And this is me a lonely woman

I shall build a boat

I shall cast it in the water

I shall sail away from this strange land

Where no one awakens heroes

Asleep in the grove of love.

— from “Beyond the Seas”
by Sohrab Sepehri, Iranian poet & painter (1928-1980)
Tran. by Kazim Ali & Mohammad Jafar Mahallati (with adaptations

I listened to Sohrab.

I built a boat and sailed away

From oppression

From censorship

From sanctions.

I feel safe enough to write about the latter. The sanctions. One day when I feel ready, I will write about all those moments of fear and the painful sense of humiliation that I constantly experienced in the academia in Iran.

I am a Tehraner, and I was born right in the middle of Iran-Iraq war in 1363 (1984). We dahe-ye shastiha—the 1360s (1980s) generation—call ourselves nasl-e soukhte, meaning the burnt generation. The impact of political unrest and social upheaval has been truly profound on our lives. Plus the fact that we have always lived under the shadow of sanctions and the future has always been uncertain.

Sanctions never became normalized in my life especially because my mom has been fighting cancer for years and she has always had difficulty finding her medicine. I also remember I decided not to submit my papers out of my Master’s thesis to ISI journals because Iranian affiliations received desk rejections. I remember some of my friends who studied abroad at the time kindly shared some articles with me because Iranian universities could not subscribe to some journals due to scientific sanctions. I remember I could not join some English Language Teaching associations outside Iran because I could not pay the membership fee due to bank sanctions. I remember I wanted to use some tech tools in my classes and they were not available in my country because of sanctions. I also remember ETS (Educational Testing Service) canceled its tests and thousands of Iranian applicants who had to report their TOEFL, IELTS, or GRE scores to universities outside Iran had to go to nearby countries like Turkey or Armenia to take their tests. In my case, I took the local English proficiency test designed by Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology (MSRT) and submitted the score to my department where I had started my PhD. I have more sanctions stories to share. They are family stories and I cannot share them in public especially due to the complex concept of aberoo in Iranian culture. I shared them here: Our Sanctions Stories.

The shadow of the sanctions grew heavier and heavier in my life. I quit my PhD back home, and I cast my boat in the water, and sailed away. I left my heart right there.

Photo credit: Ukrainian Girl in Iran, click here

I sailed on, singing what Sohrab wrote:

Sail away, as far as you can …

From the land

Where women are not as brimful as a cluster of grapes

And I landed in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Full of hope

Full of sparkle

Full of life

Full of passion

Full of dreams

Full of future

Full of innocence

“I’m from Iran,” I passionately said to a conference attendee, an educator.

“Oh, you are a terrorist,” he replied.

A hard slap on my face to wake me up!

They said,

“That was an American joke.”

“You are too sensitive.”

“Let it go.”

“Do I look like a terrorist?” I asked, sobbing.

“Oh, you are a terrorist” was carved in my soul.

It made me

Full of pain

Full of angst

Full of dismay

Full of despair

Full of wounds

Full of agony

Full of understanding

And this is me

a lonely woman

on the threshold of a cold season

on the verge of understanding …

— from “Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season”
by Forough Farrokhzad, Iranian Poet & film director (1934-1967)
Trans. by Hasan Javadi & Susan Sallée (with adaptations)

I was trying to forgive and forget, but “Oh, you are a terrorist” was beyond an individual racist act. It was structural. I was constantly reminded of it:

When President Trump said, “Iran a terrorist nation like few others”.

When Executive Order 13769 (known as Executive Disorder and Muslim Ban), titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, was signed again and again and again.

When I decided to wear a hat instead of a headscarf to look less like a “terrorist” to be able to breathe.

When my UK visa to present at a conference was denied three times for some Kafkaesque reasons.

When my Canadian Study Permit for a Social Justice and Equity Studies program was refused twice.

Spot the differences in these two rejection letters.

Now, spot the differences between the lists of supporting documents (Client Information and Proof of Means of Financial Support) I submitted for my first Study Permit application and for my Study Permit re-application:

My first Study Permit
application documents
My Study Permit
re-application documents
Client Information
1. Letter of Explanation
2. CV
3. Transcripts & Degree Certificates
3.1. PhD Transcripts
& PhD Degree Certificate
3.2. MA Transcripts
& MA Degree Certificate
3.3. BA Transcripts
& BA Degree Certificate
4. TOEFL iBT Score Report
5. Current Employment Contracts
5.1. Kobe City University of Foreign Studies
5.2. The University of Hyogo
5.3. Princeford College
6. Residence Card in Japan
7. Birth Certificate
8. National ID Card
9. Marriage Certificate
10. Proof of Accommodation Arrangements
Proof of Means of Financial Support
My documents:
11. Japan Post Bank’s
Bankbook Covering
the Past Six Months
12. Japan Post Bank’s
Certification of the
Balance of Deposit
(22,023.08 CAD)
13. Brock University’s the Funding Package First Year
(25,876.00 CAD)
My financial supporter’s (Soraya Ramezanshirazi, my mother) documents:
14. Official Letter from
My Mother Supporting
Me Financially
15. Birth Certificate
16. National ID Card
17. Maskan Bank, Balance Statement, Bank Certificate of Financial Ability
18. Tejarat Bank, Balance Statement, Bank Certificate of Financial Ability
19. Pensioner’s Salary Statement
20. Retirement, Saving, and Welfare Funds
21. Leases
22. Proof of Properties
Client Information
1. Letter of Explanation
2. Letter of Support from
Dr. XXX, Graduate Program
Director of MA in
Social Justice &
Equity Studies at Brock University
3. Letter of Support from
Dr. XXX, Associate Professor
at Kobe City University of
Foreign Studies
4. Letter of Support from
Dr. XXX, Professor at Osaka University
5. CV
6. Transcripts & Degree Certificates
6.1. PhD Transcripts
& PhD Degree Certificate
6.2.MA Transcripts
& MA Degree Certificate
6.3. BA Transcripts
& BA Degree Certificate
7. TOEFL iBT Score Report
8. Residence Card in Japan
9. Birth Certificate
10. National ID Card
11. Marriage Certificate
12. My Husband’s Passport
13. Certificates of My Husband’s
Tourism & Travel Agency
Company in Iran
14. My Husband’s Insurance
Booklet in Iran
Proof of Means of Financial Support
My documents:
15. Japan Post Bank’s
Bankbook Covering
the Past Six Months
16. Japan Post Bank’s
Certification of the
Balance of Deposit
(20,802.17 CAD)
17. My Own Apartment’s
Deed & its Lease
Contract in Iran
18. Brock University’s
the Funding Package
First Year
(34,076.00 CAD)
My financial supporter’s (Soraya Ramezanshirazi, my mother) documents:
19. Official Letter from
My Mother Supporting
Me Financially
20. Retirement, Saving,
& Welfare Funds
21. Pensioner’s Salary Statement
22. My Mother’s
Apartments’ Deeds in Iran
Certificate of the Immovable
Compromised Deeds
(dated 2 July 2013 conducted between my mother
as grantor and me as grantee)
23. Birth Certificate
24. National ID Card
Canadian Study Permit supporting documents

It took me about six months to collect the documents for my first Study Permit application, and about a year to collect the documents for my Study Permit re-application. The second time took more time because the whole county was on hold due to Iran Protests in November 2019, Iran-US tensions in January 2020, and finally COVID-19. I applied for my husband’s visa in my first application. Then, he decided to move back to Iran in May 2019 to establish a tourism and travel agency company there. In my second application, I did not apply for his visa and explained in my letter of explanation that he is focused on his newly formed company, and as a result is unable to join me during my studies in Canada. I am wondering why in the second rejection letter the officer is not satisfied that I will leave Canada at the end of my stay based on my family ties in Canada and in my country of residence (which means Iran not Japan according to Brock University’s immigration consultant).

I strongly believe that I have the right to study. I would like to change my discipline from English Language Teaching (ELT) to Social Justice and Equity Studies. White supremacy is at the heart of ELT and this industry functions as a racist propaganda machine. I am constantly pushed to the sidelines and my existence is constantly questioned.

“Why are you here?”

“Are you sure you are going to teach English at this university?”

“Do you teach Farsi here?” 

I got these questions from white “native” English speakers at conferences and teachers’ rooms. The unsafest spaces I have ever been to. And sometimes it is just a look or a tone that makes me feel unwelcome and I have no visual or auditory proof of those moments.

“Oh, I want to learn English from Tom [a white “native” English speaker teacher]!”

“I don’t want to learn English from a refugee.”

“I’m scared of you because I don’t know about the Middle East and your country, Iraq [she meant Iran]. I just watch the news and it is scary.”

These are some comments I received from my students at the language institute where I first started teaching English in Japan.

And now I still listen to Sohrab.

I shall continue sailing.

I shall continue sailing.

With my Anti-Passport in ocean blue from Passport Project founded by Antoine Cassar. I ordered it while I was writing this blogpost.

Antoine immediately wrote back to me,

I will send a passport (English, blue) to the address you gave me. You can donate to a refugee rights ngo in Osaka if you know any. Just let me know when the booklet reaches you, to put my mind at rest (sometimes the passports seem to be intercepted…)

I am so excited to receive a Passport:

for all peoples,

with a rainbow flag, and the emblem of the migratory

goose encircling the globe

in all the languages you want, official or dialect,

in ocean blue, or dried red blood, or coal black ready

for burning, the choice is yours …

from the English version of Passport, adapted by Albert Gatt & Antoine Cassar
Photo credit: Passport Project, click here

Here are my final words:

Visa rejections hurt

Visa rejections burn your soul

Visa rejections become one of those

sores which slowly erodes the soul in solitude like a kind of canker.

— from “The Blind Owl”
by Sadegh Hedayat, Iranian writer (1903- 1951)
Trans. by D. P. Costello (with adaptations)

And apparently visa rejection letters are the hardly deniable “visual” proofs of one of the forms of oppression I am experiencing. Something that I wanted to sailed away from, and now I actively fight against it every single day by daring to share my visa stories, by daring to write about them, by daring to tweet about Muslim Ban which is quietly being emulated by other countries, and by daring to persist and re-apply for visas despite the financial and emotional tax.  

I shall continue sailing.

I shall continue sailing.

Special thanks to Sherri Spelic for nominating me to write for the 2nd Annual #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge. I would also like to thank Tricia Ebarvia and Dr. Kim Parker for giving me the opportunity to write about my sores right after a fresh visa rejection. I am grateful to my comrade, Behnaz Amani, for encouraging me to write this blogpost. Her insistence reminded me of this quote attributed to Malcolm X:

If not now, then when?

If not me, then who?

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Janelle W. Henderson (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

Dr. Parisa Mehran

Born and raised in Tehran, Parisa Mehran holds a BA in English Language and Literature, an MA in TEFL, both from Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran, and a PhD in CALL from Osaka University, Japan. She currently teaches part-time at several universities in Japan. Her passion for social justice has led her to engage in different ELT movements for change and is now a racial equity advocate in ELT.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

The Excruciating Arena of Mental Illness

Angst … is a word not to imagine but to let it wrap you unconditionally body and soul in itself. People are in the habit of calling their heartbreak as depression and their stress as anxiety yet almost nobody wants to open their eyes to the bitter uncoated truth of angst, major depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, schizophrenia, and even paranoid schizophrenia, PTSD, borderline disorder, and a lot more! Every morning you wear a mask and you do your best to either choose a merry one or at least an apparently normal one based on society’s expectations. However, the question has always remained: does it help you or it just fools others to consider you normal and react shockingly while seeing your meltdown? You might have heard substantially about people with mental disorders but in reality, how many of you can honestly understand the situation and try to help? On the scale of zero to ten, I don’t assume it can possibly exceed half a percent, far from satisfactory but sadly it is the case.   

When you cannot even make it out of bed, cannot eat or drink anything, cannot take a shower, or even climb or go down the stairs, cannot remember the date, time, and place; or even worse, on many occasions you are looking into the mirror and to your sheer horror, yet cannot recognise yourself at all, I should stress literally at all! Notwithstanding, you are obliged to pretend to be normal, go to work, wear a smile, hide your tears, angst, anger, etc. just forasmuch as you can never ever be open about the reality of yourself among people without being labelled as: lazy, preposterous, weak, insane, liar, etc. I know, walking in our shoes is not manageable or may not be probable at all, yet please try not to label us erroneously and do a little tiny effort to read and do research about people akin to us who are killing themselves and taking piles and piles of pills to be able to live up to that ‘normality expected’ while shattering inside.

I take a trip down my memory lane reading an anonymous quote: “People who die from suicide don’t want to end their lives. They want to end their pain.” I’ve seen a considerable number of people along with myself who suffer from various kinds of mental illnesses; numerous friends of mine gave up their jobs, and so many other things in their lives due to these problems. One of them is a dermatologist and a great university professor who prefers not to work at all because she thinks with depression, she is not going to be adequate; the other one was crying like hell for the reason that she was lost in date and time and missed her class as a professor! I myself likewise was crying in between my classes like a baby who lost her mom without even knowing why!!!! And let’s not talk about self-harm that is beyond the bounds of your imagination.

People like us usually struggle to achieve capabilities as much as possible and be as multi-tasked as possible yet when others congratulate us, there is absolutely no sense of pleasure or accomplishment!! Weird? Yes, it is, true. Anhedonia is a word to express that inability to feel pleasure in commonly pleasurable situations, and this is a psychiatric condition.

There are various scientific justifications for the roots of these harrowing hells; the most critical one is our genes. These illnesses have been imprinted on our DNA by chance by our ancestors since millions of years ago or merely by our parents, in conjunction with, environmental factors. 

Imagine this: you are part of a huge society, you are a teacher, a woman who has not The Passport and who has to fight for both her rights as a Woman of Colour in ELT and keep her mask in front of her students, be as patient as a prophet to teach and answer all their questions – now with this COVID-19, even from her bed early in the morning or late at night – yet get labelled as ruthless, get rejected by The Government after applying for an Interdisciplinary MA Social Justice and Equity Studies program while having received the acknowledgement and acceptance of the university of the interest as the best applicant. How does it make you feel? Let me make it easy for you: an outcast! Yes, an outcast in the middle of nowhere towards never-land! That’s how confused and devastated it makes you feel. 

Behnaz Amani
Photographer: Amir Hossein Soroush


Look at you.

Still standing

after being

knocked down

and thrown out.

Look at you.

Still growing

after being

picked and plucked

and prodded out

of your home.

Look at you.

Still dancing

and singing

after being

defeated and


Look at you.

Still here and hopeful

After it all.

Alexandra Elle [1]

[1] Alexandra Elle is a full-time freelance writer, published author, poet, and small business owner. Her career focuses heavily on writing and holistic healing from the inside out. Elle’s written work is an embodiment of her passion for self-love and advocacy of self-care.

Behnaz Amani

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, who had studied interior architecture and design as well. A fine art photography model, poet, and writer who believes in kindness and understanding. Tries her best to be supportive of those in need and hates lies and infidelity.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

Brave New World of ELT

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

The Brave New World [1]


People say anyone can torture, but to break someone down one should do it without any physical harm; this is an art! 

Horrible? Yeah, definitely. Let’s imagine a tigress, a wild, beautiful tigress that is captured and displaced in a zoo. How does she feel to lose all her freedom, security, and awe-striking mightiness while her power is suppressed as well as curbed? Suffocating I presume. 

Racism does the same to people. When one recalls all her efforts to be erudite, intensively talented, multi-tasked, moreover intelligent, even though dealing with racists who are trying their best to smash one down as long as they are precisely well aware of their cowardice, callousness, and impracticality, the feeling is the same. 

Here one might wonder if they don’t approve of you, why were you hired at the very first place? Without considering all those disadvantages they bestow upon you; you are here only to keep their multinational mindset disguise! To shield them against all the racist labels, that in fact they fathom to deserve; albeit no value would bequeath you considering aforementioned safeguarding. 

Faith is a dangerous phenomenon forasmuch as it hampers you to detect any blemish; in the manner that all these “white privilege” believers’ scorn to affirm. 

On account of studying interior architecture, I decided to decorate my classroom; my colleague and I spent a whole month to do both classes; even though they were all enthralled by the outcome, not only did we not receive any proper feedback, but also, we received mockery from one of the principals instead! Couple of days ago, the director came into my class with his entourage while I hadn’t done my lesson yet. Perplexity was far and wide in my mind on the grounds of being uninformed; they came back a couple of hours later and commenced removing the furniture during which I inquired the reason. To my astonishment this was all about “a very professional commercial video” using my class, my students, BUT with someone else as the teacher! Someone who didn’t have any idea about my students and teaching approach; though to be fair! She had the advantage of being a non-certified “native” teacher. Non-certified for which I have a CELTA from Cambridge University, and I have studied English literature. To me and a whole community this deed was, is, and will always be disrespecting and all the water in the ocean will not wash their hands. No, instead their hands will stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters red [2].


Merry Christmas to all! Here those foreigners, or let’s say those with powerful passports, are on their Christmas leave even if they are not Christian! In this country, they do not celebrate Christmas eve, yet due to their multinational mindset! they are giving THE foreigners leave, still since I am not included in that specific category, there is no such a fancy thing as a day off for me. Nevertheless, the thing which I cannot comprehend is if they try to respect other cultures, why nobody congrats me on Nowruz? Why couldn’t I have a day or two off just like the others? As a matter of fact, they had absolutely no idea about Nowruz (Iranian New Year), which is even worse for this multinational mindset. Why all the privileges only go to a few specific cultures and not to all? 

There is a course in colonialism for PhD students of English literature which after taking I came to realize that to colonise a world, there is no need for physical invasion; just exploit the indigenous’ minds and implant the idea of your supremacy in them; that would be imprinted on their DNA and do the rest. By reading Prof. Daryush Shayegan’s book, titled Cultural Schizophrenia, we learned that this is the time of acknowledging differences.

Behnaz Amani on the left with Prof. Daryush Shayegan on the right, Tehran, Iran

The postmodern human identities are categorised in both horizontal and vertical axis; one of indigenous traditions and one of multinational diversity. Nonetheless, how many of us thoroughly think about it and carry it out? It’s time to ponder and alter toward equity.

 [1] The title of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel. 

[2] Will all the water in the ocean wash this blood from my hands? No, instead my hands will stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters red. Shakespeare, Macbeth, II, ii.

Behnaz Amani

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, who had studied interior architecture and design as well. A fine art photography model, poet, and writer who believes in kindness and understanding. Tries her best to be supportive of those in need and hates lies and infidelity.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

Real Talk: #MeToo & EDI in the ELT Classroom

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

The following explains my perspective as an ESL teacher but can absolutely be applied to any language classroom.

Throughout my 10 years as an ELT educator, I became hyper-aware of the fact that teaching the English language was just one of the things I was teaching. I was doing much more than that. As I became a more experienced educator, I started to unpack everything that my students were unconsciously learning as I was also unconsciously teaching it. It hit me, that I was not just a language educator but also a cultural ambassador to both my country of birth, the United States of America, as well as a representative of “a person of color,” of Puerto Rican/Cuban ancestry.

Suffice to say, I was not the physical profile of the teacher they expected to walk into their classroom. When I did, they were often surprised and curious as to “what” I was. The conversation would ensue and, without ill intention, their perceptions of all the “things” “my people” were, would come out.

Americans are power hungry.

Americans can’t find anything outside their country on a map.

Wow, you’re Latina and you went to college? Wow! All Latinos here clean bathrooms or take care of our elderly.

You must be great at sports because you have African in you.

I can’t tell you how often a variation of these things were said to me. Then came the sexist ones…

You must have moved here for a man!

You came by yourself? And you’re a girl! Hmmm..what could you be looking for?

You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear these constantly. Also, note the problematic nature of that bold language prior to the quotes.

What am I? A person, thanks.

Turning difference into opportunity

Although it may sound it, my classrooms never got hostile. In fact, they all really turned out to involve super interesting discussions that resulted in brilliant vocabulary and sentence structures. I realized that my unique identity was beneficial to their learning process so long as the learning opportunities were curated by me in a comfortable way.

Once I really took this opportunity by the horns, I was able to build these learning caveats into lesson plans. I did this by curating my reading selections, picking a variety of clips that did not just show one kind of person, and by looking at seemingly awkward situations head on. This included racist, sexist and homophobic idioms and expressions – with intention and a discussion-ready attitude.

In my classes, I worked hard to avoid sugar-coating problematic vocabulary and social constructs within the English language. Instead, I tried to discuss why we said that, where it came from historically, and finally how we could say that very thing in a different way (fun, challenging, and useful language exercises!)

Language is important! We, as language educators know that more than most! Just because our language (along with several others) is problematic, doesn’t mean we should perpetuate antiquated terms and phrases, nor should we ignore them. Take a look at a few:

To hit like a girl

Happy wife, happy life

To man-up

An Indian giver

Gypsy/ To be gypped

And believe me, there are many many more. Not only do we encounter it in the phrases we teach but also in the video clips we show. Friends, for instance, is a classroom favorite but actually quite problematic. There’s blatant sexism, fat shaming and transphobia and it is all laughed off as if those at the core of the joke don’t actually matter. Rewatching some of those episodes for me was actually cringe-worthy. It is undoubtedly a product of its time and the solution isn’t to pretend it never happened, but as I said before, tackle these conversations head on!

Different ads, readings, role-playing you do in your course can follow suit and also perpetuate a variety of micro-aggressions, toxic masculinity or overtly disrespectful stereotypes of a culture and its people.

Make that into a lesson plan!

Different ads from different decades:

What are the differences and similarities you find?

How have they evolved?

How have they not?

What was happening in the world at the time of their creation that made this effective?

The possibilities of this class are endless, a great learning opportunity and ultimately really fun and interesting for the student, even if they disagree!

Taking a broader look at education

So, how much is it our job as educators to promote an open mind? I strongly feel that as English language educators, it is imperative that we push.

English to evolve in order to shift away from racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic language. English is used internationally for travel, work, pleasure and we need to be aware of how we use it and who suffers when it is poorly used. Language has history, it tells us the climate of the times, but it also shows what we are willing to tolerate.

I like to think that having had me as a teacher was beneficial in other ways than linguistically. I like to think that I challenged preconceived notions and stereotypes fed to them by society and the media, that my careful word choices and careful lesson planning opened the door for the ever-growing population of immigrants arriving in Spain, the children of interracial couples and of little girls who just want to be treated equally without being the punchline to a joke. I have asked many people, including those who attended my session, to check their privilege. We all have privilege and our awareness of it is essential in creating a more equitable and more welcoming space for students and teachers alike.

How else can we do this?

By addressing multiple cultural identities and identities in general

By adjusting hiring practices to really represent the English speaking world

By not shying away or dismissing uncomfortable situations

By not falling into the tokenism trap

By admitting that we’re all trying but going to make mistakes and that’s completely okay!

Continuing the discussion all over the world

I look forward to continuing to encourage educators around the world to consider the importance of the social and cultural impact of the languages we use and teach. I also hope you can make time and space for diverse voices within the classroom and also make time for yourself as an educator to have difficult but honest conversations about gender and race.

Note: These experiences in the classroom is where the InnovateELT session entitled “Real Talk: #MeToo & Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in the ELT Classroom”, was born and published as a post here. It also stemmed off Jade’s graduate thesis work entitled “Enhancing Cultural Awareness & Sensitivity through Theatre and Language Education”.

Jade Cintron holds a Masters in Arts Administration, focusing on cultural awareness in theatre & language education. Her work has involved into incorporating honest conversations about social justice, people of color, women of color and women. She currently serves as a Bilingual Literacy Specialist for The Free Library of Philadelphia where she focuses on the Latino & African American communities in North Philly.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

My Journey to Understanding Intersectionality

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

I want to share some moments in my journey to understanding intersectionality, from my initial confusions about critical pedagogy, to moments of clarity afforded by Elizabeth Ellsworth’s writing and then bell hooks, to my own term semi-privileged, to how I use it in my classes, to how I made a mistake in a Digital Pedagogy Lab workshop once, to discovering Patricia Collins’ Axes of Oppression and Nancy Fraser’s three-pronged understanding of social justice, and finally to Parisa Mehran’s post on WOCinELT.

The Frustrating Abstractness of Critical Pedagogy 

I came across critical pedagogy by coincidence. I was doing my PhD research on critical thinking and  kept stumbling upon this other term critical pedagogy and it intrigued me. I kept reading more and more about it, finding myself agreeing so much with it, but I also reached a level of frustration where it felt too abstract to know how to apply this stuff in my classes, and I also talked with my supervisor, Jon Nixon, about how to find all the “isms” because all this talk of racism, sexism, classism, was not cutting it for every situation. He told me that this was OK, that not all the power differences fit into one clear “ism” and he also introduced me to Edward Said and postcolonialism. Now this felt like a breath of fresh air (btw I had heard Edward Said speak at one of my university’s commencement ceremonies and his speech touched me even back then when I didn’t know how much of a big deal he was). 

Critical Pedagogy in Practice: Ellsworth & hooks

But then the thing that really helped me understand critical pedagogy in practice and introduced me to intersectionality was an article recommended to me by another professor, Chris Winter. In my upgrade viva (about 1.5 years into my part-time 7 year PhD journey) she recommended to me the article Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering by Elizabeth Ellsworth. That article is one I struggled to read the first time but I have read it many many times since then, because it takes critical pedagogy from the abstract to the practical, and highlights the intersectionality of the white female professor in class (where being a professor gives her power in a classroom context, but being a female means she is disadvantaged outside the classroom) trying to teach about race and racism to diverse students, who, with their intersectional identities, have more and less power depending on the context. This article was honest about complexity in ways I felt neither Freire nor Giroux were in the books I had read at the time, and it enabled me to imagine critical pedagogy in the classroom. At the time, I didn’t understand this as intersectionality, but as a research methodology called feminist poststructuralist critique, and I decided to follow it from then on, and I have used her approach a few times (see this article using Ellsworth’s title and applied to web-based cross cultural dialogue; and this one about my own failures in teaching with critical pedagogy at first).

The next author to really inspire me was bell hooks and the way her writing about critical pedagogy was accessible, and her very unique take as a black woman, that combination of being black and a woman and NOT choosing one or the other but BOTH. I also remember lots of moments of enlightenment from bell hooks‘ writing, such as how the idea of “liberating the oppressor” which Freire mentions, can actually apply in the relationships of women with men who oppress them because gender oppression in society cannot be fixed by empowering women alone (see hooks’ The Will to Change).


Throughout all of this, I don’t remember when I was introduced to the term intersectionality or how it eventually stuck with me. But I know that I had started using a term “semi-privileged” which is closely related to intersectionality but recognizes the particular situation where some elements of one’s identity can make one privileged in certain contexts but some not. It’s also a recognition of how something like the internet is only potentially empowering to the semi-privileged and not to the least privileged of us.

Throughout all of this, I never read Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality (I did eventually and then I started assigning it in class).

Side Point: My Intersectionality

I came up with that term semi-privileged to refer to myself in academia. I’m an academic, privileged social class, Western educated throughout my life, fluent in English, and this all gives me privilege in my country. However, I am a woman, with all the disadvantages society bestows up on me for being one, and I am Egyptian, so even though I am privileged within my country, I am not privileged within the global academic landscape. In particular, it is difficult for me to go to conferences, which are really important for developing social capital. And so I am privileged enough to be digitally literate and comfortable with social media, and so Twitter (where I now live, basically) and Virtually Connecting (which I co-founded) have afforded me ways to develop my social capital while sitting in my living room at home!

I work at the American University in Cairo, a private American-style institution, so it’s a privileged space with mostly privileged students. But we all have our hybridity and intersectionality. For example, the more Westernized you are, the more influenced you are by cultural imperialism and the more disturbing it is to think about your postcolonial self and circumstances. I work at an American institution where I am a second class citizen because I am not American. I have to teach in English and (most of) my students and I are completely aware that we are actually more fluent in English than Arabic, we are aware of our hybridity and how we are neither fully Arab Egyptians. But we also talk about how, for example, wearing a headscarf in the streets is useful to blend into the culture but on campus may not be seen as much of a privilege because of how people might interpret your reasons for wearing it, but never really ask you to your face. We also talk about the ways Christians are marginalized in Egypt these days, but how on campus they are mostly not, and how if they lived in the West they would not be. We talk about how Muslim men are the majority in our society but when they travel abroad they are likely to get detained in airports for inexplicable reasons because of their identity but not anything in particular they have done. So yeah. Intersectionality is something we talk about and live with a lot. Students particularly appreciate the modified privilege walk role play activity we do which demonstrates that.

Not a Good Moment: What I Didn’t Know

I was teaching a track with Kate Bowles at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in 2017 and someone asked about intersectionality. There were several black women in the room. I remember answering the question and mentioning Ellsworth, then asking one of the black female participants to talk about Crenshaw. I now feel horrible about this. I should have started by inviting one of the black women to discuss Crenshaw. I remember stumbling over Crenshaw’s name, because I was guilty of not having read her. I should not have painted myself as an authority on the term, when I wasn’t. I so wasn’t. Sure, I lived with intersectionality, but the expert was the one who coined it, Crenshaw, and she was talking specifically about the intersectionality of being a black woman in America. 

More of What I Didn’t Know

Other things I learned recently which helped shape my views of intersectionality and social justice are the work of Patricia Collins (I learned of this through the work of Sasha Costanza-Chock on Design Justice), and Nancy Fraser (I learned of this via the work of Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams on applying it to Research on OER for Development). Patricia Collins is the one who identifies the Axes of Oppression (aka matrix of domination) including white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism. This work is apparently what Crenshaw later expanded into her work on intersectionality. I do think the axes of oppression misses things like ableism and prioritizes settler colonialism over cultural imperialism, but I think it opened room for looking at all the different dimensions of oppression and their intersections.

Nancy Fraser’s work is also really important in seeing a multidimensional view of social justice. Fraser identifies social justice along three dimensions: economics, culture and politics. She also differentiates between surface reform (which she calls affirmative) and structural reform (which she calls transformative).

Fraser’s work is important to see in light of axes of oppression and intersectionality, as we can look at a particular context and see what kinds of injustice and oppression are occurring, and how these might be addressed. It becomes clear why certain reforms do not go far enough, or can instead actually cause more harm than good, because they use single-axis interpretations of problems (e.g. economic) and attempt to reform them without accounting for others. One example I’m reading about now is from Serene Khader’s work on decolonizing universalism, and how Western notions of feminism have misinterpreted the oppression of women in non-Western cultures through their modernist Western idealist lens, and in doing so, ignored differences in context and culture, eventually doing more harm than good. I guess the important parts missing in these actions are viewing the multiple axes beyond gender oppression, but also focusing only on the liberation of women, or removal of sexual oppression, without looking at the entire society in which women exist, and what other kinds of oppression and injustice need to be addressed and prioritized. 

And this is where Nancy Fraser’s work is really important where she talks about the importance of participatory parity – that the women we aim to empower should themselves participate fully in decision-making on what their priorities should be, what solutions they want, how they want to implement them, and how to evaluate the success or lack thereof. Any external person parachuting in with solutions would risk being colonizing or indoctrinating. As Serene Khader writes “Sometimes solutions solve problems. Sometimes they go in search of them. And sometimes they deflect attention from what the problems really are.” And ignoring multiple axes of oppression, ignoring intersectionality, leads to deflecting attention from what the real problems are.

Importantly, though, we need to recognize what we know from capability theory: first, that one’s surrounding environment can limit someone’s capacity to practice what they are capable of (e.g. you can give a woman a particular skill to work, but if their town does not employ women at all, how will they benefit from it – see the work of Nussbaum on “Combined Capability”). Second, we must recognize that marginalized people, when given agency and choice, may not be able, at first, to make good choices because of the hegemony of the dominant worldview narrowing their vision on what is possible for them (see Walker and Unterhalter).

Even More of What I Didn’t Know

And then came Parisa’s post yesterday, where she critiques an article by a white man trying to appropriate intersectionality. 

In Parisa’s post, she reminds us that Crenshaw insists that “intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where *power* comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects“ (source: Click here) and I realized that sometimes, in the midst of discussing intersectional identities, power is not something I speak about explicitly. And I need to do that, because as Parisa writes “not all intersections of identity are equal” and just to recognize everyone’s multiplicity and hybridity without highlighting which people are “furthest from justice” is to miss the original intentions of Crenshaw in developing the term intersectionality. And I intend to never make that mistake again, but I know I will keep making mistakes and keep on growing.

Another Side Point

An American white male colleague recently asked me if I see myself as a person of color. And I told him it depends on context. I am technically Caucasian and considered on the fair side in my society, but I am not treated as white in a Western context. Sometimes when I wear a wool cap instead of a headscarf I can pass for Spanish, Mexican, Turkish, but with a headscarf and with my nationality I was a minority when I lived in the US and UK, and I used to *regularly* get stopped for so-called *random* checks at airports. But I get invited to keynote conferences and I am extremely welcomed by my academic peers at events. My friends give up alcohol for a night to be able to go out with me and my family on conference evenings. And I bask in all of this even when I can easily tell I am one of a handful of headscarved women, handful of Muslims, in a large conference. But I’m a privileged minority, I’m semi-privileged. My privilege or lack thereof is highly contextual. And I will only now speak of it as intersectional when I make the power dimension of it explicit.

Dr. Maha Bali

Maha Bali is Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She has a PhD in Education from the University of Sheffield, UK. She is co-founder of and co-facilitator of Equity Unbound. She blogs at and tweets @bali_maha

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

Intersectionality: Not a Term to Recenter Whiteness

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

I believe “Intersectionality – working with and through our diverse multiple identities” is problematic on so many levels.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Black feminist, civil rights activist, and critical race theory scholar, coined intersectionality because white feminism excluded Black women’s oppression.

In this blogpost, intersectionality has been whitesplained, whitewashed, and “reframed” from a white male privilege perspective without acknowledging that not all intersections of identity are equal, especially when whiteness intersects as whiteness does not let individuals experience the full impact of oppression and erasure uncovered by intersectionality, and instead toxic “positivity” in the name of neurodiversity has been suggested.

We need to ask:

Why is the intersection of maleness and whiteness driving this analysis and reframing and not the intersection of being a woman and a Black or Person of Color?

According to Crenshaw, “intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where *power* comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects“ (source: Click here). There is no discussion of *power dynamics* in this blogpost.

Black activists and activists of color, such as Rachel Cargle, Ebony Janice Moore, Dr. Nelson Flores, have constantly reminded us of the fact that concepts developed by Black and People of Color are often co-opted by white people to re-center whiteness, and intersectionality is one of these concepts as “many white people have divorced it from its roots in Black feminist theory to analyze their multiple identities with no analysis of oppression” (Flores, 2018, click here). I believe this is what has happened in “Intersectionality – working with and through our diverse multiple identities” blogpost and the authoritative universal voice —white male subjectivity masquerading as non-racial and neutral objectivity—has been re-centered.

Final words:

Follow Kimberlé Crenshaw on Twitter at @sandylocks and subscribe to Intersectionality Matters! (@IMKC_podcast), a podcast hosted by Crenshaw herself.

Dr. Parisa Mehran 

Born and raised in Tehran, Parisa Mehran holds a BA in English Language and Literature, an MA in TEFL, both from Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran, and a PhD in CALL from Osaka University, Japan. Her research interests include CALL and Social Justice and Equity Studies (SJES) in Education with the focus on Anti-racist Feminist Pedagogy. She currently teaches part-time at several universities in Japan.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

“No News Is Good News”

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

I wake up. Still trying to remember the dream I had last night. It was something about my mum. Can’t quite remember it, but I know she was there, and my newly born niece too. She was there too. I close my eyes a bit longer trying to keep the dream, live in it if possible, but it’s fading away.

I open my eyes, and check my phone. No goodnight message from my mum. It’s the fourth night that she hasn’t sent me a goodnight message. I check her WhatsApp. “last seen Saturday”. I check Iran’s time. It’s barely four in the morning there. She must be asleep. They all must be asleep. And “fine”. I repeat it again. They’re “fine”. They have to be. I remember the Farsi proverb “No news is good news”. If there is no news it means nothing bad has happened. I have NO news but I know something bad has happened.

Have to push these thoughts away. I have to submit the first draft of my thesis today. That should be my primary focus. But how?

I drink my coffee. I try to eat something but I have no appetite with everything that’s going on. I check my Instagram. Still no news from home. I check my family and friends’ Instagram pages over and over and over. I check my mum’s. I look at her posts. Read the comments she’s written. Over and over and over.

I look at my husband. No need to exchange words. We’re both desperate for any news of our family and friends. Both wondering, both probably thinking the worst but wouldn’t dare to say them out loud. Try to comfort each other, say that of course it’s fine, but deep down wondering if the dead or the injured are someone we know.

I read the news. No major news media is talking about Iran. Did Iran stop existing on the map after the internet was shut down? Is it how we exist? By internet?

I look at the few videos from Iran. People running, screaming. I can even recognize some of the streets. This is all the news I’ve got. I wish there were more.

I get ready. Have to go to university to submit my thesis. I walk out. Look around. So calm. No protests going on. People living their everyday lives. Right! The protests are happening only on my phone, not in my real life. Here, everything is normal. No one cares about what’s happening in Iran. Why should they?

I do the last editing of my thesis. Have to print it out and submit it soon. I’m so stressed. I want to talk to my mum, her calming voice is all I need. I need to tell her that I’m stressed, so she could tell me to read a verse of the Quran that she knows would calm me down. And I cry a bit, so she could tell me to relax and that none of this matters and all will be good at the end. But I can’t. The internet is shut down. And I can only call her on her cellphone. And I don’t know if she’s up or not. I don’t want to wake her up if she’s asleep.

I do the last editing and print it out. I look at my thesis. I’d promised my dad I’ll send him a photo of it when it’s done. He was so proud of every tiny step I’ve taken. When I got accepted, when I sent him my GPA, when I got the scholarship, every article I’ve published. He was involved. He was far away in Iran, but he was involved. He was pushing me forward. I want to send him the photo. But I can’t. The internet is shut down.

It’s almost 9:30 in Iran. I have to hear their voices. I try calling their cellphones. I try LINE, it’s not working, I try Pinnacle, not working. I try Skype and finally after five times trying, he answers.

-“Hello?” I hear my dad’s calm voice.

-“Hi, Dad!” Oh! What a relief! He’s alright. Alhamdullilah! “How are you?”

-“We’re fine, everything’s fine”

-“How about the protests?”

-“Oh, it’s over. And nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”

I hear a pause.

– “Nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”

-“I’m glad to hear that”

-“Nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”


-“Nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”

I keep hearing his voice repeating over and over. Oh, another connection bug. Pointless. I hang up. Maybe I try again later.

Can’t stop worrying. I think of my mum picking up my nephew from school, my dad walking with my niece in the park, my sister driving back home from work…. What if something happens? What if….. “No news is good news.”

I check the time. I should submit my thesis. I feel so lonely. But how can I explain that even though I talked to my parents a minute ago, I still miss them? I still feel the seven thousand kilometer distance, a distance that was a lot easier to forget when I could see their faces while talking to them. When I could talk for hours whenever I miss them. No, that short phonecall did not help, it just made me feel more lonely. I push away the tears.

Done! I’ve submitted my thesis. I should feel accomplished, I should feel happy. But I don’t. I still have too much pain in my heart to feel anything else.

We go out to celebrate. It’s big, I did submit my thesis. But I’m not in a celebratory mood. We go to our favorite restaurant for dinner. We laugh. Maybe even for a minute we’re happy, forgetting the reality.

But how can it be a reality if it’s happening only on my phone? Which one is “my” reality? My peaceful routine life here or the one filled with fire and protests?

I am not at all affected by any of it. I’m living my privileged normal life here on this side of the globe. My family and friends are all fine, living their normal life. Everything is fine. But I’m not.

I walk around the city, looking at all the Christmas decorations. Kids running around, parents telling them not to. Everything as normal as it can be.

But I can’t stop thinking about home. My home. My reality.

Marzie Khalilian 

Marzie Khalilian is a master’s student of International Public Policy at Osaka University, Japan. She holds a BA in Japanese Language and Literature. She teaches English to Young Learners in Japan. Her research interests include politics in the Middle East and Africa, media studies, gender studies, and cultural studies.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

Not a Geographic Determinism but rather Political Determinism & International-wide Ignorance

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

Working in a foreign country alongside the ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speakers of English forces me to live some concepts that up to now were just some abstract ideas that I was familiar with only theoretically. Racism, being white with all its applied connotations, hypocrisy on an international scale, and numerous other features that are the by-products of this political opportunism and exploitation.

“Education is the key to a better future” is a beautiful quote that almost all of us have heard, but to what extent do we consider the importance of this idea in our planning? Superficially 100% but practically… 

Working in an international educational system will show the ugly truth behind this superficial idealism that “we are teaching our next generations to respect the differences between humans” which is a flagrant lie and scandalous selfishness since those who are sitting at the high table are just planning in favour of political determinism.

‘Civilised people’ they call themselves while you have to question their particular concept of ‘civilised’ to realise that the place you were born in does matter more than any other qualification of yours. Growing up in a country which has been under heavy sanctions for 40 years and among a generation who are the arduous members of their society due to the war and all the political ups and downs of these 40 years after the revolution imposed a sense of strive for every simple right. We studied intensively to be knowledgeable not just in one, but in multiple areas. Yet we were the ones who faced these sentences plenty of times:

Sorry, due to the political sanctions we cannot publish your article, poem, essay, comment, feedback, etc. or, this page, application, etc. is not available in your region due to the political sanctions.

And yet we peruse our dreams and never desist.

Comparing those white people who are appointed higher social status, salary, and rights! triggers one to wonder what would become of them if they were living under such tough oppressions and were robbed from their whiteness? Could they still allegate superiority and keep their eyes shut over discriminations? It doesn’t matter how preserving, or how pedant you are as far as the political determinism rules people’s mind. The place that I’m working for hires twenty people or so–both foreigners and non-foreigners–for those who have the passport of Canada, New Zealand, and the US, they provide accommodation in one of the overpriced areas of the city, better salary, flight tickets, and legal support, however, for the rest of us, no matter how highbrowed we are, they provide nothing! Though a number of these people who have ‘the passport’ are not originally from the so-called ‘English speaking countries’; one is from Greece and one is from Puerto Rico as an instance.

Hence, on account of the white supremacy concept, rooted in centuries of colonisation, conformity to ‘the concept’ without hesitation is a priory to the colonised minds. The bitter truth is that the colonised minds who are not privileged by this whiteness are the ones that practice ‘racism’ and feed ‘the concept’ ardently.

Being a racist doesn’t mean that you are obliged to insult people; it’s enough to make them feel miserable compared to other nationalities that you consider white with all its definitions attached.

The question is why this unjustified supremacy still cherished? I presume ignorance and disdain are crucially active herein exploitation, but one should bethink that ignorance and ignoring are both on board. Some might excuse themselves by ignorance and either cease their racism or proceed on by which their ignorance evolves into ignoring that needs unconscionable passivity that in itself is an active policy to satisfy all these exploitations toward Othering to the point that even a ‘native speaker’, with whatever background, has higher prerogative than a Ph.D. candidate in the related field just because he is from a certain country and you are not!

Behnaz Amani

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, who had studied interior architecture and design as well. A fine art photography model, poet, and writer who believes in kindness and understanding. Tries her best to be supportive of those in need and hates lies and infidelity.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
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Difference Conference 2019

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

This blogpost was first published here.

Pre-Conference Story

It has been about a year that I do not participate in predominantly white ELT conferences and events, and this has helped me heal in so many ways.

Source: Click here

I got to know about Difference Conference: Living on the Edge: The Joys and Challenges of Being Different in Japan 2019 through a Friend of Color. I noticed that Avril Matsui, the co-founder of the support and friendship group Black Women in Japan (BWIJ) and the creator of the Nagoya Women’s Empowerment Circle, will be presenting and moderating a panel session at this event. I checked the schedule and found Prof. Gerry Yokota’s name among the presenters and I always want to listen to her. So, I decided to attend the conference.

I shared the conference’s flyer on Women of Color in ELT Facebook group and I received a message from one of the members, Prima Shariff. She said she is coming all the way from Oita to attend this conference and asked about accommodation in Osaka. I told her she can stay at my place and we can navigate the conference together.

Prima is from San Jose, California, and she is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at Oita Board of Education. She has recently moved to Japan and Women of Color in ELT did connect us to each other.

Living on the Edge: The Joys and Challenges of Being Different in Japan


To me, the highlight of the Welcome & Opening Remarks was this graphic that I could find on pixabay, and again to me, it means we are different yet not equal. Read this book if you doubt the last two words in the previous sentence: Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education

Source: Click here

The English and Japanese interpretation services were available for the participants. I remember it was mentioned that some toilets are gender neutral at the venue and clearly marked. The conference had a Code of Conduct in both English and Japanese and I think it could have been mentioned during the opening session: 

​This conference is committed to providing a safe, friendly and welcoming environment for all, regardless of race, gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, physical appearance, national origin, ethnicity or religion. We welcome vigorous debate while maintaining a respectful community. Discriminatory behavior will not be accepted.


Source: Click here

I also noticed that prayer room was not available and I thought I could mention this somewhere in my blogpost about the conference. 

I attended three sessions in the morning, the conference panel session, and one session in the afternoon, and here I will share some of the highlights from these sessions.

Note: I was asked to remove the information about one of the sessions.

Is It Language? Is It Culture? Is It Gender? Or Is It Just Me? by Gerry Yokota



When seeking to understand the causes of miscommunication or conflict, one may consider various differences, such as language, culture, or gender. As a person of mixed ancestry, for example, I may feel excluded from a group I seek to identify with and speculate about the causes of my inability to fit in, but my assumptions may be wildly off the mark. In this session, we will explore how identities and differences affect our interactions, taking cues from a cognitive poetic approach to music. Depending on audience interest, discussion may include possible applications to classroom activities for exploring notions about diversity, inclusion and equity in intercultural communication.

Source: Click here

Gerry started her presentation with a poem, titled Shadowboxing, by Serafin Malay Syquia:

Shadowboxing by Serafin Malay Syquia

in this corner

weighing less than he should
wearing stained trunks
aching from that cavity
from that money wasted on paid love
styling monkey suits
blinding spotlights

trusting crooked managers and
fur-lined blondes

in this corner

scarred by years of
left jabs and right crosses of
unfilled flushes and snake eyes
staring at closed doors and no
help wanted signs

in this corner

leather fingers jabbing rice in
thin Chinese diners in
this corner
he sits a
to be told

Gerry then talked about her mixed roots: 1/4 Japanese, 1/4 Austrian, 1/2 Scottish (3/4 white). She shared her racial identity journey with us and explained that she went through a complex process of trying to identify as a minority before realizing she cannot and should not deny the privilege that comes from her 3/4 whiteness.

Gerry introduced some key points for discussion such as:

  • Stereotypes
  • Self-disclosure
  • Self-censorship
  • Dependency on external validation
  • Unlearning privilege
  • The danger of a single story
  • Ally-Supporter-Accomplice

Gerry has been active in the anti-apartheid movement in the eighties and has served as Nelson Mandela’s interpreter when he visited Japan in the nineties. You can read more about Gerry’s activities here:

You might also want to listen to Gerry’s Nelson Mandela: A Musical Tribute playlist. I found it while I was searching for her slides.

Gerry then shared another poem with us:

Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Rey 

I’ve seen the world, done it all
Had my cake now
Diamonds, brilliant, and Bel Air now
Hot summer nights, mid-July
When you and I were forever wild
The crazy days, city lights
The way you’d play with me like a child

Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

I’ve seen the world, lit it up as my stage now
Channeling angels in the new age now
Hot summer days, rock and roll
The way you’d play for me at your show
And all the ways I got to know
Your pretty face and electric soul

Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

Dear Lord, when I get to heaven
Please, let me bring my man
When he comes, tell me that You’ll let him in
Father, tell me if You can
All that grace, all that body
All that face makes me wanna party
He’s my sun, he makes me shine like diamonds

Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I got nothin’ but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

Will you still love me when I’m not young and beautiful?

She finished her presentation by:


What Are You? Gerry’s reading of the 1971 poem by Nobuko JoAnne Miyamoto

Immigration’s Children by Marcio Saiki


In Brazil, Brazilians people used to say that I am Japanese, and here in Japan, Japanese people say I am Brazilian, so who am I? For five years, I was the Director of a Brazilian School in Aichi. Brazilian children from different ages go to this kind of school instead of regular schools in Japan. Why does this happen? First, it is very important to understand about how the Brazilian immigration to Japan since 1990 occurred. Another thing to consider is that this immigration is singular, very rare in the history of human relations, an immigration to the home country of one’s parents or grandparents.

Marico is a photographer and you can follow his art at:

He talked about the Japanese immigration to Brazil and the Brazilian immigration to Japan. He also talked about his personal stories as a child of immigration. I had the chance to ask him where he fully feels belonged and he said Brazil.

These two slides show some examples of racial slurs used against the Japanese people in Brazil.

Final and Critical Remarks

Prima and I expected to see more Black people and People of Color at the conference and we both found the event predominantly white. The only Black woman that I met was Avril. I was the only woman with a headscarf and navigating the conference with Prima helped me a lot enjoy the conference.

I did not write about a session that I attended on positivity in detail. I think it is necessary to mention that wrong information about anxiety and depression was shared during this session, and I personally told the presenter that some folx do need to take medication and “positive” thoughts are not enough to deal with clinical anxiety and depression. I also emphasized that some of the sources of unhappiness and “negativity” come from systemic oppression, and kindness is not the only solution, especially when it is suggested by people who are not affected by those forms of oppression. I am glad some members of TELL—a non-for-profit organization that provides support and counseling services to Japan’s international community—also confirmed this. I hope the reviewers of the next conference will make sure that presentations on such topics do not perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health and promote toxic positivity instead of genuine optimism.

To me, the highlight of the Youth Perspectives on Difference panel was the part about the experiences of Sheizaf Ume Lee Lugas, the multi-racial panelist. She clearly, confidently, and directly talked about race. She urged us to “fight for something” and she shared her  disappointment as she believed “no one really cares.” She mentioned the term social suicide (this term is quite related to race and racial exclusion in society) a couple of times and how she feels like she is experiencing it at school.  

During the Q&A, my “too sensitive” racial radar could find an example of a pattern of white dominance, whitewashing the experiences of People of Color, and white saviorism. This might have happened unconsciously and unintentionally, but as we all hopefully know in discussions about race and racism, intention doesn’t matter. Impact does.

I believe when a white man compares his experience of social suicide at school with a multi-racial person who identifies as a Woman of Color and is sharing her experiences of racism, this should be disrupted. Many racial equity advocates have stated that:

  • White people should not speak over People of Color and belittle, minimize, and invalidate their experiences of racism by simply saying that “This has happened to me, too” (Refer to Common Patterns of Whites by Dr. Robin DiAngelo—a renowned anti-racism educator and a scholar in the area of Critical Racial and Social Justice Education and Whiteness Studies).
  • “When Black people and People of Color talk about race with white people, they do not have the same institutional power as white people who belong to the dominant culture.” Source: Click here
  • “Because of white supremacy, many white people—especially white men, who are also influenced by patriarchy—have been conditioned to speak over other people and dominate spaces.” Source: Click here
  • “Unfortunately, for white people beginning on their journey of racial awareness, truly listening to others’ stories often requires inserting themselves in the narrative somehow, in order to prevent themselves from denying or resisting what they hear.” Source: Click here

White folx need to be reminded of the following points:

  • “Don’t assume, full stop, that you can understand what it’s like to experience racism. You can’t. That’s the whole point.” Source: Click here
  • “Understand that nothing in your life has been untouched by your whiteness. Everything you have would have been harder to come by if you had not been born white.” Source: Click here
  • “Notice how racism is denied, minimized, and justified.” Source: Click here
  • “Approach racial justice conversations with humility.” Source: Click here
  • “Recognize that you don’t have all the answers, and People of Color deserve space to be heard without white people talking over them.” Source: Click here
  • “Listen to others’ opinions and experiences without trying to interpret them.” Source: Click here

In the Conference Feedback Survey, one of the questions was: How can we make this conference better? Here is my answer:

White voices should not be prioritized above the voices of People of Color. During Q&A, People of Color and other marginalized folx should be prioritized. This could be clearly mentioned at the beginning of the panel session.

The values of whiteness are the water in which we all swim. No one is immune. Those values dictate who speaks, how loud, when, the words we use, what we don’t say, what is ignored, who is validated and who is not. Unless we are actively and persistently dismantling these constructs, we are abiding by them. In integrated spaces (where we are less likely to be ourselves given the divisions that white dominance has created), we fall into the roles society has assigned us. As a Person of Color, and perhaps the only one in the room, it’s exhausting to always be swimming upstream. To survive in this society, we learn to hold our tongue, to “code switch” to fit in. This is about survival and the basic human need to feel that we belong.

Source: Click here

I did hold my tongue and upon reflection, I really felt that it is important to bring this to the attention of conference organizers and I dared to blog about it.

That’s why we need what Gerry referred to as allies, supporters, and accomplices to disrupt when whiteness gets centered as it is not easy for the only ones in the room to constantly deCenter whiteness.

And again, let’s keep in mind that:

As an ally, your role is not to “fix” Communities of Color. It is not your job to swoop down and take action on their behalf without knowing what the community needs to begin with. It might be easy to succumb to the desire to do things that seem good for others because they make you feel good, but it’s important to resist that urge and reexamine how to help.

Telling a Person of Color how to deal with oppression may seem like a helpful idea, but in reality, it’s harmful. Offering advice implies that the onus is on them, and assumes they have not already made efforts to overcome racial injustice.

Source: Click here

The standing nail and the hammer that we all equally had on our conference badges doesn’t mean that we experience oppression equally.


Some (most?) of us are coming from a point of privilege and we need to understand and acknowledge the difference between being a numerical minority (which is just a statistic) and being marginalized. We should bear in mind that focusing on “diversity” instead of justice is harmful as it upholds the status quo and does not lead to structural change. If you have not read critical work on diversity, you can start with reading and following:

To name a few

@IBJIYONGI, @SaraNAhmed@alwaystheself, @Ebonyteach, @blackgirlinmain, @CoreyMiles__, @ShanaVWhite@Bali_Maha, @IjeomaOluo, @KalwantBhopal@mochamomma@triciaebarvia@TchKimPossible@pgorski

Very Final and Critical Remark

I’d like to thank Prima for sharing her conference photos with me.

Dr. Parisa Mehran 

Born and raised in Tehran, Parisa Mehran holds a BA in English Language and Literature, an MA in TEFL, both from Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran, and a PhD in CALL from Osaka University, Japan. Her research interests include CALL and Social Justice and Equity Studies (SJES) in Education with the focus on Anti-racist Feminist Pedagogy. She currently teaches part-time at several universities in Japan.

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