(Note to my readers: I’m getting back into the habit of blogging on my normal basis. It’s proven to be difficult with my busyness. My apologies).
I’ve heard, read, and sometimes written a lot of BS in my life, but yesterday I heard something on a local radio talk show that has officially on my top five list of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard:
Proper English grammar is racist.
It was part of a press release from the University of Washington Tacoma’s Writing Center, which said,
“Linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”
The Center’s director, Dr. Asoa Inoue, went further by asserting that racism has created unfair standards in education itself. “Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society.”
I read this press release, the statement itself, and the response from the university when the controversy ignited. While I don’t normally get political in my blogs, this so annoyed me because it touches on something important to me, and I thought I should say something.
First, all of UW’s claims seem to be generalizations. There are no specifics offered. I assume they think people make racist assumptions based on how others talk and write. In other words, if they don’t use “proper” grammar, they presume they’re uneducated and/or stupid based on how they communicate. If they have a certain accent and are of a certain ethnicity, this reinforces certain negative prejudices. At least, that’s how I understand what UW is saying. The statement goes so far as to say that English grammar is somehow full of “microagressions.” How it does is never explained in clear detail. Honestly, the statements seem to have more to do with education than language itself.
The problem with this is it ignores reality and cast a shadow on those, like myself, who pride themselves on communicating clearly with good grammar. Yes, English is constantly changing and evolving. Listen to a few episodes of “The History of English” podcast to see that. But something else you’ll learn from that podcast is that accents and dialects denote someone’s upbringing, culture, and education level. It’s simply a fact. (Yes, I know there are plenty of intelligent people out there who speak in dialects that use less-than-perfect grammar). The problem isn’t language and grammar; it’s people who don’t take the time to get to know someone based on how that person communicates. This is equivalent to blaming a murder on the gun and not the murderer. Does it make me some pretentious racist because I say, “My friend and I,” instead of, “My friend and me”?
UW released another press release responding to the controversy probably because the “blogosphere” brought up an obvious problem: if proper English is racist, why teach it? UW’s Writing Center said,
“The Writing Center statement is not about changing the standard for how UW Tacoma teaches commonly accepted English, grammar and composition. UW Tacoma students achieve thorough proficiency in grammar and English expected in higher education and the workplace. Faculty demand a high level of writing proficiency. Our graduates are successful in a wide array of fields.”
Sounds like backpedaling to me. They claim that teaching proper grammar makes people racist because they assume those who don’t use it and instead speak in a dialect will be seen as ignorant, and since most dialects are used by minorities, it reinforces racism. Yet they say they will teach students English to help them be successful. In other words, they know students need to learn good written communication skills to excel in their vocations despite it fostering racism. So, does that mean all great orators, writers, and communicators are all racist? Isn’t the university teaching racism by teaching proper grammar? They can’t have it both ways.
If I met a black person who talked like Snoop Dogg in this commercial, I wouldn’t understand him. I’d probably assume he listened to rap music and might possibly be a thug along with some other presumptions. Why? Because that’s what is commonly associated with people who talk like that. That doesn’t make me racist. It’d simply be reality. Now, would that stop me from talking with the person? No. Would I be surprised to find out he wasn’t a gangster? Probably. But I wouldn’t be so closeminded as to assume this person couldn’t be an intelligent, upstanding member of society.
Language is part of one’s self-presentation. People will make judgments for good or ill based on how one speaks. That is a fact. Labeling people “racist” because of this will only breed more tension and resentment. Must we all speak in the same dialect/accent/language? That is impossible to do. That is, unless, you suspend all English education. It’s much easier to speak in broken, dumbed down English. Doing that, however, will only create chaos because communication will be hampered.
All of this just seems like yet more propaganda insisting there’s still an epidemic of racism in this country, and that people are racist without knowing it. Haven’t you noticed how more and more stories keep hitting the news claiming innocuous things are somehow racist? It seems to be a determined effort to either make some people feel guilty for being “racist” when they aren’t or to convince others they’re victims of racism when they aren’t. That’s as much as I want to say on the subject because going further would require more words and time than I can give right now. I’ll simply say that nothing lasting can be built on a foundation of guilt, anger, and/or hatred.
Thanks for reading this blog full of “racist” English grammar.
What are your thoughts on this? Is proper English grammar somehow racist?