Invisible Backpack of White Privilege Thrives … in China

One of the major difficulties I’ve had here in China is finding a job with an English teaching school or agency that actually wants to follow the law and get me either a business or work visa. But I’ve soldiered on, and applied with lots of places that advertise either in Beijing’s Craig’s List page, or in a local expat magazine called That’s Beijing. But something that I found rather odd was that in addition to asking for my resume and CV, many of these outfits have wanted to see my photo. Why could that be?

Allison had told me that this was because many of these outfits are looking for a specifically white native English speaker. That’s crazy, I told her. If I was a native speaker, and I was black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or even Asian, why would anyone care? She explained there is a perception that Chinese parents have that white Americans, British, etc. all speak the best English, better even that native-born blacks and Asians. So parents here consistently have their schools, agencies and so forth look for specifically white teachers. I found this very hard to swallow, but then, I got the following email. I had just emailed these folks my CV and resume, but forgot the photo. So I followed-up with the photo, and causally asked why they needed it. And this is the reply.

Thanks for your prompt reply.

First of all, I should explain why I need a photo. School requests a white teacher from USA,UK,Canada…to teach students. I’m not a racist person, I don’t want to hurt sb. if he/she is a black. That’s why I ask for a photo. Please understand. Thanks.

Jesus!!! “I’m not a racist, but we’re looking for a white teacher” my foot. The thing is, though, this seems to be a very, very common sentiment here. I don’t know that there’s really anything to be done about it, but I think for once, there may actually be something to that whole invisible backpack of privilege. Except, though, that with this email, it’s not so invisible anymore. And it’s not in America, but in China. This is beyond wacky. This is almost as weird as the fact that Christmas decorations are STILL UP EVERYWHERE throughout Beijing.


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