SCET Journal 2020/2021
« Race Matters
often leads to Black students mentally checking out of school because their identities and cultures are placed on the periphery of their education. Despite the notion that Black Language is perceived through a negative, intellectually inferior lens, it is continuously appropriat- ed, exploited, and colonized (Baker-Bell, 2020). From MTV to Trader Joe’s, Black Language is capitalized on and used to create messages to influence consum- ers to buy their products. This consumption of Black Language for white gain situates Black Language as property owned by the dominant race who possess the power to determine its contextual appropriate- ness in spaces they control. Black language use is acceptable for profit but is not accepted as a linguistic resource in the classroom. As cited in Wheeler and Sword (2004), instead of seeking to eradicate Black language or any language style, we should strive to add language varieties to the child’s linguistic toolbox encouraging a pluralis- tic approach to language education (Gilyard, 1991; McWhorter, 1998, as cited in Wheeler & Sword, 2004). Wheeler and Sword (2004) insist that teachers can build up the cultural capital of linguistically diverse students and help them code-switch or choose language varieties appropriate to the setting. While codeswitching pedagogies serve as an attempt at honoring and including students’ home languages in the classroom, it mainly insists that students switch their language to avoid discrimination. In contrast, Baker-Bell (2019) contends that code-switching does not eradicate racism; it perpetuates the idea that something is inherently wrong with Black language and should be subjugated to home use only. This approach continues to uphold white linguistic hege- mony because Black students are “uncritically taught to code-switch without learning the socio-cultural factors that inform the social positioning of Black Lan- guage and White Mainstream English” (p. 23). Layered with code-switching is contrastive analysis where students differentiate the linguistic features of Black Language from those of Standardized English (Saeedi et al., 2020). Wheeler and Sword (2004) argue that contrastive analysis promotes critical thinking for all students regardless of race or culture. It allows them to discover and analyze patterns of diverse language varieties. Alice Lee (2017) discusses ways in which teachers can facilitate conversations in their classrooms about
the “right and wrong” of language and who gets to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? She engages the idea of mini-lessons where teachers can discuss with students the 1) the ingenuity of African slaves as they developed a new language, 2) the powerful ways AAL can communicate things that Standard English cannot 3) how White mainstream popular culture has copied aspects of AAL, and 4) how AAL speakers can actually speak two languages. Teachers must understand that teaching students that their language is wrong or improper is harmful and false (Christen- bury, 2000). There is no dominant language form, and teaching students that only one language form matters is Anti Black Linguistic Racism. We must lose the hegemonic view of standard English and honor all students’ home language. Implications and Application The false perception has always been that teachers innately possess the ability to cater to the needs of diverse student populations with no actual knowledge and understanding of the ethnic and cultural identities outside of their own. This article serves to provide a reality check, revealing that the people responsible for the education of diverse student groups may poten- tially carry internalized deficit thinking and stereotypes of certain groups into their classrooms. As a result of those marginalizing attitudes, students of color encounter dehumanizing pedagogies throughout most K-12 education. There exists compelling evidence as to why conversations about race are necessary for school reform, equitable practices, and culturally rele- vant pedagogies. This painful yet transformative work is the right direction to heal the spirits of students of color. There is no effective, culturally relevant teach- ing until there is racial reflection. Culturally relevant pedagogy is not a list of practices; it’s a stance. We must acknowledge that race has always been central in culturally relevant pedagogy and that understanding the impact of race in our own lives is ongoing work that is critical to understanding the role of race in the lives of students. Teachers can no longer sit back and pretend that race is not a factor in the achievement gap. Many teachers live by the motto, “I don’t see race, I see children.” The denial of race and the oppression that some students bring into their classrooms is an act of injustice because it creates an erasure of identity.
South Carolina English Teacher
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