Graduation Insult

I was working in the office at a high school in August. I was preparing packages to send to a few students who had graduated the previous year but hadn’t attended graduation. Along with their diploma, African Nova Scotian students receive a black, green and gold sash to celebrate their African heritage.

I wrote an introductory letter to go with the package and asked a co-worker to look it over. Before even looking at it, they said “what’s it going to say, ‘yo wassup, congrats on graduatin’?’”

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. I thought a lot that night about whether to say anything or write up a complaint, but I decided not to because I like the person in general, so I cut them some slack. I still get knots in my stomach thinking about it years later though.

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Hair Salon Walk-outs

I used to be a hairdresser. My sign used to just say “hair salon.” White people used to walk in all the time, see it was a black-run salon, and walk out, assuming that I’d be incapable of dealing with their hair.  Would anyone make that assumption about a salon run by white people?

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Racism in the Education System

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?

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