Structural racism in international schools: What do students think?

UPDATE 3/9/2020: The recording from the webinar is now available online here.

I will be giving a talk about structural racism at international schools as seen through the eyes of Third Culture Kids (TCKs). It’s for a webinar series hosted by the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC).

International educators are on the frontlines of the international school community’s ‘BLM moment’. So, I am thrilled that I’ll get to share my research with international educators on August 12.

Let me explain what I’ll be talking about.

What do students think? Structural racism at international schools in the eyes of 'Third Culture Kids' - AIELOC webinar poster
Watch the webinar recording

‘Racist’ parents?

I have been following the discussions that have erupted within the international school communities surrounding the issue of structural racism within the expat and Third Culture Kid worlds. The recurring question that seemingly has no answer is: What do we do about the ‘racist’ parents?

When BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color) teachers criticize an international school’s racist hiring practices, school administrators often shift the blame to the students’ parents.

Sign a petition to Eliminate photos from CVs and ‘Native English speaker only’ language in applications

These administrators say, ‘Parents are the ones who are racist. Parents are the ones who want white teachers.’ They imply that the white school administrators are innocent. They claim that they are merely responding to the racist BIPOC parents who want to use money to purchase ‘whiteness’ for their BIPOC children. They are saying that their hands are tied because if they don’t pander to the racist parents, then there will be no money to keep the school running.

Or so the argument goes. How bloody convenient is that? Too convenient.

But is there a way out of this bind? Yes!

How do we convince parents that structural racism in international schools is bad for their child?

Parents will go to great lengths to ensure that their children get the best that they can afford. They pay exorbitant amounts of money to send their children to international schools because they believe that it will allow their children to acquire the skills and credentials needed to get ahead in an increasingly globalizing world.

Parents believe that international schools with white teachers who speak English with ‘the right accent’ is their children’s ticket to a better, more economically successful life. This is because, thanks to the cultural legacies of the British Empire and European colonialism, the current system of multinational corporations and international organizations is dominated by those who can speak English.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

But what if we told parents that putting their child through a racist educational system will negatively affect their child’s self-esteem and confidence? What if we told them that it will cause their children to waste time and energy to resolve their struggles with identity and internalized racism? What if we told them that these issues can stifle their child’s gifts and potential?

Would parents listen then? I believe so.

Where is the research to back it up?

Yet, systemic racism works to sustain itself and resist anything that would try to dismantle it. So, you can expect the school administrators to follow up with this: But how do we convince parents that a racist educational system is bad for their children when there is no research to back this up?

Sign a petition for the Explicit inclusion of anti-racism in international accreditation standards

Actually, there is research to support the call for equity in the international school system. In Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School, you can find the voices of international school students who are advocating for themselves. Students who participated in the research talk a plenty about the perils of an educational system that privileges whiteness.

There is also a lot of research that has been conducted in national contexts that are also applicable in international contexts.

What topics will we cover?

Recently, Joel Jr Llaban, an international educator who started a petition for the explicit inclusion of anti-racism in international accreditation standards, said that dismantling systemic racism within the international school system is a ‘child-protection issue’.

In the upcoming webinar hosted by AIELOC, I will offer listeners the research evidence needed to convince school administrators and parents that anti-racism is good for their students and children.

I will cover the following topics:

  • How do we make these uncomfortable conversations more comfortable?
  • How do students who do not come from non-English-speaking backgrounds and/or are not white experience the international school system?
  • How do school administrators, teachers, and the curriculum sustain systemic racism in international schools?
  • How do we convince parents that change is important?

When?

August 12, 2020 at 7am New York (EST) / 7pm Perth.

Join us for the conversation!

UPDATE 3/9/2020: You can now watch The recording below

Learn more about Growing Up in Transit

Conversations for Change

The Families in Global Transition (FIGT) organization will be hosting a Conversations for Change on the topic of Working for Equity – International Schools and Education this week. Trisha Carter, Secretary of FIGT, and I will be leading the conversation.

I will, of course, be talking about my research!

What will we cover?

  • the privileges we have or don’t have as expats or Third Culture Kids,
  • the current discussions taking place in the international school communities about systemic racism,
  • the international school experience for students who come from non-English-speaking backgrounds,
  • the way school administrators, teachers, and the curriculum support systemic racism in international schools, and
  • the strategies for change

When?

July 28 at 8:00 pm EDT (New York)/ July 29 at 8:00 am AWST (Perth & Singapore)

Join the conversation!

Click here for more info and to register.

Learn more about Growing Up in Transit

Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School - book cover (Asian Third Culture Kids)

Where are you from???

When I was younger, I used to hate the question, ‘Where are you from?’ It wasn’t because I didn’t like answering but because those asking didn’t usually care to know the full answer. But if they did, I would have loved answering.

These days, I’m often curious about other people’s backgrounds. These days, identities are crisscrossing at such speed that even I – who study this stuff – can’t keep up.

For example, does this video confuse you as much as it confused me? An Australian friend who does research on Indonesia but has nothing to do with Japan sent it to me. I saw this and thought: Wait? What? Who? Huh? Eh?

Say so – Doja Cat reacts to Rainych’s Japanese cover

Where is the pink singer from?

Usually, guessing where people are from is my specialty. But this one did my head in.

Who is this cat woman? … Why is she a cat, anyway? (Yes, I am so out of touch with pop culture—thank you, Age.)

And who is the pink singer? … Her Japanese is perfect … so, is she Japanese? … OMG, she even raps in Japanese. … But she’s wearing a jilbab (the Indonesian word for hijab), so she can’t be Japanese … Or can she be? … Maybe she’s a hafu (a Japanese translation for ‘half’ and used to mean ‘mixed race’) like me? … Or is she Malaysian? … Where is she from??

In an effort to untangle my confusion, I did what my teachers taught me to do (as if) and dutifully googled the crap out of all the keywords I could find on the video. I hereby, ehm, report the results.

Cat woman is Doja Cat. Someone who originally sang the song, ‘Say so’, in English.

Original ‘Say so’ in English by Doja Cat

The pink singer is Rainych Ran. According to an interview with The Magic Rain, which publishes content for the ACG (Anime, Comic and Games) community, Rainych is ‘an Indonesian singer who’s best known for performing song covers from various anime titles’. At the time of this writing, Rainych’s Japanese cover of Doja Cat’s ‘Say so’ has amassed over 13.5 million views.

Where is Reo from?

Then, just as I was starting to make sense of things, I found this reaction video by a Japanese guy named Reo, which got me confused again. Reo is not a traditional Japanese name. It sounds like a Japanese pronunciation of ‘Leo’.

Reo’s Japanese reaction to Rainych Ran’s Japanese version of ‘Say so’.

Plus, Reo’s YouTube channel targets Indonesians wanting to learn Japanese. He speaks rather slowly and clearly in his videos and they all have subtitles in English and Japanese. But he only uses hiragana and katakana and avoids the difficult Chinese characters for the Japanese subtitles.

The questions that bombarded my brain next were: Why is he targeting Indonesians learning Japanese? What’s his connection with Indonesia? Is he learning Indonesian himself? Or is he a Japanese-Indonesian hafu? Is he a kikokushijo or returnee student who used to live in Indonesia as a Japanese expat kid? In other words, is he a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?

‘Japanese privilege’?

Or is he targeting Indonesians because we have a large youth population who loves the internet and think highly of Japan? There are quite a few Japanese YouTubers who don’t seem to have pre-exisiting connections with Indonesia but are specifically targeting the Indonesian audience on the internet. Why?

Could they be capitalizing on the privilege accorded them due to Japan’s status in the region—a status that exists thanks to Japan’s colonial history? Perhaps they are using that privilege to target the Indonesian youth audience because it offers a potentially large and easy market to break into in the world of internet algorithms?

(For the sake of transparency: I am mixed Indonesian-Japanese myself.)

If they are using that privilege, however, does it matter? Personally, I feel the privilege needs to be recognized and acknowledged but I’m more excited about the connections that young people are making across cultures and, basically, saying eff you to national boundaries.

Where is Datenkou from?

I haven’t found the answer to my questions about Reo kun. But I did find out that the Japanese version of ‘Say so’ was not translated by Rainych chan as Reo seemed to think.

Japanese version of ‘Say so’ covered by Raiynych Ran

It was translated by Datenkou. After a long search down a rabbit hole, I found the info about Datenkou’s involvement with the translyric right there in the description under Rainych’s own video above. (Lesson learnt, next time check in the obvious places first!)

So, was this the end of the rabbit hole? Uh, no. Once I found Datenkou, I started asking: Where is Datenkou from??? His Japanese translyric of ‘Say so’ is perfect. Is he Japanese? Wait, is he singing Anggun’s ‘Mimpi’, an Indonesian song? His Indonesian accent is perfect!

Cover of Anggun’s ‘Mimpi’ by Datenkou.

But, before I go further down the Dantekou rabbit hole, let me point out that Anggun is Indonesian and a trilingual singer. She sings in Indonesian, French and English. Her voice is incredible—cool and husky. Here’s her version of ‘Mimpi‘.

Okay, now, back to Datenkou. His Twitter profile says that he’s an agricultural researcher and he speaks Japanese, English, Indonesian and French. He lists Japanese first and he’s in Tokyo. Is he a Japanese Third Culture Kid? Hafu?

I suppose I could message him and ask. But he probably gets asked, ‘Where are you from?’ a lot, so let’s leave him be.

But, all this crisscrossing—gotta love it.

What do you think?

The Graduate Roundtable: Sociology of Education

I’ll be hosting The Graduate Roundtable at the FIGT Research Network this month. It’s the inaugural session. For more info click here.

I’m thrilled because Richard Pearce, PhD, who has supported my work for many years without having even met me, has agreed to act as a Guest Advisor. We’ll also be joined by Mari Korpela who was doing her postdoctoral work back when I was doing my PhD and Heather Meyer who was doing a PhD as the same time as me. Mari, Heather and I, along with my examiner Anne-Meike Fechter, met at the EASA conference back in 2014 in Estonia (folks, did you know that that’s where Skype was invented). The Graduate Roundtable will be like a mini, semi-reunion.

Of course, the main course will be served by the graduate students who will be sharing about their current research. One of whom is Preeti Samuel Rajendran, a fellow TCK who not long ago reached out to me about her research because she had read my book and liked it. She has such a fascinating upbringing and I find her research topic fascinating. It’s so different from what I’m used to hearing.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE

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