Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Moral Dilemma

At the start of this academic year, Victor, my foreign teacher counterpart was informed his contract would not be renewed. At the same time I was reassured I could stay here as long as I wished, and it is was even stated that I would be this school's only foreign teacher because of a decline in students selecting English as their major. Part of the reason for that was rampant rumors that throughout Chinese students' learning career there would be less emphasis on English. Those rumors turned out to be baseless.

And, contrary to original reports, I will not be this school's only foreign teacher next academic year. Just like government entities in the west, our school wishes to allocate its 'foreigner funding and privilege' in a consistent manner so that, in the coming years, we will be rewarded more rather than less with regard to said funding/privileges.

The downside to that is less work for me. Well, for both of us, whoever the new teacher will be. The upside is that I might have an actual neighbor who might want to socialize and become friends. Victor never actually occupied the apartment next door because he had digs in a more fashionable part of town.

On the other hand, having an actual neighbor might be a curse. What if s/he is clingy, dependent or other negative traits this usually sunny personality tries to avoid?

Because time is so short and the crush is so great, Sam asked me to help find a qualified teacher: Bachelor's degree, some teaching experience, native Engish speaker. Not knowing very many people who would want to come to China to teach in the first place, and knowing even fewer who are already here but want to change jobs, I resorted to the blogging community I am a part of with ChinaDaily newspaper, the English reader's window into China.

An interesting side note to this community: allegations of racism. Some here believe that the Chinese are prejudiced against people who are not white (see previous entry), or even who are not Han - the majority ethnic group in China. I have a hard time believing them because our school has had foreign teachers from India, and Victor is not Caucasian. Having experienced the so-called reverse discrimination – being granted privilege because of being a foreigner, and supposing other foreigners, regardless of race/ethnicity are extended those same privileges, I had no reason to believe others' claims.  Until recently. Yesterday, to be specific.

The response to my blogging community query was quick. Eddie Turkson wrote back that he would have loved to have a shot at that job. He is also 'stationed' in Wuhan, and regretted just having signed a new contract with the school he is currently with. It is about 2 hours outside the city. He spends 5 days a week there and then commutes back to be with his lovely girlfriend, Tanza. She is from Guyana, has her bachelor's and is working on her MBA, and has several years' experience teaching English to small children. Might she put in for the job?

From what he described she met all of the qualifications and, when she forwarded her resume I found it to be top notch. I forwarded it to Sam with the cautionary note that, even though Guyana is not one of the 'big 4' – America, Australia, England or South Africa,  where Chinese schools prefer their teachers to come from, her home country's  national language is English.

I was so excited at being able to help someone, at the prospect of getting a new teacher, a new neighbor, a new... well, everything that a new hire entails. Hey! Maybe I'll even get a scrabble game in!

Yesterday, Sam dropped some papers off for me to review over the weekend, and we had a nice conversation over coffee. I asked about Tanza's application. He balked. “You see, we prefer people to come from...” blah, blah, blah... Race was mentioned. Another teacher hopeful that I had mentioned in the past, from Pakistan, was also shot down. “We don't want people from Pakistan.” I got the impression that, even if Tanzia were the only teacher available, she would not be called for an interview because Tanza is not Caucasian.

Therein lies my moral dilemma.

I am opposed to discrimination of all types, except for maybe a discriminating palate or a discerning ear. To exclude of vilify someone based on something s/he has no control over, such as skin color, spiritual belief or anatomy is a ridiculous, outdated notion. As a global citizen I have a duty to fight discrimination where and whenever I find it.

I can't believe I found it here, in this school that I love and spouted by the friend I respect. I don't know what to do. What to think.

I've been treated so well here, and Sam has welcomed me not just as a friend but into his family. The  tempting thought is to leave well  enough alone. After all: I'm not being mistreated. But... isn't that how discrimination is perpetuated? Those who think they are removed from the issue because it doesn't affect them directly? Those who turn a blind eye? Those who 'go along to get along'?

Should I walk away? Not be a part of this racist institution? Where would I go? It seems, from other blogging friends that racism is endemic to China. If I want to live in China – and I do!, sooner or later I will be faced with this same problem. Should I leave China? Where would I go? There is not a people on earth that does not discriminate in one way or another.


I am a teacher. I have the benefit and privilege of having lived a long time, all over the world. I have a duty to help educate people everywhere I go, not just in my classroom. No great lessons are taught in one sitting, nor are they absorbed instantly. It might take a while, but all of us expats, no matter what race/ethnicity and what country we find ourselves in, need to unite and speak with the same voice: equal treatment for all, everywhere around the globe.  

Will you help?    

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