Michael Musherure, now an English teacher at Earl Marriott Secondary, says there’s “nothing more powerful” than speaking your truth.
He’s done just that, speaking out for the first time about some of the racism he’s experienced here in Surrey – in and out of the classroom.
By Musherure speaking out, the Surrey school district is looking at what it can do going forward to denounce racism and be “actively anti-racist,” said Superintendent Jordan Tinney.
On June 4, Musherure tweeted that he has been egged, called the the N-word and “threatened to be shot at my place of work.”
To my white brothers and sisters your voices against racism are louder than ours. Please say something when you witness a racist incident, if you can't speak up, take a video. We are in all this together. #BlackLivesMatter #WeAreHumanRace— Michael Musherure (@musherure1) June 6, 2020
That was the first time he’d openly spoke about the racism he’s faced over the years, said Musherure, who is from Uganda but also lived in Norway prior to moving to Canada.
The egging incident happened when he was a student in Norway, but the others happened since he’s been a teacher in Surrey.
When Musherure was working at Semiahmoo Secondary School in 2011, he asked a student to do his work, but the student said he wasn’t going to do it “because you’re black.”
“I thought he was kidding because it was very blatant,” Musherure recalled in an interview with the Surrey Now-Leader.
After asking the student twice more and getting the same response, he requested help from the administration office.
Shortly after the student was taken to the office, Musherure said he was told to lock himself in his room because he was on “code yellow.” Then the whole school went on “code red.”
Musherure was told that the student “threatened to get a gun and shoot him.”
Following the incident, there was supposed to be a debrief for staff about why a code red was called, but Musherure alleges he wasn’t included in the email from the principal.
He said the principal “constructs an absolutely different story, and I was not part of that plot,” adding that it was a “big lie about an agitated student and removed me from the narrative.”
“The shocking part to me there was me not being a part of the story and then not even curtesy to come and say to me, ‘I’m sorry this has happened to you and we are going to follow through.’”
Musherure didn’t file a complaint with the union at the time because he didn’t have a continuing contract and feared speaking out would threaten future job opportunities.
This wasn’t the last racist incident the teacher faced. Musherure said he was called the N-word at Princess Margaret and given an award for having the “Best Accent.”
“If talk about subtleties of racism I go through everyday, it could take us a day and another.”
Musherure, who now teaches English at Earl Marriott Secondary, said people always ask him why he’s smiling.
“If I was to show my anger, then I’m the angry, black person all the time. Therefore, I put on a mask and smile everyday. I smile, but it’s not a smile. I’m just extending my lips.”
But all of that changed as anti-racism protests started taking place around the world following the death of George Floyd, who died while being restrained by police in Minneapolis.
“People say that racism is not here [in Canada]. If we are quiet, we aren’t changing the situation. If each one of us, can tell their truth, their experiences, then people will know… then you stop living in denial,” he explained.
Musherure wants to see a more diverse teaching staff and curriculum in B.C.
“Maybe we need to make it more inclusive and have Black literature, we have more Asian literature, we have more minority literature.”
A touching poem from my grade 9 student. pic.twitter.com/adOiL8XSP4— Michael Musherure (@musherure1) June 9, 2020
Tinney admitted the Surrey district has more work to do despite the “number of resources that deal with racism.” For instance, schools still use “In the Heat of the Night” by John Ball, which uses the N-word.
“Is it something that we should still do?”
Tinney said Surrey does “lots and lots at the district around discrimination, multiculturalism and inclusion,” but the message now needs to be focussed on anti-racism.
One way to achieve this in the 2020-21 school year could be by hosting open forums that “create a safe vessel for people to come and tell their stories,” as suggested through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“What I don’t want to do is say, ‘Gee, this has happened. It’s huge. It’s super important and here’s a three-point action plan to address it.’ It’s way bigger than that.”