Vijay Ramjattan is a doctoral student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. I had the privilege of hearing him speak about his research at the recent Language Policy and Planning conference. He presented findings from a study on the experiences of racialized English language teachers in Canada. In particular, he described the racial microaggressions that the teachers endured and some of the coping strategies they used in confronting these microaggressions. Below he writes about his most recent publication that explores these issues in more depth. This is a scholar that we should all be keeping our eyes on.

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As a former English language teacher of Indo-Trinidadian descent who worked in various Canadian English language schools, I often remember how students would be surprised, perplexed, and/or disappointed that I was their instructor. After having experienced these reactions on a repeated basis, I came to realize that I did not have the right qualifications for English language teaching (ELT). Rather than a lack of formal education and experience, however, my unsuitability derived from the fact that I was brown. In fact, since I was nonwhite, I was perceived to be a nonnative and hence deficient user of English. Furthermore, for students wanting to connect with ‘real Canadian’ teachers, my brownness signified that I was not Canadian even though I was born and raised in the country.

My professional experiences thus taught me that students can have racist nativist notions of qualified English language teachers. That is, they can see white teachers as embodying nativeness in English as well as an English-speaking country such as Canada, both of which signal one’s expertise as an ELT professional. In order to further explore these notions, I wrote an article for Race Ethnicity and Education that used interview data with 10 teachers of colour who had similar experiences as me while working in various schools in Toronto, Canada. In the article, I describe how these teachers experienced students’ racist nativist sentiments in the form of microaggressions, banal attacks that communicate negative messages to specific marginalized people/groups.

These racist nativist microaggressions took on three main forms. First, some teachers were interrogated about their nativeness to Canada, thereby positioning them as not truly Canadian. Moreover, they felt that their learners believed them to be foreign to and thus deficient in English as seen in such things as their skepticism of various language points taught to them in class. Last, almost half of the teachers were constructed as ‘invaders’ in the classroom as students displayed visible disappointment in having them as instructors.

While the teachers were bombarded by these microaggressions on a daily basis, they often tried to resist these attacks through their self-presentation and teaching, albeit with differing results. Indeed, some teachers conformed to the hegemony of the white native speaker of English by choosing to ‘whiten’ themselves through name changes or (verbally) presenting themselves as exceptions to the idea of the linguistically deficient teacher of colour. In contrast, other teachers sought to overthrow this hegemony through such things as actively displaying their pedagogical superiority or explicitly mentioning how Canada is constructed as a white nation.

These individual tactics remind us that teachers’ activism against racist nativism (and other types of oppression) in ELT is best done through their teaching. Of course, adopting specific impression management strategies or finding teachable moments in class are not going to immediately dismantle the white supremacy inherent in the ELT industry, which ranges from racist hiring practices to textbooks modelled after white native speakers of English. Nevertheless, I have found that these local strategies can inspire students and other ELT stakeholders to strive for social change. For instance, simply speaking to former students and colleagues about my own experiences of racist nativism has prompted them to consider how they perpetuate this oppression in their own daily activities. Ideally, this consciousness-raising may help to disrupt the notion that the right qualifications for ELT are white qualifications.

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A recent report by the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium focused on the education of ELLs in Philadelphia. One finding was particularly troubling. Only 43% of Spanish-speaking ELLs who entered kindergarten were reclassified as English proficient within 4 years. This compared to 64% of Khmer speakers, 68% of Arabic speakers, 72% of Vietnamese speakers and 79% of Chinese speakers. Is it really the case that Latinx ELLs in Philadelphia schools are not learning English? If so, what accounts for this? If not, what is really going on here?

Local report Avi Wolfman-Arent has just published an article that seeks to explore these questions. He concludes that another of factors contribute to these academic differences. I appreciate his nuanced analysis and would like to expand on some of my comments that were included as part of his story.

It is important to begin by considering what exactly is meant by English proficient in the context of the education of ELLs in Philadelphia schools. It does not mean the ability to communicate in English. The vast majority of ELLs who have been in Philadelphia schools for 4 years, regardless of their language background, are able to communicate in English. Indeed, many may even feel more comfortable using English, especially in academic settings. What schools typically mean by English proficient is that ELLs have demonstrated the ability to engage with grade-level content in English. In the case of Philadelphia this means scoring at least a 5 on the ACCESS for ELLs.

The ability to engage with grade-level content is a rigorous standard for being considered English proficient. The fact that non-Spanish speaking ELLs are more likely to achieve this goal than their Spanish-speaking peers suggests that the schools that these students attend are more successful at providing them access to the academic skills being targeted by the ACCESS for ELLs.

Why might certain schools be more successful than others at supporting ELLs in achieving these goals? It is likely because they are more successful at supporting the academic needs of all of their students. That is, schools where ELLs perform higher on the ACCESS for ELLs are also likely schools where the general student population perform higher on the PSSA. In a nutshell, these schools are relatively “high performing schools.”

What makes these school high performing? Here is where things get complicated. Though the curriculum and instruction are certainly important, many other factors also contribute to the academic performance levels of a school. These factors include the poverty rate of the student population, the qualification of the teachers and their years of experience and staff stability. All of these factors must be considered when trying to explain the achievement differences between ELLs of different language backgrounds.

Philadelphia is one of the most segregated cities in the country. Children from these different language backgrounds rarely live in the same neighborhoods and go to the same schools.  Latinx children are concentrated in North Philadelphia, an area of the city with a long history of poverty and segregation. Schools in this neighborhood confront the many consequences of poverty while often having the fewest resources to confront these challenges, the least experienced teachers and the highest turnover. In contrast, non-Spanish speaking ELLs are more likely to attend more integrated schools that are likely to have more experienced teachers and stable staffing. Considering these differences, it is not surprising to see academic differences between these groups of ELLs.

Of course curriculum and instruction also matter. A case in point can be found in the work of Maneka Brooks a researcher at Texas State University who has conducted research with Latinx “long-term English learners,” students who reach high school without ever testing out of their ELL status. She has found that these students are actually quite proficient in the language and literacy practices they are being socialized into in their classrooms. The problem is that these do not match the language and literacy demands of the assessments that are being used to determine their English language proficiency. There are many factors that might explain this disconnect including teacher expectations and school and district-level mandates that prescribe particular remedial interventions for this student population because of broader societal attitudes about their capability.

Yet, the quality of curriculum and instruction is more a symptom rather than the cause of the problem of education Latinx ELLs. In short, the achievement differences between Spanish-speaking ELLs and ELLs from other language backgrounds is not primarily a linguistic problem, but rather a political and economic problem. This means that the solutions cannot be primarily linguistic but must include political and economic reforms. As long as Latinx ELLs continue to be relegated high-poverty and hyper-segregated areas of the city they will continue to face academic challenges. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that massive efforts at integration will happen in Philadelphia anytime soon. That said, the mayor’s office push for community schools might provide a point of entry for beginning to push for schools in North Philadelphia that are part of broader comprehensive anti-poverty efforts to support Latinx families. Decreasing the poverty in North Philadelphia would work wonders for Latinx ELL performance on the ACCESS for ELLs.

In 1970, Richie Perez, a member of the Young Lords, a militant Puerto Rican nationalist political party, wrote an article calling for Puerto Ricans to take control of their schools in order to develop local bilingual curriculums that embrace their Afro-Latinx heritage. The same year, Milton Friedman, a prominent University of Chicago economist, also made a case for parents of color to take control of their schools as consumers choosing schools from a marketplace of options.

It is tempting to want to position these two visions of community control as fundamentally opposed to one another. Yet, there are certain commonalities between these two perspectives, especially in their desire to take power away from the government and put them into the hands of the communities of color being served by public education.

Indeed, forty-five years later, I witnessed these two visions of community control in a precarious alliance at a fundraising event for a bilingual charter school run by a Latinx community based organization. On the one hand, the event paralleled Friedman’s neoliberal ideal of school choice. Many of the people at the fundraiser were members of the business community who desired a more active role in developing high-quality educational programs in the city. As a way of convincing these prospective funders to invest in the school, the school leadership celebrated their ability to provide a high-quality choice for their community and had parents speak about why they chose this school for their children.

On the other hand, the event also had traces of the radical vision of Richie Perez. For example, imagery in the school included the faces of prominent Puerto Rican nationalists such as Lolita Lebrón, who led an armed assault on the US House of Representatives in 1954 in the name of Puerto Rican independence. In addition, school leaders emphasized the importance of bilingual education in supporting Latinx children in developing a strong sense of their cultural identity that they will be able to use to advocate for the Latinx community as adults.

Is this school a continuation of the radical political struggles of Richie Perez or its neoliberal co-option by followers of Milton Friedman? I would argue that this rigid either/or framing of the question does not do justice to the complex decision-making of those of us seeking to advocate for bilingual education within the current polarized educational debate framed around pro vs. anti-charter school factions. This polarized framing relies on heroes and villains in ways that obscure the broader working of white supremacy.

For example, on the anti-charter school side common rallying cries are to “save public schools” or to “keep public schools, public.”  For activists utilizing this mantra, advocates for public education are heroes who are fighting the villains in the charter school sector who are seeking to impose a corporate agenda on the nation’s schools. Yet, what does it mean to save public education when public education has always been white supremacist and unresponsive to the grievances of minoritized communities?  In the specific case of bilingual education activists, large urban districts have often proven themselves either unresponsive or outright hostile to developing bilingual education programs. In this context, can we blame bilingual education activists who have taken advantage of charter school legislation to develop their own programs rather than work to save an institution that has never served them well?

That said, the pro-charter school side often relies on discourses that frame charter school advocates as heroes who are fighting against the villains in the unresponsive bureaucracies of public school districts. Yet, positioning charter schools as a panacea for educational inequities also overlooks the material consequences that the proliferation of charter schools have on the education of children of color who remain in traditional public schools. Because of the many fixed costs associated with keeping a school open, such as keeping the lights on and the building heated, traditional public schools that continue to serve the vast majority of the students of color in US schools find themselves having fewer and fewer resources to educate these students. In this context, opening a bilingual charter school benefits some students of color at the expense of those left behind.

It is precisely this dilemma that bilingual education activists find ourselves in. Do we continue to work to create high-quality bilingual education programs in public schools that have oftentimes been unreliable in their support for these programs? Or do we pave our own way through promoting charter schools where we have more autonomy in creating bilingual programs even as this decision may also negatively impact the education of students of color who remain in traditional public schools? This is a difficult decision that does not fall neatly into the heroes and villains framing that permeates most of the mainstream framing of the charter school debate.

Perhaps a more productive way of framing of contemporary bilingual education activism would begin with the question of what it means to fight for bilingual education from a position of racialized subordination. To answer this question requires a move away from sorting bilingual education activism into “grassroots” or “corporate” and instead study the different strategies that Latinx community activists utilize in developing socially just language policies and the constraint under which these strategies develop and are used. This alternative framing focuses the analysis on critiquing the institutional constraints rather than the individual decision-making process of minoritized community activists who are working to transform white supremacist institutions.

Focusing on the strategies of individual agents may also allow us to begin to focus more explicitly on the root cause of the problem, which is not charter schools—after all if this history tells us anything it is that Latinxs and other communities of color have never been served well by public schools—but the systematic disinvestment in racialized communities that has pitted members of these communities against one another to fight for the scraps of an unjust system. Until we as a society are willing to invest in these communities it does a huge disservice to minoritized community activists for working to improve the education of their children within the hand that they have been dealt—something that affluent White parents do for their children without any criticism.

Several months ago I wrote a blog post entitled “Do Black Lives Matter in Bilingual Education?” After writing this blog post I was able to connect with Joseph Wiemelt, the Director of Equity and Student Learning; Bilingual & Multicultural Programs for Urbana School District 116. He shared with me the work that his district has undertaken to ensure that black students have equitable access to dual language programs. I was so excited to hear about this work that I invited him to submit a guest post to the blog. I am certain that many of you will find his experiences relevant to your work advocacy work.

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Do black lives matter in bilingual education in my school district? That was the question I asked myself after reading Dr. Flores’ critical post on exploring the concept of #blacklivesmatter in bilingual education. As Director of Equity & Student Learning; Bilingual & Multicultural Programs for Urbana School District 116 (USD116), it particularly resonated with me.

Pulling from Dr. Flores’ five ways related to how anti-blackness may have influenced the discourse and decision making in our implementation, I will analyze how some of these issues complicated the process of establishing a dual language program in one elementary school that served a predominately black neighborhood. Additionally, I will highlight the successes of how we have intentionally worked to serve black students, and all students across race, as well as the areas of struggle that we are continuously working to improve in order to provide an equitable dual language program that serves all students.

In 2012, USD116 decided to phase out transitional forms of bilingual education to start dual language programs in order to improve the opportunities for emergent bilingual Latinx youth. While we were cautious around the idea of Fetishizing Two-Way Immersion Programs as the Gold Standard of Bilingual Education, we still believed that we could move to dual language programs and also be intentional in our approach to ensure a quality program for Latinx children and our entire community across race, including black students.

As such, this resulted in expanding the program to multiple schools. Because USD116 has neighborhood attendance boundaries for elementary schools, and due to racially segregated neighborhoods across the community, several elementary schools reflect the neighborhoods that they serve. With this in mind, the decisions to determine which schools would house the dual language programs became intertwined with issues of race and racism. Moreover, questions related to access and opportunity to be part of the dual language program was complicated by assumptions and perspectives of which schools, and therefore which students and families, would be most appropriate to start a dual language programs. While the importance of ensuring excellent bilingual programs and opportunities for Latinx youth was at the center of this work, the questions related to who the “English speaking students” would be was also a key equity initiative.

Assuming Native English Speakers to be White was a key issue that we have faced. In the process of considering which schools would house the dual language program, the district considered multiple schools for this opportunity. The overall community was excited for the plan to implement dual language programs and many families across racial groups expressed their interest. However, when the possibility of starting a program at the school of predominately black students arose, questions and concerns related to whether or not the program would be effective and successful surfaced. While explicit conversations related to whom the “native English speakers” should be did not necessarily take place in public, the implicit messages being sent related to why would we even consider putting a dual language program at this school were present. From online, anonymous comments in the local newspaper to behind the scenes comments, people across the community questioned whether or not this would be a wise decision due to the assumption that this program would be better for white students who “spoke English well” rather than black students who “didn’t speak English well”.  As Dr. Flores states, explicitly naming who the students are who come from positions of privilege (white native English speakers) and those who come from positions of oppression (black native English speakers) was important for us to acknowledge.

Even with the racialized discourse surrounding this decision, the school district received board approval to start the program in one predominantly white school and one predominantly black school. From there, the work began to ensure that black and Latinx student enrollment was equitable and accessible, and the work to prepare to serve both student groups well was initiated.

Ignoring English Language Variation is also an area that has challenged our work. We have had to continuously work at changing the narrative around language variation across English and Spanish. All too often, black vernacular is viewed in deficit-oriented ways, especially in the school setting, similarly to how different language varieties of Spanish can be viewed as “informal”. As such, we have had to work diligently at understanding language varieties across both English and Spanish while also working to better understand the concept of translanguaging for emergent bilingual youth in the US context, with a particular focus on how students across different racial and linguistic groups translanguage.

Now, five years into our program, we have seen great success in the enrollment and success of black, Latinx and white students in the dual language program across schools. We have waiting lists of students from English only backgrounds across race applying from all over the community to get into the school and the program. This is the same school and program that was once questioned as whether or not the students and families were the “right fit” for dual language. Today we continuously get visitors who are surprised that black students are enrolled in the dual language program and doing so well. Interestingly enough, many times I have given tours of our classrooms and people are shocked to see black students speaking Spanish, becoming bilingual, and developing biliteracy skills.

Erasing the Experiences of Afro-Latinxs was also to be a key issue that was overlooked and misunderstood, and is still an area of struggle. Questions related to the key equity issues of ensuring that our educators reflect the students we serve are important ones. Usually in the context of bilingual education we understand this to be focusing on the increase of Latinx teachers in our bilingual programs. However, if black lives matter in bilingual education, we have to ensure that we also have black teachers and Afro-Latinx teachers. Through past teacher recruitment efforts we have worked to ensure an increase in US Latinx and bilingual teachers, and we have also begun working to recruit and retain Afro-Latinx teachers. Not only is it important for all of our students to see themselves reflected in the teaching staff, we also want to continue to strengthen our curriculum and units of study to reflect the students we serve.

Positioning bilingual education as a panacea for racial inequalities is also an area we are challenging. While we have advocated and argued that strong dual language programs have the potential to be transformative in our community, we also acknowledge that even strong dual language programs are still situated in a broader system of white supremacy and racism across the country. As part of our district wide unified professional development plan, our district has made a commitment to racial equity in order to dismantle inequitable practices and rebuild them through an intentional equity-oriented approach. As such, our dual language program staff is working on being critical of our own practices within our dual language programs that serve a multiracial community.

Lastly, in the conversation related to black lives and bilingual education in USD116, we need to take a hard look at our educational plans to serve the growing population of African immigrant emergent bilinguals and trilinguals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Outside of the context of Spanish/English bilingual education, populations of low incidence languages are often underserved in schools. Thus, our approach to serving our black emergent trilingual students across Lingala, French, and English must be a critical component of our district wide efforts to serve all students moving forward.

As Dr. Flores states, “The only way to ensure that bilingual education is a tool for social change is to ensure that it is situated within a broader project that seeks to dismantle anti-Blackness. Anything less than this is tantamount to treating Black lives as if they don’t matter”. At USD116 we are working to ensure that our bilingual education programs are a part of this broader project. While we have many areas we have to improve, and our programs are not perfect, particularly for black and Latinx students, we have and will continue to work to change the norm that black lives don’t matter in education, and bilingual education in particular.

As a researcher who analyzes the working of white supremacy in educational linguistics, I have come across 5 different strategies used by academics as attempts to derail discussions about white supremacy. Over the years, I have worked to develop responses to these strategies that prevent this derailment. Below I describe each strategy and my response.

1.) You’re not being objective.

This comment exists on a continuum. On the one end of the continuum are people who accuse me of being ideological in ways that call into question the scholarly value of my work. On the other end of the continuum are people who express support for my work but who worry that I may be imposing my own perspective on the data. Though coming from different positions and with different intent, both ends of the continuum presuppose that the role of researchers is to objectively describe the world and that my overtly ideological position may be compromising that objectivity.

My response:

My research seeks to denaturalize linguistic categories that have historically been positioned as objective in the hopes of developing new conceptualizations of language that resist racial hierarchies. My decision to denaturalize linguistic categories is certainly an ideological stance. My decision to do so as part of efforts to dismantle white supremacist framings of language is also ideological. At the same time, the decision to uncritically use these same linguistic categories is also an ideological stance that reinforces white supremacy.

2.) It’s not about race. It is about social class.

This comment is sometimes a theoretical inquiry related to whether the marginalization that I am describing is really about social class as opposed to race.  More often it has been a more specific inquiry into how I account for the stigmatized language varieties used by poor white people.

My response

White supremacy was created within the context of colonialism as part of the creation and spread of global capitalism. To talk about social class without accounting for the working of white supremacy is to overlook a key component of global capitalism. In response to this oversight, my research centers the impact of white supremacy on people of color through a focus on the emergence and spread of raciolinguistic ideologies within the context global capitalism. That said, the marginalization of poor white people is an important research topic that I certainly think warrants further study by scholars.

3.) Your use of standardized academic language means that you can’t critique them.

There are two major forms of this comment that I have encountered. One form is openly belligerent with some people going as far as suggesting that I am speaking like a white person so cannot critique whiteness. Another form is from people who wish that I would practice what I preach and embody the critique that I am offering by engaging in subversive language practices. Both are working from the position that standardized academic language is an objective set of linguistic features that I am completely adhering to in my presentation.

My response

I have utilized a range of linguistic resources throughout my presentation including technical vocabulary, pop culture references, jokes, some Spanish words and perhaps the occasional curse word. You heard me to be engaged in standardized academic language based on an assemblage of factors including linguistic criteria but also nonlinguistic factors such as the conference presentation format, my academic credentials, and your own previous experiences. It is quite possible that somebody engaging in similar practices in other contexts without these credentials might not be perceived as using standardized academic language. Thus, I invite you to join me in interrogating the language ideologies that shape our perceptions in the hopes that we can develop new ways of listening that challenge white supremacy.

4.) Students of color need to master standardized academic language in order to be successful in life.

This type of comment is sometimes hostile with the commenter arguing that I am doing a disservice to students of color by suggesting that they should not have to master standardized academic language. More common, however, is for the commenter to indicate agreement with my overall argument but note that teaching students of color standardized academic language remains the only viable option for preparing them for life in a white supremacist world.

My response

The issue of how to prepare students of color for the realities of a white supremacist society is a difficult one that can be thought about in many different ways. My point of entry into thinking about this issue is through a focus on theories of change. The theory of change implied in teaching students of color standardized academic language places the burden on people of color to dismantle their own marginalization. The theory of change that I am proposing focuses on addressing the broader structural racism that are the root causes of the marginalization of communities of color. I am not suggesting that teachers should not try to teach students of color the codes of power. What I am suggesting is that we cannot expect these efforts to address the root causes of racial inequality. Schooling in a white supremacist society will always reinforce white supremacy. The only viable option for ending racial oppression is to dismantle white supremacy.

5.) This is all too theoretical. What practical solutions are you proposing?

This comment is almost always from somebody who expresses strong agreement with my analysis but who is struggling to imagine what the implications are for their work as researchers and/or teacher educators.

My response

The focus of my research is on examining how deeply entrenched white supremacist framings of language are in everyday discussions of educational linguistics and to point to structural change that is needed to dismantle this white supremacist framing.  The quick move to practical considerations without taking time to understand the workings of white supremacy may serve to do more harm than good. That is not to say that classroom practice cannot be improved, but that we need to situate educational reform initiatives within broader efforts to dismantle white supremacy if we are truly committed to combating racial inequalities.

It is common to treat language differences in terms of dichotomies. A prominent dichotomy in educational linguistics is academic vs. non-academic language. The assumption undergirding this dichotomy is that there is something fundamentally different between academic and non-academic language. At best, the difference is discussed in terms of different domains with academic language seen as belonging to academic domains and non-academic language seen as belonging to non-academic domains. At worst, the difference is discussed in terms of hierarchies with academic language seen as more cognitively demanding than non-academic language.

Over my past several years of work with teachers I have come to question the utility of adopting this dichotomous view of academic vs. non-academic language. In particular, as an advocate for language-minoritized children I have witnessed the ways that this dichotomy is often taken up by educators. White middle class children are positioned as coming from homes where they are socialized into academic language while language-minoritized children are positioned as coming from homes where they are socialized into non-academic language. This often leads to self-fulfilling prophecies where teachers overdetermine language-minoritized students to be linguistically deficient and unable to meet the demands of the Common Core Standards.

It is for this reason that I have previously called for a moratorium on the use of the academic language.  This begs the question, what is the alternative? After all, don’t the Common Core Standards demand that students master academic language? Not necessarily. The reading and writing anchor standards include no mention of academic language. Instead, there is a focus on skills such as reading in order to analyze “how specific word choices shape meaning and tone” and writing in ways that are “appropriate to task, purpose and audience.” That is, the Common Core are not demanding mastery of academic language. Instead, they are asking for students to become language architects who analyze the general conventions of language use in their reading and who adapt these general conventions in ways that reflect their own unique authorial voices as writers.

This focus on language architecture can be found in the prominent focus in the Common Core on the close reading of complex texts. Students are expected to engage in close reading in order to critically analyze the author’s language choices and the impact of these language choices on shaping the meaning of the text. They, in turn, are expected to use the insights from this close reading to inform their own authorial voices as they construct texts belonging to a range of genres.

The typical narrative around close reading is that it requires academic language that is far removed from the non-academic language that language-minoritized students come to school with. But what would happen if we refused this dichotomy? What if we, instead, began from the perspective that language-minoritized students who navigate two or more languages or language varieties as part of their daily experience have already developed the metalinguistic skills that are needed for engaging in close reading? That is, what if we began from the perspective that the lives of language-minoritized students are already Common Core-aligned?

In the spirit of treating the language practices of language-minoritized students as Common Core-aligned, Elaine Allard, Holly Link and I developed a unit plan for Spanish-English bilingual programs. The unit has two overlapping objectives. The first objective is to familiarize bilingual children with the practice of close reading. The second objective is to support these children in making connections between the language architecture they engage in as bilingual people on a daily basis and the language architecture required by the Common Core.

At the core of the unit is the picture book Abuela, by Arthur Dorros. This book describes the experiences of a child who flies around a city with her grandmother. The author engages in translanguaging rhetorical strategies that parallel the types of translanguaging that bilingual children engage in on a daily basis. The narrative of the text is primarily in English. However, when abuela speaks, her dialogue is primarily in Spanish. The author also offers clues in the narrative that support readers who are not able to read Spanish. The unit plan was designed around close readings of Abuela as a vehicle for supporting students in making connections between the language architecture they engage in on a daily basis—often with their own abuelas—and the language architecture of the author.

This unit recognizes that young bilingual children are already language architects. It has them reflect on when they use Spanish, when they use English, and when they translate for people from one language to the other. It then supports them in making connections between these everyday language practices that characterize their lives and the translanguaging rhetorical choices made by the author of Abeula.

In short, the unit refuses a dichotomy between home and school and, instead, draws on the language architecture that is a natural part of the lives of young bilingual children as a point of entry in supporting them in engaging in Common Core aligned literacy practices. In this way the unit sends students a powerful message that their home language and literacy practices are not dichotomous with the language and literacy practices demands in school but rather integral to their success as students. It also sends teachers a powerful message that the lives of bilingual children are already Common Core aligned if only they reject the dichotomy between academic and non-academic and recognize the language architecture that characterizes the lives of bilingual children.

During this week’s presidential debate my social media exploded with commentary about Donald Trump’s use of the term “bad hombres.” Many linguistics immediately saw this as an example of Mock Spanish, most notably developed in Jane Hill’s book The Everyday Language of White Racism. In the CNN panel discussion that followed the debate Trump supporters insisted that “bad hombres” is not racist and criticized Hillary Clinton supporters for being so easily offended.

This is precisely the power of Mock Spanish. White people can use Mock Spanish to position themselves as cool and funny while being able to hide behind the shield of plausible deniability against charges of racism. In the case of Trump, he was able to use “bad hombres” within a discussion of immigration policy to strategically conjured up images of violent Latinxs who are destroying nice white communities by supposedly giving heroin to white teenagers while being able to distance himself from overtly racist language.

The covert racism embedded within Trump’s use of Mock Spanish can be seen in its reception among his base. Most notably, the support he received from his supporters stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s own criticisms of Jeb Bush for using Spanish or his supporters’ criticisms of Tim Kaine for using Spanish. It was well-received by his supporters precisely because of the racializing imagery it conjured. This conjuring up of images of dangerous people of color is a common strategy used by Trump. This can be seen in his discussions of the importance of “law and order” and his descriptions of communities of color as “hell.”

While Clinton has historically also engaged in this racializing imagery—most notably through her use of the term “super-predator” in the 1990s—in her current campaign she has instead conjured up an image of a basket of deplorables who pose a new danger to the fabric of US society. She defined this basket of deplorables as “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it.” Though she apologized for referring to half of Trump’s supporters in these terms, she never took back the general idea that many of Trump’s supporters were deplorable bigots.

For many liberals, Trump’s use of “bad hombres” and Clinton’s discussion of a “basket of deplorables” may seem unrelated to one another. After all, Trump was engaged in Mock Spanish designed to further marginalize the Latinx community while Clinton was speaking out against bigotry. Yet, a closer reading of Hill’s book illustrates that both of them are produced as part of what she describes as “the language of white racism,” which starts from the premise that “racism is entirely a matter of individual beliefs, intentions, and actions.” From this perspective “a racist person is a person who believes that people of color are biologically inferior to Whites, so that White privileged is deserved and must be defended.”

This framing of racism is precisely the framing being used by both defenses of Trump’s use of “bad hombres” and defenses of Clinton’s use of  “basket of deplorables.” Trump supporters claim that Trump’s use of “bad hombres” is not racist because Trump is not making overtly racist claims against Latinxs nor articulating explicit beliefs about the superiority of white people over Latinxs. Similarly, Clinton supporters can claim that many of Trump’s supporters are, in fact, deplorable because of their individual bigotry thereby perpetuating the idea that racism is primarily an individual attribute of bad people rather than a system of oppression that is embedded within the very fabric of US institutions. More importantly, it also perpetuates the idea that people without these overt racist ideas (presumably those who do not see themselves as part of the basket of deplorables) are not complicit in the continued maintenance of racial inequalities.

In short, both the Republicans and Democrats frame discussions of racism through the use of the everyday language of white racism that positions racism as an attribute of individual racist beliefs and anti-racism as the absence of these individual racist beliefs. This framing of racism obscures the deep-seated nature of racial inequalities in US society that are a product of centuries of white supremacy. In some ways, this framing is especially ironic when it comes from Clinton who has discussed the importance of dismantling  “systemic racism”  while continuing to perpetuate the idea that racism is a problem associated with some deplorable people rather than a problem built into the fabric of US society.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the Republicans and Democrats are identical. I am also not addressing the question of political tactic related to whether those of us committed to anti-racism should vote for Clinton as the lesser of two evils. What I am suggesting is that the racial understanding that permeates both presidential campaigns is informed by the same logic of white supremacy that positions racism as a problem of individuals and consequently that positions the solution to racial inequalities is at the level of individuals.

So while Trump’s use of “bad hombres” does provide an excellent example of Mock Spanish, Hill’s theorization of the everyday language of white racism offers us tools to push conversations about racism even further. It offers us tools for critically examining the limits of how racism can be discussed within mainstream society. It opens up the possibility for moving beyond the individual intent of individuals toward the effect that individual actions have as part of broader racializing processes. It shifts the point of entry to discussions of racism away from individuals and to the systems of oppression that lie at the root of racial inequalities.

Bringing this analysis to the forefront allows us to move beyond discussions of whether Trump’s use of Mock Spanish was racist or offensive and toward a focus of the societal impact of the circulation of racializing tropes of Latinxs within US society. It also allows us to move beyond discussions of how deplorable Clinton thinks Trump supporters are and toward how she plans to dismantle the systemic racism she alluded to in presidential debates. After all, it is the discussion of how to dismantle the systemic racism that benefits both deplorable and admirable white people that will pave the way for a more racially equitable future.

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