Saturday, 29 June 2013


Yesterday I got called a racist.

Last week, and not for the first time, I was on a rant about bad English. I was discussing it somewhere else too (it goes like that) and I was accused of being racist. The accusation went like this: the type of bad English you are referring to is common among race X, therefore what you are really saying is that you think race X is bad.

But it wasn't me who associated the two, and I was quick to point this out. So, who is the racist, huh?

OK, so you have decided that the two are connected. Well, that's YOUR experience. Whatever.

If that is the case, then clearly there is certainly racism going on, it's not me, and now you insist it's not you, but somebody somewhere is preventing someone from getting a good education, aren't they? And that my friend is about as racist as it gets. Racism is about deliberate anbd systematic discrimination. It happens before the effects, not after. If we notice that people of a given race (or several, thereof, or any group you choose) have a poorer command of the language than average, it's because they are not getting the educational opportunities that the average person is getting.

There was a time, for example, when generally speaking, and with few exceptions, if you were poor, you were illiterate. And being illiterate meant you stayed poor. When poor people are given the same educational opportunities as everyone else, they have a route out of poverty.

Who are the poorest people in our society today, looking at the broad picture? While not exclusively, it tends to be racial minorities. Those who are poor but are not racial minorities also tend to demonstrate poor use of language.

I maintain therefore that while race is involved, this is largely a poverty issue.

It shouldn't be. In theory everyone in a western nation has equal access to education. But that's not the reality. Kids from homes where there is poor or absent parenting, tend not to do well in school. Kids who move around a lot. Kids who live in areas where the funding is low because, hey why bother putting money into THAT area. Kids who don't get the best teachers because who wants to work in that area? If you believe that education opportunities are equal, then you live in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

And, as I said before, if you are born into poverty, and miss out on vital skills, you stay in poverty. You are not going to succeed in life if you are semi-literate. Period. You can even miss out on jobs where literacy is not a requirement, simply because there are multiple candidates and written applications are the first round. Yours will go in the garbage if it's badly written, even if you could do the work better than the other applicants. Whether that's right or fair is irrelevant, that's how it is. So by not being literate, you're doomed.

Then, if you can get past that, people listen to you speak. If your spoken language is non-standard/slang/dialect, and you can't switch to standard English, chances are, you're screwed.

Again, you can argue until you are blue in the face that this is unfair, but that's how the world works, and either you accept that or you fail.

Immigrants know this. This is why quite often people whose first language is not English work harder and ultimately write and/or speak it better than native speakers. I even have several online friends who have never even set foot inside an English speaking country, and their written English is better than many of those who grew up here. This can only be due to a combination of effort on their part, and opportunitites they've had.

So, if there is anyone reading this, who would like to tell me that I'm wrong, that it doesn't matter about poor English, please do tell me what possible advantage it could be to allow or worse - to encourage - individuals or groups within English-speaking countries to use non-standard English exclusively (how you talk in your leisure time among your peers is your own damn business.) If you do not have the ability to use standard English for the purpose of obtaining employment etc, it is a disadvantage. So don't tell me I'm the racist. Tell those keeping people poor.

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