Thursday, March 21, 2013

Danger: Racism At Work! But Which One Is The Racist?

Dear Tazi:

I am a freshman in college, and I think one of my professors is failing me because they don't like me. I am from the deep south, and yes I have an accent. My teacher, who is black, has made several comments about it and has made rude and presumptuous comments.

One day, when I came to class 5 minutes late he cussed me out, saying he expected to be treated with RESPECT! No other student has ever been yelled at for being late, so I think I have the right to take it personally. Another time, he made a crack about how my accent made me sound like a redneck. Yesterday, he overheard my girlfriend and I in the dining hall; she was reminding me that I needed to wash my bed-sheets. She was hoping for a romantic evening, and was reminding me that dirty sheets are a turn-off. The teacher turned to me and told me that if I wanted to dress up in bed-sheets I should go back home to "Crackerville". Before I could say anything, my girlfriend set him straight but he didn't apologize or anything.

When I got my midterm grades, all were respectable except the grade from this professor; I had an F, which reflects the grades he has been giving me on my essays. I would have liked to talk to him about my grades - and I still would - but I am afraid it will get me nowhere. I can't talk to his boss because the first thing he will ask is if I talked to the professor. The professor is tenured, so its not like he can be reprimanded. I don't want to drop the class, but I don't know what else I should do.

Red-Head, Not Neck

Dear Red-Head, Not Neck:

Since I only have one side of the story - yours - I do not want to rush to any judgments on this inflammatory topic. I can say that for some people a strong southern accent can bring back terrible emotional pain from a past that they would rather forget. Your professor is tenured, which means he has been teaching for several years. It could very well be that he was a child during the violent Civil Rights Era of the 1960's. If he grew up during this time in the deep south, I can see why he would have a prejudice against you. This in no way excuses his behavior; it only explains it. Or, he could just not like Southerners. Or, you may have to examine your own behavior and see if you have said or done something to make your professor think poorly of you.

Unless your girlfriend or classmates are willing to come forward and attest to your story it will be your word against that of a tenured professor. I suggest you document the incidents that have occurred, along with the time; date; and names of any witnesses. Set this aside and do not mention it unless you need. Next, request a meeting with the professor to discuss your enrollment in his class. Explain to him that you feel he has the wrong impression of you based upon your accent, and that his comments are upsetting you and that they are affecting your schoolwork. If this shuts a door rather than opens one, then go to the Department Chair to discuss the issue. Hopefully, the professor will realize that his "jokes" are not funny. Some people really are ignorant of how their comments affect others.

If the professor is willing to discuss matters with you, ask that a third party be present or that the meeting be recorded, for the comfort of all involved. You may have to schedule something in advance, but you may not, so be prepared regardless. From there, ask the professor what is wrong with the quality of the work you are handing in to him, and listen to his answers. If you feel his answers an subjective and based upon his opinion rather than solid academic principles, ask the Department Chair to review your work.

All of this will take a strong backbone. If you do not feel up to it, ask your Academic Adviser to assist you through the process. If this is still too much to ask of you, you may have to drop the class. Just know that this will put you behind in your academic pacing, and summer classes may be required in order to graduate on schedule.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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