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Why is my Classroom Still a Racist Space?

When starting university, I was filled with hopes, expectations, aspirations and apprehensions. I had prepared myself for great opportunities, hard work and failure. But amidst all these, I forgot to prepare myself for dealing with racism in the academic world, an essential aspect for a person of colour going to university in a Eurocentric world.

            Half of my life I have lived as a woman and a quarter of my life as a woman of colour; the latter only perceptibly relevant when I moved to Canada. There are many instances when I experienced racism and microaggressions and quite a few of those times I was not even aware of it. Not because I could not feel that something was wrong but because I could not exactly locate what was wrong. Because it is not always simple and somehow, it always finds its way veiled under diplomatic jargon, ignorance layered under naivety.

            Misconceptions and prejudices do not discriminate between professions. And though any university or institute of education is the last place one would like to see a prejudicial mindset, they do not remain unscathed. In the current situation of the world, centuries of backbreaking histories demand certain things from this generation – the claim that we all have to be treated as human beings to be acknowledged and respected – at the top of the list of expectations. But what happens when these new thinking minds are relying upon a system of education that in itself is problematic?

            Everyone seems to be eager to fight the crime. They just don’t seem to notice who the criminals are, which is a question worth wondering over, especially when there are professors confident enough to perpetuate their racially biased thoughts in front of a room full of students. One might think it ends there, they leave once they share their opinions (which should have been unbiased facts in the first place), but with closer attention, you see that the damage they do is much deeper. Just as racism and discrimination find their place everywhere, it is essential to have a conversation about this in every course. But sometimes, even the courses you might assume are designed for such conversations barely scratch the surface of analyzing such critical topics. The design of the course, the knowledge the students have access to, the readings a professor assigns, the sources used in the class and the origin and history of these sources are all great spaces to start analyzing critically what is really being taught and who is controlling the narrative of these teachings. It is much easier to pretend we live in a world without racism if the critical thinking paper we are reading for school is written by a WASP (white anglo-Saxon protestant) who has never experienced what racism is in the first place.

            Spewing hate, discriminative thought blanched under “carefully crafted” words in attempts to be politically correct does not make them what they are not – understanding, compassion or acceptance. But letting such instances pass unchecked does show how biased teaching for generations can desensitize and normalize microaggressions and structural racism in institutes.

            I would like to believe we have long passed the time when a White professor imitates an accent for cheap comedy or blames all the corruption in the world on Third World Nations because “those countries have a long history of human rights violation. What can be expected from the people who come from those countries anyways?” Despite their age, they somehow forget the golden eras of colonialism and glorious human rights examples set by Europe in treating its colonies.

            No matter how much I want, I cannot ignore the fact that I am a “person of colour” because racism and discrimination are not something that happens once and stops. It is a continuous process, it is always at work and it is time we acknowledge this cycle instead of “letting it go” because “it’s not a big deal”. Why do the violators get to decide how much was harmed in their violation? Why do violators get to decide their compensation?

            I was going to base this article on how to deal with racist encounters from university faculty, but to be honest, I myself am not yet adept in such confrontations. I do not know how to call someone out without fearing my academic career to be a target for the rest of my years in the institution. I do not know what guarantees that every time I question something wrong, I won’t be subject to something worse. Not all of our ideologies are going to match, but we should at least be able to count on each other’s humanity, which is not only reserved for White Europeans but for every human being.

            The truth is we all have our biases and in this ever-evolving world, we are all students. We cannot eradicate racism, prejudice and discrimination in one day, but an open mind and willingness to learn, to understand and most importantly to rectify can play a great role in making this society what it always should have been – a place that is equal for everybody.

Sreya is a second year student at UTM. Sreya is majoring in Psychology with double minors in Women and Gender Studies and Political Science. She has an ardent love for everything Jane Austen and Meg Cabot. Besides her books, Sreya loves travelling, watching movies and putting faith in the power we all have within ourselves to work towards changing the world to be a better place.
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