Re-articulations of language, race, and place in transregional settler colonialism

Discussant: Usree Bhattacharya, University of Georgia


In a time of dystopic language policy and surveillance, it becomes imperative that our scholarship and practice in Applied Linguistics address and disrupt the continued state of settler colonialism across social institutions, including those in which we do our work. Settler colonialism refers to the transnational and transregional structures of emplacement and replacement, that is, regimes and epistemes of white supremacy that erase Indigenous people and knowledge and which also enlists non-Indigenous Others in projects of white dominance (Veracini, 2010; see also Blackwell, Boj Lopez, & Urrieta, 2017). Considering that language is central in the articulation of power vis-à-vis race (how difference is produced and for what ends) and place (how location and mobility motivate land and resources (re)appropriation), applied linguists have a particular stake in discussions of the ways in which the language disciplines consent to projects of white supremacy. The presenters in this colloquium draw on and expand on these themes, offering reflection and intervention to disrupt dominant paradigms. After opening remarks by the Chair, we will proceed with five 15-minute presentations followed by a 15-minute discussion of emergent themes and questions by Usree Bhattacharya, leaving room for session dialogue. In her presentation, Patricia Baquedano-López discusses transregional and settler colonial practices of Yucatec Maya linguistic purity and English language learning. Maneka Brooks examines English hegemony and practices of linguistic containment and segregation. Jonathan Rosa asks us to attend to the rearticulation of colonial hierarchies in the learning of race, language, and Latinidad. Manka Varghese, Ena Lee, and Dolores van der Wey urge us to reflect beyond discourses of whiteness and examine how teacher education reproduces white settler colonialism and colonial complicity. Finally, Ryuko Kubota calls for critical reflexivity in order to engage in decolonizing and antiracist action in the field. The papers in this colloquium offer us multiple ways to look back and move forward, pushing us to further dismantle language projects of white supremacy.

Language purism as settler colonial logics of erasure
Patricia Baquedano-López, University of California, Berkeley

In this paper I draw on my research and work with Indigenous Maya families who move across hemispheric transregions between Yucatan and California. Indigenous people from Yucatan continue to experience colonial structures of racial domination that dictate modes of language and cultural expression. Fighting displacement with relocation, Indigenous Maya families who live in the U.S. rearticulate transregional circuits that often collide with the emplacements of the settler colonial state and its transit rendering this Indigenous group as unintelligible racial Others (Byrd, 2011). This is particularly evident when Indigenous children enter the bureaucracies of the school system in California where one of their first experiences is the completion of the Language Survey for placement and enumeration processes within schools, which further invisibilizes Indigenous students under the “Latino/Hispanic” label. I discuss examples from interviews with parents and students at a dual Spanish-English immersion K-5 school in northern California to illustrate how ideologies of language purism continue to be part of imperial transit, from Castilian Spanish as the ideal norm along with the imaginary of the “pure” or “real” Maya speaker produced in schools and society in Yucatan, to the embodiment of the perennial English language learner archetype in U.S. schools. My goal is to stimulate dialogue on the depth and reach of transregional educational settler colonial structures that potentially erase languages and selves. I ask how Applied Linguistics as a field can redirect its attention to support transregional Indigenous sovereignty, including the revalorization of Indigenous languages and cultures.

Testing without consent: English language proficiency assessment in U.S. high schools 
Maneka D. Brooks, Texas State University

Assessments of language have been (and continue to be) used to position minoritized groups within the United States as racially and linguistically inferior (e.g., Farkas & Beron, 2004; Willis, 2012). This use of language assessment has occurred alongside a history of transregional U.S. government-sanctioned testing of the bodies of minoritized peoples without their consent (Rodriguez & García, 2013; Thomas & Quinn, 1991). In this paper, I explore how the enactment of English language assessment in the lives of 30 Latinx High School students in Texas represents the integration of these two practices. As a result of federal and state policy, students did not have the opportunity to “opt-out” of English language assessment. The students were unaware of how assessments in which they participated were being used by the school and other institutions to make judgments about their English language abilities. Moreover, the consequences of these assessments for their academic trajectory were not shared with students. Building upon these findings, this paper calls for language testers, researchers, and educators to actively tackle the role of consent in the ethics of language assessment of adolescents. Specifically, it calls upon language researchers to examine their own role in testing without consent as a project of white supremacy.

(Dis)possessing race and language: Rethinking colonialism in the learning of Latinidad
Jonathan Rosa, Stanford University 

Drawing on several years of ethnographic research in a predominantly Latinx Chicago public high school and its surrounding communities, this presentation analyzes legacies of colonialism that shape the dispossession of race and language. Insofar as Latinx identities are produced as part of U.S. settler colonial histories and broader European colonial histories in Latin America, we must continually attend to the ways these forms of colonialism shape perceptions of Latinx bodies in relation to an imagined phenotypic spectrum from Blackness to whiteness and Latinx communicative practices in relation to an imagined linguistic spectrum from Spanish to English. These spectra hinge on the reproduction of anti-Blackness and the erasure of Indigeneity, and should be interrogated as racialized colonial logics rather than empirical rubrics within which bodies and linguistic practices can be objectively situated. Millions of people are perceived as Indigenous, Afro-Latinx, white, and/or some combination thereof, yet self-identify as “Hispanic,” “Latino,” or “Spanish”; similarly, millions of Latinxs identify as monolingual English users or English-dominant, yet often engage in practices that could be classified as bilingual or multilingual. The inability to apprehend how colonialism informs these modes of identification leads to the indictment of individuals and populations as suffering from racial and linguistic denial, rather than the indictment of colonialism as an historical and contemporary power formation that profoundly circumscribes desirable and possible subjectivities and language practices. By attending to the rearticulation of colonial hierarchies in the learning of race, language, and Latinidad, this presentation proposes new ways of imagining decolonial futures. 

Teacher education and Applied Linguistics: Effects of white settler colonialism and efforts at decolonization 
Manka M. Varghese, University of Washington; Ena Lee, Simon Fraser University; Dolores van der Wey, Simon Fraser University

It is undeniable that there any spaces in education where language scholars can acknowledge the effects of “language projects of supremacy” more than that of teacher education. In this presentation, we first provide a background of how teacher education in Applied Linguistics with its primacy on ‘English’, ‘nativeness’ and ‘Whiteness’ has long been a site of reproduction of global modes of colonialism (Motha, 2006) and white settler colonialism. In mainstream teacher education, there is now widespread acknowledgement of the “overwhelming presence of whiteness” (Haddix, 2016; Milner, 2015; Sleeter, 2019) although this has not been as explicitly addressed in language teacher education especially through the lens of white settler colonialism as this presentation seeks to do. Next, we offer an analysis of a teacher education program’s goals and curriculum, which demonstrates the avoidance of discourses of white settler colonialism (cf. Tuck & Yang, 2012) situated within broader policy documents emphasizing “respect and celebrat[ion of] students”, “democratic and pluralistic community”, and “ethical manner”--neoliberal discourses that indexicalize how teacher education may continue as a non-performative (cf. Ahmed, 2007), neo-colonial language project of supremacy. Last, we provide an example of teacher education where predominantly settler students react with fear and resistance to being confronted with their colonial complicity. Engaging through a coalition politics framework and the use of language of story informed by critical discourse analyses of both historical and contemporary texts, we show how students gradually come to terms with the indefensibility of colonialism (Lowman & Barker, 2015). We find that engaging in what Kapoor as cited in Kubota & Miller (2017, p.16) refers to as hyper reflexivity to be central to this work in teacher education in Applied Linguistics: for “learning to learn from within and below, for acknowledging one’s complicity in hierarchical relations of power, and for retracing “the history and itinerary of one’s prejudices and learned habits.”

Decolonizing and enacting antiracism in Applied Linguistics
Ryuko Kubota, University of British Columbia

Issues of race in applied linguistics have been actively discussed in recent years from the perspectives of sociolinguistics and language education. While this trend demonstrates scholarly advancement, racism in institutional and epistemological forms continues to influence the lived experiences of our research participants (e.g., language users, learners, and teachers) and scholars themselves, especially women scholars of color (Henry, 2015). This indicates that the attempt to promote social justice by analyzing research data and theorizing findings may not always bring about antiracist change in real life contexts. Recognizing the gap between progressive research and oppressive social conditions, this presentation calls for antiracist action, examines conditions that may facilitate or inhibit its enactment, and explores critical antiracist actions (Kubota, 2015).

To enact change, we can start examining how we engage in antiracism in our own surroundings, including our workplaces and professional associations. As indicated by an example of institutional activism engaged by a group of women faculty members at a U.S. university (Motha & Varghese, 2016) and the recent efforts to demand implementation of diversity in AAAL (cf. Bhattacharya, Jiang, & Canagarajah, 2018), collective actions can transform institutional structures and practices. These examples and my personal experiences indicate that potentially facilitating conditions include: forging an advocacy group, focusing on result-oriented actions, and strategizing proactively. Inhibiting conditions include: emotional labor negatively affecting the participation of colleagues of color and white colleagues’ resistance (DiAngelo, 2018).

Forming a strong coalition requires decolonizing antiracism, which necessitates non-indigenous scholars’ awareness of their privilege as settlers of color (Lawrence & Dua, 2011). This would valorize inclusivity across individual backgrounds and positionalities. The inclusive vision and critical reflexivity of own privilege may facilitate engaged dialogues for overcoming resistance.