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]

One:

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].

Two:

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).

Semi-privileged 

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 virtuallyconnecting.org and co-facilitator of Equity Unbound. She blogs at http://blog.mahabali.me 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.

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

hammer-nail-for-website_orig

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

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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.

本会議では、人種、性別、性自認・表現、年齢、性指向、身体能力、外見、出身国、民族性および宗教に関わらず、ご参加の皆様に対して、安全、友好的且つ快適な環境を提供することを表明します。互いを尊重するコミュニティ環境を保持すると同時に、活発な討論を歓迎いたします。差別的な行為は一切行わないこととします。

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

viber_image_2019-10-27_01-20-16

Abstract:

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
unfilled
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
story
aching
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
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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:

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


Immigration’s Children by Marcio Saiki

Abstract: 

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: https://www.facebook.com/EFMS.Nagoya/

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.

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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.


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 Late Chaos of a Painful Night: A Poetic Narrative of a Huwo

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

Foreword

I know Behnaz from Book City located in central Tehran, Iran where we took some classes and participated in events on literary criticism and joined reading circles to read critically together.

When I started Women of Color in ELT movement, I contacted Behnaz. Here is our conversation:

Me: Do you identify yourself as a Woman of Color? If yes, join Women of Color in ELT.

Behnaz: I’ve never thought about it. I am whiter than my British and Belgian colleagues. Women of Color is a term to colonize women as nowadays to colonize, you do not necessarily need to physically occupy lands. Such terms can do that for you.

Me: I see your point although I use this term in a different way.

Behnaz: So, what’s your opinion on the term Women of Color?

Me: I believe this term can unify all women experiencing multiple layers of marginalization with race, ethnicity, and/or skin color. It will help us come together to build collective power for equity and systemic change. I believe together we can dismantle white supremacy and racism in ELT.

Behnaz: The thing is when you call yourself a Woman of Color, you have accepted oppression and then you want to resist and stand up against it.

Me: [Her critical comments reminded me of this article: The Problem with ‘People of Color’: It Implies Whiteness Is the Default where Kay Gilbert agrees with Nadra Widatalla on the fact that the term People of Color erases black people and she would retire the term for a different but related reason: “It privileges whiteness.”] I do understand what you mean and that is why I am ready to change this term if I find a better one. I not only acknowledge these concerns, but I myself am critical of this term. For now, I am using Women of Color as a unifying term.

After our critical discussion, Behnaz added her name to the database of Women of Color in ELT, and after a while, she contacted me and said she would like to share her story.

Here is a poetic journey to her story of confronting her past and the pain she has silently carried with her for years:

“The Late Chaos of a Painful Night”

“آشوب پسين شبي پر درد”

Followed by a poem about being a woman from her narrative both in English and Persian.

Her mesmerizing voice will touch your heart and soul.

Peace, radical love, and revolutionary hope,
Parisa


The Late Chaos of a Painful Night

I still remember the old, long stairs of my granny’s house;  with its dark brown coating and thick, low walls that surrounded them and were our childhood spiral slide away from the eyes of the elderlies; away from the others, an elderly who turned the slides into the slaughterhouse and sealed my body and soul forever with pain. My mother said: “shush! Don’t breathe a word, don’t go there, don’t do this…” and I wonder should I be blamed for these harassments, is it my delinquency to play around my own bloodline?

The night of adolescence befell by trusting the air and injected fear and wound into my every cell, “shush! Otherwise…” and there was I, sitting in slimy concussion and a blade awaiting death without any objection, not shedding a tear, neither screaming, nor begging for help.

I grew up in my loneliness with a mind-blowing number of unanswered questions, intuitively discovering my instincts. Hatred of femininity and the way of human intermingling became persistent nausea. A gradual death like a carcass which required meat-devouring worms to degrade and a decadence befalls me.

…………..

That man came. A masculine who set my boundaries into the fire, taught and fed me the carnal pleasure; yet again it was HIM who defined me, though I was a woman, a ‘huwo’ [1].

Carnal pleasure by others that if it is for me, it would be prostitution and promiscuity which deserves abandonment and the scarlet letter endurance, that deserve to be treated like a dirty tissue to clean their slimy-prostitution and eradicated by them who becomes unwomanly born angels whose love only bestows on the other as if your body was only a public lavatory honoured by their filth.

And love that never was, never is; a mirage and a whirlpool; barren hands and eyes filled with tears, gazing upon the deserted road gone with the wind and a hole that has been punched through my chest.

Behnaz Amani
21 June 2019

آشوب پسين شبي پر درد
The Late Chaos Of A Painful Night (in Persian)

I sing myself to the acid rain of a pain-bruised city
Are you listening?
I, a woman suffering from a dementia of getting rid of myself
Walk through all the bloody and strange backstreets of this sinister thought
Till I’m back to the melancholic womb of my creator
Till I’m back to the late chaos of a painful night
That the heavy apparition of a moon slither on my naked body.
I, a woman like a one thousand years wine
Surrendered in the opium breaths of an out of history crypt
Make a vow to all the ancient herbs,
Stomping to the dance of wheat
There that I’ve been stolen to the Hades’ embrace
Till the earth round on My circuit
Till months and years, become the plaything of coquetry of My eyes
That My eyes bewitched the high stature of Olympus
There that the fiery lust
Galloping and dancing on the figure of inevitable fate of humane

Yes, I, a woman lost in breeze
Singing the elegy of this earth’s refugees
With love….

Behnaz Amani
30 December 2015

Neither a separationist nor a racist, I’m just a woman, a “Huwo”[1] who wants to share her story with the people of the world to hear theirs. I fell in love with literature this treacherous mistress of all who sucks the life out of your veins and gives despair when I was a teenager. To be a Nobel Prize winner was my ambition, yet growing up made me realize that being a voice requires accomplishments greater than just a prize. It needs courage beyond doubts to accept your loneliness in your life journey and wisdom to be the sole reliance.

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.

[1] Human – woman. Since both of these terms have ‘man’ as their essential components, I thought omitting that and converging the two remaining parts would give us a sense of emphasis on femininity.


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.

Give Them Voice: Tanzanian Girls in Primary & Secondary Schools by Catherine Njau

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

Foreword

I got to know Catherine Njau through TESOL Social Responsibility Interest Group. When I started Women of Color in ELT movement, I shared it with her, and now she is one of the active members of this movement.

We usually chat with each other and share what we do in our classrooms. I am always fascinated by the love and passion Catherine brings to her classes.

Here is the story of the organization, Kuleana, she has founded in Tanzania to liberate girls by making them understand their human rights and by helping them develop their potential for their liberation.

Peace, radical love, and revolutionary hope,

Parisa

Give Them Voice: Tanzanian Girls in Primary and Secondary Schools

In Tanzania which consists of 120 tribes speaking their own vernacular languages and practicing different cultures and customs, girls are facing different challenges when it comes to the time of menstruation.

Most of the tribes have their own taboos regarding menstruation. For example, a Chagga girl is not allowed to pick vegetables during their period; a Sukuma girl is not allowed to touch and wash utensils until her period finishes. These are some examples of taboos which discriminate girls during their period.

Apart from these discriminatory acts against girls, adults and even leaders do not speak about menstruation as they feel ashamed to speak about it openly, so girls do not get enough and quality education about their body changes and menstruation hygiene.

Due to lack of proper education and poverty, girls use unclean products during their periods such as cow duck, rags, toilet papers, leaves, and barks of trees. Buying disposable sanitary pads is not affordable for many of these girls. This makes them stay at home for three to seven days and as a result they miss their education while boys are still proceeding with their education.

The Kuleana organization is a group of teachers who join together to speak about this issue. This idea was generated when I worked as a counterpart with Peace Corp volunteer, Riah Werner, and we tried to solve this problem by distributing re-usable sanitary pads from one of the organizations in Kenya known as Huru International after attending a workshop held by this organization.

After the distribution of the pads, the demand was so high that I asked for grant from the USA Embassy and got one. The challenge was how to transport the pads from Kenya to Tanzania as the taxation was so high. I then decided to think and produce re-usable sanitary pads and distribute them among the girls. The quality of the products was satisfying and many girls were happy and shared positive feedback. Since 2011 to the present, the Kuleana organization has successfully distributed 5000 Waridi Kit bags in many parts of the region.

The current challenge that the organization is facing is lack of grant to proceed with our products. We have all the necessary equipment. What we lack is materials and labor charge.

Based on my observation, this project has had some positive outcomes. Many girls come to school during their periods and they feel comfortable. The problem of early pregnancy has been decreased. Also, the performance of these girls at school has increased. Boys have also benefited from this project as they have learned about life skills and body changes, and they have become aware of different challenges that girls face and try to help them instead of laughing at them unlike before.

The group members of the Kuleana organization are trying to increase education in many parts of Tanzania and they regularly meet with all groups in the country such as children with disabilities, parents, mentors, and teachers.

We hope more people who wish to support this project join Kuleana so that many more girls and boys can develop awareness and confidence to live empowered. You can donate to this project here.

In this video, Catherine is teaching students about body changes and menstruation at Lyakirimu secondary school located in Moshi district, Kilimanjaro region, in Tanzania.

Catherine Njau is a secondary school English language teacher in Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania where she was born and raised. Catherine is currently a student at the Open University of Tanzania studying Linguistics and Literature. She has earned several certificates in online English courses. Catherine is a regional coordinator of Tanzania English Language Teachers Association, which is an affiliate of TESOL. She has been employed in a government’s secondary school and she has been teaching English there for 15 years. Apart from teaching, she has participated in various educational activities. She coordinated life skills and debate programs at her school. She has served as a primary counterpart for two different Peace Corps volunteers from America and volunteered for two English Teachers Training Programs. She has also participated in English Volunteer Training in her school and contributed to Maua Mazuri Project by helping create bilingual training manuals for arts-based girls’ empowerment workshops.

Catherine Njau on Facebook and Instagram.


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.