Local teacher cleverly debunks racist stereotypes in a P5 classroom

By Jayasutha Samuthiran

How do you react to racism from a P5 child?

This was a conversation that occurred at the very beginning of class. I teach creative writing to three classes of P5 students on Mondays. This was during my first class today, in fact, just an hour ago. I have been teaching these kids for half a year now.

Girl: Teacher are you a Singaporean? as in are you from India or are you from Singapore?

Me: what do you think?

Girl: I don't know but I think you are from India.

Me: why?

Girl: but if I say why then I can be sued.

Me: it's okay, you can just say it.

Girl: Because your skin is very dark so you must be from India?

Me: No such thing, there is a huge spectrum of skin colours. And do I ask you if you are born in China or Singapore?

Girl: But I'm not so fair like people in China.

Me: What? have you been to China?

Girl: No.

Me: I lived in China for a month, I can tell you for certain not all Chinese there are very fair-skinned.

Girl: Teacher you know just now when I was walking to class I was walking behind you?

Me: Yes I realized, why didn't you say hi?

Girl: I didn't know it was you, you usually wear a dress and yet today you got braided hair. Teacher you like braids ah?

Me: I just felt like it today, why?

Girl: Just now got so many Indians at the bus stop, so smelly you know, and then their hair already curly they go tie braids then so ugly, I hate it when my mother ties braids for me, after she tie I quickly take out and comb my hair straight again.

You see, this is a class of 9 kids. by this point of the conversation we were already 10 minutes into class time. I needed time to cover the syllabus plus they needed time to complete their essays in class. Also, I refuse to combat racism with any equivalent racist stereotypes. I also had a very silent 8 other kids listening to the conversation all this while. What to I do? I didn't utter another word and just began the day's lesson proper.

So I've run through the worksheet and they are now writing their essays. With a moment to myself, I was sitting in the classroom feeling annoyed, angry, sad, and incapable (of nipping racism in the bud).

And on the one rare day I decided to dress down, I get closeted by racial stereotypes. and what are this girl's parents teaching her? or not teaching her? I felt like I'm in primary school all over again dealing with and experiencing racism.

Teachers out there, parents also, how would you deal with this?



If you read the comment thread of this post, you would come across a particularly brilliant suggestion (among many good ones) by Hemma Balakrishnan. and I took her advice. let me update you on how this story ends.

After collecting their essays, I had 5 minutes left before I had to dismiss them. I drew a table on the board with 4 columns - Chinese, Malays, Indians, Others.

Me: So this is a pretty fun activity, tell me what you think all Indians or Malays or Chinese are like?

Student: Ang Moh where?

Student: Others la

Student: Teacher I know why you doing this, because of what she said just now right?

So the columns were filled up. We completed Indians first - black, braids, smelly. then Malays - men wear skirts, lazy. then Chinese.

Student: White!

Student: No la where got white.

After this there were no responses. They just looked at me blankly with nothing to fill in for the Chinese column.

Then after a while......

Student: Chinese are nice!

Me: (chuckling) Wah for everyone else you said bad stuff and when it's about you, you are nice?

Me: Okay since there are no non-Chinese here maybe you guys have never heard of these things but let me tell you a few things people say about all Chinese. Greedy. They don't shower in the mornings.

Student: but teacher I shower in the mornings!

At this point, I went on to explain how if what was mentioned in the Chinese column wasn't true, why would any other stereotypes in the other columns be true. We went through each stereotype listed, debunking them. Specifically for the stereotype about Indians being black, I did not say something along the lines of "not all Indians are black", rather I went on to say that there was nothing wrong with being black. students were mostly nodding their heads in agreement with me as we moved along each stereotype. For the Indians are smelly stereotype, apart from the fact that it isn't true, I also spoke about how construction workers might be smelly but that's only because they work so hard to build our houses and they are paid so little so they cannot afford to buy deodorant or perfume. Also, everyone naturally has body odour after you hit puberty, it's about how well you manage it by wearing deodorant etc.

It was such a 'ting!' moment for all the kids and the particular girl who had passed the remarks looked rather defiant but didn't really say anything because all her classmates agreed with me. It was truly an amazing, defining moment in my teaching career thus far.

Thank you so much Hemma and everyone else on this comment thread!

I will continue to monitor this particular girl and if I realise that she still harbors racist sentiments, I shall not hesitate to speak to her parents. then again I feel things should be all good :)

Again a huge huge thank you! So glad I posted this on Facebook. you all played a part in turning my day around and enabling me to nip racism in the bud. :)

This was reproduced with permission from editors of The Real Singapore. Commend this teacher Miss Jayasutha Samuthiran for a lesson extremely well taught by posting on her Facebook wall.


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