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Friday, May 20, 2011


My job requires me to work with and meet a lot of native Poles. I am a teacher of of conversational English.

I am often intrigued with some of the beliefs of these students as they begin to reveal their thoughts on various subjects. The good part of teaching conversational English is that I have to create topics that will elicit discussion. I get to bring up topics that are often "taboo" at parties or social gatherings: race, politics and religion. Of course there is always disagreement. And to the benefit of my students, they rarely if ever "lose their cool."

As a Black man, I look forward to as well as get a little fearful when the subject of race comes up. I do not raise the subject as much as it is suggested by a student. They often seem hesitant to approach the subject. Perhaps this is out of respect to me. The word most often brought up is "Nigger".

It is usually the same question of how the word is used. The questions of its use in music versus the use by a police officer in the US. Since all of my students would be considered Caucasian in the US, I often take the safe and gentle route of saying "you should never use this word".

However, there are times when discussion is provoked and we have to deal with the subject. I find it so very interesting to listen to these student's opinions as they do not have the background or socialization of the US to influence their thoughts. They are often very open and sincere when they discuss this word.

The funny thing for me is that just hearing the word come out of their mouths still makes my skin crawl. I consciously know they are not being offensive, yet the word out of a White person's mouth makes me want to become aggressive.

Then there is the rare student who is so misinformed and arrogant that he/she thinks it is ok for him/her to say anything. No one can tell them what to say or how to say it. I had one student tell me that Black people make the worse guests or tenants because when she worked at a hotel in the US, the Black guests would "leave their skin all over the bath and shower". When I questioned her in detail and tried to explain that she was being ignorant as well as racist, she informed me that she had friends from Africa and she knows what she is talking about. There was so much I wanted to say to her. None of it would have been nice. My only response was that I "could not and would not argue with ignorance".

I wish I had told her to go to the South Side of Chicago and make that argument.


  1. Interesting stuff I am now a subscriber. Try this site if you are ever out of conversation ideas or look under esl conversation questions.

  2. Unfortunately there's nothing one could say to a racist person that would really work. I think racism is a kind of mental disorder. You cannot fight it with any kind of rational thinking.

    Hopefully, other students let the girl know what they thought about her after the class.