…National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has recently issued an important opinion finding “unreasonable discrimination” where a Korean-American English teacher was paid less by his employer because of his race.
Being raised in the U.S. and speaking English as his native language wasn’t enough to overcome being perceived as “incomplete” and “deficient” ― in the eyes of his employer, he simply didn’t look like a native speaker.
In Korea, English “native speakers” are expected to look the part, with their racial features acting as guarantees of linguistic competence. Images of blonde-haired blue-eyed native English speaking teachers are frequently promoted in advertising campaigns by private English language academies and by the government.
A large placard posted throughout Seoul by the city government featured the picture of a young white woman with bright blonde hair and blue eyes standing with two Korean children in front of a classroom with a caption that read: “the city of Seoul provides native speakers.”
Even the display panel “face” of “Engky,” the celebrated English teaching robot, displays the same image of a blonde-haired blue-eyed woman as symbol of linguistic competence ― even when the machine is being remotely operated by a Filipino English teacher.
While you may not be in Korea, have you witnessed similar bias where racial features serve as an indicator of linguistic (in)competence?
How I was treated on the subway when I was doing fieldwork as a migrant worker
Tricia Wang is doing ethnographic research in China and here’s an excerpt of her story when she rode the subway dressed as a migrant worker.
When we sat down on the empty seat, I accidentally lightly brushed my backpack against the man sitting to my left. I immediately apologized. But he didn’t respond, he just looked alarmed that I had touched him and gave me a glaring look that told me immediately that I shouldn’t even be sitting near him. He wiped off the part of his arm that my bag had brushed as if I had dumped dirt on his suit.
His action alone made me super conscious of my physical condition - the dirt on my toes, my oily face, and my blackened clothing from working with food vendors. I hadn’t showered in two days and that’s all I kept thinking after he looked at me. I glanced around around and saw people staring at us. I immediately made a boundary in my head and called them “city people.” As Yang Jie kept talking, I kept noticing the “city people” in their daily showered bodies, freshly washed clothing, and dirt-free toes.
I then received a text message so I pulled my phone out. I immediately noticed the man next to me look at me curiously - he saw that I not only had a smartphone, but probably what looked like a real iphone (it is a real iphone). I texted back to my friend in English, and this is when he became super aware that something was off - it’s hard to explain the look on his face, but he just kept looking over my shoulder as if his eyeballs were going to pop out. He then looked at Yang Jie up and down and then at me up and down.
It angered me that I could feel his judgement seeping onto me, and I could feel that the minute he saw me texting in English his level of disdain at me decrease. Texting in English in combination with owning an iphone are signifiers of an education and he picked up on it immediately.
I saw the man’s face change when he saw me pull my iphone; so the big contrast between how I was dressed and the technology that I owned was something that didn’t make sense to him within this context.
I tried to imagine how would I see the world if I experienced this every single time I got on the train. Would I become bitter, would I form over-arching categories about “city” people so that I could make sense of how I was treated, would I essentialize anyone who looked like they were well dressed or showered?
Currently, only 17% of the [U.S.] population is bilingual as compared to much higher percentages in many other countries of the world. This is not due to the fact that new immigrants are not learning English. The reason, rather, is that bilingualism is basically short-lived and transitional in this country. For generations and generations of Americans, bilingualism has covered a brief period, spanning one or two generations, between monolingualism in a minority language and monolingualism in English.
The tolerance that America has generally shown towards minority languages over the centuries has favored the linguistic integration of its speakers. As sociologist Nathan Glazer writes, the language of minorities “shriveled in the air of freedom while they had apparently flourished under adversity in Europe”.
When Amanjot Bhardwaj’s new husband asked her to join him in Hamilton, she knew it would be hard to find a job here. Word has trickled across the globe to India about foreign doctors driving cabs and engineers scooping fries. Bhardwaj packed lowered expectations with all her belongings.
A year later, she realizes she didn’t go low enough. Bhardwaj, 26, was a receptionist having just completed six years of university with a masters in information technology. Here she is willing to work for minimum wage.
Every day she prints off a stack of resumés and travels by bus or foot to hand them out. On her busiest day, she gave out 30 copies. She does not discriminate, offering to work for anyone who will hire her. Bhardwaj will pour coffee, stack shelves or wipe tables.
Here’s a very different story from someone who arrived in the same city in the ’50s.
When Enzo Scarpini followed his girlfriend across the ocean to Hamilton, he knew it would be easy to find a job here.
“I was not really afraid,” he says, noting every week he would meet 10 or 20 new Italians at a local coffee shop and they would always be working by the next time he saw them.”
The two newcomers arrived more than half a century apart - Scarpini in 1958, Bhardwaj around 2009. Much has changed for newcomers: The journey to integration and acceptance has jumped from a few years to a few decades. Wonder how things would have turned out for Bhardwaj had she arrived from India at the same time as Scarpini, from Italy. Is it simply a matter of different times, REALLY?
Hannah Brais, 20, grew up in Pointe Claire and attended St. Thomas High School and Dawson College. She was taking a course to become a welder this year when she pulled out in favour of enrolling this fall in environmental design at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
"I felt like a con artist: In Alberta I could convince anyone I was English; in Lévis, Quebec, I could convince the community that I was French; and then in Halifax, I managed to work at the Acadian radio station and the French Alliance while still participating in the English community. Never had I felt so educationally privileged, and frankly, quite so clever."
Well, I grew up a Montrealer, a Quebecer yet could never be considered Québécoise. Unlike Hannah,I could never convince any community that I blended in as a visible minority allophone (I prefer anglophone). White privilege is being confused with educationally privileged or clever like Hannah.
I once celebrated St. Jean Baptiste Day until the name changed to la Fête nationale, excluding a whole bunch of people based on language or perceived culture in the process.
SJBD or la Fête - it depends on who you are. To all Quebecers, happy long weekend. Je me souviens.
Most Pakistanis have been brought up speaking our national language Urdu and English. Instead of conversing in Urdu, many of us lapse into English during everyday conversation. Even people who do not speak English very well try their best to sneak in a sentence or two, considering it pertinent for their acceptance in the ‘cooler’ crowd.
I’ve noticed this trend in various parts of southeast Asia as well. English phrases are carried somewhat like designer bags, to portray social status or wealth. This mentality seems to stem from colonial days, when locals were moulded with English: language of their ‘betters’. So sneaking in an English phrase or two even when the speaker doesn’t really know English, elevates one’s standing amongst peers. And local acronyms using the English alphabet are especially popular as they don’t require any knowledge of the language, only the letters of the alphabet, yet they can be easily sprinkled over the conversation for cool effect.
It’s National Aboriginal Day in Canada and when I read the following American article, I couldn’t help but think about the history of residential schools. The purpose of residential schools in Canada was to “educate” and “civilize” the First Nation peoples in order that they adopt a more western lifestyle and customs - children were separated from their families, forbidden to speak their heritage language and aggressively assimilated into mainstream Christian society.
Here’s a modern take on that from a school in the U.S. Midwest. While I understand it is but a summer immersion program, I sense that speaking a heritage language at home is still discouraged.
Giri learned English several years ago in Nepal, but her parents primarily speak Nepali in the home. Most of the other 65 students speak their native language at home, too, which puts them at a disadvantage when they spend so much time at home over the summer.
Eventually, English will become the great divide that separates the students from their parents and elders, meanwhile a language that is common to the whole family is taken away.
WASHINGTON — There was a collective rolling of the eyes and a distinct sense of “Here we go again” among the women of the House of Representatives last week when yet another male politician, Representative Anthony D. Weiner, confessed his “terrible mistakes” and declared himself “deeply sorry for the pain” he had caused in sexual escapades so adolescent as to almost seem laughable.
“I’m telling you,” said Representative Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican, “every time one of these sex scandals goes, we just look at each other, like, ‘What is it with these guys? Don’t they think they’re going to get caught?’ ”
Ms. Miller’s question raises an intriguing point: Female politicians rarely get caught up in sex scandals. Women in elective office have not, for instance, blubbered about Argentine soul mates (see: Sanford, Mark); been captured on federal wiretaps arranging to meet high-priced call girls (Spitzer, Eliot); resigned in disgrace after their parents paid $96,000 to a paramour’s spouse (Ensign, John) or, as in the case of Mr. Weiner, blasted lewd self-portraits into cyberspace.
It would be easy to file this under the category of “men behaving badly,” to dismiss it as a testosterone-induced, hard-wired connection between sex and power (powerful men attract women, powerful women repel men). And some might conclude that busy working women don’t have time to cheat. (“While I’m at home changing diapers, I just couldn’t conceive of it,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat, once said.)
But there may be something else at work: Research points to a substantial gender gap in the way women and men approach running for office. Women have different reasons for running, are more reluctant to do so and, because there are so few of them in politics, are acutely aware of the scrutiny they draw — all of which seems to lead to differences in the way they handle their jobs once elected.
“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”
Studies show that women are less likely to run for office; it is more difficult to recruit them, even when they have the same professional and educational qualifications as men. Men who run for office tend to look at people already elected “and say, ‘I’m as good as that,’ ” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University here. “Women hold themselves up to this hypothetical standard no candidate has ever achieved.”
And so, despite great inroads made by women, politics is still overwhelmingly a man’s game. Data compiled by Rutgers shows women currently hold 16.6 percent of the 535 seats in Congress and 23.5 percent of the seats in state legislatures. There are 6 female governors; of the 100 big-city mayors, 8 are women.
Once elected, women feel pressure to work harder, said Kathryn Pearson, an expert on Congress at the University of Minnesota. Her studies of the House show women introduce more bills, participate more vigorously in key legislative debates and give more of the one-minute speeches that open each daily session. In 2005 and 2006, women averaged 14.9 one-minute speeches; men averaged 6.5.
“I have no hard evidence that women are less likely to engage in risky or somewhat stupid behavior,” Ms. Pearson said. “But women in Congress are still really in a situation where they have to prove themselves to their male colleagues and constituents. There’s sort of this extra level of seriousness.”
And voters demand it. Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist, says women politicians are punished more harshly than men for misbehavior. “When voters find out men have ethics and honesty issues, they say, ‘Well, I expected that.’ ‘’ Ms. Lake said. “When they find out it’s a woman, they say, ‘I thought she was better than that.’ ‘’
Of course, it is a big leap to suggest that voter expectations and an “extra level of seriousness” among women in public office translate into an absence of sexual peccadilloes. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers, said her studies on adultery show that, at least under the age of 40, women are equally as likely to engage in it as men. She theorizes that perhaps women are simply more clever about not getting caught.
Female politicians are not immune to scandal in the sex department. Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor, was accused of adultery last year while running for office; she denied it, and was elected. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, the late Republican congresswoman from Idaho, once confessed to a six-year affair with a married man.
There have even been “crotch shot” allegations; when Barbara Cubin, then a state legislator in Wyoming, ran for the House in 1994, Democrats accused her of “lewd pranks,” including photographing male colleagues’ crotches and distributing penis-shaped cookies. She later said the cookies were a gift from someone else and dismissed the picture charges as scurrilous. Still, all of that seems tame compared to the recent string of spectacular Weiner-like implosions, and here in Washington and around the country last week, there was considerable speculation as to why.
Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary to President Bill Clinton (who managed to survive his sex scandal) and the author of “Why Women Should Rule the World,” surmises that male politicians feel invincible. It would be impossible, she said, to imagine Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, doing anything like what Mr. Weiner did.
“There are certain men that the more visible they get, the more bulletproof they feel,” Ms. Myers said. “You just don’t see women doing that; they don’t get reckless when they’re empowered.”
Whatever the reason, it was perhaps no coincidence that it was a woman — Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz of Pennsylvania – who last week became the first Democrat to call on Mr. Weiner to resign. Ms. Schwartz is the only female member of her state’s Congressional delegation, and she says that her Pennsylvania colleagues joke and talk in a different way when she is in the room.
“Having a woman in that mix changes the dynamic,” she said, “and it’s actually not even subtle. It’s very obvious.”
“Am I understanding correctly that he has been here since 1988?” Harris asked Aguirre’s translator.
Aguirre himself responded in nearly unaccented English, “Yes, sir, that’s correct.”
Harris then asked Aguirre: “Why aren’t you speaking in English, then? You’ve been here for 23 years?”
According to the video of his testimony, Aguirre began to say, in very clear English, “Well, I speak English but … ” Then he continued in his native tongue: “The reason is that I know the language but I prefer, because it is my first time (testifying), I prefer to do it in Spanish with a translator.”
When someone speaks in their second language, the biggest risks aren’t about syntax or pronunciation but about how he’ll be heard. Speaking English is incredibly difficult and can be emotional, even risky, no matter how advanced the skill, because native English-speakers can have unpleasant thoughts when they hear their language spoken with an accent.
Numerous studies over the last two decades have found that people who speak English with a foreign accent are perceived to be less intelligent. In some instances listeners can perceive an accent where there is none because of skin color or facial features. A recent University of Chicago study found that a sample of Americans who were asked to listen to statements from native and non-native English-speakers thought statements spoken with foreign accents were less truthful.
For someone who speaks English as a second language, that’s a lot of baggage to carry, no matter how long they’ve been here or how good their pronunciation is.
By far the most inclusive space described in the pages of that special issue is an evangelical church in Canada catering mostly to Chinese migrants. As the researcher, Huamei Han, describes it, language choice was a non-issue in that context. Where migrants in other contexts, well-documented in research from around the globe, often find themselves condemned to silence because of their lack of familiarity with a narrowly prescribed “power code,” the members of that church are extremely pragmatic when it comes to language choice. Based on the assumption that language choice is secondary to the overall aim of serving god, the church’s inclusive linguistic practices include ample code-switching and the legitimization of all codes as long as they serve the common purpose. Fellows were assigned speaking roles not on the basis of their proficiency but on the basis of the fact that they were good Christians. All these practices which draw on a language ideology of pragmatism where it is not language that matters but the common goals of Christian ministry and service made newcomers not only feel included but also provided them with valuable practice opportunities that supported their language learning, too.
“Part of the kookiness I’m talking about is that multiculturalism has been officially sanctioned as this way of celebrating diversity when in fact it’s only superficial diversity, like diversity of skin colour or label. The more meaningful form of diversity, which is diversity of thought, is being completely papered over.”—Irshad Manji author of Allah, Liberty & Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom
If truth be told, India has become a favoured partner to some politicians precisely because it is not China, and does not have China’s baggage on issues such as [blank blank blank] And it seems easier to translate Indo-Canadians into votes than Canadians of Chinese ancestry.
Canadians’ feelings towards Asian countries are decidedly cool. Only 9% viewed China warmly and only 12% viewed India positively. It’s not clear why in the case of India. As for China, it is probably the result of the fact that most of the news we hear about China is negative, whether it is because of the issues mentioned above or stories about poisonous toys or dubious food products.
The Organisation of Economic Development (basically the most developed countries in Europe and Asia) has a new interactive chart of its Better Life Index that lets you compare countries based on more bourgeoisie-friendly statistics than the usual GDP or maternal mortality.
Where’s the best life? It really depends on what you want.
There are hints of evidence supporting the idea that three languages are better than two. But here’s the problem. The vast majority of bilinguals did not choose to become bilingual because they had a talent for languages: they became bilingual because life required them to. Trilingualism is usually more of a choice, a luxury option associated with intelligence, language talent and education. The benefits are more difficult to measure.
‘Be not the slave of words’ was the advice given by Scottish literary Thomas Carlyle over a century ago, and can be applied to Pakistan today with respect to language in education.
Senior journalist and writer Zubeida said that education essentially played the role of equaliser in terms of opportunities, but in Pakistan it was reinforcing the division of society.
Kishwar Hameed observed that the greatest tyranny of all was the silence of the people about the dismal standards in the country’s education system.
Uqila Ismail expressed that the domination of English in the primary education system undermined the natural capacities of children in addition to creating the inferiority complex among them. She said that creative thinking would only emerge when children learnt in a language in which they dreamed.
“Having Internet access is not enough. Even among people online, those who are digital producers are much more likely to have higher incomes and educational levels,” said Jen Schradie, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Berkeley.
“Conventional wisdom tells us that the Internet is leveling the playing field and broadening the diversity of voices being heard…But my findings show the Internet is actually reinforcing the socio-economic divisions that already exist, and may even heighten them, which has all sorts of implications as more of civic and economic life moves online,” said Schradie.
…people who use “that’s so gay” or “that’s retarded” as a generic insult really get under my skin. In conversation one day with someone on this very subject, I said I was deeply offended when I hear “gay” as a replacement for “stupid” or “lame.” My companion laughed at my own use of the word “lame” to mean “stupid,” and I had a moment of revelation (and contrition) about what it means to be lame.
While growing up, I recall whenever I spoke my heritage language in public, it drew even more attention to me, an already stigmatised minority. Visible minority AND audible minority, Yikes! So I recoiled from speaking it outside the house and even then, only with my parents. It went on forever until I eventually reclaimed the language as an adult, nevertheless there are times when the perilous Asian tongue is met with suspicion, ridicule or hostility. I am still waiting for the world to grow up.
Strong negative attitudes towards a minority language will also lead speakers of that language to refuse to speak it in public. This was the case for many speakers of regional languages in nation-states in Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries. And it is true of certain recent immigrant languages among the second and third generations today.