian students. But the problem in that study wasn’t so much the students treating each other poorly, which is just sort of what teenagers do. It was that the school did nothing to address the issue.

Look. Hate crimes are a huge problem, but they always have been. We know enough now to know that race is a factor in human lives and outcomes. You can call it a social construct – it is! – or something that shouldn’t matter – it shouldn’t! – but the fact is, to get intensely personal, if a cop wants to talk to me, it really doesn’t matter how many degrees I have, does it? I look the way I look. And I’m one of the luckiest ones.

King spoke of his issues with the “white moderate,” but I don’t think this is really about them, no matter what CNN would like us to believe about the Obama-Trump voters.

No, this isn’t really about white people per se. Because the insidious thing about institutional racism (and sexism and classism and so on) is that you don’t necessarily have to be a member of the majoritized group to perpetuate the system in place. Trump wouldn’t have won if several million women hadn’t excused his awful treatment of their gender, and you could replace him with other politicans and policies when it comes to race or class or other things.

So if it’s not the “white moderate,” then who is it?

It’s the “woke ally.”

I’m not calling being “woke” bad. Nor is allyship a problem, obviously. It’s the people who want to claim this status without doing the work to interrogate themselves and their own role that need to be challenged. And it’s a shame, because generally these are the people who can help, and who want to help, and whom we need to help.

I have no hope for the followers of Steve Bannon. I’m sure there are a few of them teaching, but mostly not so. And there are a lot of educators out there fighting the good fight, even despite their own discomfort with issues of race (for which extra training and support is needed).

But the woke ally needs to actually be woke enough to pause and look in the mirror if they want to really be an ally instead of just a performer on the public stage.