Being a Woman of Color in ELT in Japan


Women of color in ELT need a safe, courageous, and supportive space, Dr Parisa Mehran argues

ELT in Japan is dominated by male, ‘native speaker’ (code for white) teachers, which makes job hunting for non-white, female, non-Japanese, ‘non-native’ speakers very challenging.

To tackle native speakerism, TEFL Equity recommends highlighting your strengths, and not to be put off by the ‘native speakers only’ job ads. However, I no longer find this empowering. We need to focus on eliminating racist conditions, not on fixing marginalised teachers.

One employer admitted to me: “I don’t know about Iran. If X hadn’t introduced you, I wouldn’t have hired you.”

Recently, ‘non-native’ speakers are being encouraged to apply for university positions in Japan, but these are often part of efforts to ‘internationalise’ Japan and are simply tokenistic.

In my first university job in Japan, I learned that as a WOC (Woman of Color, a political term), I needed to protect myself. I learned that I should not apply for a job without knowing about the workplace.

I admit that I was racially unaware when I came to Japan. If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, I would say to avoid predominantly white ELT organisations, to educate yourself on micro-aggressions and racial harassment and learn how to respond to them, and to find networks that are meant for you.

Along with other colleagues, I have been involved in setting up Women of Color in ELT, a safe, courageous and supportive space for English language teachers who identify as WOC. It is a decolonial, intersectional feminist, anti-racist, anti-elitist, anti-precarity and anti-frontera movement by WOC for WOC. As a matter of fact, WOC are not ‘included’, nor are they ‘tolerated’. They are welcomed, valued, respected, listened to, heard and supported by each other.

WOC in ELT aims to build collective power for equity and systemic change by providing a platform to give voice and visibility to WOC who are often pushed to the sidelines in the ELT world.

Our use of the term ‘Women of Color’ is an act of solidarity. It is meant to unite and welcome WOC from all shades of colour and all walks of life and experiences, and it is intended to focus on the experiences of women who have been historically and systematically marginalised and excluded.

If you are interested, please contact us at

when I am afraid to speak
is when I speak.
that is when it is most important.
– the freedom in fear
Nayyirah Waheed
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