Consider This: Colonialism in Grammar Police

I’ve written many times about my anti-racist work that I’m doing. Something that hit me hard in particular was the idea that English “proper grammar” is another aspect of colonialism, of white supremacy. This led to a combing through of memories that I’ve had about proper grammar and how many people I’ve corrected over the years. Or automatically thought someone was not intelligent or worthy if they didn’t utilize proper grammar. Yikes. That’s racism, y’all.

I was raised to believe that if people didn’t use proper grammar or speak like a native English speaker, a white native English speaker, they’re not as intelligent as I am. Here’s the huge, racist issue with that: that supports the idea that native English speakers, mostly white people, are inherently correct.

Because there are so many cultures, ethnicities, races, dialects, etc. that exist in America, thinking someone isn’t intelligent because they don’t speak the way white colonialists demanded of other cultures is racist. It’s the idea that white people know better, speak better. If anyone uses improper English grammar (seen as African-American Vernacular English or AAVE, rural dialects, code switching, other languages in general), they should be corrected because that is not the right way. That is not the white way.

Since I’ve discovered this, I’ve done work around letting grammar go and not assuming someone doesn’t know as much as me if they use the wrong form of your/you’re. I’m also working to distance myself from “proper English grammar” because it is simply a belief that the way white people do it is the right way. In other words, that’s white supremacy.

So the next time you have the urge to correct someone on the wrong form of their/they’re or subject-verb agreement, pause, and consider this.

Thoughtfully,

Maegan

P.S. For more in depth information about racism in language and grammar, listen to the Ologies podcast by Alie Ward, the Linguistics episode. This podcast brought my attention to this subject a few years ago. It’s brilliant.

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