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Email to Alice,

Cathy's picture

On Saturday night, I sent Alice an email that began like this, "Hello Prof. Alice,
           I decided to read the June Jordan article because it really interested me in class, but I still have a few burning questions, especially after our last class. How can one not betray themselves, and still achieve an ends within a society where who they are is contrary to the power structures in place. In other words, how can I work against the system within the system? Should I play along with them in order to achieve my ends? Or should I toss it all aside and be me, write like me, and talk like me?"

I was really stirred up by the class, but what broke me was this article. I'm a political science major with an education minor and I'm thinking of focusing my studies, and eventually my PhD in power, social justice and politics. This is extreamly broad but what keeps me up at night are systems of power, why they exist, why some people have it, why some don't and what can be done to reconsile the resulting inequality. The article about police brutality while studying injustice abroad and the idea that justice might just be a pleasant, but still distant dream really spoke to me. I have always been aware of the way I speak, and write. Even as I'm writing this, I'm aware of my tone and style and how I've been trained, explicitely almost, to write this way and speak this way in order to be successful and later on to be understood. But, I can also speak another way, one that is less seemingly cohesive but is still understood. Yes it involves slang, and double, or triple negatives, missing words, and a tone that many find rude or disrepectful, but it's part of who I am. My language/tone isn't the only thing that has been assimilated out of me, but this is what I will choose to focus on for now. I am working on an initiative that is aimed at embracing the diversity at my college, but how can anyone fully embrace diversity,and the languages that go along with that, without sacrificing their carrer in academia? 


I guess, if I'm summerizing my questions and concerns, it's how can I be me, but be successful when society, and the system that I am working within say that a part of me is bad? How can I accept every part of me at one point and then have to reject it in order to get ahead? And in order to have meaningful impact in the word and teach others to embrace differences and learn from them, do I have to betray my beliefs, work within a system I don't agree with so that others can be more free? These are all tough questions, but I hope this course helps me with that more. Even with my initiative, me and my friends/collegues are always ranting to each other about how we want things to be, and then have to edit ourselves in order to meet what we would like to see as our ends. 


couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

I, too, am looking forward...

Cathy I really appreciate this post. I don't think you are blunt; you are honest. I, too, struggle with language in the same way. How am I to succeed academically without compromising the vernacular, and ultimately larger aspects of my identity, I know so well and was born into? I am hopeful that academia will not always result in a loss. There is a lot of power, and all it encompasses (intelligence, upward social mobility, financial security, etc), behind the way one speaks. And when one is not fluent or refuses to communicate in an "intelligent" way, much is at risk.

What you speak of hints at double-conciousness--although it usually applied to race relations, I think it applies here as well. When someone, you for example, has not grown up in the world of academia but has learned to use its language, you must always be acutely aware of how those who are masters of that language and how they view, perhaps read, you.

Please feel free to comment back. Love hearing your thoughts. One question that I have for you is:

You used the term, "standard deviation" in your other post--the idea of being far removed...varied. When it comes to your relationship with language, a vernacular you use at home and one that you use at school I am assuming, how does having to "code switch" impact your learning at school? Does it? When you sit down to write an essay, for instance, are you code switching in your mind or is the languge of academia inherent and so you are just "bilingual" or "biliterate"?


Esteniolla M.

Cathy's picture


Hi Esteniolla,

                    I'm so sorry this is so late. I hadn't quite gotten the hang of what was an independent post and what was a reply or had the time to reply. I just saw this, and I would like to respond to your questions. When I say standard deviation, I mean that all language, theoretically, is within four standard deviations of the average. I'm taking Statistics right now, so these concepts are perticularly salient to me right now. With that idea in mind, I think that my ways of code switching are at most a standard deviation and a half to -1.5 or +1.5. This means that even when I switch, I am not talking in a complete 180. The vernacular I use at home is still very educated and aware. I have been in a high track since I was in kindergarden frankly; even in church people realized that I was quicker than the rest, so they pushed me harder, so in that way, a less dominant discourse does not fit me well. At home I speak Spanish, although it's very limited compared to my English but the codes of respect, and the like are differently negotiated than the "average" middle-class discourse I have to use at school. I also noticed that I write very differently than the way I speak. I am more prone to be academic in my expressions in writing. I have also noticed a difference between my English and Spanish writing. With Spanish, for some reason, I can be more creative. And in response to your final question, I think I am biliterate, but not bilingual. I think bilingual implies equal mastery of both, instead I can switch but certain literacies and discourses are more familiar, easier to navigate and stronger than others. I hope that helped!

alesnick's picture

looking forward

to continuing this conversation, Cathy, and to learning about the initiative you are working on.