University of Washington Writing Guru Declares American Grammar ‘Racist,’ Wants New Rules

From Heatstreet:

The chief writing instructor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, is trying to dismantle the rules of grammar because he believes they are racist—and the college has given its endorsement to his campaign.

Posters that appeared this week in the college’s writing center are part of a new effort to teach students that the conventional rules on how to structure sentences and form ideas in written language are perpetuating inequality and “white supremacy.”

“Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society,” the poster claims. It goes on to say that critiquing a student’s use of language, or implying that there is any one grammatical standard within the English language, is inherently discriminatory.

. . . .

Grammar, according to the posters in the writing center, can “justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

To solve the problem, the program intends to help students become aware of “social justice” issues in their everyday life, and to help them “check their privileges”—particularly those that result in unconscious racism.

They also appear to say that they will not deduct from grades—even in English classes in an English department—for failing to use proper grammar. “We promise to emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” a “commitment” on the poster reads. “We promise to challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”

Link to the rest at Heatstreet and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Here’s the Statement in full:

Writing Center

 About Writing Center

Following is a statement that Writing Center professional staff, tutors, and the Director worked on extensively. It informs our center’s practices and on-going assessment efforts to improve our practices.

STATEMENT ON ANTIRACIST AND SOCIAL JUSTICE WORK IN THE WRITING CENTER

Our Beliefs

The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.

Because we all live, work, learn, and communicate within such racist systems, the consultants in the writing center assume that a big part of our job is to help students become more critical of these unjust language structures as they affect students’ writing and the judgment of that writing. In particular, being aware of racism as structural offers students the best chances to develop as writers and succeed on their own terms in an inherently racist society.

Furthermore, by acknowledging and critiquing the systemic racism that forms parts of UWT and the languages and literacies expected in it, students and writing center consultants can cultivate a more socially just future for everyone. Just avoiding racism is not enough because it means we are doing nothing to stop racism at large, and it amounts to allowing racism to continue.

Our Commitment

The writing center consultants and staff promise to listen and look carefully and compassionately for ways that we may unintentionally perpetuate racism or social injustice, actively engaging in antiracist practices. For instance, we promise to:

  • be sensitive to our language practices (what we say or allow to be said) and other microaggressions that may make some people feel uncomfortable or feel in some way inferior;
  • openly discuss social justice issues as they pertain to the writing at hand;
  • emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical “correctness” in the production of texts;
  • be reflective and critical of the practices we engage in;
  • provide students ways to be more aware of grammar as a rhetorical set of choices with various consequences;
  • discuss racism and social justice issues openly in productive ways;
  • advocate for the things that will make our Center safe, welcoming, productive, proactive;
  • challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations;
  • conduct on-going assessments of the work of the writing center, looking specifically for patterns or potential inequalities or oppressive practices that may be occurring in the Center.

We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways. We promise further to do our best to compassionately address these issues as they pertain to student writing as well.

The Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma is a part of the Teaching and Learning Center located in Snoqualmie 260, and is closely affiliated with the University Writing Program.  All students can make an appointment to see a Writing Consultant in person or online.  There are four ways the Center offers expert feedback on student writing.  The Center also offers electronic resources for academic writing.

PG says this manifesto appears to him to be written in standard American English and, thus, packed with microaggressions.

PG observes not the slightest sensitivity to the way those not trained to this standard might react to such a racist tone. Clearly, those at the top of  this hierarchy are determined to bend others less privileged to their will.

How such people can purport to teach English without continuing to perpetrate an inherently hostile environment by repeatedly othering those who differ from them cannot be imagined.

53 thoughts on “University of Washington Writing Guru Declares American Grammar ‘Racist,’ Wants New Rules”

  1. Okay, someone needs to call this out. Give me a sample sentence that uses racist grammar and one that does not.

    • I think that is meant to be covered by:

      We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways.

  2. “We promise to emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” a “commitment” on the poster reads. “We promise to challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”

    I Googled “rhetorical situation”.

    Top hit:

    A rhetorical situation is the context of a rhetorical act, made up (at a minimum) of a rhetor (a speaker or writer), an issue (or exigence), a medium (such as a speech or a written text), and an audience.

    Rhetorical Situation: Definition and Examples – Grammar & Composition
    grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/rhetsituaterm.htm

    From the article:

    In the book Standardizing Written English (1989), English professor Amy Devitt points out the close relationship between rhetorical situations and discourse types: “[A] rhetorical situation calls for an appropriate response in discourse. As speakers and writers respond to the situation, they use certain discourse characteristics: a particular type of organization, a certain amount and type of detail, a level of formality, a syntactic style, and so on.”

    I looked at several of the other results that came up. None suggested that rhetorical situations preclude grammatical correctness. English grammar is extremely flexible. Unless the statement is referring only to arbitrary, incorrect, and inconsequential rules such as “Thou shalt not end a sentence with a preposition,” the complaint seems frivolous.

  3. Outrage politics is precisely why a lot of people went out and voted for the current president. When every single thing people do or say (or even their very existence by virtue of birth) has an -ism or an -ist attached to it, a lot of people eventually want to say: “Okay, you want to be outraged? How about this…”

    Also, I agree with Jim Heskett above. I’ve known my share of poor whites, and they are often every bit as uneducated-sounding as poor minorities. The converse is also the case. Grammar is often a result of locality, as much as education.

    • Don’t worry. You just need to end all taxpayer subsidies to universities and the problem will go away.

      As will most of the universities.

      People might take out taxpayer-backed loans to listen to this kind of thing, but they won’t spend their own money to do so.

    • You are spot on.
      -Minority woman sick of utter nonsense that doesn’t address any real issues.

      When I see articles like this, I shake my head and think of how much money we are going to save by NOT sending our children to College.

  4. …the consultants in the writing center assume that a big part of our job is to help students become more critical of these unjust language structures as they affect students’ writing and the judgment of that writing.

    And here I thought that the consultants were to help students communicate their ideas more clearly and effectively. My takeaway: writing consultants should not be allowed to think. Or, possibly, allowed to be employed.

    • And here I thought that the consultants were to help students communicate their ideas more clearly and effectively.

      I’m guessing that assumption marks you as regressive or oppressive or some other notgoodessive.

      I wonder what the UWT writing center would think of “notgoodessive”.

  5. Everything is racist, everything is sexist, everything is homophobic and you have to point it all out.
    Anita Sarkisian.
    Says it all, really.

    • Not really, no. You took that _way_ out of context.

      The full quote concerned when she was a college student and was first learning to see cultural biases. When she as at that age she saw racism, sexism, etc in everything and was compelled by a student’s enthusiasm to point it out.

      • If you go looking for racism, sexism or homophobia in anything, you will probably find it because it is unfalsifiable.
        My question is whether people should be looking for these things.

  6. Grammar is a set of rules defining the way words are used, classified, and structured together to form coherent written or spoken communication, right?

    So, I’m still looking for an explanation of how english grammar might be racist in and of itself and drawing a blank. Other than by being *english* grammar it was unavoidably compiled by a bunch of dead white guys. Of course, the same applies to spanish, french, german, russian, Esperanto, Elvish…

    • Felix, to categorize all Elvish languages into one generalized term is species-ist. To say that the language of the Sindarin elves was somehow superior to the language of Nandorin or Telerin is highly contemptable. Or who can say that Quendya–the form of Elvish spoken by the Vanyar–is representative of all Elvish languages? Huh? Oh, that’s right. A human male apparently. Check your privilege, human.

      • You are assuming that a male human internet handle implies a meatbag on the other side.
        Hah!
        Joke’s on you.

  7. No, just no. If something’s wrong, it’s wrong. F always equals m*a, and that’s not racist. 2 plus 2 always equals 4 and that’s not racist. (Though I suppose there is some esoteric math concept where that might not be always true…but what do I know? I stopped taking math after differential equations…) And rules of grammar in the English language are what they are, and there is no racism involved.

    That said, just because some college prof comes out with something stupid, we shouldn’t move away from the idea that public education has value to society. I strongly believe it does…

    • Rules that apply equally to everybody, regardless of melanin content can hardly be racist. But why let logic get in the way of politics?

      The Universities propagating these screeds aren’t purely public Institutions. Most are private schools benefiting from public funding but not under state control.
      That is how they get away with it.

        • Sorry, I forgot. It was codified by old white dudes, after all.

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic

          We STEMers are forgetful that way.

          “Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry. ”
          — Charles Sanders Peirce, “First Rule of Logic”

          Inquiry is anathema to axiomatic political screeds, after all.

    • You obviously don’t hang around with topologists very much.

      Actually, I don’t either – the one that I once did know quite well could really twist simple mathematics all out of shape. Too much for my poor brain.

  8. I think they’re trying to ensure that their students are unemployable in any capacity except as university “English” professors.

    *Utterly boggled by the mind-boggling stupidity of this*

  9. Does this mean I get to call anyone a racist if they give me a review that points out some typos?

  10. Grammar is racist? Um … are blue skies racist? Oxygen? Oh wait, according to this manifesto, absolutely everything is racist.

    Reality check for the people at this college … fair or not, people will judge you based on a variety of factors, including how well you speak, write and use the language. If you do not learn how to eloquently express yourself, people will disregard your opinions.

    That is a fact of life.

    So, pushing people through this program without at least encouraging them to understand the commonly understood “correct rules” is doing them an enormous disservice … which will perpetuate continued lack of economic success … which will in turn perpetuate the politics of outrage and assertion that all things in life are racist, sexist, etc. And thus, Simba, we have the Circle of Outrage.

    • Classifying skies by colour is just not on! What about grey or gloomy skies. Where is Dawn and Sunset? What about night time?

      Sheesh.

  11. I finally understood what happened back when at the Tower of Babel. They abandoned the grammar and the people couldn’t understand each other.
    Let anarchy rule!

  12. As an anthropologist, I am supposed to be fascinated by this kind of behavior, but tribalism like this is way beyond my interest.

    I am sorry it has tarnished the reputation of the University of Washington system, which is generally decent (unlike my former alma mater, the University of California system, which is just plain wacky).

    Makes me glad my higher education was at the university of hawaii (which had other fish to fry) and Texas A&M (which was the most ‘school-spirit’ campus I’ve ever seen outside of the military academies or USMC boot camp). This sort of philosophical masturbation about grammar was not bruited about those campuses…

  13. For someone who is against correct grammar and structured writing, he sure wrote his manifesto with eloquence. Wait, did he just contradict his concept by comprising his manifesto the way he did?

  14. So let me get this straight, if i speak and write english correctly and use proper grammar and expect others to do the same, i am somehow supporting racism? So i guess it is safe for me to assume that if i dont use correct grammar and if i dont speak english correctly and dont expect others to do so i am supporting being dumb and illiteracy and equality?

    I consider myself somewhat intelligent and very open-minded, but after reading it, i find his manifesto combined with how eloquently he wrote it, a little hypocritical. How can he say that the english language and the way it is structured and the rules of how it is normally verbalized or written is racist but yet he wrote his manifesto with eloquence and structure.

    What is this world coming to? Why is this even an issue? The English language has rules just like all the other languages out there. Why is it racist to follow how its rules? This is absurd. Stop making a big deal out of nothing. For crying out loud! We are living in a world now where everyone is so damn sensitive over almost everything.

    Yes English was used by slave owners. So what? That was eons ago. Its 2017 now. You don’t like it, learn a different language or make up a new one that you can use daily among your followers. So what if racism exists? Deal with it. Life is not perfect. Real life is not a hollywood perfect story. We all deal with things no matter what it is. We just deal with it.

    Pulling the race card on gramtically correct english and how its traditionally used in our society is a reach. Go live in china! See whats life is like there, or better yet, go live in iraq. Those people have more to worry about than grammar. You darn overly-sensitive liberals. I wasted a good amount of time reading this article about nothing and wasted more time commenting.

    That maifesto is absurd. Go live somehwere else.

  15. I may have been born white, but I was not born knowing grammar. I had to learn it, like everything else. People can learn, if they’re given the opportunity (especially if it doesn’t come with punishing debt) and someone who can actually teach.

    I’m not a child of privilege. Everything I’ve accomplished, as been in spite of my “race”, not because of it. Poor Southern people fell through the cracks, white and black. It’s a shame on this country that anyone is uneducated, unfed, without access to the basics of healthcare and work opportunities.

    But, hey. We need another war or two. That will give all those poor folks without jobs or any apparent grammar skills the chance to be all they can be. If they survive.

  16. University of Washington Writing Guru Declares American Grammar ‘Racist,’ Wants New Rules

    Snicker… Good luck with that.

    (Gotta wonder if this “Writing Guru” just wants his 15 minutes of fame. If so, he succeeded. But, like I care…)

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