Expat English teachers: Conclusion – Subtle racism

Many expats have suffered discrimination while teaching English for a living in Ho Chi Minh City, several teachers alleged in separate interviews with Tuoitrenews.

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>> Expat English teachers: P1 – Why Vietnam?

Betty P., a Vietnamese-American teacher, claimed she struggled to get a job at local language centers simply because she looks Vietnamese.

“It was hard for me,” P. said, “I’m a native speaker but I look Vietnamese.”

She said that it is much easier for Caucasian teachers to get a job than for Asians, though “It’s a bit harder for African-Americans to get one.”

Even the center she currently teaches at is discriminatory, she reported.

“I know they started me off with children and teenagers because of the way I look,” she complained, adding, “They’re pretty honest about those types of problems when I talked to them.

“But I know other teachers that are white, and they go in and they get adult classes right away.”

Many parents and students share the school’s outlook, P. said.

“Both parents and students are racist until they understand that I’m a native speaker,” she said. “A lot of times I’ve heard students say, ‘you’re not white, how can you speak English?’”

The Vietnamese-American disclosed that students have shown explicit discrimination in the classroom.

“They’re very skeptical about me. They’re like, ‘How could this teacher be a foreigner, she looks like us?’ or ‘where is the foreign teacher? I want a foreign teacher’,” she shared.

“And I have South African friends that are white, and some students have asked ‘how can you be from South Africa, because you’re not black’.”

“It’s really racist,” she concluded.

Another Vietnamese-American, Robert M., divulged that “Some parents have complained to me that my appearance does not look Western,” and “I’ve had parents bring it up to [my center’s] management about me being Vietnamese, appearing Asian.”

“I have heard stories about people being discriminated against just because they don’t look Western,” M. said.

“They feel that their children aren’t getting a quality teacher as opposed to what a Caucasian face would get them,” he remarked.

M. also offered an explanation for this purported segregation.

“I think people have this idea of being Western as they watch Hollywood movies and TV shows in which Westerners come with a certain look.

“And when parents see in the classroom that you don’t really match up with their idea of what a Westerner is, then they might have problems.”

Alex G., an American English teacher, also said that “Parents don’t really want to see dark-skinned teachers, even if they’re native speakers.”

He added that he knew about Filipino teachers being discriminated against simply because, “they’re from the Philippines.”

Some language centers would rather have white European teachers than Viet Kieus who grew up in the U.S. or Canada with perfect English, G. said.

They are willing to accept teachers “from Germany, Spain, or even Hungary if they are white and look native” in order to meet the demands of parents, he said.

“The school will want to cater to the customer,” G. claimed. “It’s a subtle sort of racism.”

Helen B., also an American teacher, agreed that Vietnamese parents prefer white teachers over those of Asian descent, like Vietnamese, Viet Kieus, or Filipinos.

“In my opinion, it should not matter what you look like,” B. observed.

* All of the teachers’ names in this story have been changed to protect their identity due to the sensitivity of the matter.


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