When “China virus” or “Kung flu” became racist substitutions for the pandemic, are we surprised that hate and fear have a thriving breeding ground?
COVID-19 has opened the glaring chasms of social and wealth inequality, including the bubbling rise of anti-Asian American sentiment, which is rooted in the persistent Whiteness of America’s teaching force.
Coupled with the political upheaval of the Muslim Travel Bans from the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, hate crimes and racial slurs toward the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities have become commonplace. AAPI Women Lead reported that between March to June of 2020, upwards of 2,100 violent incidents were aimed at the Asian-American community in the United States due to COVID-19 and that approximately 81 percent of Asian children were bullied in 2020. It’s no wonder that our larger society gets mirrored into our vast educational landscape, seamlessly reflecting racist, hateful practices in schools which is amplified by the educator workforce.
When teaching roles, as well as leadership positions in and out of schools, are filled with a sea of White faces, the message is clear. Whiteness becomes the ultimate authority and something to aspire to, while other racial groups are marginalized, ostracized, and othered. And that starts at our very core: in our schools.
These racist behaviors toward students of color, particularly toward Asian-American and Pacific Islander families, may go unnoticed, may be intentionally ignored, or may be too overwhelming to deal with for the predominately White teaching force in America’s schools. In 2016, 82 percent of public school teachers were White, while the leadership positions in schools were also held by White educators. How can we adequately teach our children to grow up in a multi-racial world, when all the authority figures are of a singular, homogeneous race?
The solution flowers with common sense. We must invest in teachers of color, in order to increase the racial representation of the educator workforce in our schools. More Asian-American teachers need to be at the helm of classrooms and at the decision-making tables in leadership circles, so that students from these marginalized backgrounds are advocated for at every level.
As for those that would argue that there aren’t enough Asian-American and Pacific Islander potential teachers to fill the void, that argument just doesn’t hold up. From 2000 to 2015, the Pew Research Center found that the Asian-American population in this country rocketed 72 percent. We must then work to improve the recruitment pipeline for future educators of color through traditional and alternative pathways.
In addition to improving recruitment avenues for teachers of Asian-American and Pacific Islander descent, pairing up these new teachers with veteran teachers of color will provide an atmosphere of belonging, encourage teachers of color to raise their voices in favor of more inclusive practices, and do away with feelings of imposterism. The old adage, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” holds eerily true. Increasing the racial diversity of our teaching force will be the catalyst that pushes other individuals of color, especially from Asian-American and Pacific Islander backgrounds, beyond feelings of imposter syndrome to devote their careers to the education field.
The hope is that Asian-American students in schools all across the country feel validated and affirmed in their unique experiences, feel included in the schooling process, and are inspired to change the racial imbalance of leadership in this country. Our schools will become the multi-racial, diverse, inclusive hubs of learning and growth, which in turn will reflect humane and compassionate policies and practices in our larger society. This can only begin once we address the root problem of Whiteness in our teaching force.