Recently, in a grade 8 English Language & Literature unit entitled, “Fighting Injustice,” students inquired into the nature of social, economic, and environmental injustices through reading both literary and non-literary texts, and then wrote an open letter to the AISB community charting their journey with this inquiry. These five students’ letters were selected for their original voice as well as providing a relevant issue for our community forum to discuss and debate. The views expressed within each letter belongs solely to the author. You may click the buttons below to read a specific letter or read through all of the letters. Either way, contribute your own perspective in the comments at the bottom!

The Conundrum of Intelligence and Discrimination” by Leenah A.

Image created by DALL-E

You walk into the room, thinking it would be just another class. You sit down and look up to hear the chatter and noises of those around you. As the teacher begins taking attendance the noise dwindles. Once attendance is taken the teacher returns to your name. They ask where you’re from, stating your last name seems so… they trail off. You tell them you’re from Egypt and suddenly their eyes widen, and they pause. They say, “Your English is so good for an … Egyptian.”  

It might be difficult to imagine putting yourself in those shoes, but this scenario happened to me. I never thought I would have to write about the prejudices I face, since I’ve moved from country to country my whole life. Yet here I am, writing about the school that preaches open-mindedness the most. 

For an allegedly inclusive school, there sure do seem to be a few stereotypes that are still inescapable. 

Being at AISB made me realize the subconscious stereotypes we sometimes can develop, and how harmful these stereotypes can be. 

Thus, today I would like to inquire deeply about why certain nationalities and races seem to be seen as more intelligent and superior. My hope is that my inquiry from a variety of sources, both literary and local, prompts you to think about what stereotypes you have in regard to intelligence and nationalities.

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime

Growing up, comedian and TV host Trevor Noah’s existence was illegal. In his memoir adapted for young readers, It’s Trevor Noah: Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Noah shares stories and memories from his childhood in South Africa during Apartheid

As a biracial kid, Noah grew up moving around South Africa, always being kept on his toes by the challenges he and his single mother faced. He later beat the odds and became the host of “The Daily Show” and a popular stand-up comedian. 

Growing up, he didn’t know where he fit in, whether it was with the white kids or the black. He felt like he associated with the black kids more due to being brought up in a dominantly black area. 

In his school, there were two classes, a higher, and a lower level class. The higher level class included all white kids while the lower level class mostly comprised black kids. Trevor was put into the white kids’ class since he was an intelligent kid, but he soon felt the desire to move. The teacher discouraged this and said, “Because those kids are… you know.” 

This is a clear example of how black kids in South Africa were viewed as less intelligent, but the system was set up like this, for the exact purpose of reinforcing white superiority. It’s incredibly contradictory to both degrade black students for not being as intelligent and knowing as much and not allow them to go to the same schools and have the same opportunities to learn.

It’s like not giving a man a fishing rod, then getting mad that he hasn’t caught any fish. 

In his memoir, Noah wrote, “When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid—not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster.” This was about how his mom raised him to believe he could do anything and he related that back to being a “white kid.” It’s interesting how that was the example Noah chose to use for someone who could achieve anything.

When you think about it, it’s not surprising that in this day and age, people still seem to associate intelligence and superiority with race. Historical events such as the Colombian Exchange are an example of how the white and European communities were seen as superior to themselves and the rest of the world. 

And even though explicit racism seems to be on the decline in today’s world, some subconscious biases may have become stubbornly embedded in our minds.

Perceptions of Fairness

In 2018, Tracy Arnold (a former AISB faculty member) wrote a dissertation about the discrepancy in teacher pay, entitled, “Leadership and Perception of Fairness in International Schools.” Arnold wrote, “In each of the four schools I have worked at, I have been aware of assumptions being made about teachers’ levels of professional preparation, personal compensation needs, or intrinsic value to the school based on their nationality or country of origin.” 

Is it assumptions like this that cause international schools to perceive local hires as less valuable, and cause them to pay them less?

In AISB at least, local hires are paid the same as international hires on paper, however, international hires are granted more benefits.

For example, according to a locally-hired teacher whom I interviewed, foreign teachers have free enrollment of their children to AISB, while local hires’ children must go through a screening process and may only receive a discount for their children’s tuition.

AISB Perspectives

To get more insight on this topic, I asked a locally-hired teacher at AISB, whose identity will be kept confidential, about the pay and benefit difference in AISB between local and foreign hires.

The teacher says, “It’s sometimes hard to feel encouraged to do more when I get paid a third less than any non-Romanian teacher. On paper, I get the same salary as those with the same experience as me, but only Romanian teachers have to pay taxes, so I get home with a third less than [foreign hires]. This doesn’t only affect the salary but other benefits like payments for after-school activities and free education at the school for my children.” 

In response to this topic, AISB Director Peter Welch says, “I think they are two very different employment categories. The realities for a Romanian teacher are very different to a foreign teacher, and to compare them is not easy.” 

It’s interesting to see how both parties view this issue—how one side views it as a slight disadvantage while the other views it more as a hiring criterion.

Unfortunately, this is not solely an AISB practice, and it’s a very common theme throughout thousands of international schools worldwide.  

Throughout this interview process, I was asked the question: “How does pay difference relate to intelligence and nationality?”

And to that, I say: Offering more money and/or material benefits to international teachers sends a message that their qualities and credentials are of more value to a school than a local hire with the same credentials. 

Children are very impressionable at a young age. Therefore, offering more money to foreign teachers subconsciously promotes the idea to kids that being foreign means being intelligent since kids are taught that teachers are the most knowledgeable.

Final Thoughts

You tell them you’re from Egypt and suddenly their eyes widen, and they pause. They say, “Your English is so good for an … Egyptian.”… 

At the time, my mind quickly went blank, and before I could react, the teacher moved on. I spent the rest of the day contemplating whether they meant it as a compliment or an insult. I decided that regardless of the way it was intended, subconscious biases based on ethnic groups or nationalities may have influenced their perception of my and others’ intelligence. 

So with that, I prompt you to practice metacognition (thinking about your thinking) before expressing potentially stereotypical thoughts about people’s nationality or race.

Leenah A.

“Stop the Present from Mirroring the Past” by Nicole S.

Protests for racial justice in Denver, Colorado, on May 31, 2020. (Image by geoffalexander4, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I am appalled. I read these lines again: “Social scientists, observing the number of Black people in jail, decided that, as a matter of biology, Black people are disproportionately inclined to criminality.”

In other words, this author cites Harvard Professor Muhammad who explains how irrational and outrageous the idea is, that black people are prone to be criminals being a race genetically “programmed” to be mostly bad people, and much harm this racist approach can do to our society.

Isn’t this the most mischievous way to manipulate the masses and sow hatred for humans of another race as prevention acts for the “good” citizens’ protection?

Back in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was referring to the same manipulative approach in a more visually descriptive way: “dark clouds of racial prejudices” and “the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities”. His concluding sentence was a direct reminder of the danger of having people’s minds poisoned in a subversive way.

Back then and now, racial hatred is fed by the fear induced in people’s doubtful minds. It feels like seeing the two sides of a coin that is constantly spinning on its edge. One side of it shows the past: white supremacy, black people are less human, they are bad, then they deserve to be lynched, fear them. On the other side, we see the present: black people carry “crimes in their genes,” fear them, racialized policing means protection not discrimination. 

Thus, today I would like to inquire deeply on the question: “How can we, the citizens of the 21st century, stand firmly against racial injustices and stop the present from mirroring the past?”

Prejudices and Discrimination are Nurtured, not Innate

I was wondering if I ever had prejudices or used stereotypes. I did. 

When I was really young, I attended a public local kindergarten. Among my classmates, there were some children of Roma ethnicity. I don’t recall their names, but I remember what I saw, heard and I was taught implicitly. Those children were not included in our games, and the teacher’s tone or look would change to harsh when addressing them, if barely. 

Out of conscious awareness, I developed automatic prejudicial thinking that being Roma is bad, and that I must do what the rest do- ignore, avoid, or consider myself superior. Outside of the classroom, society was teaching me the same lesson. 

I remember the most awful threat to a misbehaving child at the playground was “I’m gonna give you to the Gypsy people.” Of course, advice such as “Don’t go there because the Gypsy will kidnap you” or “Gypsy kids steal toys” were stereotypes that fostered prejudice-contaminated concepts. 

From where I stand now, I can see clearly that I changed.

This process of prejudice deconstruction was rather a personal battle, oscillating between what society was “teaching” me, and my first-hand experiences in the Roma community. 

When I was six, my mother got me involved in a Service Learning group she coordinated at the AISB. My first trip to visit a Roma family was like a cold shower; it woke me up. My “Renaissance” started then, and with every encounter, the racial prejudices were getting expelled, making room for new learnings, based on honest conversations and compassion.

Now, as a student at this school, where we are taught early about uniformity, opinions, and resistance to change, I can really tell that education is probably the only way to prevent perpetuating prejudices and discrimination.

‘The Essence of a Man’s Conscience’

Education comes in different forms. For instance, Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird tells us a story about justice, compassion, and courage. The action takes place in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression. 

The main character is a girl named Jean Louise Finch, also known as “Scout,” and she has an older brother, Jem. Both children are raised by their widowed father, Atticus Finch. He is a reputed lawyer who chooses to defend Tom Robinson, a black man, who is falsely accused of raping a white woman. Even if Atticus’ defense is strong, leaving more than a shadow of doubt, Tom is convicted and he is later shot 17 times in the back while he is desperately trying to escape from a corrupted justice system.

To put so many bullets into a man who is not even capable of defending himself shows how black lives truly did not matter.

It was a society ruled by white supremacy. Atticus himself, in the vile words of his neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, “goes against his raising” by defending a black man and, therefore, is “no better than the N—— and the trash he works for!” 

Atticus encourages his children to always respect freedom of speech and the right to an opinion, especially one’s neighbors. He explains to his son that he may have different moral values, but this doesn’t mean that he needs to commit vengeful acts against those who disagree with him.

He is courageous because he openly shows his opposition to the racial prejudices of the majority of his white neighbors, and he also values other people’s right to individual expression, so long as they speak the truth. 

Martin Luther King Jr. would probably call Atticus “an extremist” lawyer, placing his name next to President Thomas Jefferson because each one is an “extremist for the cause of justice”, holding the truth that “all men are created equal.” His duty-based principle is supported by his Christian moral values, confessing that “Tom Robinson’s case is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience.”

Could we, people of the 21st century, take Atticus’s lessons to his children as advice for our own moral growth? His words should impel us towards righteous actions and inspire us to be defenders of justice while passing this value on to the young generation. We are the present and the future that can bring change.

Mirroring the Past

Justice should be impartial because nobody is above the law. But is it? 

For 93 years, Lee’s novel has represented a moral compass for many to get through “the deep fog of misunderstanding” that black people are an inferior race and teaches us that ALL human beings are equal. 

And yet, in 2023, from an article in The Harvard Gazette, we can learn that in our modern times, “prosecutors indicted Black people disproportionately; juries found Black people guilty disproportionately; judges gave Black people disproportionately long sentences.” 

We would think that almost a century later, people have learned a lesson. Then why do we see racial disparities in justice? What do we do when some ‘scientists’ are trying to inoculate viral ideas that make white people fear black people for being biologically inclined to criminality?

American author Eboo Patel shares his opinion as a parent about the importance of educating the young generation to be active participants in shaping the nation’s future. “My kids are now 12 and 15 […] I want their schools to play the appropriate role in shaping them to be participating citizens of a diverse democracy. That means teaching an expansive version of American history and instilling in them a sense of responsibility to help make the next chapter more just and inclusive.”

Citizenship is not a spectator sport.

—Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America

Patel, just like Atticus, shows us the ultimate importance of teaching young moral growth lessons about responsibility, courage, respect, and justice. Children must learn about how racial inequalities are perpetuated, and how to prevent them.

Choose Justice

We often hear that we should, can, or fight discrimination and racial prejudices. Using the word ‘fight’ is already putting us in enemy positions, implying we are in opposite camps.

I would rather say we must prevent passing on the legacy of systemic exclusion and discrimination. But how?

Choose to educate. Envision a world where everyone has access to education that helps each individual grow to learn and to believe in respecting human rights.

Choose love. Maybe it is as simple as that, and the answer has been always here. God gave people the tool: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Atticus used it. Martin Luther King Jr used it. Are you going to use it?

Choose justice. Always stand by the side of justice because “all men are created equal.”


Nicole S.

“The Bucharestian Private School Panic: One Of The Reasons You Hate Yourself” by Valeria T.

In the 1800s, over 35,000 Native American children were forcibly relocated to residential re-education centers such as the Carlisle Indian Training School in order to be assimilated into white, Euro-American culture. (Image source: J. N. Choate, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 2008, 1500 children in Bucharest were enrolled in private schools, as opposed to participating in the Romanian public school system. Ten years later that number skyrocketed all the way to 8000 students. The aforementioned state school system has a reputation for “stuffing information into students’ brains”, as opposed to the more progressive approaches to learning that British, American, and international private schools in Romania have adopted. 

I’ve noticed a recurring theme of disdain for the Romanian public, where those who reach a certain income bracket feel the need to separate themselves from their national identity. Thus, today I would like to place forth the question: “How can our society solve communal inequity when we view victimhood and disadvantage as taboo?”

Romania: Somewhere to Avoid

I’d like to establish that I am not writing this letter from the point of moral superiority; I’ve seen this implicit bias happen everywhere around me. As someone who’s been in private schools my entire life whilst my first-generation immigrant parents have not, I remember being told when I was younger about how much less opportune state schools were. 

They often used this to discipline me and my siblings. If I’d, for instance, get a behavioral complaint from a primary school teacher or let my grades slip, a lecture about how much worse of a consequence I’d receive in a state school was sure to follow, making the Romanian public school system into a government-funded, linoleum-clad boogeyman.

I’d never gone to any beaches in Romania for summer break when I was travelling with my family as a child, always being told that they were cheaper and less qualitative than somewhere in western Europe or Asia. 

Even in our school, immigrant or expat employees are sought after far more and given more benefits than local teachers. The very reason that I’m able to attend AISB today is because I was moved to the top of the waiting list once they found out I could add to their ethnic diversity quota. 

My experience isn’t one that’s unique. A former AISB parent discovered, after making the switch from our school to a local public Romanian school, that his children were “quite spoiled and elitist”, and frequently got into fights with the other students because of this. More or less, this was to be expected.

“Private educational institutions can instill notions of superiority that result in problems such as those we’re currently seeing,” writes Australian columnist Bilal Cleland. Furthermore, in the words of Pulitzer Prize nominee Caitlin Flanagan, “Elite schools breed entitlement, entrench inequality—and then pretend to be engines of social change.”

“Elite schools breed entitlement, entrench inequality—and then pretend to be engines of social change.”

Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic staff writer

Other than the elitism caused by higher income, George Variyan, Monash University’s education lecturer, makes a bold claim regarding the role that the schools themselves play in this issue: “It may be that elite private schools, with high fees and high expectations struggle to speak back to their clientele … When a scandal arises in such a school and puts its reputation at risk, this can seriously jeopardize their market share and viability.”

Homegrown Hypocrisy

A literary example of internalizing self-deprecating beliefs is Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. As of 2022, the book has been “banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and use of derogatory terms.” The novel was even removed from the curriculum several years ago at AISB due to its derogatory language, including two slur words. Matter of factly, an issue I’ve noticed within our school is that, despite the very publicized pride they take in their small ratio of Romanian students, our curriculum severely lacks proper education on racial sensitivity. 

In a former student’s Letter to The Bite, they bring attention to how the “very illusion of a ‘non-racist’ environment prevents students, teachers, and faculty from recognising racism in the first place.” Even in one of the most diverse schools in Romania, even in a community which includes some of the most educated people in the Eastern European area, it’s unsettling how students could make racist and xenophobic comments with such apathy. 

Another World: Strangely Familiar

The novel follows Arnold “Junior” Spirit and his struggles of moving to a predominantly white school, Reardan, while also living on the Spokane Native American reservation. Junior is born with a condition that causes him to produce excess cerebrospinal fluid, or as he describes it, brain grease. His illness caused him to be extremely underweight and experience several health issues, including seizures, bad eyesight, and speech impediments. Because of this, as well as being a racial minority, Junior is spoon-fed the idea that he is overtly inferior throughout his life, both by his family and his peers. 

When talking to one of his classmates at Reardan, Junior recalls, “[A classmate] looked at me and sniffed. She sniffed! Like I smelled bad or something!”

A little later on in the book, Junior’s science teacher gets offended after being corrected by him, but has a much more temperate reaction when a white student does the same thing. The teacher’s “face was red. Hot red. ‘Okay, Arnold, if you’re so smart, then tell us how it works … Where did you learn this fact? On the reservation? Yes, we all know there’s so much amazing science on the reservation.’”

Dodge’s refusal to educate Junior and recognize his intelligence in favour of scolding him, especially considering he insulted the reservation as well, is the result of a racist caricature that he has adopted.

A earlier statement from Junior’s white teacher, Mr. P, back at his school on the reservation sheds light on this attitude towards Native Americans:

“That’s how we were taught to teach you,” Mr. P says. “We were supposed to kill the Indian to save the child. We were supposed to make you give up being Indian. We were trying to kill Indian culture.”

This statement alludes to the history of white teachers from past generations believing that the only way a Native American could be academically successful was to be separated from their culture and re-educated. This all sounds strangely familiar.

Internalized Insecurities

Junior himself inspired me to recognize this issue of internalizing the insecurities of those around us when he asked, “What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?” He then adds, “Reardan was the opposite of the rez. It was the opposite of my family. It was the opposite of me. I didn’t deserve to be there. I knew it; all of those kids knew it. Indians don’t deserve shit.” 

You may not have enjoyed reading this letter. It might have touched a nerve you’d rather it didn’t. You’re welcome to do the same. You have every right to call me arrogant and find every study under the sun to support your argument. I only ask that, while typing, you stop to think why you feel so provoked to do so. What is it about the information reviewed that makes you uncomfortable?


Valeria T.

“How Far Would you Go to Fight an Injustice?” by Eva K.

Migrants face death, danger, and hardship trying to reach the southern US border. (Image by Gloria MarvicCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We at AISB, and most people around the world, consider freedom of speech, freedom from detainment, and freedom of life as a human right—but not everyone thinks that. 

For a long time, and still now, we are ignorant of those who do not have the same privileges and the same freedoms as us. Sometimes we scrutinize and judge them for going to desperate lengths to provide for themselves and their family, while we sit with food and water, education and schooling. 

We wonder why people with less rights than us act differently than we do, but we continue to support the unequal oppression towards them with the things we do. 

In 2020, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, recorded in full daylight in front of crowd of onlookers, was a shock to the world. He was accused of using a counterfeit bill to buy a pack of cigarettes—so a white male officer knelt on George’s neck for 8 minutes and 44 seconds, killing him. Still, privileged, white, online commentators tried to justify this murder by stereotyping him, saying he was on drugs, armed, and even theorizing that the entire thing was faked by the state and the police officer charged was wrongfully accused. A lot of people were then shocked by the BLM protests, and the drastic actions protesters took. 

Martin Luther King Jr. was one of, if not the most, influential civil rights leaders around the world. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King wrote that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and that black people know, “through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

How far would you go to fight an injustice against you? 

How does experiencing injustices change how people act and feel?

And what can we do for those people?

My Own Perspective

In my experience, the privilege I have in my life means that I have all the food and water I need, a nice house, a supporting family and a very good education that lets me participate in sports and read and write, which some girls cannot do. Being a teenage girl, anywhere in the world there are always people telling you what you can and can’t do—whether it be in your family, your friend group, your school or just the media.  

But, because I am a girl, I find it easier to relate and empathize with people that are being discriminated against or that are being degraded because they are female. When I see news and online articles about laws that might harm young girls like me or women in general (like the anti-abortion laws in the U.S., for example), or just about issues and injustice that teens and women are facing because they are female, I understand a little bit of how it feels. 

In Romania, being catcalled and being objectified by men when walking down the street is so common, although it’s gross and unacceptable. The feeling of being catcalled and watched obviously does not compare to the trauma of being sexually assaulted or exploited, but it makes me feel even more for girls that go through worse than just that catcalling. That small icky feeling is bad but it makes me think about what it is like for girls and women that are at risk of sexual assault or abuse.

Feeling: Too Much or Too Little?

Jenny Torres Sanchez novel, We Are Not From Here, tells the story of asylum seekers and immigrants from Latin America. The main characters, Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico are teenagers living in Guatemala who are forced to leave after being threatened by a gang in their town. They travel across Central America, on a real-life infamous route called La Bestia, which in Spanish translates to “The Beast.” They face death, danger, and hardship trying to reach the southern US border. 

Along the way, Pulga expresses his distrust for other people on the train and refuses to help the people struggling on the routes they take. Back in Guatemala, when he was younger, Pulga witnessed the death of both Chico’s mom and more recently Don Felicio, a storekeeper. His fear of other people trying to hurt Pequeña and Chico sometimes clouds his vision and he sees almost everyone as the enemy.

Near the end of the novel, Pulga sees a young boy waving at the train, and it causes him to think about his life in Guatemala that he left at home. “Feeling too much will kill you, I tell my heart. Not feeling anything will too.” 

Throughout the novel Pulga also struggles to show his emotions in front of Chico and Pequeña. Because Pulga has been discriminated against and been harmed and witnessed so many traumatizing things in his life, he feels more protective of the people he loves since he doesn’t want them to experience those things either.

He often hides his fear of them seeing the same gang that pushed them out of Guatemala and of them not making it to the US. This is a bad thing and a good thing, since it means Pulga has to lie about his worries to Chico and Pequeña in the book often to reassure them and protect them—and then feels guilty about it after.  

I guess sometimes lying to those you love is the only way to keep them from falling apart,” Pulga says. While he empathizes with other people, he tells himself that he can’t feel that way. He builds a wall around his emotions that eventually leads to him feeling extremely guilty after Chico’s death. 

The Effects of Oppression

This novel reveals how people that go through bad experiences are less likely to open up, and more likely to shut down and not share their real feelings with people. Eventually, they will reach a breaking point where they can’t handle it and their emotions will be like an outburst. 

They’re always dealing with an internal conflict, trying to manage how they feel after experiencing something and how the people they care about feel. 

So, people who are not discriminated against should be trying to help people who are struggling, using what we have and they don’t: privilege.

We have to fight for people who face discrimination and injustices.

What Can We Do?

But, how do we even begin to fight these injustices? Where does it start? 

In order to understand what other people around the world are going through we have to have empathy. Empathy is when you try to feel what someone else is feeling. We can’t feel exactly what Pulga felt when he had to leave Guatemala, or what people in the BLM protests felt like when George Floyd was killed, but what we can do is think of times that give us a little insight on feelings that are similar. 

Have YOU ever been judged because of how you look, how you dress, or where you’re from? The amount of money you have? 

Imagine that happening to you every day. Imagine if how you looked was a defining factor on whether or not you could walk down the street without getting questioned by cops. If you were born into a different family, in a different country completely by chance and that meant you couldn’t go to school and do all the things you love to do now.

The Lessons We Will Take With Us

We, as students at AISB, have to remember that we are not our parents and we are not our country’s past presidents and leaders that made bad decisions. We are also not the old man that whistled at your female friend, or the cashier that made a racist remark to the guy behind you.

Injustice doesn’t have to be a million miles away for someone to shut down emotionally, to feel frustrated, sad, and embarrassed. If you see injustice in your life or your community, say something—and always remember to be empathetic.

Before you judge someone, think about what they might have gone through—what they could go through. These are lessons that we will take with us throughout our lives, when we become those politicians and leaders and CEOs and teachers and it’s a lot harder than we think it is, we have to remember that we are the people that can really make a difference.


Eva K.

Add your own voice to the mix in the comments section below!