This one is Part 2 of a series of posts (See part 1 here) that I wrote in response to a few misguided takes on Instagram that I felt needed to be brought down a few notches.
Social media doesn’t give me the space or time to communicate effectively (I don’t do cheesy/dancing Reels, sell our kids online or even show their pictures for social points, or care to make up controversial one-liners when an in-depth conversation would be best), so my blog’s where I’ve always chosen to expand on those issues that matter greatly to me.
Blogging has also always been a better medium for me because it allows me to take more time to respond to things that merit a response. My intent isn’t to call out the person I’m responding to, but rather to illuminate on an issue they touched on, but from a different and worthwhile perspective, for others to learn from.
Whether I’ve succeeded in my goal and changed minds with this series remains to be seen, though I honestly doubt it and could care less. The main reason I wrote these was to have others see additional points of view that the “experts” who think they know best seem to ignore.
Now these responses aren’t for an actual post, but rather a couple of Stories that Kaila Diaz of Bilingüitos, the same influencer from my last post, shared a few weeks ago (you’ll see the screenshots below) that I felt were wrong and therefore merited some feedback.
Some context first
I’m originally from Colombia, where I grew up speaking Spanish and learned to speak English and some French. I attended bilingual private school there, in addition to English- and French-learning classes at separate institutions after school.
When my parents and I moved to the USA, I continued taking French classes through college (albeit infrequently) since English became the language I spoke now outside of the home.
My “hot takes” come from wanting to improve myself and help others communicate better. What a shocking point of view nowadays, huh? (>> sarcasm.)
In college, I was a writing tutor, where I helped undergrads and graduate students all write better and more effectively transmit their ideas, whether it was to their professors, fellow students, hiring managers, deans, etc.
I don’t believe in mediocrity or letting people simply be when they’re capable of doing more. Languages evolve, so there’s always a place where their correct usage is necessary. To me, that’s not racism. Racism would be the opposite: not correcting mistakes or challenging others because you don’t think people can improve.
….. ….. ….. …..
Let’s start with linguistic “prejudice,” which Kaila defines as,
Thinking one way of speaking is better than another; i.e. “isn’t” is better than “ain’t,” “estacionar” is better than “parquear.”
(By the way, both “estacionar” and “parquear” mean “to park” [as in a vehicle] in Spanish and both are correct, so I don’t know who this person is trying to debate here.)
No matter how high the hill someone chooses to die on (>> the higher someone is on this hypothetical hill or the higher one chooses their horse to be, the more difficult it is for them to recognize other correct hills [i.e., POVs]), the fact is that “linguistic prejudice” does NOT have to equate to racism/classism because preferences aren’t inherently racist.
To allege otherwise is wrong and turns the interaction into one where there’s now a victim when there wasn’t one before.
And victimhood (even the kind that’s made up for engagement and social points) is overrated.
Just because I prefer to say “camion” vs. the Mexican “troca” doesn’t mean my way or their way is better, just that my way is different and I PREFER IT because it’s what I’ve known for 30+ years.
Depending on the context (and I’ve worked in such contexts), saying “camion” WOULD be better than saying “troca” and vice versa.
That’s not racist: it’s a fact.
To go with the example in the image, if a Southerner wants to write college essays, business plans, or instruction manuals full of “ain’ts,” they’ll soon find out that they can’t because it’s not the proper way to write any of those media. A college instructor, writing tutor, customer, loan officer, etc. would agree.
That’s neither racism nor prejudice: it’s simply how rhetoric works. There are style manuals and linguistic rules that are meant NOT to oppress, but rather to keep communication, discourse, and ideas consistent, more understandable, and therefore easier to spread.
Which only helps a group of people, a culture, a nation.. to progress.
Superiority as “racism”
In this image, some thinker on Instagram to whom I didn’t want to give another view, is talking about how it’s wrong to believe that the way another person speaks is better.
Kaila added her own commentary, quoting something he said:
the belief that there’s a superior dialect is a very thin disguise for the belief that there’s a superior group of people”
First of all, I don’t know what makes this Abraham guy (or his followers) think he’s infallible, because his assertion couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I also lost respect for him long ago when he made fun of religion/Christianity because I don’t have much patience for those who cynically mock others’ beliefs in whatever deity they want to trust without considering more nuance.
(Put another way, I may already be biased.)
Moreover, he’s being hypocritical here and slinging mud while trying to keep his own hands clean:
In this Reel, he’s alleging that it’s wrong to believe that the way someone speaks is better…when he himself thinks Christianity/religions are oppressive and those like him who live outside of that are better for not believing in a higher power.
But I’ll humor him, Kaila, and anyone else who buys into his crap and counter that the belief that there’s a superior dialect IS NOT actually any kind of disguise for the belief that there’s a superior group of people.
HOW? Because to my non-academic self, a superior dialect is whatever I can understand or whatever the speaker works to help me understand.
Though I think referring to it as “superior” is silly, too, because it implies it reigns supreme over all others, when a better way for me to think of it is just “better.”
Picture this real-life example: We were going to Mass at a certain parish for some time. The former priest had homilies (sermons) we could understand, and that I took notes on. But a new priest from another country replaced him and we can’t understand ~90% of his homilies.
People have asked for print-outs of his homilies (to understand them better) to no avail, so we’re left to (at best) guess what he means based on context from the few words we do understand, or (at worst) not mind what he’s saying since most of it is unintelligible.
This is very frustrating and unsettling because suddenly, Mass isn’t what it used to be, and we pretty much switched to another parish as a result. (It doesn’t help that the former can get HOT as the desert and that the new one is cool and airy, but that’s neither here nor there.)
That doesn’t mean WE are racist or think there’s a “superior” dialect: just that we prefer to understand what we’re being told. Simple as that.
(It’s the same reason why some people hire lawyers to review contracts, for example.)
My husband, who’s from the South and has therefore been exposed to a wider range of people in this country his whole life, is actually able to understand FAR more accents than I can (whether it’s a heavy Scottish or Irish accent, or a very pronounced Black Southern accent, or a Texan or even Indian accent), whereas I prefer having subtitles in most cases.
Just because I learned to speak a more neutral-sounding English doesn’t mean I think that that’s better, just that that’s what I understand best.
There isn’t anything wrong with that.
Therefore, I think that referring to EVERYONE who prefers one way of doing things as racist, or bragging about multilingualism when that skill may not be feasible or desired.. is kind of patronizing and unfair (and elitist, classist, and ableist) when that couldn’t be farthest from the truth for everyone.
It may be a hill some want to die on, but I think they should at least be open to other possibilities.
A few worthwhile closing thoughts on “racism”
As someone who worked really hard to get where she is today, and whose parents worked even HARDER to provide her with a nice life in a foreign country, I get very ticked off by the moral superiority displayed by those on social media who are “wokely” (and therefore wrongly) seemingly proclaiming that preferring that others speak English as well as possible to ensure effective communication is racist and/or oppressive.
You know what’s racist?
- Expecting others to stay “less than” by telling them they’re fine the way the are (more on this below). Speak Klingon? Please.
- Treating multilinguals and minorities as victims who can’t fend for themselves in their languages (as though they haven’t been doing it already for hundreds of years?) and therefore need saving by people with a LOT of time on social media.
- Excusing bad (as in carelessly or willfully bad) English.
- Not at least asking others to make an effort or go outside of their comfort zones so they can better themselves: Isn’t this how we grow?
- Denying that the common thread of English that unites us is now insignificant or inferior to other languages.
- Awarding participation trophies and letting mediocrity take reign because English isn’t the official language.
- Implying that multilinguals ought to speak both languages perfectly.
- Handicapping those who speak differently by insisting they stay the way the are and to not learn the proper way to communicate because others should allegedly adapt to them. (Back when I was handicapped, it was me who adapted to the world because the world isn’t made for the minority.)
Multilingualism IS a gift, so we ought to not diminish it by now allowing that one language stays crappy while the other flourishes.
Because those with “broken English” who may not speak it as perfectly as a native would, yet do still understand everything, are neither victims NOR have broken brains, so we ought to not treat them like they are or like they do. They’re capable of understanding PLENTY, in more languages than we’re perhaps used to, and most are also willing to learn to get better.
The world isn’t about victims and oppressors, and as a woman of color, it irritates me to see some people turn into just that. Interactions can just be, preferences just are.
My need for subtitles isn’t racist: Hell, sometimes I prefer reading subtitles over raising the volume on anything on the TV so as to not wake a sleeping toddler! (Yes, he has a loud sound machine but I’m crazy protective of his sleep needs.) Yes, I prefer reading the words of someone that I can’t understand well over missing most of what they’re saying.
I believe we ought to work to let others understand us: How else can we successfully transmit ideas and allow for effective communication to occur?
If an old person has hearing problems, people tend to speak a bit loudly and/or more slowly to them. If a deaf person wishes to watch a speech, he/she can watch the ASL interpreter at the corner on the TV.
There’s no racism or oppression there. Just two parties making sure they can transmit and receive ideas.
So please: Stop with the racism rhetoric. It’s tiring (at best) and ignorant (at worst).
Language preferences aren’t inherently racist or oppressive, and it helps no one to continue alleging that they are.
But for what it’s worth, I sure enjoy debunking these myths.