Auckland teacher calls for schools to teach race issues after student blackface image

A post by a student has been called "racist".
A post by a student has been called "racist". Photo credit: Google

By Eleisha Foon of RNZ

Education can change the underbelly of racism within New Zealand says a teacher who is calling on schools to prioritise teaching the history of oppressed people.

The South Auckland teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke out after seeing a social media post of a Westlake Girls' High School student in blackface.

The controversial image, which included a racial slur, stirred up anger online, with many calling the student's actions "ignorant" and "racist".

A friend of the student defended the student's actions saying, "black face has nothing to do with Polynesians so go back to your state housing".

The student's North Shore high school says it is investigating the post.

The teacher, who works at a different school, was deeply disappointed and said the act was "ignorant" and "disgusting".

She wanted the student to "learn from her mistakes".

In a social media post reacting to the image she wrote:

"A disgusting act by one of your students. From what's coming out of your school it seems as though casual racism is more prevalent than most people know about. How can parents ensure the safety of POC students in your school if this is the mind set of your European cohort? The student AND school needs to take accountability and not by posting a pathetic apology on an Instagram page. Own up. Don't ignore it!"

She told RNZ the school must take disciplinary action because it was a disservice to people of colour.  

The history of blackface is not a joke and is steeped in centuries of racism, she said.

Historically, black face began after the Civil War in the US when white performers played characters that demeaned and dehumanized African Americans. People darkened their skin with shoe polish, greasepaint or paint, enlarged their lips and exaggerated other features to denigrate people of African descent. 

"Being racist is not something you are born with; it is a learned behaviour," the teacher said.

"No form of racism is ok - especially casual racism, which we see a lot of in schools."

She hopes this will open the conversation up to others and that schools will prioritise teaching race issues, including the history of "minorities groups oppressed" within New Zealand and nations like America.

By using her role as a teacher she wanted to influence the next generation to "treat others better, no matter what race, religion, colour or gender they are." 

She noted the need for some people within older generations to do some "unlearning" of racist attitudes which she said is easily passed down to friends and family.

Education can change the underbelly of racism within New Zealand, she said.