Have you ever had one of those days when you just “had it up to here?” I had one of those days on Tuesday. I was in class, trying to teach English to a group of people who, for the most part, aren’t that interested. They go because they have to. Universities require students to pass grammar exams, and a lot of companies require some level of English. So, for the most part, they don’t want to learn, but they have to. So they do the minimum to get by and then spend the rest of the time either not coming to class or speaking Turkish in class, which is completely counter-productive to learning a foreign language.
I have also learned that many Turkish people, at least the ones I get in my class, are extremely prejudiced about anything and everything that doesn’t fit into their box of what they consider acceptable and normal. They seem to hate Arabs, Jews, gays, Kurds, black people, and the list goes on. Bring up one of the many things they don’t like, and off the go on a verbal marathon, sometimes in English and sometimes in Turkish.
So, back to Tuesday. We were reading a text from an anonymous source. I asked them to tell me about the person who wrote it, based solely on that piece of text. Was it a man or a woman? Age? What words would they use to describe the person. So during the question and answer period, one of the students, one of my favorites, in fact, who I will call X, suggested the person might be gay. People laughed and I heard a few people go off in Turkish. I didn’t understand what was said, but tone of voice and laughter were enough to clue me in. Later, after they had told me all about the person who wrote it, I came clean. “I wrote it”, I told them. And then X apologized about suggesting I might be gay. Again laughter and a lot of talking. So, in front of the whole class, I said “No problem, because I am gay.” At first people thought it was a joke, but after a few seconds they realized I was serious. Suddenly, they were uncomfortable. And we had two and a half hours of class left. They were silent. I looked around the room and asked “So, is there anything anyone would like to talk about? Anything at all?”
“Yes, there are a lot of questions, but nobody will ask you” was the reply I got from X. So, I sat there and let them marinate in their discomfort. It felt amazing. X kept laughing, not at me, but at the reactions and attitudes of others, and I thought the whole thing was great. I don’t mind if people have something to say about me, but say it to me, not behind my back or in a different language. And I hope that next time they decide to spew out a racial or any type of hateful slur, they will think twice about who might be in the room with them.
I wasn’t pushing an agenda, in fact, after living so many years in countries where it is either not legal or not accepted, I am used to being discreet and keeping my private life private. But sometimes, you just have had enough. And on Tuesday, I had had enough. I am sure it is all over the school by now, but I don’t care. And the other teachers are super supportive and agree with what I did.
So, as a follow-up on Monday, the class and I are going to have a conversation about prejudice, any prejudice, and since we are scheduled to do a lot of writing this week, I will have them write essays about prejudice, the problems they see, what they think should be done about it and what they personally can do in their own lives to reduce it. As Gandhi said “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I am not trying to change them or convert anyone, but I am trying to get them to think, even if just a tiny bit.