Writing@Bates Statement of Commitment to Antiracist & Inclusive Writing Instruction

Photo by Tom Hilton

Black lives matter.

Black language matters.

Black writing matters.

As white writing program administrators, we, the professional staff of Writing@Bates, continue to reflect on these imperatives as well as the ways our positionality, privilege, and writing program works counter to them. We understand that just being able to reflect—or choosing not to—is a privilege. We understand the demand to view the world through a lens that privileges Standard Written (White) English (SWE) obscures the rich diversity of ethnolinguistic and sociocultural traditions, aesthetics, epistemologies, and identities of all members of our community. We know, too, that our black, brown, and indigenous colleagues, students, and community members are disproportionately burdened by this demand and that in this imbalanced language system, we all lose. We have much to learn from the lenses through which we too often do not choose to see.

In this statement of commitment, we pause, first, to reflect on the evidence-based, antiracist pedagogies and practices generated by some of our scholar-colleagues of color in the field of writing studies. We center the work of these colleagues to confirm our commitments to them—and to you—and to honor their words and voices as we make public some of the ways we will take action towards our commitments, knowing the work will never be “done” or “complete” and that we are always already antiracists in-progress who work within a racist system.

First, we pause to listen deeply to the recommendations of Dr. April Baker-Bell (2020):

Dr. April Baker-Bell, Michigan State University

An Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy: Ten Framing Ideas

  1. Critically interrogates White linguistic hegemony and Anti-Black Linguistic Racism.
  2. Names and works to dismantle the normalization of Anti-Black Linguistic Racism in our research, disciplinary discourses, curriculum choices, pedagogical practices, and teacher attitudes.
  3. Intentionally and unapologetically places the linguistic, cultural, racial, intellectual, and self-confidence needs of Black students at the center of their language education.
  4. Is informed by the Black Language research tradition and is situated at the intersection of theory and practice.
  5. Rejects the myth that the same language (White Mainstream English) and language education that have been used to oppress Black students can empower them.
  6. Acknowledges that Black Language is connected to Black people’s ways of knowing, interpreting, resisting, and surviving in the world (Richardson, 2004; Sanchez, 2007).
  7. Involves Black linguistic consciousness-raising that helps Black students heal and overcome internalized Anti-Black Linguistic Racism, develop agency, take a critical stance, and make political choices (Kynard, 2007) that support them in employing Black language “for the purposes of various sorts of freedom” (Richardson 2004 p. 163).
  8. Provides Black students with critical literacies and competencies to name, investigate, and dismantle White linguistic hegemony and Anti-Black Linguistic Racism.
  9. Raises Black students’ consciousness in the historical, cultural, political, and racial underpinnings of Black Language.
  10. Relies on Black Language oral and literary traditions to build Black students’ linguistic flexibility and creativity skills. Provides students with opportunities to experiment, practice, and play with Black language use, rhetoric, cadence, style, and inventiveness.

We also take a moment to re-hear Asao B. Inoue describe the importance of antiracist writing practices in relation to anti-black violence and the Black Lives Matters movement in his 2019 keynote address at the Conference on College Composition and Communication: 

Dr. Asao B. Inoue, Arizona State University

So how do we language so people stop killing each other? The practices of language are fundamentally practices of judging. What is reading rhetorically or considering the rhetorical situation for a writer or speaker, if not a series of judgements? In a world of police brutality against Black and Brown people in the U.S., of border walls and regressive and harmful immigration policies that traumatize and separate children from parents, of increasing violence against Muslims and LGBTQIA, of women losing their rights to control their own bodies, of overt White supremacy on U.S. streets, of mass shootings in schools, of the conscious poisoning of Black and Brown people’s communities, of a complete disregard for indigenous people’s rights to their lands and cultures, of blatant refusals to be compassionate to the hundreds of thousands of refugees around the world, where do we really think this violence, discord, and killing starts? What is the nature of the ecologies in which some people find it necessary to oppress or kill others who are different from them, who identify or think or speak or worship or love differently than them? All of these decisions are made by judging others by our own standards, and inevitably finding others wanting, deficient. People who judge in these ways lack practices of problematizing their own existential situations and lack experience sitting in the discomfort that problematizing brings. They lack an ability to sit with paradox, guilt, pain, and blame, and make something else out of it all. 

Again, let me compassionately urge you to sit in discomfort: If you use a single standard to grade your students’ languaging, you engage in racism. You actively promote White language supremacy, which is the handmaiden to White bias in the world, the kind that kills Black men on the streets by the hands of the police through profiling and good ol’ fashion prejudice.             

So, how do we, English and literacy teachers, judge language so people stop killing each other? I have argued that labor-based grading contracts explicitly address in writing classrooms the problem of grading locally diverse students (Anti Racist; Labor-Based Grading Contracts), the paradox of teachers who are by necessity steeped in a White racial habitus, steeped in white language bias, while many of their students are not — a White racial habitus that if you are White you cannot fully see, hear, or feel (the social world has trained you not to), yet it is the source of your privileges, likely part of the reason you are in front of the class in the first place. If we can confront such paradoxes in our judgements of language, in our habitus, then maybe some of the killing may stop. But first, we have to painfully reconcile our habits of judgement, and that means painfully reconciling the paradox between ourselves and our actions. As Bourdieu’s term, habitus, makes clear, one’s judgement is not simply one’s own individual judgement of something. It is never simply an individual practice. It is consubstantial, interconnected, to the social world we live in. 

This work also requires us to revisit a national resolution statement—originally posed in April of 1974 as part of a larger whitepaper—composed by a group of American teachers and scholars of linguistics, composition, and rhetoric, who were all members of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. The paper was called Students Right to Their Own Language (reaffirmed in November 2003, annotated bibliography added August 2006, reaffirmed November 2014) and the statement reads:

We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language—the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.

And because we know our local commitment to antiracist and inclusive writing practice will be strengthened by also attending to broader, global movements for language justice and language rights, thinking particularly about our international students and colleagues experiences of “being raced” in the U.S. and at Bates, we take a moment to be reminded of the 2011 PEN International Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights (2011):

Linguistic diversity is a world heritage that must be valued and protected. Respect for all languages and cultures is fundamental to the process of constructing and maintaining dialogue and peace in the world. All individuals learn to speak in the heart of a community that gives them life, language, culture and identity. Different languages and different ways of speaking are not only means of communication; they are also the milieu in which humans grow and cultures are built. Every linguistic community has the right for its language to be used as an official language in its territory. School instruction must contribute to the prestige of the language spoken by the linguistic community of the territory. It is desirable for citizens to have a general knowledge of various languages, because it favours empathy and intellectual openness, and contributes to a deeper knowledge of one’s own tongue. The translation of texts, especially the great works of various cultures, represents a very important element in the necessary process of greater understanding and respect among human beings. The media is a privileged loudspeaker for making linguistic diversity work and for competently and rigorously increasing its prestige. The right to use and protect one’s own language must be recognized by the United Nations as one of the fundamental human rights.

Knowing that antiracist statements and commitments to inclusivity require action behind them, and in light of these and so many other resources on antiracist writing practice and linguistic justice, we, the writing program administrators of Writing@Bates, commit to broadening our understanding of and acting upon the following pedagogies and practices within our spheres of influence: 

  • Acknowledge that all languages and dialects have inherent value and function as significant carriers of identity and culture.
  • Acknowledge that Standard Written English, or SWE, is a historically-specific dialect that emerged from the English colonial project and has been employed to reinforce racism and to reify white privilege.
  • Provide alternative, more accurate histories of language and illustrate the systematic racism and ensuing violence embedded in many Euro-centric language and genre conventions, and take action to reverse the harm caused by white supremacist literacy instruction.
  • Create opportunities to deepen our understanding of—and deeply value—the varied linguistic assets, traditions, and histories of our black, brown, indigenous, and international students, colleagues, and community members, and to critique and challenge the languages, dialects, and genres of white supremacy. 
  • Support and promote equitable and inclusive writing instruction that respects and actively engages the power of our differences, in particular the ranges of languages, dialects, and genres used by marginalized writers and speakers inside our classrooms, across the college, and beyond academic settings.
  • Support writers who speak or write in marginalized dialects in making language and genre choices that match their purposes and their audiences as well as their aesthetics, ethics, and epistemologies by asking questions—rather than making assumptions about— correctness and knowing that what sounds or looks like an error to one who is fluent in SWE might be a deliberate dialectical choice.
  • Underscore the fact that all writers regress when they face new rhetorical situations and more complex content, so we must be cognizant of the extra work required by those writers whose home dialects are further from SWE, or Standard Academic English (SAE), and recognize that being forced to always write in SAE without choice or penalized for not adhering to SAE standards is Eurocentric and racist.

Working towards these aims, we invite faculty, staff, students, and community members to join and collaborate with us in implementing antiracist and inclusive approaches to the teaching of writing across campus and beyond. In the months and years ahead, Writing@Bates intends to facilitate conversations with individuals, programs, departments, and community members about antiracist pedagogies and language justice so we can engage in the systemic change that is needed to align our perspectives and practices with current research and with the Bates College mission and so we can language in ways that reduce harm and increase agency. Towards this end,

we support black, brown, indigenous, and international student, colleague, and community writers with ardor and devotion and commit to engaging them over the transformative power of our differences, cultivating intellectual discovery and informed civic action, by listening deeply, valuing their languages and genres, and committing to active antiracism and inclusivity in our writing pedagogy, support, and training.

We anticipate the need to update this statement as conversations about antiracism and inclusivity unfold on campus and beyond, and we invite you to participate in the discussion by offering us feedback on this statement, by joining one of our learning communities, by meeting with us individually, by inviting us to a department or program meeting, by suggesting or recommending a particular workshop or resource, or via any other way that you wish to propose. We also intend to center these conversations and commitments in the course of our regular meetings, outreach, resources, and workshops so that—as you wish and are able—you will have multiple opportunities to contribute to and participate in antiracist writing pedagogy and practice, and language justice, at Bates College. 

Other Resources *

* Please email us resources to add to this list! We will add others, too.