Teachers and cultural diversity

Sir, – I was fascinated by the conversation between Hazel Chu and Emma Dabiri on race "Una Mullally, "Emma Dabiri and Hazel Chu: 'This is a real, important moment in Ireland" (March 27th).

As a young teacher I spent my first four years in a remote school in Nigeria. In an area the size of Co Cork there were a few dozen foreign workers in a population of many millions. In villages, traders shouted Batureh (White!) in hopes of a sale; small children screamed on first seeing a white face. I and other “whites” took it well: the locals were welcoming and friendly. I didn’t see these acts as signs of “racism”. I still don’t.

As a tutor, I have often asked new teachers to identify any of their students whose parents were not ethnic Irish. All can: one in 10 at secondary level are children of immigrants. But very few can tell me where the parents were from, and they have little idea of these students’ cultural backgrounds. When I asked why, most said they were afraid to ask, for fear of being thought “racist”.

I was impressed by Hazel Chu’s anxiety to avoid the “binary”, but sadly it wasn’t long coming. According to Emma Dabiri, we Irish, as “whites” (a doubtful privilege, conferred on us only recently, I think) should “stop denying you are racist” and “interrogate whiteness”. Una Mullally, in wondrously opaque terms, asks “how discourse around colonialism can be leveraged to incorporate anti-racist movements in Ireland”. How does this help young teachers?


I looked at two Irish secondary schools’ mission statements. One said “students are treated equitably regardless of their race”; another “sees the interaction of people from different (ethnic) backgrounds as a gift that will enrich the school”.

Sadly, these are platitudes if the discourse is in such terms that teachers are afraid even to ask about their students’ backgrounds. The students will not benefit from having their cultures ignored. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.