Occam’s Racism

In the United States, if it’s possible for racism to have an impact on something, it most likely does, and rarely in a way that isn’t extremely damaging. But boy is it hard for us to ever admit that unless it’s a glaring issue. We’re still out here analyzing whether or not President 45 is racist because even if you act like that guy, we still can’t bring ourselves say what he’s doing is racist.

Let’s narrow the scope, though. Let’s talk about education.

There is plenty of research on race in education, sure. But even this research rarely focuses on the impact of racism. Generally, we report out the differential outcomes between races and ponder how to solve the so-called “achievement gap,” yet we never sit around and say, “I think we should be less racist,” because it requires us to admit culpability and the possibility that we’re Not Good People.

Unfortunately, we can’t prove the direct impact of institutional racism on, say, test scores, because it’s so powerful and all-encompassing that there isn’t ever really a way to remove it for comparison’s sake. You can’t place several racialized students into an education system without racism to see how they perform since such a system does not exist in this country.

We want to talk about socioeconomic status. We want to talk about class. We want to talk about poverty. We should indeed talk about these things. But we need to talk about racism, too, concretely and explicitly.

I came to this conclusion when pondering several pieces I’ve read on the issue of native-speakerism. It’s certainly true that ELT professionals whose first language isn’t English are not valued as highly as so-called native speakers, but when these discussions arise, we rarely take the necessary trip around the corner and point our finger at the inherent racism lurking beneath this discrimination. We know language and culture cannot be separated, but we need to remember that this is true of language and race as well, and when “native speakers” are prized, there’s a specific image being sought, and it’s not ELT professionals of color.

I commend the ELT field for trying to counteract native-speakerism (though I’m not sure how successful the fight is), but we’re not solving this issue without facing the racism at its core. And until we come to grips with the power racism has over so many of our systems, and especially so within education, it will continue to be the safest and saddest assumption one can make.

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