Thoughts on Privilege and Anti-Racist Reform in International Schools in a Time of Change

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  • Taking A Stand
Mia H. ('22)

DISCLAIMER: I would like to start off this article by saying this is heavily inspired by posts created by some of my peers, Thea Nawal and Maisha Gregory, as well as numerous other people who have spoken up about this issue. Without their effort to start this conversation, I don’t think I would have ever been able to write this, and so I would like to give credit where credit is due and thank them. I would also like to state that as a privileged Asian able-bodied girl living in a homogenous country where I am part of the majority, I understand that I will never understand or experience racism to the extent that black and indigenous people of colour (BIPOC) do on a daily basis in countries like the United States. I also don’t believe that I have the right to speak for BIPOC; however, given the minimal representation of minorities (racially and socioeconomically) in international schools in Tokyo, I feel as though it’s necessary to put in the effort to reform the educational system in a manner that actively promotes anti-racism and other forms of intersectionality, especially because many of our students will eventually move to countries such as the UK, US, Australia and other places where anti-blackness and racism are still prevalent, both socially and systematically. I believe it’s the responsibility of our educators, teachers and school administration to raise awareness about the role that concepts such as racism, ableism, homophobia, and more play in contemporary societies in order to develop young people who will learn to speak up for what is right. We cannot ignore the manners in which many of us in our community benefit from the systematic oppression of so many different groups, and BIPOC in particular.


Amidst the flurry of recent news and activist movements surrounding police brutality and racism in the United States, I’ve had time to reflect on my own actions as a person, how they contribute to systemic racism, and how I can help the Black Lives Matter movement. Seeing young people in my demographic and community post ignorant, uncompassionate and hateful speech in this time of mourning and change made me realise just how close-minded the international school community is, how unaware we are of our privileges and how uneducated we are on issues concerning racial justice, including its history.


I myself am certainly not free of this conditioning and racist mindsets. I have watched classmates, friends, family members, acquaintances and even teachers say or partake in certain problematic behaviour that I should have called out. I have been silent in moments when I should have spoken up. One of the clearest and worst memories I have of educating myself on societal issues includes a time where I was visiting the US for the first time as an 11-year-old and tensed up when a black man walked past me on the street (studies have shown that people perceive black men to be much more threatening, able to do potential harm and larger than whites subconsciously). I remember perpetuating ideals of white saviour complexes when I was a kid, having the media tell me time and time again that the only heroes in our world were white (70.8% of speaking roles in Hollywood are given to white actors). These issues that have popped up time and time again throughout my own development as a person have helped me to realise that nobody is born with hate and ignorance. Hate and ignorance are taught, through the media, our education and the environments we grow up in. Because of this, we have to make an active effort to unlearn it.


There are a plethora of resources on the internet detailing the history of systemic racism in the United States and how to combat our own privilege in order to attain equity and change in our governments and society, but it bothers me that we haven’t been taught that in our own schools, especially since these resources need to be actively searched for in order to be found AND it does not hold people to their responsibility to dismantle their own subconscious racial prejudices if it is merely an option rather than something they are made aware of consistently throughout their education. I would like to ask international schools, both in my community and outside of it, to address this issue by implementing a curriculum that is not merely Euro-centric (the IGCSE syllabus as of 2020 has both of its core content studies completely revolving around European and American history, with minimal room to explore other countries’ histories in their depth studies as an option and there have been numerous debates on the history curriculum of American schools in general), that actively teaches students to be empathetic and understanding and that shapes people to better comprehend the role they play in modern-day society. Systemic oppression is an issue that spans all aspects of life, and as such, it can also be brought up in every single one of our classes. Should we not be teaching biology students preparing to be future medics the way that healthcare is biased towards cisgendered able-bodied white males, because of the way research surrounding medicine has always been conducted on this particular group? Should we not be teaching, from an early age, in our English classes just how much the literature we value as classics are overwhelmingly sourced from a cis white male canon? Should we not be teaching girls how they are going to be told time and time again that their perspectives are irrational and based in emotion, that they’re going to be interrupted whenever they try to speak in modern society, that they’re going to be catcalled and men are going to feel entitled to their bodies regardless of what they want? 


I appreciate my teachers trying to bring up these discussions, and I recognize the effort that they have already made to make students aware of these issues. However, I have found that these discussions only begin after we’ve already entered high school and have had time to develop our own manners of thinking. Furthermore, these issues are rarely addressed in the curriculum itself - instead, teachers have to make an effort themselves to fit time into their classes to discuss these issues with their students. With this in mind, it should be necessary for students to understand the role they can play in systemic oppression, especially from a young age, because children who are black, disabled, in poverty, etc. do not have a choice in learning about these issues. They have to live through them on a daily basis. Students in Seisen and countless other private international schooling institutions are privileged in so many ways - most of us are relatively wealthy, white/Asian, able-bodied, have access to food, healthcare & homes - and because of this, we are limiting the conversation and not giving voices to those that are afforded the same luxuries that all of us have. People who are privileged have to be forced to acknowledge the reality that they are because it is necessary in order to incite change and not doing so is inherently harmful to the many communities that suffer on a daily basis. 


As a school whose aims are to educate women for social and cultural transformation and shape international mindedness and celebrate international diversity (amongst others), we should recognise the factor that incorporating intersectional education of systemic oppression can play in reaching this goal.


Along with my sources, I have attached a number of articles, journal studies, and guides meant to shift schools towards more diversity and intersectional inclusive education, as well as a google document with more resources on anti-racism created by my older sibling.


Resources & Citations:

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