July 27th, 2020

seattle

Из Джеффа Джакоби

Is English grammar racist?

Eager to do her part to demonstrate “solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” the chair of the English Department at Rutgers University, Rebecca Walkowitz, recently sent a 3,400-word email on the subject to staff, students, and faculty members. Her message went into considerable detail to describe the “ongoing and future initiatives” that are planned to “create and promote an anti-racist environment,” to eradicate “the violence and systemic inequities facing black, indigenous, and people of color members of our community,” and to “cultivate critical conversations [on] state power; racism; violence; white supremacy; protest and resistance; and justice.”

Most of these “initiatives” have little or nothing to do with English. Much of the email is filled with rhetoric about “equitable and diverse hiring” and “supporting black-owned businesses” and “engaging students in conversations about race” — all of it standard race-conscious boilerplate that could just as easily be copy-and-pasted into a similar email from the heads of the Anthropology, Molecular Biology, or Psychology departments.

But Walkowitz has found some means to incorporate “anti-racism” specifically into how Rutgers teaches English writing and grammar. Several seem to involve downplaying the importance of proper English writing and grammar. For example, one of the ways the Rutgers English Department is planning to improve its Writing Program is, in the memo’s words, by “incorporating critical grammar into our pedagogy.” And what exactly is “critical grammar?” Walkowitz explains:

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