Teaching, Gender and Colonial Pasts

White skin is associated with a great deal of power and privilege that is hard to understand from our perspective. While travelling outside of a predominately Caucasian country this is even more predominate in day to day activities. With being an educated, white, heterosexual female there is a great deal of this power that I can actively work to diminish but never fully be free from. I am able to be an ally, speaking up for people that are silenced but never fully understand the true hardships that others face on a daily basis. This is not the first discussion we have had on this blog about our presence being unavoidably acknowledged while walking down the streets but I would like to take a different approach to this dilemma that many of us have all faced.

I spoke before about how my placement is teaching english to Tibetans and monks from other countries. Teaching a lot of monks there are certain ways to act to make them feel more comfortable such as never having your feet pointing toward them and wearing a scarf if your shirt is too low. These minimize the issues that happen with gender dynamics but they do not totally eliminate them. While facilitating a conversation class one of my students brought up the point that if I was not a teacher he would not be sitting so close to me or speaking to me so much because I am a woman. I have mulled this comment around my brain for about a week now. Am I breaking down gender barriers, or am I further cementing the colonial white saviour complex?

As spoken about in previous blog posts we are not trained teachers so the power and authority we are given through teaching English overseas is understood to be relational to our colonial past. The idea that we are experts and therefore able to break through gender dynamics within India creates a power surge. It seems as though we are getting authentic access to culture but this cannot be true if we are getting conversations that would not regularly occur to women. This makes me wonder if males being taught by women are actually changing their opinions of women or rather there is a solidification of colonial power dynamics.

Colonial powers are run strong within Indian society. Being a previous colony there are still strong connections and sentiment to how white people are treated within the social organization. With being a white woman I have access to many privileged that women within the community do not. I am able to go outside after dark, and be respected for my education and work. Teaching is no different and is possibly worse because it is a strong correlation to the colonial powers knowing best. How Western ideals are strongly encouraged within a classroom and what that means for breaking through the power of our skin colour. I am given respect because I am a teacher but I don’t know how to distinguish if it is also because of my ethnicity.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to come to terms with the power that teaching English gives me. We spoke last night about how there will always be discomfort in front of a classroom and a far that you will mess up and let down the people relying on you. I’ve been told that acknowledging that there are these power dynamics give space for there to be a change in them but I don’t think that this change can come solely from me. Every person has multiple identities, these identities become more or less prevent depending on what situation you are in but they all influence your reactions. Here I have faced characteristics that I cannot minimize, I cannot become less white or less female, unlike many other mannerisms that I can change, but I can acknowledge how these influence my own understanding of the interactions that I encounter.

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