Friday, May 13, 2011

The English Only Movement: Language as a new venue for racism

Katrina Dalton
In his text, “The Colonialism of the English Only Movement,” Donaldo Macedo discusses the “ethnic and cultural” war presently being waged in public education.  He believes that the language surrounding the movement, including the very term  “ethnic and cultural war” is very telling about American society’s attitude towards racism.  He refers to it as ideologically coded language that serves to veil the racism that has throughout its history come to characterize the United States, and “perpetuate racial and ethnic stereotypes that devalue identities of resistance and struggle,” (15).  He believes that the English only movement in the United States has carved out a new outlet for racially charged discourse and policy that operates under the guise of being a linguistic, rather than a strictly appearance or ethnically based issue. 
            Macedo argues that there are two distinct types of racism that are often inextricably linked: language based racism and experienced racism.  He demonstrates the way one can directly influence the other, using the example of the way in which Patrick Buchanan’s call for the end of illegal immigration (a display of linguistic racism), resulted in the outright violence, loss of dignity and denial of humanity felt by immigrants trying to cross the Mexican border.  The racist language resulted in the lived experience.
            Macedo cites Proposition 187 in California as the beginning of a “pattern of linguistic assault” on subordinated groups; one major element of this pattern is the attempt to dismantle bilingual education.  He finds it extremely problematic that when it comes to the expanding culture of xenophobia in the United States, the general population has reacted in one of two ways: remaining silent, or supporting legislation that essentially legally institutionalizes discrimination.  In public opinion, subordinated groups are held responsible for financial issues, drops in test scores and drug problems. 
In the following news clip, from the debate over English only is covered.  One of the issued discussed is whether driver’s tests should be given in English only.  Maria Teresa Kumar of Voto Latino argues that obtaining a drivers license is a crucial ingredient to being a contributing member of society in the United States.  She says that Latino immigrants want to work, they want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and they want to be part of the American dream, but this would be impossible in legislation prevents them from being able to work.  In that respect, we are able to see the cyclical nature to Macedo’s claim that subordinated groups are held responsible for financial issues and low test scores, but if we as a country make it difficult for immigrants to work and do well in school, they will continue to be blamed for these issues.

Macedo writes that according to Patrick Buchanan they are “a generation of children and youth with no fathers, no faith and no dreams other than the lure of the streets.”  Increasingly, this attitude is visible not just in border states, but across the country.  With thirty states that have already declared English as the official language and an additional nine states with legislation in the works, it is clear that the agenda of the English only movement is not merely being advanced by a conservative minority.   
In the following clip, a man in Carpentersville, Illinois addresses a local court about the need for English-only legislation.  He complains of being called a “gringo” by a couple of local Hispanic children.  In form, true to Buchanan’s quote above from the Macedo piece, this man questions the way these children are being raised.  “What have the Hispanic people in Carpentersville been teaching their children to say to strangers,” (3min50sec).  If the children had been Caucasian rather than Hispanic, and the insult had been a familiar English dig, there is no question that the issue would not have been, “what are white people in Carpentersville teaching their children.”  Somehow, because the word was in Spanish, he feels entitled to call the moral standing of an entire ethnic group into question for their moral inferiority and improper parenting.  This attitude perpetuates Buchanan’s idea of “a generation of children and youth with no fathers, no faith and no dreams other than the lure of the streets.”

Macedo argues that this type of thinking is proof that the assault on bilingual education programs is fundamentally political.  (Although poor performance of linguistic minorities is cited as evidence that the program is a failure, this information is removed from the context of an urban public education system that is failing is a whole). He believes that the English only movement is not simply an issue of linguistic education, but evidence of a deep colonial legacy of cultural, racial and linguistic discrimination. 
In the following clip, Patrick Buchanan displays the manner in which that deep colonial legacy can manifest itself in the face of very modern issues.  He argues that Judge Sotomayor should not be appointed to the Supreme Court, essentially on the basis that she is not a white male and white males founded this country and wrote the constitution:

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