Seizing the teachable moment…if only I knew what it was

What I thought was just a good authentic resource to spark meaningful conversation with language learners, quickly revealed itself to be perhaps be something deeper: a coveted Teachable Moment. Problem is, I’m confused as to what the moment is trying to teach me.

It all started with an article about racial discrimination that I saw as one of the most popular of the day on the site of Madrid’s El Mundo newspaper.

The article shares the account of Will Shephard, who is noteable in that he 1) is a television actor; 2) is Latin American (not Spanish); and 3) filed a report with officials in Málaga, Spain, claiming that he and other patrons of a club were victims of racial discrimination.

I read the article and thought it could be interesting for cultural discussions in upper level Spanish classes. The actor claimed that he and more than a dozen others who are also Latin American were denied entry to a club. He used his (relative) notoriety in order to call attention to their persecution and seek justice. I tweeted out a link along with one of Shephard’s quotes from the article, which translates to, “I am tired of tolerating intolerance.” For students who have not considered that racism and discrimination based on nationality exists amongst Spanish-speakers, I thought the piece could be a great a good spark for inquiry into this element of Cultures and Communities.

Over the next few minutes, my tweet received several likes and retweets, both from educators and folks who appear to have a more vested interest in the story itself. Shortly after that, someone replied to my tweet:

Did I inadvertently step on a flaming poop bag of twitter race baiting?

Javier is basically saying, “He was told to wait in line and wasn’t having any of it. I’m also against intolerance, that of those who think they’re big stars.” It got me curious so I clicked around and saw from Javier’s and others’ timelines that the story was not as straightforward as originally reported. In another tweet, Javier says that he’s been to the club many times with his Venezuelan girlfriend and never experienced xenophobia.

Several others tweeted similar accounts claiming it had nothing to do with race and that the only slight was to the ego of a television actor who wasn’t allowed to skip the line. The establishment itself had put out an official statement:

In the statement, Grupo Maná says the accusation is ridiculous, pointing out that they employ a racially diverse staff and that the door man who supposedly discriminated against Shephard and others is himself of “raza negra.” [Aside: my teacher brain latched onto this as its own important discussion. How do racial monikers manifest in other countries and cultures? Because this is Spain, the club owners couldn’t have said African-American, so do we think “raza negra” was appropriate or offensive?]

“In summary, you’re saying: ‘I have black employees, so I’m not racist’”

Reading the responses to the statement, the only thing that is clear is that the water is muddy. There are more claims from club regulars that it’s a false allegation. There are affirmations that when it’s busy, there’s a line and you have to wait in it. There are accusations of reverse racism against whites. There are, of course, opportunistic jokes from all sides.

It was interesting. It was fast-paced. It was a real-life action research project.

It was also uncomfortable because several of these tweets @ mentioned me; I was suddenly thrust into the middle just because I had shared a link to an article. [I briefly pondered whether it is my own fault for not including a disclaimer in my bio. If I distanced myself by stating that “links and RTs are not endorsements,” would they have left me out of it?]

I also felt betrayed by El Mundo for having published the article without having reached out to all sides. While the article has since been updated to include the official statement from above, at the time I read and shared it, the club owners’ point of view was absent. [El Mundo does not state anywhere that the article has been updated so you’ll have to take my word for it.] While I certainly could have been on better guard, as a reader I trust a reputable paper like this to model journalistic integrity and check with multiple sources before printing a he-said-she-said-story.

I don’t know if I still would have shared the article or the quote that I did had I known that this story might possibly be more about entitlement, hubris and false accusations than racial discrimination. I don’t know how I feel about feeling skeptical about the original claim. As much as I wanted this to be an authentic resource for language teachers to pull into a How to Start a Movement unit, maybe the teachable moment here is to be cautious with how quickly you start up with someone else’s movement.

What do YOU make of these events? What do you think is the teachable moment? How would you have processed this differently? Have you and/or your students had similar opportunities to learn from online interactions? Thanks in advance for sharing your own responses! And if you like this story, make it more discoverable for others by clicking the heart button to show your love. And finally, be sure to check out The Synapse for more authentic voices from education!

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