Ever Had a Hard Time Understanding Someone's Accent? A Professor Says You're Guilty of 'Linguistic Racism'

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, file)


Are your ears colorblind?

As you’ll soon see, the answer may be hard to hear…

Have you ever had difficulty understanding someone’s accent?


That is, have you ever been racist?

According to a Michigan State University linguistics and education professor, the two are one and the same.

So stop being beastly, and start understanding everyone.

Per Professor Peter De Costa, when/if you don’t know what someone’s saying due to their consonants and vowels, you’re guilty of “linguistic racism.”

In a January 6 interview with MSU Today, the professor laid it out.

First, a definition courtesy of the college man:

“Linguistic racism occurs when acts of racism are perpetuated against individuals on the basis of their language use. Victims of such racism are generally speakers of languages like Spanish or Arabic, or varieties of a language, like African American Vernacular English. These languages and variations are undervalued and seen as inferior to dominant, mainstream languages, such as standard English used predominantly by white, affluent members of society.”

A deeper dive:

“These racist acts can be overt or covert in nature. On an overt level, speakers may be openly mocked by others. On a covert level, they may be told that they are unintelligible because they speak with an accent, for example.”

Peter says the discussion of such a sin’s long been in effect, but the act itself has been kept on a “covert level.”


Amid his offering of information, the instructor served up a novel word.

You’ve no doubt heard the trending term “marginalized” — a suggestion, so far as I can tell, that something isn’t merely in the margin but forced there by the actions of others.

Along the same lines, meet “minoritized”:

“Speakers of minoritized languages have been told to undergo accent reduction training so they can become intelligible and therefore be understood by others. These offers are masked under the guise of giving speakers “friendly advice” and framed with the supposedly good intention of helping them advance socially.”

Peter lamented that some who don’t choose English are perniciously perceived as unpatriotic.

And xenophobia’s alive and well:

“A recent example is the false labeling of COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus” in public discourse by prominent politicians. This fueled xenophobic resentment toward people of Chinese ethnicity across the globe. In London, for example, a young Singaporean Chinese individual was brutally attacked because of his ethnic association with the virus.”

De Costa gave a couple instances of linguistically racist perpetrations:

“Acts of linguistic racism could take the form of comments like, ‘Could you please repeat what you said? I don’t understand your thick accent.’ Or, if someone openly says only English is to be spoken in the workplace — despite the fact coworkers might be multilingual.

“Another example is when someone interrupts a conversation to correct the grammar or vocabulary of minoritized speakers.”



Peter made clear the affects of linguistic racism: Shame and guilt for its victims.

Among the casualties of LR: North America’s tribes.

“This has certainly been the case with Indigenous languages of American Indian communities, many of whom in the past were sent to boarding schools — often outside of their reservations — with the goal of erasing the home languages of American Indian youth. The sad result is that because of immense pressures from outside their respective communities, many of these speakers lost their languages and became monolingual English speakers.”

But there’s hope for all of you perpetrators:

“By understanding the need to correct acts of linguistic racism, people can become advocates of minoritized speakers and speak up for linguistic rights. If anyone commits acts of linguistic racism, they should be made aware; more importantly, they need to be educated about this bias and its detrimental effects. In addition, they need to explore how to create a culture of care that takes into account the socioemotional needs of minoritized speakers, with a long-term view to create an inclusive environment for these speakers, so the latter can survive and thrive linguistically.”

I have but one inquiry for the educator…


What of people who can’t understand the southern accent?

How can they be schooled not to be racist, either?

Folks from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Arkansas: You’ve all just been minoritized.



See more pieces from me:

University of Chicago Eyes the Creation of a Critical Race Studies Department

Hot Romance: A Woman Burns Down a Man’s Home for Only Bringing $5 to Their Date

Man Makes Desperate Plea to Search the City’s Waste – and Finally Claim His $273 Million

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