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White Pedagogy: The Exclusivity of White Hegemony
October 18, 2016
By Patrick J. Derilus
“Most persons have accepted the tacit but clear modern philosophy which assigns to the white race alone the hegemony of the world.” — W.E.B. Du Bois
White Hegemony is a systemic structure administered in pedagogical and societal practice, which emphasizes and reinforces the racist ideology of White superiority linguistically, socially, and intellectually. Within White supremacist culture, formal English is the so-called “perfect” and “articulate” and “intelligent-sounding” way most individuals are subject to learn how to speak. In a White eugenicist context, this racist notion suggests that Whiteness is the apex of both genetic and intellectual life. Moreover, it is indicative of White normativity.
“Throughout, and especially in its higher reaches, higher education is a White and male dominated system. The reproduction of Whiteness and White (and male and upper-middle-class) dominance is part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ of higher education.” — Jessica M. Charbeneau, Enactments of Whiteness in Pedagogical Practice
If I, an American-Haitian man, speaks formal English, White people will find it patronizingly enlightening and sometimes surprising to understand that I’m able to articulate myself so eloquently. White people have not seen my humanity because of my Blackness. White people have recognized my Blackness in the way they have been conditioned to perceive me. Thus, I supposedly have sounded like them, which was conforming to the White hegemonic standard. In the past, Black people have shied away from me here and there, while having the assumption that I talk “white.”
In retrospect, I had not acknowledged a lot of white supremacist ideals that I have been living with. Because of this, my past assumption on the way that I spoke and carried myself, made me feel as though I was exceptional among Black people. On the contrary, using big words never made me smarter. I’ve always been smart. The whole time I was unconsciously pacifying myself to appease white overseers who are both covertly and overtly racist. But language is the universal tongue of human interaction which brings us to understand one another beyond face value. White Hegemony is not inclusive. White Hegemony is exclusive. Additionally, White Hegemony racializes linguistics. White Hegemony makes it so that people who cannot speak properly, are both incomprehensible and incompetent.
White people, unable to see their particularity, cannot take account of other people’s; white people don’t quite see that they thus construct the world in their own image. — Richard Dyer, Whiteness: The Power of Invisibility
Growing up and city-hopping through suburban neighborhoods most my life, and being surrounded by racist White people and being victim to internalized racism, I had previously conceded with the bigoted sentiment that, for instance, slang is a “sub-par” way of articulating oneself.
You looking at me like I’m not supposed to be standing here next to you
like, we in the same class but your idea of advance is too advanced
and my mind can’t match you, I think it’s my vernacular,
how I got half the consonants and twice the apostrophes
so my philosophy can’t be valid. — Kai Davis, F*ck I Look Like (Spoken Word Poem)
I’ve been practicing to unlearn the ignorance I’ve been taught, slowly understanding that slang is not a substandard way of talking or writing. It never was. Ebonics, or perhaps a more politically correct way of phrasing the term, A.A.V.E. (African American Vernacular English), is the language of the Black diaspora. Oftentimes, if someone from a country (that was once colonized) is coming to America, they are required to speak correct and fluent English. The idea is, if someone from outside the United States is not speaking “correct” English, and yes I quoted the word “correct” because the correct pronunciations of words are subjective, the person will be ridiculed by Americans (predominantly White Americans), presuming that the language or the way the individual is talking is “inferior” or “wrong.”
Language is language. Outside of White supremacist culture, there exists no “perfect” or “superior” language.