Problems with Identifying as English-Speaking

We are the worldAs part of my intellectual journey in graduate school, I’ve been doing some research into multilingual students and how best to teach them how to write. This has led me to several interesting journal articles. I’m currently taking a break from one that started as a mini-rant about how most academic writing is obscure and hard to follow (true) and students come into the classroom thinking their writing must also be obscure and hard to follow (true). Instead of pushing academic discourse into another direction, we, instructors, perpetuate this lie that obscure, flowery writing is good writing. I don’t know how much I agree with this, but I do appreciate a good rant in academic journal articles.

Anyhow, one article titled “Language Identity and Language Ownership: Linguistic Conflicts of First-Year University Writing Students” talked about how some students are hesitant to identify as English speakers even if English is the language they know best and use the most. Why? Because they don’t want to take on the culture that comes with the English language. It feels like a betrayal, especially if a different culture and different language are prominent at home.

And of course, I needed to make this about me, so I thought of how I identify. I am an English speaker. I am an American. I am a woman. I am also black. And it was that last one that caught my attention. I am black, but do I always want to be seen as black?

Personally, I don’t mind it. But I have known other black folks who like that people can’t tell their race from their name on a resume. I’ve known black people who take pride in the fact that people think they “sound white” on the phone.

And I think…is it really the skin color they have a problem with? Is it really darker skin that they’re trying to distance themselves from? Maybe. But I doubt it. It’s the culture. They don’t want to be lumped into a bucket with mainstream black culture that has cast an entire people as lazy, unintelligent,  or only good at sports and music.

How does one change culture? How does a people change their image? This feels like something the Olivia Popes of the world would have to handle. Perception is reality in most cases.

I don’t have answers. Just questions. But maybe you have some thoughts too.

Photo Credit: Sweet Trade

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