I’m Sorry but You’re a Racist

Yes, you ultimately do judge people based on race, creed, color, or gender.

Yes, I’m sorry but you’re a racist. But that’s okay, we can fix it.

Judging people based on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure may mean that you actually do judge people based on race, creed, color or gender, as minorities and less powerful people within a society tend to speak non-standarised varieties of a language.

A great example is how white people in America discriminate black people for speaking African-American English, which is different from Standard English. Another example is Andalusians (southern Spaniards) and Latin American people and how people from mid and northern Spain think Andalusians and Latin Americans are illiterate for not speaking Standard Spanish. The same happens with people from the North of England (Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle…) being judged by Londoners and other southerners.

But let’s be clear. That doesn’t mean the African-American, the English northerners and the Andalusians and Latinos don’t know how to speak their language.

Standard English in the US is very similar to how white people speak because white people have been historically the powerful people within that society. Standard English in the UK is very similar to how people from the south of England speak because that’s where the power has been in England (and in the whole UK). Standard Spanish is very similar to the way people from mid and northern Spanish speak because that’s where the power has been historically.*

People in power can impose a standard, a way of speaking a language, to those in less socially-favored positions, just like people in power have more influence in fashion, business or any sort of trend in general. Everyone wants to be powerful, and sucessful and rich, and so everyone wants to speak as much as possible like the powerful, just as any school children would like to dress like the popular kid at school, and not like the less-popular, shy student. After years of imposing a standard, it may look as if that standard is the only and correct way to speak the language, but that isn’t the case.

That only means that, when white Americans, English southerners and mid and northern Spaniards speak, they happen to speak a variety of their language which is very similar to the standard, but mainly because the standard was historically created by them based on them.

When African-Americans, English northerners and Andalusians and Latin Americans speak, their language differs more from that standard just because they have not been historically powerful enough to impose their way of speaking to others. Not because they can’t speak their own language. Not because they may be less educated. Not because they are less intelligent.

All of us humans, members of a historically powerful part of society or not, have the most incredibly advanced ability ever seen on any animal, according to most evolutionary biologists, psychologists and linguists: language. And that is a biological ability. Regardless of our education, or IQ level, our race, our sex, our nationality — we all produce grammatical language. Only those sadly afflicted with cognitive or motor language impairment may not develop grammatical language. And as much as you may dislike the way African-Americans, English northerners or Andalusians and Latin Americans speak — no, they don’t massively suffer language impairment.

*This paragraph may be oversimplistic and not 100% accurate, but I believe this oversimplification does a lot more good than harm.

**I mention African-Americans as they are a very prototypical example of group that suffers language discrimination nowadays. Andalusians because I am one. Latin Americans because their variety of Spanish comes from Andalusia. English northerners because Northern England is where I live right now. But there are as many groups of people suffering language discrimination within a society as there are standardised languages — no, wait, there are more.

{🗣 🔬 📱 👨‍💻 🎵 📽 ☕️🍹🐷 🍎} lingüística, ciencia, tecnología, periodismo, música, series, café… University of Manchester & Universitat de Barcelona alum.

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