• Diaspora Japan

Ieasha G (pt. 2)

Did you always want to be a teacher? It seems like you have very strong teacherly instincts.

Yeah actually that got me thinking about why I wanted to become a teacher begin with. Because originally I wanted to become a lawyer. I used to say that I wanted to be the voice of the people who don’t have a voice. In college I got my mentor and everything and he told me “You don’t want to be a lawyer.“ And I was like, “Yes I do!“ because I was in mock trial and do all of this stuff but he was like, “No, you want to be an educator.“

But we talked about it, and he had me think about all the things that I do. And he said “wherever you go you always try to create an environment for learning. You always want to help people get in touch themselves and speak for themselves. You want to be an educator.“ So then I went toward the path of teaching. I went from wanting to be people's voice to want to teach them to use their own voice.

And I think one way of teaching people to have a voice is to show the voices of people who are kind of like them. Or even people who are completely opposite so you can see your own thoughts more clearly.

So how do you incorporate that into your role now?

Well, then I was like “No, I actually belong here. They need me.” And there’s no other black teacher here.

Exactly. The set of experiences that you have, especially in Japan are extremely rare and, by virtue of that, in high demand. So how do you leverage that experience and wield that perspective to effect change and produce momentum?

So, one of my majors is was gender and racial studies. So, I have that background that make me the expert on those topics in a room of all white dudes. In addition to being a woman and black.

And one of the teachers is really stubborn. He’s like, we’re going to do this book and this and this and this. So I said, “Well, how about you let me do a class on something that I want to do and from there we can see how the students like it?“

And he’s the most stubborn case. The other teachers are like, “Oh, can you do this for my class?“

Thankfully, my school is very open to doing things like that. The school motto is “creating a global citizen”. And they have a global studies class for seniors. I love that class because I get some time to do a lot of things. We could talk about microaggressions, we get to talk about blackface in Japan, we talk about sexism and homophobia in Japan. I really like that class. Because the students are also in the international in this class they tell the teacher that they would like to do this in their English class too.

Wow, that’s great. So it seems like the kids are really invested in the lessons that you’re teaching them.

Yeah. And being in the office, I’m a very social person so I can’t stay quiet for too long. And I’m very vocal about what I don’t know. So I would just tell them straight up: “I don’t know this.” And they would ask, “well, why don’t you know this?“ And I would ask, “why do you assume that I should know this?“

One technique that I like to use is turning the question back onto them. Asking them “Why do I need to know this? Why don’t you know all of these things that I know?”

Forcing them to interrogate where they’re coming from and ask themselves why their education is so Eurocentric and why they haven’t come across the literature that you’ve read. So how is that affected the curriculum when you joined versus now?

It’s been two years. But now when they’re getting the books they have a teachers meeting about the books about the books that they’re getting. At first they were just have it there and I would just listen but now they look to me and they say, “Hey, the theme that we’re trying to get across is this. How can we incorporate other perspectives?”

And sometimes I could be like, “Hey, I got you here you go, bruh.” But sometimes I don’t always have the answer but because of the groups online like JETs AD (JETs of African Descent), Blacks in Japan, Black Women in Japan I can tell them that my school is looking for a book that is coming of age that’s not white. Help me out.

So even if I don’t know the answer I can give them the resources so they know where to start.

I think also for the students and the teachers being able to interact with me outside of class, where I’m myself I’m using my hands and just being normal, it means I get to ask me about serious things.

What kind of serious things?

Like, whenever there was a police shooting they could see my face and they wanted to know what’s wrong. And I could tell them that this is what’s happening.

And when (Childish Gambino’s) This is America came out. When I first saw it, and I love Childish Gambino even though he is very problematic I’ve loved him since he was putting out mixtapes, I was very traumatized by it. and a lot of my coworkers were talking about how good of a video it was and they wanted to have a conversation with me about it, but I was not in the mindset to do it. So one of the other teachers said, wait a minute, Ieasha has told us that people of color don’t have to explain everything to us. How about we give her a break if she wants to join the conversation she can.

For me that was really pivotal moment because when I first joined people either left me on the sidelines or they were just demand things at me.

In that moment I thought, “I’m so touched. Still be on your toes, but I’m so touched.“

They also recognize from talking to me that I do not encompass the entire black experience, that’s impossible. But I can be a gateway to help them better interact with others.

You mentioned some groups that you reach out to when you need support. What is your involvement with those groups?

For JETs AD I’m actually the chairwoman right now and I have been for the past two years. But I have an awesome support team who helps me out. For black women in Japan I don’t have it in official role but I’m always active online and attending meet ups. Really my strengths are connecting people with resources and information, so I’m mostly doing that.

I think for black women we are expected to be super strong and not need help, and that something that I’m working on here, because I don’t have any trouble asking for help on trivial things, but when it comes to asking for emotional support it’s a little bit harder. Because of these online spaces where I know that people have been through what I’ve been through I feel little bit more open to asking for help. And I only started doing this because I saw others asking for help. And I saw that it’s OK to ask for help.

With JETs AD we have meet ups and webinars because the JET experience of being black is completely different from other experiences. So we try to be there for people and be semi-professional because we're trying to build up the bridge of what to do after JET.


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