They commended me: 'She speaks good English'. I don't speak any other language

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
A black teacher in a large school in a rural area explains what racism means

* THE FACT is that severity of the problem is in inverse rather than direct proportion to its visibility. With little attempt made to raise awareness of racial issues at an educational level, and a widespread assumption that "no blacks equals no problem", the wrong message is delivered to staff and pupils alike.

The school deals effectively with overt and blatantly offensive racism. Low-level harassment - jokes, mimicry, monkey noises - typically has to be dealt with by the exercise of one's own personal coping strategies. This is confirmed by pupils I have spoken to. More worrying are the innate racial assumptions I personally experience from my colleagues.

These manifest themselves in a number of ways, including avoidance, uncertainty and embarrassment about "saying the wrong thing". It has been remarked that I am "not very black", indicating to me a subconscious acceptance of a melanocratic hierarchy.

The euphemism "coloured" is commonly used by staff when referring to myself or to pupils, revealing a basic lack of understanding of the inherently offensive nature of this term.

I have been asked where I "really come from", how long I have "been in this country", and one member of management asked me if I "had any idea what it was like to be English in this school". I was born and educated in England. My command of English has occasioned congratulatory comment: "She speaks good English." I do not speak any other language.

These statements are made by kind, well-intentioned professional people who sincerely believe that they are not racist, and who would solidly maintain that there is not a racial problem in school, or in Scottish society.


* NAME CALLING by pupils. Being told by a colleague I got my job because I was black. Always being asked to deal with black pupils, issues, race-related problems. Isolation and low-level racial harassment.

This is constant from the odd stare to outright insulting remarks. White colleagues find it difficult to accept that they can collude with racism.


* MANY BLACK teachers that I have spoken to have stated many instances - for example, verbal abuse by other staff and pupils, written racial abuse by other staff and pupils, unknown notes and letters posted or sent to black teachers.

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