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How do we deal with racist teachers?

Wow! You’ve come to Auntie with a tough one, but I glad you’re thinking of ways to get a handle on the situation.

It’s difficult to encounter racism on any level, much less on one where you are in a position of unequal power. This person is a teacher and you are their student, that doesn’t start things on an equal playing field!

There are a couple different ways of handling this and this depends on what feels most comfortable to you. You can model your strengths, be a teacher, or take an activist role. Keep in mind some of these titles come heavy loaded. For instance, people hear the word activist and they think of a person holding protest signs with a megaphone while the police watch ominously with machine guns. This isn’t what I am suggesting. Let me break these scenarios down:

  • Model your strengths: I believe this is what we should be doing anyway because it’s important that we work to showcase the world our strengths…and if you are Native, then you’ve got a lot of strengths you can tap into.
  • The Teacher: It is easy to get upset and feel put down when you feel like someone is treating you different because of your race or your gender. It is hard! It’s not easy when you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what you stand for, all the while dealing with people who just don’t get it. So, if you are able, think of it as an opportunity to school your teacher. Find the right time (not interrupting, or causing a scene), which may be pulling the teacher aside and giving them a quick history lesson on some of the things your proud of from your tribe. You can say something like, “I feel like we got off on the wrong foot and I wanted to tell you a little about myself so maybe we can start again. Did you know I’m from the (insert) tribe? There are a lot of really great things about the people I come from. Can I tell you about them sometime?” This may do a couple things: 1) it lets your teacher know that you have felt treated differently by them, 2) it tells them you’re proud of where you come from and they can’t change that and, 3) it lets them know you want your culture respected. If you feel ready to take it to the next level, keep reading.
  • The Activist: This is a person who is putting their efforts into change and this can mean different things to different people. We can all be activists working to make our world better and this can happen in many different ways. So now, if you want things to change, what is it exactly that you want to change? Perhaps starting a Native American youth club at your school might be the best way to address racism and stereotypes.

*On a side note, sometimes there are just bad teachers. If this teacher is blatantly racist and is continually putting you down because of your race, then you need to let your principal, or school councilor know. It might help to write every encounter or racist behavior down, along with the dates and names of witnesses on a piece of paper and share them.

I hope this helps. Next time you feel like you are being prejudiced against because of your race, take a second, think about what is happening and how you want to react to it. Perhaps they are speaking out of ignorance, if that’s the case, take a moment to graciously school them. If it is an adult and they are being blatantly racist, or prejudice…let someone you trust know.
Good luck fighting the good fight!

Auntie Manda

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