Consider This: Colonialism in Grammar Police

**Originally published in September 2020, this post is one of my third most read posts of all time. Since I am still working to extinguish the grammar police in my head, I thought I’d fresher her up and share her again. Enjoy!

I’ve written many times about anti-racist work I do (which live in the social justice category on my home page.) Part of that anti-racist work is calling out myself, sitting with it, and moving on:

1. Pause – after you think or say something that doesn’t sit right with you. These thoughts are in all of us — which is not our fault. It’s in the fabric of our nation, a poisonous gas we inhale but don’t realize it’s killing us. It is our responsibility, however, to get it out of us.

2. Reflect – (why does this not sit right with me? Where did this come from? Is it actually me, or is it the racist world we cut our teeth on?)

3. Pivot – (Instead of beating yourself up, pivot. Redirect yourself. It happens. But how will you make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future? And know that it will happen again in the future as you learn. Learning is non-linear, my friends.)

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, as many of us were, 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.

Code Switch Podcast Art

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. And HELLO I make those same mistakes sometimes — I’m by no means perfect or the authority on writing. A bit egotistical of me, no?

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.



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 when she interviewed the host from the podcast Code Switch. It’s brilliant, and I highly recommend!

How do you pause, reflect, and pivot?


4 thoughts on “Consider This: Colonialism in Grammar Police

  1. Hi 😀 thank you for this wonderful post. As a non native English speaker I do struggle with English grammar, as sometimes it does not make sense to my (or my mother tongue). It is indeed nice to be acknowledge that our grammar mistakes are not the reflection of our intelligence.

    1. Hi friend! I am so glad you shared this with me. English grammar is STUPID HARD. It’s my native language, and I still don’t get it most of the time, I just guess. In fact, you are so much more intelligent than I because you speak more than one language. I look forward to learning more from you.



  2. I actually found your website when looking for reviews on That ’70s Show but this article caught my eye. I think it is great that more people are raising awareness on how there cannot be only one correct way to think, write, and speak in English. Such openness is the first prerequisite to a truly universal language.

    While things are changing, sometimes when you meet people born before a certain time-period, say before the Civil Right Movement, you tend you get a lot more stick from them based on their own notions of right and wrong. Thankfully, most people born in the last three decades don’t seem to care as much as long as they can understand you!

    1. Ugh « such openness is the first prerequisite to a universal language » – well said! I’m glad you stumbled in, friend. I agree. I am so hopeful for our younger generations (though I don’t want to talk about low rise jeans and middle parts, hah!) Thank you so much for reading!

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