We recently published The Anti-Racism Linguist edited by Patricia Friedrich. In this post the editor explains why the book is needed and what it means to be an anti-racism linguist.
It is part of a human ritual to believe that we live in an era that presents more challenges than any other era has presented before. Maybe that is one of the things that connect us to people who came before us and those who will come after us (we leave behind our writing about such concerns, so they will know we lived in a time of tribulation).
I do not think we live in an era that presents more challenges than, say, medieval times, with their scarcity, low life expectancy, violence, and other social ills at levels that are unimaginable in the so-called developed world of the 21st century (the great barriers to equity and human dignity in many parts of the world currently notwithstanding).
However, I can say quite confidently that in my lifetime, this is the period that has presented us with the greatest challenges to mutual understanding and productive disagreement. Maybe the magnification of conflict through the infinity of the Internet has brought us to this. Maybe the disruptions of the COVID pandemic have added to the complication. Whatever the reason, the end result is that it has become harder and harder to hear and be heard, to understand and be understood. When we start from an already-decided perspective that cannot be changed no matter the evidence or the argument to the contrary, it becomes very hard to learn from one another. When one’s identity becomes so intertwined with a particular argument, what would it mean to give it up? Would it mean we are giving up a bit of ourselves? What would it take for us to start listening to each other again?
These questions become all the more pressing but also more interesting if language is one’s object of study, as is the case with us linguists. It was in that spirit, of putting ourselves both in the position of observers but also of subjects, that my colleagues and I wrote The Anti-Racism Linguist: A Book of Readings. We did not want it to be a confrontational book: clearly, that confrontation strategy is not working (not does it speak to the great importance I place in preserving human dignity in our writing and in our actions). Instead, it is a book that asks (and I hope answers, at least partially) the question: “if you were in my shoes, as a linguist, a human being, and a user of languages, what would you perceive?” And we were particularly interested in issues of linguistic prejudice, linguistic racism, and linguistic exclusion. Yet, ultimately, what we want to get at is what linguistic inclusion looks like.
Inclusion is at the heart of our pursuits as human beings because even though we are living in the 21st century, we navigate our lives with the same brain connections as members of earlier civilizations did, in their case under conditions that required collaboration to survive, for example, the elements. Going it alone was always hard and still is.
So being an anti-racism linguist is working together, respecting human dignity and upholding the great bond that exists between language and identity, language and belonging, and language and respect. I hope you will join us in traveling through this new line of enquiry and reflection. I hope you will take a minute to appreciate the richness of human experience through language and consider the ways we can help safeguard it together.
For more information about this book please see our website.
If you found this interesting, you might also like Antisocial Language Teaching by JPB Gerald.