Education is the engine for change. It tirelessly works on all cylinders to keep up with society’s constantly ever-changing pressures and demands. For racialized educators in Manitoba, the external forces exerted in the opposing direction create drag and tension and further dissonance in the vehicle for change.

As a racialized Canadian-born woman and educator of 14 years, I normalized the additional overt and covert pressures faced under divisional and school leadership that did not reflect our global and student demographic. Watching colleagues move into positions of leadership or areas of specialization with little to no experience just because they had the privilege of being white became all too commonplace for me, this was especially true in rural Manitoba. However, within the city limits, I’d again find myself tokenized and feeling tension and competition with those who were supposed to unite with me…other racialized individuals. This is lateral violence at work.

You see, this is the minority report—the game. With so little representation in leadership in Manitoba Education, we are conditioned to feel colonized, we will always feel trapped. Even with incremental change in the right direction, an individual who identifies as racialized who is put into positions of leadership becomes tokenized due to the competition within. We end up silencing the covert and overt ways preferential treatment exists because we risk forfeiting our position and value in the workplace. We are seen as a “stick in the mud”, “insubordinate”, “confrontational”, or “the angry brown/black/Indigenous person”.

This isn’t about me, this is about our students. In order for us to effectively combat systemic and structural racism in education, our leadership and senior administration should reflect the people it serves. In an effort to continue pouring into my career and my students, I diffused my skills and abilities into the background when my contributions were overlooked or my ideas were passed on as someone else’s. This was being an educator—burn out along with putting students first at the risk and cost of what? Work/life balance—this cost me a lot. Research suggests that new teachers will burn out and leave the profession within the first five years of teaching, and this could be even more challenging for racialized individuals.

When tokenized as an educator, we learn to walk in the same direction as everyone else, we become accepted into the social norms, discussions, and teams that exist to support other educators and students in creating a better future. And this is wonderful. However, we also learn to keep silent on the injustices we face both in and outside of the classroom because speaking up puts a target on our backs, one in which is difficult to pinpoint or explain to everyone.

Racialized educators in predominantly white communities either take on being tokenized and assimilated or become the target for lateral competition. Either way, it becomes the universal narrative…when you know, you know. Yes, we’re starting to see change in small increments, but it’s not good enough. I reflect on my educational experience; local, rural, and International, and am proud of my accomplishments and achievements, but disappointed that I have allowed the “system” to dictate my worth and value.

However, not all is lost. My current and former students will always be the driving force behind why I do what I do because I believe in a better future for them. And they deserve it. In my 14 years of teaching, I have met tremendous and wonderful allies; friends who have become like family, fellow educators, support staff, professors, and leaders from around the province and world who have listened, extended their hands, and tried to understand the divide that is systemic and structural racism within our education system, which ultimately affects our students and communities.

These individuals understand that “working hard” and “proving yourself” mean something totally different for the racialized individual. These allies; my friends, have taken notice and understood that all teachers, no matter race, gender, background, culture, religion, ethnicity, or creed, deserve value and equality in public and private education systems.

Now, let’s get to work.

– Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of the MB Teacher

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