“In China, English teaching is a whites-only club”

This isn’t the first time I’ve read an article like this. In fact, I’ve read entire forums and discussion threads about experiences from non-white people seeking jobs oversees as ESL teachers and the discrimination that come s with it. My dad forewarned me about this when I said I wanted to go back to Taiwan (where my family immigrated to America from) to teach English. At first, when he told me, I didn’t want to believe him. It’s just so sad and depressing. Here’s an example of what this is all about:

“In Beijing this is the general pecking order in terms of a company’s recruitment (by Chinese managers):

1. White Americans/Canadians

2. White British

3. White Australians/New Zealanders and South Africans

4. European Nonnatives/Black Americans/Black British

5. American Asians/Black Aussies (Australians) and Kiwis (New Zealanders)/Filipinos/Africans”

It seems as though we Americans are pretty naive in this aspect. Whenever I speak to anyone (except my dad of course) about wanting to teach in Taiwan, they tell me how I would totally have an advantage since I can speak Mandarin and I am very familiar with their culture. But guess what? It couldn’t be more opposite as this, or so it seems. You’d think people learning a language would find a teacher that they could relate with as an asset. Or even better, you’d think that people would want to learn a language from a teacher based on the teacher’s actual prior teaching experience and knowledge of the language. Guess what? WRONG!!

I feel like it’s almost a form of internalized racism, that somehow, those who look like “genuine” English speakers are better at teaching it than those of us who essentially don’t look white. That somehow, those hiring English teachers in China can justify in their heads that they’re going to set aside any other factor in hiring an employee and judge those who don’t even look like them as superior candidates. Really, I just don’t understand.

Someday, I hope this changes. I hope that one day, I can open my own language school or be a voice in hiring decisions and make sure that other important factors such as prior teaching experience (I know, crazy idea huh?) will be considered. Until then, I’m perfectly fine teaching in America, where such discrimination is clearly not allowed. If anything, China is the one losing great teachers that have much skills and experience to contribute as well as a personal appreciation of the culture they are working with.

It’s one thing to be discriminated by someone of a different cultural background, but to be discriminated by people of the very culture that your family came from and taught you to identify with is completely intolerable.

You can read the full article here: “In China, English teaching is a whites-only club”


3 thoughts on ““In China, English teaching is a whites-only club”

  1. This is amazing, I had no idea this was going on! Of course there is an ongoing debate a to whether a native speaker is better, or a non-native speaker who has had experience in learning the language, but even this doesn’t seem to be the cause of the ranking given. I’m really surprised that such blatant discrimination is allowed.


    1. Yes, it’s quite unfortunate.

      I actually recently experienced a brief situation in which someone clearly judged my competence in English by how I look (Asian). I work at a coffeeshop part-time and recently experienced a customer asking me if I took English classes when I revealed that I was a college student, even after having had a conversation in fluent, native-sounding English. Clearly, the customer disregarded any signs of my linguistic competence in favor of how I look in order to determine what kind of classes I could possibly be taking at a university.

      In other words, this person was RACIST.


  2. Two years late but I’ve experienced this too. I’ve pretty much given up on China as the most important qualification is white face. 6 years CELTA, DELTA , PGCE, MA Education all meaningless… Hong Kong is somewhat more variable however the successful Chinese ESOL teachers all changed their last name to something which sounded more English. Without doing this most of them couldn’t even get their foot in the door.


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