Critical narrative / Counterstory
“I am Ayushi Mohadikar, an international student from India studying in the University of Maryland, Baltimore.” This statement has almost become my identity in the United States. We talked about the concept of identity as being fluid – I am woman, Indian, straight, empathetic, friend, daughter, poet, multilingual, tutor, compassionate, twenty-four. Maybe so much more which can only be known through conversations. But the barrier of prejudices and stereotypes do not let many others, who are “unlike me,” know me beyond my superficiality.
There have been multiple instances where I have felt discriminated against based on my superficial identity. I once was confused about which way to take so I approached an American whom I saw on the road walking. I greeted and asked for directions, but the person didn’t want to understand me. So, he bluntly said, “I don’t understand what you’re saying,” and walked away. Another instance was when I was working at my other job and I got a call from a Mr X inquiring for membership rates. I assimilated the whole chart for him but his reply at the end was “you are not explaining it to me correctly. What’s your name? Can I talk to someone else?” And when I tried asking him about the confusion, he replied with the same comment over again. I called the facility supervisor, who was also an Indian, and handed her the phone. As soon as the person heard her “accent,” he asked her for her name as well. And after she replied, he slammed the phone down. And get it, this was an educated person associated with UMB.
BWCP has helped me gain perspective on white language supremacy. Whiteness exists and we try to mask it with making excuses like language should be one for all, it would be easy for everyone to assimilate etc. But what about the co-constitution of language and race? Also, it is not easy for everyone to understand everyone, but now that we know that we have to understand each-other, isn’t it that we should strive for? I understand that it won’t be easy, but through education, we could be more inclusive and slowly make the amends which are most needed.
Since this project has started, we have had numerous conversations with experts of the subject. I considered myself a person who was not well-acquainted with the topic-at-hand, so I wasn’t sure initially how much would I benefit from the project. As conversations grew, to my surprise, my understanding and sensitivity on the subject grew exponentially. To having subtle realizations, I started analyzing instances as they happened. Alongside the project, I am also available for writing consultations. This has given me tremendous exposure on how to apply my learnings in a practical scenario. As a writing center consultant, I try to view a writer’s work uncritically. I try to not break it down into fragments for me to digest but view it as a whole. I try not to be the American speaker (from Town of babble) and rather encourage language choices through effective communication.
Conversations around race and social injustice almost always are characterized as difficult. That is mostly because they are important, and we do not talk even nearly enough as we should about them. The term “intersectionality” was put to use many years ago by Kimberle Clenshaw to address many of the social justice problems like racism and sexism which often overlap, creating multiple levels of social injustice. If women like her did not exist, we wouldn’t know the levels, let alone think of ways to mitigate them. “How to challenge the preconceptions of people” is a less threatening question when compared to “what if they are never challenged.”
It has taken hundreds of years to reach where we are today, and it would probably take much, much more to get to the stage where we could talk of fairness and equality, in true terms. Till then, hold on, and keep trying. Because as it is said, justice may be delayed, but will not be denied. And we will make sure we will let the flame glow by constantly engaging into conversations. I know, some discords are hard, and we must not even have answers to all the questions, but we will, someday. Till then, keep striving!!
Step 1: Decolonialism, Indigenous sovereignty, and immigration in the center
Let’s first break down the topic into digestible fragments –
- Decolonization is the undoing of colonialism. Colonialism being the process where a nation establishes and maintains its domination and sovereignty on foreign territories.
- Indigenous Sovereignty arises from Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, belonging to each Indigenous nation, tribe, first nation, community, etc. It consists of spiritual ways, culture, language, social and legal systems, political structures, and inherent relationships with lands, waters and all upon them. Indigenous sovereignty exists regardless of what the nation-state does or does not do. It continues as long as the people that are a part of it continue. All the land today that we are on, we owe it to them.
- Finally, immigration is the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country. The United States takes pride by saying that immigration is a foundation of America.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s article emphasizes that US has never been “a nation of immigrants.” It has always been a settler state with a core of descendants from the original colonial settlers, that is, primarily Anglo-Saxons, Scots, Irish, and Germans.
The article on “Decolonization is not a metaphor” highlights how decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve societies and schools. The easy adoption of decolonizing discourse by educational advocacy and scholarship, evidenced by the increasing number of calls to “decolonize our schools,” or use “decolonizing methods,” or, “decolonize student thinking”, turns decolonization into a metaphor.
I come from a country which was colonized by the British. Colonization not just impacts but changes the practices of the country. I’ll be honest – I am making conscious choices. I believe it is very hard for me to look at papers with an objective eye – to keep aside all the bias and try to understand each and everything as I read through them.
I am trained in standardized English and up to a point in my life, I also played an active role in suggesting edits in people’s writings (as an editor). So, evolving (yes, I would use the word evolving here) into a writing consultant here at UMB has been quite a task. And I won’t say I have completed it and aced it, but I’m going through it every day as I am talking to clients about their language choices or reading through the BWCP prep material on “white listening subject” by Flores and Rosa, “Collaboration, control, and the idea of a writing center” by Lunsford, “Multilingual writers in college contexts” by Alvarez, “I can switch my language but I can’t switch my skin” by Baker-Bell, or podcasts like “Talk American” or “Pedagogue” or “Why I call it the academic ghetto: A critical examination of race, place, and writing centers” by Alexandria Lockett.
I can go on and on about the readings and listenings, because I do understand how authoritative stances as a consultant can ruin a client’s writing process. Yet, I have to be wary every time I am talking – I make sure I am not saying anything that is coming from a parochial view, I offer as little suggestions as I can and approach the consultations with as many questions as I can to get the client to talking. And I am doing this because I know that just saying I am not a racist and then following traditional practices will contradict – and that is why I am trying, and this is why the sensitivity is important to me.
I would like to point out one particular podcast that struck to me the most – the Talk American where a black man from Baltimore has to get trained for his accent to fit in, and to get a job. I am not even a resident of the United States, and I have to competitively fight for my position here. But this person belongs to the community, is from the United States, and yet is made to feel like he isn’t, which is very disturbing. And I cannot imagine how it feels to live with this every day of one’s life.
Step 2: In a writing consultation, how would you raise awareness of this context and these circumstances with a writer, especially someone whose expectations seem centered on reproducing standardized English uncritically? What can you do if the writer refuses to engage with you on these important issues? How can you avoid treating standardized English as the gold standard for academic work and at the same time effectively explain the benefit to the writer of talking about standard language ideologies, linguistic racism, and the performance and elevation of whiteness accompanying the use of standardized English in the academy?
This is a complex question. The way I approach a consultation consists of me reading about the client’s concerns, as it better helps me understand and prepare on ways I should be starting off. Many clients describe themselves as multilinguals and list things like grammar, punctuation etc. as their concerns, hence I know that I must address the issue of standardized English being placed on the pedestal. The process would be to deconstruct the process to bring critical thinking into the frame. I would talk to them about how no one version of English is correct or incorrect and there is no such thing as good English or bad English. I will further engage them into conversations which highlight the importance of language used as a medium of mere communication and nothing more (Nonnative Speakers Navigate The World Of ‘Good’ And ‘Bad’ English). Although this is idealistic, not every client would want to engage into conversations like these. I believe talking to them little by little in this case would help. We need to meet clients where they are and not ask them to come (jump, in some cases) to where we see the world from. I, as a writing consultant, can have conversation with them about my own journey as a writer. In this way, sharing the bias would help dismantle the white supremacy around language and help achieve linguistic justice.
Step 3: Take a gander at the following Wikipedia pages covering writing center work and one on racial bias on Wikipedia. In your WP site, speculate on how these Wiki entries represent writing centers, writing center staff, and writing center work (tutoring/consulting) to vast public audiences of Wikipedia. Are these representations accurate? How do they align (or not) with work we’ve already read from Faison (2018), Lockett (2019), Faison and Traviño (2017), Lerner (2009), and Lunsford (1991)? How does the entry on racial bias offer a starting point for critiquing writing center representation on Wikipedia?
Checking new information about something on Wikipedia is so common that would form their perspective according to what they read on the website.
Writing center : As per Wikipedia- “Although writing center staff are often referred to as Tutors, writing centers are primarily places for collaboration in which writers and tutors work together to help writers achieve their goals.” As I read further, I think the Wikipedia page about the writing center is quite resonant with the ideology that we follow at UMB. I believe it does recognize the non-traditional, non-editorial practices. As per conversations around the topic, I know that not all writing centers follow this, so I wonder what those spaces have to say about this representation.
Step 1: On your individual WP site, record your observations of Callie’s multimodal practices. How does she manipulate the text, the settings of Word, the vocabulary and phrasing of the medical world in general and pathology specifically alongside the social discourses, literacies, and ways of talking and writing she’s learned to use? Why is she writing notes this way? Speculate.
Callie’s notes are a perfect example of multimodality, where she interplays between different representational modes. As I opened the document, I immediately saw a collection of images and text arranged – one that makes you want to read it. Note-taking is an art, and Callie is the artist! Her notes are extremely meticulous and organized, yet nothing is structured. I also love how they are personalized – the basic marking tools have been employed to underline, enclose, and emphasize on the areas which she thinks are important in both text and images. This multimodal arrangement makes the document very engaging. The color coding is unique – I notice that the main headings are black, the sub headings are red, and some text is blue. There are different colored highlighting tools used to mark things as important but also hint for distinction. In some areas, particular text is enlarged in size and marked for distinction which suggest its importance as it is something that could be caught by the eye in one glance. This particular thing, I think, is very clever. The last page is particularly interesting because it contains handwritten notes scanned and enclosed in the document. Everything is so much and yet not overwhelming, and that is what I love about Callie’s notes.
Step 2: How have our Project resources, conversations, and writing activities impacted your understanding of your own literacies and languaging practices? What in this Project has highlighted, maybe for the first time for you, the ways your multilingual and multimodal practices “dynamically intersect, manifest, and co-construct identity and your communities’ ways of knowing”? Answer these questions in your WP site, and then speculate how these developing insights might (already be) shaping your practice as a writing center consultant and your work as a student?
From the country I come from, I was exposed to bias based on caste, creed, and color, so I do know how certain groups deem others as “inferior” based on their own judgement, or the “wisdom” passed to them through generations. The project has tremendously helped me in gaining sensitivity towards a new kind of injustice. Albeit, it is the same humiliation. The Talk American podcast highlights the ways in which a black man is trying not to sound like himself otherwise he would not get the job. It further highlights how he has to be “trained” to speak in a certain way to please the white listening subject.
India was colonized by the British not even a decade back, our textbooks and coursework was amended to include English as a compulsory language since childhood. This made a particular form of English ingrained in me. I also did appear for grammar tests and prided on scoring an A. But coming to the United States, joining the writing center here at UMB, and working on the Baltimore Writing Center Project has made me gain a crucial understanding of the forms/versions of English I didn’t know of. The versions that my grammar textbooks didn’t know of, or conveniently chose to ignore. Given the resources, I understand that language has multiple origins, and just like regional variations, dialects can differ from one another, and so can English.
As a writing center consultant, I try to view a writer’s work uncritically. I try to not break it down into fragments for me to digest, but view it as a whole. I try not to be the American speaker (from Town of babble) and rather encourage language choices through effective communication.
Since this project has started, we have had numerous conversations with experts of the subject. I considered myself a person who was not well-acquainted with the topic-at-hand, so I wasn’t sure initially how much would I benefit from the project. As conversations grew, to my surprise, my understanding and sensitivity on the subject grew exponentially. To having subtle realizations, I started analyzing instances as they happened. Alongside the project, I am also available for writing consultations. This has given me tremendous exposure on how to apply my learnings in a practical scenario.
As the image says, code-switching is seen as the process of changing between languages. Translanguaging, on the other hand, is about utilization of the complete knowledge of language by the speaker so as to put to use their linguistic resources to make sense and interact with people.
Excerpt 1 – The first writer seems to be trained in standardized English. The writer talks about how their literacy emphasizes on the importance of patterns and how they view the work of other writers through the same lens. They further go on to talk about how the systematic placement of commas and adjectives impacts overall clarity and creates the perfect picture. The writer talks about poetry classified into certain types and how writing is beautiful and enjoyable when rules are followed played with, and how literature is ordered and reordered. The writer struggles to wrap their head around multiple versions of English and translanguaging.
Excerpt 2 –
What do you think Deion Broxton, the interviewee on the Code Switch podcast, would contribute to a conversation with Gee, Lockett, Lippi-Green, and Flores and Rosa? What about linguist John Kenyon? Dr. Okim Kang?
Write a short dialogue in which these experts and professionals play characters who talk (or argue) about the ways so-called standardized Englishes are given value over and above other varieties of English and languages in certain spaces in the US, such as broadcasting, media, social media, the university classroom, and the university writing center.
A- The conversation would go as follows:
Kenyon- I’m a linguist and I’ve authored books like “American Pronunciation,” and “A Pronouncing Dictionary Of American English.” I would time and agin emphasize on the importance of standard pronunciations because that is something that everyone could assimilate. Does it not make sense?
Flores and Rosa- Don’t you think your point is too shallow? Why are we not addressing that this would only perpetuate the concept of appropriateness which is normative and linked to whiteness? Why are we idealizing a white speaking subject that speaks a perfect standard language?
Deion- I agree. Being from Baltimore, I have had many problems when I decided to pursue a career as a broadcast reporter. I had to get speech training to sound more like a white man from Cleveland. But isn’t it someone I’m not? And it’s frustrating because I’m trying to fit in and it’s making me constantly conscious of the way I enunciate.
Dr Kang- Deion, let me tell you something. No matter how hard you try, even if you sound exactly like “them,” it would never be enough. Reverse linguistic stereotyping will exist and it’s really wrong to put all the onus on the speaker to fix things. Communication is a two-way process, and if the listener isn’t willing to listen, nothing’s going to happen.
Gee- I agree. Let’s talk about my bad english theory. The concept of “correct language” itself is flawed. People would think that if they learn how ‘intelligent’ and ‘well-educated people’ speak, they will speak the language correctly, provided they have supporting native abilities and are mentally equipped to learn the correct language. My linguist’s theory states that the human cognitive and biological capacity for language is something that allows or rejects patterns. So the “rules” are no more objective, but heavily tainted with bias.
Lippi-Green- I totally agree! I would just add- “The idea of a standard language is constructed and re-constructed on an on-going basis by those who have a vested interest in the concept.”
Now, insert yourself as a character in your dialogue. Respond to the experts and professionals. Talk back to, (dis)agree with, explain, question, etc. what they say. Bring your own experience as a writing center consultant into the conversation. What unique experiences and insights can you offer these folks and this conversation?
Me- I agree that the concept of standardized english language would only aggravate the problem. Whiteness exists and we try to mask it with making excuses like it would be easy for everyone to assimilate, language should be one for all, etc. But what about the co-constitution of language and race? Also, it is not easy for everyone to understand everyone, but now that we know that we have to understand each-other, isn’t it what we should strive for? I understand that it won’t be easy, but through education, we could be more inclusive and slowly make the amends which are most needed.
I am articulate
Not because I can speak English like it’s my first language
But because I can speak Marathi, Hindi, and English
Like they’re coming out of different mouths
At the same time.
Some say, it’s not how it’s pronounced in the Americas
But that is what I learnt all my life back there
If you know it’s ap·op·to·sis and not a·pop·to·sis, as I say it
Don’t correct me – I do understand why pronunciations are important
So that whole point of speaking – i.e. “communication” – is done
That doesn’t mean I am wrong, or you are right
It’s just how it is done here, and nothing more.
I will learn and unlearn your language, your way
Only to communicate
And not be articulate, because that I already am.
I would like to engage with Dr. Brooks by asking him meaningful questions which have crossed my mind while I was reading the prep material. I look forward to his answers to my as well as other people’s questions, because I know such discourse is intrinsic to this social movement.
– Do you believe that Standard Written English (SWE) is the “standard,” “official,” “normal,” “appropriate,” or “respectful” way of communicating?
– Do you communicate to clients that Standard Written English (SWE) is the “standard,” “official,” “normal,” “appropriate,” or “respectful” way of communicating?
– Do you believe that Black Language (BL) is “slang,” “informal,” “inappropriate,” “erroneous,” or an “uneducated” way of communicating in the academy and in disciplinary circles?
– Do you communicate to clients that Black Language (BL) is “slang,” “informal,” “inappropriate,” “erroneous,” or an “uneducated” way of communicating in the academy and in disciplinary circles?
– Do you believe that Black Language (BL) should be restricted to informal situations and standard English should be used in academic situations (e.g., when writing journal articles or completing course writing assignments)?
– Do you communicate to clients that Black Language (BL) should be restricted to informal situations and standard English should be used in academic situations (e.g., when writing journal articles or completing course writing assignments)?
– Are you open to discussions with clients about strategies for their using BL to push against conventions and establish identity and voice in their writing?
– Do you discuss with clients the intersections among race, language, and writing in consultations?
– Find a passage from the reading you have questions about or don’t understand and then list your questions.
A: (Same as step 5)
1. Why, according to you, do stereotypes exist? Please talk us through its past history (origin), development of the idea, and it’s propagation. Do you think they are still valid to be used today? Why or why not?
2. Smitherman’s (1986) “From Africa to the New World and into the Space Age: An introduction and history of Black English structure” mentions Corbett, 1974 who states that language scholars long ago denied the myth that standard American dialect has a validity. Why, half-a-century later, are we still arguing about it?
There are roughly 30 dialects in America. The country that I come from (India) has more than a 100 different languages spoken, let alone dialects, and they are accepted with pride. Why do you think the case is different here?
– Find a passage from the reading that you find to be particularly provocative or interesting and provide an explanation.
A: Smitherman’s (1986) “From Africa to the New World and into the Space Age: An introduction and history of Black English structure” mentions Corbett, 1974 who states that language scholars long ago denied the myth that standard American dialect has a validity. This line is particularly striking to me because claims like these have been made over and over from nearly half a century yet here we are – still arguing about dialects and shying away from acceptance.
– Find a passage that speaks to your personal experiences and provide an explanation.
– Find a passage that you believe will impact your perspective on the teaching of writing/composition and provide an explanation.
A: Gilyard & Banks (2018) talk about student’s right to their own language, which can be attained by teaching teachers to teach black-dialect writers. I feel this is very important because educational scenario plays a cardinal role in shaping perspectives and breaking stereotypes.
Conversations around race and social injustice almost always are characterized as difficult. That is mostly because they are important and we do not talk even nearly enough as we should about them. The term “intersectionality” was put to use many years ago by Kimberle Clenshaw to address many of the social justice problems like racism and sexism which often overlap, creating multiple levels of social injustice. If women like her did not exist, we wouldn’t know the levels, let alone think of ways to mitigate them.
“How to challenge the preconceptions of people” is a less threatening question when compared to “what if they are never challenged.”
- As Clenshaw said, “where there’s no name for a problem, you can’t see a problem, and when you can’t see a problem, you pretty much can’t solve it.” She raised our awareness to the way that black women live their lives and also exposes the tragic circumstances under which they die. She talks about how one should not just “say her name,” but also be willing to bear witness to the painful realities, the everyday violence and humiliation that many black women have had to face – black women across color, age, gender expression, sexuality, and ability.
- Leonardo’s “The Color of Supremacy” argues that white privilege must be as equally and rigorously analyzed as white supremacy. That is because the later is a concomitant of the former. He continues to talk about racism and says that being racist is less to do with “whites’ unearned advantage” and more to do with “white treatment of racial minorities.”
- Adichie points out how “we have been raised to think of women as inherently guilty and have been raised to expect so little of men that the idea of men as savage beings without any control is somehow acceptable.” We must, and must tap on this and have conversations about feminism.
Intersectionality, to me, is the interconnection of various levels of social divisions which together contribute towards discrimination. For e.g., an African American woman faces discrimination on multiple levels because she is both black and woman.
Feminism, to me, is taking a stand for women rights and acknowledging the multilevel issues they face.
One of the comments on Adichie’s video really stood out to me, which said “when you have privilege, you don’t want to give it up. So you accuse the oppressed group of reverse discrimination.”
Black feminism, according to me, says that black women know precisely what discrimination they face everyday. This is different from the traditional theory of feminism because there are multiple levels of social injustice associated to this (intersectionality).
A womanist is a Black feminist or a feminist of color. The concept of feminism revolves around gender discrimination, while womanism opposes discrimination against women in the areas of race, class, and gender.
And, as Alice Walker said, “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”
I am a woman, Indian, straight, agnostic, friend, daughter, poet, multilingual, tutor, compassionate, twenty-three.
I describe myself using the following aspects, but there are many more that people would add to me based on my appearance or where I come from. Those are usually derived from stereotypes and something I would not like to carry with myself as my identity.
Identity, I believe is not a fixed state – it changes as you grow up. You learn through composite experiences and have the choice to add this to who you are. Hence, the concept of identity is fluid.
I chose the APA 7th edition transitions guide (https://apastyle.apa.org/instructional-aids/style-transitions-guide.pdf) for this following activity. I have noticed that in various e-tutoring appointments, the client has the general idea presented and structure ready in their drafts but they feel that their paper is not “talking” to the audience, or, it isn’t “flowing.” Transition words are important and we will be covering the transitional words and phrases (APA does not have a guide for transitional sentences). Transitional words and phrases are used at the start of a sentence to show how the sentence connects with the previous sentence.
In an e-tutoring appointment, I will talk to the client about the advantages of referring to the APA transitions guide and hand them out a link to the same. Then, I will go on explaining a few transition words and how they are relevant to their paper.