Black Lives Should Have Always Mattered: An Open Letter to Search Associates

Dear Search Associates,

During a Black Lives Matter march held in Ontario, a friend of mine Sarra Ismail carried a poster voicing her sentiments as a woman of African diaspora, “From Sudan to Canada #black lives matter”. Although the struggle of being black in North America includes the diversity of people who identify or are seen as black, it manifests itself differently to each one of us. Being black is how the world sees us, but each one of us black people living on this planet is a complex palette of identities woven by ancestry, history, cultures and experiences to name a few.

Reading the statement sent by email from The Search Associates Team conjured up a strong reaction in me. Your words felt borrowed, designing and frankly, audacious. I would like to humbly decline your sentiments, as a Black-African-Muslim-Woman international teacher who was a client of Search Associates. Your words are not felt sincerely nor genuinely. They seem to be an afterthought; the reactionary stance of a traditional, predominantly white male organization that is scrambling to jump on the bandwagon.

You do not get to use the words ‘shocked, outraged and heartbroken’ and sign-off with ‘in solidarity’ as leaders in the international school circuit for over thirty years. You have consistently failed to use your privilege to advocate for teachers of colour and leadership of colour in the international school circuit. You have acted as gatekeepers, preserving a majority white institutional world. As an international organization that proudly boasts over three decades of recruitment services, you should be pioneers, promoting diversity in an authentic manner. You should be the organization that has the answers, and has the models of empowering people of colour.

Instead, for thirty years you have helped white male administrators bounce around the world exchanging headships, uninterrupted, some with heinous scandals trailing behind. You stood by watching white privileged teachers getting hired for being in the same fanbase of a football or hockey team as the head of the school, or the familiarity of shared white cultures, hometowns and cities. You have witnessed schools operate as mid-twentieth century colonial schools in order to keep their local expatriate populations happy. You have witnessed bright and promising teachers of colour, especially ones with passports like mine, from Africa or the ‘less-preferred’ countries in Asia, left with slim pickings and leftovers of jobs. You have witnessed teachers of colour unable to break the glass ceiling and achieve positions of paid leadership, no matter how small. You have witnessed teachers of colour unable to access job fairs because of visas and passport complications. You have witnessed nepotism and outright racism in hiring and supervising teachers, and you have stood silent all these years, all the while waving the flag of globalism and internationalism.

I am a brilliant teacher, and I will say that because few white administrators will. I have been bullied by white administrators in my own home country, Sudan, scoffed at, underpaid, brushed aside, dismissed, cornered and blatantly put down as I have continued to teach across the world. I have met teachers of colour who have worked under the same white administrators, who share similar stories and experiences. Yet these administrators have continued to reign, thrive and grow their careers. I am my mother and father’s daughter; a well-educated Sudanese firecracker of a woman, so I was never silent wherever I went. I have boldly confronted racism, stood my ground, and made administrators rethink their words and behaviour around me, but fighting systemic racism with little support is exhausting.

I cannot tell you how many schools I have applied to over the years, how close I have come, and how much I have impressed. Yet I never got hired at any of the ‘top tier’ schools, or the tiers beneath them for that matter. I have hustled with my connections, written cold emails to administrators, and everything else under the sun, verging on compromising my self-dignity just to ‘be seen and heard’. Not only is my passport underprivileged, but I also have a non-teaching spouse and child, and that just becomes “too much baggage” for schools to take on because I already do not fit the mold; too foreign, complicated and probably too black. I am one of the finest international teachers out there because I bring a skill set, a worldview, and an intelligence unique to my identities and experiences. I have worked damn hard to learn and grow as an educator. I am loved and appreciated for years after I bid farewell to my students and families, because I was that teacher, the one-of-a-kind schooling experience.

What support have I received from Search Associates? None. At one point, I was unable to attend a job fair because my four-month old baby was refused a visa to accompany me to that country. I asked my associate directly, to please connect with two competitive schools who were expecting to meet me there. I requested that he apologize for my absence and explain my situation. He flat out refused in a curt two-sentence email.

I left the international school circuit at the end of last academic year 2018–2019. I have decided that life is too short, and I have too much to give to beg for it to be received. I am thankfully privileged enough to be this brave. I am not privileged in money or connections or resources, but in conviction, belief and the power of reinvention. Do better, Search Associates, much much better. Start by being honest. Instead of writing a statement of generic support, write a reflective letter of apology, acknowledging your organization’s shortcomings. Ask for feedback and answers from those who know, those who have been crippled by your lack of responsiveness towards them. Own your privilege and use it to serve those who truly deserve it.

Yours sincerely,

Safaa Abdelmagid

Woman of many identities and passions.

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