Imagine an Asian woman, a white man, a white woman, a black man and a black woman applying for an English teaching job in a southeast Asian country. Guess who will get the job? I don’t know but I’ll tell you who would be considered last for the job – the Asian woman. Every country that I have taught English in, I’ve observed a general preference for white men over white women too. Personal experience – in Thailand, most students adore white men, old or young and prefer them to other Asian teachers despite the fact some are unqualified people who shouldn’t even be teaching in higher education. From where I stand as a 4’11” inch tanned skin Burmese woman, it’s a tough crowd to break through.
I remember my very first job interview in Bangkok. I had just graduated and I was excitedly applying for a job at small a language centre to teach English and after the interview, the man who was wearing an unusually big gold ring said to my face that he would consider giving me a job if I dyed my hair blonde and agreed to wear contact lenses. I cried on my way back home. That was my first experience with an openly racist comment about myself in the ELT job scene. I was 22 and had no idea what was waiting for me out there.
Fast forward two years – I had a bachelor, a masters in English literature, a teaching certificate and some substantial teaching experience under my belt. The day I applied for the new job I wanted, I had to do a teaching demo which is a standard practice. I aced it and got the job. Two other white dudes applied for the same teaching position and they got their jobs also. One of them had no bachelors degree and the other had a bachelor degree in business administration. They both had no teaching experience and they were not asked to do a teaching demo but were offered the jobs right after the interview. If I had a choice, I would have liked to have stormed out and demanded an explanation for why I was required to demonstrate my ability as a teacher while these dudes were simply just given them. But I needed the job and I wasn’t in that position to be demanding explanations or so I though and I kept my head down and worked there for three years.
Fast forward even further to four years later when I had just arrived back from finishing my second masters in teaching English from a top university in the UK plus a highly-sought after teaching certificate, and guess what, I still got the same job with white people who are not even half-qualified as I was! There I was – out of at least $30000 and back to square one. I was severely depressed (it’s not only because of the job prospects but it played a big role in it) but I did not give up. I found out I’m a high-functioning extremely sad person. I invested in myself – I paid to attend conferences. I paid to get myself more teaching certificates, read up on current theories and methodologies so I am always up in my game. I learned to stand up for myself. But most importantly, I met great people who fought for me, believe in my and it really turned my career around.
Now 12 years after all that drama, I’m in a great job but there’s still occasional racism, and sexism. In most rooms I enter, I am usually the one and only Burmese woman who teaches English who’s also trying to stand tall with heels but sometimes feeling 2 feet tall. I thought just because I have reached a certain point in my career, I would be protected from all the racism in the teaching world. I thought my fellow educated professionals would be open-minded and understood what privilege means but I guess sometimes it’s asking for too much. I often wonder how it would feel to walk with such entitlement and privilege. Some white men say they don’t want this privilege, that it had been thrusted onto them but I don’t see them screaming away from it when they are given all the perks. I simply want acknowledgement that they got to where they are to a certain extent because of their passport and that it is tiring for those of us who keep having to prove time and again that we deserve to be where we are. If you can acknowledge that you got further than some of us because you’re a white dude, that would be awesome.
What would be better even more would be for all of us to not make snap judgments and learn to look for a person’s merits, dedication and also perhaps qualifications that some of us worked really hard for. It starts with parents, managers, head teachers, and anyone with the power to employ people to give equal opportunities to everyone who have the necessary qualifications and experience. It also depends on governments making sure there are clear minimum requirements for who can apply for teaching jobs. We need help because this issue is not getting better fast enough. I hope that one day I can look back and see these days as the days of the past and not as a default state.