On Linguicism on Race

I mentioned linguicism last week. I think we’re all guilty of it, and the problem is that even the people responsible for teaching English are full of language bigotry.

I shall recount some examples from my decade-ish in the field.

-All of the people I knew in Korea who thought of teaching English as a stepping stone, compared to the Korean educators who felt their work was their life’s calling. I used to make fun of the people who stayed in Korea forever, but those people actually took joy in their work, and there’s something to be said for that. The people who plopped into teaching, with no training, and then left with no interest in the field, are not bad people – they are simply examples of a system that prizes their native language above all others. And they were usually not people of color, though that’s just anecdata. I had little training myself, and could have easily gone that way. But after a few months I realized I wanted to really connect with my students and I did. I’m not sure linguicism allows most to connect with those who speak languages of lower status.

-S. Korea is not the friendliest place to non-Koreans, and not to black people either (though I’d rather be there than many parts of this country). But speak English? You’re okay. In a way I experienced the way different forms of bigotry can work against each other. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

-In my good fortune to be able to travel to some very interesting places, speaking English is almost (but not quite) akin to whiteness. Especially during the Obama years, you could almost believe you held the same social status as a white English speaker when you went to certain places. English meant the assumption of money and power, and a life different from what people in less fortunate countries had. There are a lot of issues in the TESOL field, and they need to be studied and unpacked and never glossed over. But I don’t think it will stop being aspirational for many. And as such it’s very important that we treat this duty we’ve chosen for ourselves with the reverence it deserves.

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