I remember staying after class one day in middle school to ask my teacher a question. “What did you say, Elide? I couldn’t understand. You Mexicans are always speaking so fast and your accent just makes your English too rough,” she replied to my question with a smile on her face.
After that day, I did not feel comfortable asking a question again.
Many will not see an issue with that statement, at the time neither did I. Her use of generalizing a group of people by saying “you Mexicans” was her first mistake. Assuming I was Mexican or even Hispanic was her second. I am Mexican, but as many people know there are different types of Latinos/Hispanics and not every brown person is from a Spanish speaking country.
The rest of the day I went by thinking there was something wrong with my English, the way I spoke it, and even the way I wrote it. I would continuously speak and ask myself, “What was wrong with my English?” I had grown up in the United States and even though Spanish was my first language, I had never had a person tell me that they couldn’t understand me. I’m pretty sure it is easy to understand why this had a really big toll on a 9/10 year old girl.
On my first day as a junior in high school, I waited until my teacher called my name for attendance. I would be lying if I said that teachers not being able to pronounce my name hasn’t affected me. When I was young, I would tell my mom that she should have named me Jessica or a name that would be easier to pronounce in this country. In all my years as a student, I have never had a teacher pronounce my name correctly on the first try, so when my first period teacher struggled to pronounce it, I didn’t think much of it. What she said next was what shocked me. “I’m so sorry, I’m not Mexican so I cannot pronounce those Mexican names. If you have a Mexican name please make sure to make it whiter so that I can spell it out correctly.”
I know some people will say that it isn't that serious and that I should just suck it up and live on with my life. The only problem is that it is that serious. Teachers should not make racist comments and, believe it or not, those are racist comments. Those are my two personal examples but there are many more from other students across the globe. As said in the article, “One-third of children in UK 'have heard racist comments at school'” by Damien Gayle, there are many children who have heard racist comments that were said by their teachers and it shouldn’t be that way.
Now I am not saying all teachers make racist comments because that is simply not true, but enough teachers use their authority and power to get away with saying things they may or may not mean. Some teachers may say that they did not know it was a racist comment or believe that what they are saying is not a racist comment, but that is just an excuse. A teacher should not make comments about a student’s race, in any way, shape, or form, end of story.
Just because they meant it in a “harmless way” does not mean that it was harmless to the student. A child, especially one that is young, can carry that on with them for the rest of their life. “Why are you so dark,” “Why is your name so hard to pronounce,” “You can go jump on that wall like your parents did to get here,” etc.. Those and many more “harmless” comments are things that you hear almost all the time as a person of color and it has to stop.
Also, if you are not a person of color, you do not have the right to tell a person of color that they are exaggerating over a “harmless comment.” Teachers, and people in general, should stop making those “harmless comments,” they should stop abusing the authority and power that they may have and remember the impact that words can have on a person.