Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I've been pulled into something ugly

So thanks to my good work, my little English school is set to expand in March from 5 classes a day to 9 classes a day. That means we need a new part-time teacher, and I've been charged with hiring them. I know my students' parents have high expectations, as I think I have set the bar pretty high. So yesterday I put two help wanted ads up on English teaching websites. I got my first respeonse last night from an oddly accented fellow. He lives far away from where our school is, but he said that was not a problem. He didn't have the experience or Korean skills that I was looking for. Finally he asked me what nationalities I was looking for. I said any was fine, and he said that's good because he is British Gambian. From his accent I would say he was heavy on the Gambian, light on the British, and just from the accent I knew I would not hire him. North American accent is a must. I briefly thought about the controversy that would erupt if I hired an African teacher. many parents would probably complain, and the woman who helps me run the school, as well as my wife, would probably veto the choice, should I make it.
An hour later I got a call from a woman. She had a very good American sounding accent with a hint of something else. She had the experience and Korean skills I was looking for. She sounded like a good fit all around. Then finally she asked the same question about nationality. Turns out she was from the Philippines. Again, I thought, that might raise some eyebrows but if she's really good it wouldn't matter.
I got home and told my wife about the two calls, and her reaction was "Hire an American or Canadian, you can't hire someone from any other country, it just won't fly." And I knew the was right. But I hate it all the same. I think too often in this country people make these simplistic racist decisions based on what other people's reactions are likely to be. The students' parents won't like it or people will think we hired a Philippine woman because they work cheaper or a non-Nroth American will teach the children a bad accent. There are so many fears, all about what other people will think, that people never address what they themselves actually feel.
I don't like it, but I can't pretend it's not true, so I feel like I'm becoming part of the system. You know what I mean?


Jeff said...

Ugh, that really sucks to be put in that position. But it sucks even more for the people you're going to have to turn down. Is there any way you can do the right thing? Maybe I'm stuck in my liberal bubble here in Boston but that shit would never fly in the States even with all the racism we have here. For whatever it's worth, if you find a way to hire the best qualified person you get a vote for everyday-hero status in my book. I can't imagine ever having to make this choice.

Joe Mondello said...

It makes doing the right thing a little bit easier that the best person for the job must have a North American accent, which means I can dismiss most non-U.S. (and non-white) people out of hand. The problem comes if and when I get a non-white American or Canadian applicant, which hasn't happened yet. I would definitely go to bat for a qualified non-white American or Canadian, because I think it would be possible to get people to accept that. Paradoxically I would probably have an easier time getting a black American hired than, say, an Asian American or a Mexican American, because it would fit more neatly into the average Korean mind that this person is "American".