The Limitations of Language

Upon searching on Craigslist for a suitable housing arrangement, I found myself overwhelmed and disgusted with the prejudice that soiled many of the posts. Due to it being entirely in Spanish, One of the posts stood out more than the others. The headline was in Spanish, and a click revealed the entire five paragraph post to be entirely in Spanish. Fortunately, because of my formal education, I was able to read this post. Unfortunately, my ability to comprehend did not counter my cognizance of my intended exclusion.

This ad brought back ugly memories of exclusion through language that laced both my present and past. One memory stands out amidst the many, mostly because of the way it ended. This memory occurred about two or three years ago when I was employed as a tutor for a borough wide tutoring program. I recall working with a graduating senior to assist her with passing her regents.* Both my pupil and her mother spoke English, although my pupil’s mother consistently spoke in Spanish during our sessions. Her commentary was largely simple, usually commenting that I could leave early, or the occasional silly comments about something I had said, or merely questioning my performance. On one occasion, I responded to one of her queries in English and the look on her face was one worth more than my entire paycheck. Her expression was one of sheer shock- with a tinge of embarrassment. She never issued any more commentary in Spanish and treated me with a level of respect absent from our previous encounters.

What is perhaps most comical about this encounter and those like it, is that people assume that Spanish (or any other language) is a cryptic code only known by those attached by origin. This ideology is ignorant to the fact that languages are available via Rosetta Stone, and at the reach of all who obtain a higher education. This situation worked to expose how assuming the simplicity of those with African descent, can expose personal lack of worldliness.

In addition to the exposure granted from the the simplicity of my response was the elimination of self- constructed boundaries of language. In my response, I was able to establish equality to someone who sought elevation through exclusion.

One of the robberies faced by blacks following the institution of slavery is the deprivation of language. Thus, while other minority factions are also subject to injustices, blacks are further jilted by the inability to dialogue in their native tongue. This inability to dialogue in their native tongues has furthered the division of the black diaspora and forced blacks to adopt the language of their oppressors.

Language has presented yet another means to exclude those of African descent from a society largely benefitting from the fruits of their labor. Language has also afforded other factions the ability to discriminate and accommodate those affiliated with them via language. Language of course presents a facade of an upper hand. The facade of languages masks the reality that all minority factions are subject to subjugation in the same prejudice system. Language may seem like a bridge into exclusionary territory but largely acts as a means for minority factions to continue to exclude themselves from white collar employment and opportunities. Thus, language is a double edged sword that leaves those of a native tongue standing alone, outside the assumed denigration of blackness and not quite able to assimilate into anglo saxon territory.

* regents: statewide examinations taken by high school students in the New York City Area. Regents are subject based.

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