The Writing Center at the University of Washington-Tacoma proudly sports a new poster with the heading, “STATEMENT ON ANTIRACIST AND SOCIAL JUSTICE WORK IN THE WRITING CENTER.” The poster proclaims: “The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold.”
Now they tell me. I wish I’d had that guidance before I started scribbling on my own. The lesson continues (and continues…and continues):
“Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.
“Because we all live, work, learn, and communicate within such racist systems, the consultants in the writing center assume that a big part of our job is to help students become more critical of these unjust language structures as they affect students’ writing and the judgment of that writing. In particular, being aware of racism as structural offers students the best chances to develop as writers and succeed on their own terms in an inherently racist society.
“Furthermore, by acknowledging and critiquing the systemic racism that forms parts of UWT and the languages and literacies expected in it, students and writing center consultants can cultivate a more socially just future for everyone. Just avoiding racism is not enough because it means we are doing nothing to stop racism at large, and it amounts to allowing racism to continue.
“The writing center consultants and staff promise to listen and look carefully and compassionately for ways that we may unintentionally perpetuate racism or social injustice, actively engaging in antiracist practices.”
The poster, written by the director, staff and tutors of the school’s Writing Center, also makes nine specified promises to students, including these: to “emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” and to “challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”
I would like to select and employ a number of unconventional word choices right now, but, after all, perhaps discretion is the better part of valor…or however the hell you want to phrase it.
The plucky, progressive, placard finished up by averring: “We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways. We promise further to do our best to compassionately address these issues as they pertain to student writing as well.”
I didn’t know American grammar was racist or that proper grammar is in truth an unjust language structure.
If grammar and word choices don’t matter, and are inherently arbitrary, or even racist, then the thought process which produces them is also baseless, meaningless and inconsequential, except in-so-far as it’s bad.
It’s a good thing Shakespeare, Churchill, Longfellow, et.al., didn’t attend UWT, or much of the world’s best writing would read very differently.
But, who can say that “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” is any better than, “Dude, like, what up?!” Certainly “Now is the winter of our discontent” should be graded no differently than “I almost froze my balls off, man!” And really, is “The course of true love never did run smooth” somehow a cut above “Bitch had it coming?”
“To be or not to be; that is the question” isn’t really any different than, “Whatever. Coexist!”
“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” would, of course, be rightfully construed as racist ‘hate speech’ today. I bring it up solely as an example of the callous disregard for others that most of the archaic white male writers routinely exhibited.
Anyway, how can “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts” be thought on a higher plane than, say, “All public bathrooms should be open to men and women, the transgendered and gender-questioning, using the same entrances and exits; a guy might identify as a female one day, a man the next, despite his parts?” I’ll tell you how: because that person is a heteronormative, non-inclusive, reactionary racist, that’s how!
And remember, “Black Lives Matter. Look out for number one. Screw everyone else!”
Or, if you wish, “To thine own self be true.”
(Check out the online version of the amazingly offensive, condescending, UWT poster for yourself at: www.tacoma.uw.edu/university-writing-program/writing-center).