Intersecting biases of language and race

In the April edition of Edubytes, our guest editors are Assistant Professor Meghan Corella and Professor Ryuko Kubota from the UBC Faculty of Education. They introduce animation videos, created by their team, based on a published article for the purpose of raising viewers’ awareness of intersectional injustices involving race and language.

Antiracism has become a core initiative at UBC. Based on the Final Report from the President Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence (2022), the Strategic Equity and Anti-racism (StEAR) Framework was launched to prepare for the implementation of the recommendations. In 2024, the UBC Equity & Inclusion Office released the StEAR Roadmap for Change (PDF), which integrates UBC’s various existing plans for advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. It specifies objectives to be achieved over the next five years.

In promoting anti-racism and intersectional justices, however, what is often overlooked is linguistic injustices experienced by multilingual people, many of whom are racialized. To address the hidden ideology of what’s often called raciolinguistic injustices, a team of scholars in the UBC Department of Language and Literacy Education created Your English is So Good, two short animated videos featuring fictitious graduate students having casual conversations about the racial and linguistic biases that they have experienced. The conversation scripts were developed by drawing on an interview study that we conducted and using the methodology of research-based theater.

These videos show how racialized multilingual students encounter and contest normative and oppressive assumptions about language use, personal names, and communication styles that are entangled with the ways their racialized identities are perceived by others.

The videos can be used in multiple contexts, including classrooms, workshops, and orientations, by anyone at UBC and beyond. We hope that they will invite viewers to increase their awareness of how race and language intersect with each other in perpetuating implicit ideologies that shape everyday dehumanizing experiences, and yet have a potential for advancing our anti-racist agenda in a more robust way.

The scripts for the videos are also available on the website for those who are interested in using them in the form of Reader’s Theatre.

Additional resources

Kubota, R., Corella, M., Lim, K., & Sah, P. (2023). “Your English is so good”: Lives of racialized students and instructors of a Canadian University. Ethnicities, 23(5), 758–778.

This study focuses on linguistic dimensions of racialized graduate students’ everyday experiences of racism and racialization in a Canadian university, analyzing the assumptions others routinely make about their names, language use, and communication styles. The study concretely illustrates some of the many manifestations of biases related to language and race and emphasizes the importance of valorizing not only racialized students’ stories, but also their ways of telling their stories.

Read the study

World Englishes: Voices in Canada

Focused on the global diversity of English used by diverse English speakers in Vancouver, a team of language educators in the UBC Department of Language and Literacy Education produced this documentary film containing five thematic episodes. The fourth episode features interviewees’ experiences and perspectives about the entanglement of English and race, inviting viewers to examine the interrelationships among language, race, and ideologies.

Watch the full documentary

The Tyee – Winning the Right to Teach in BC Meant Battling Racism, Say Two Candidates

This 2020 article provides accounts of IBPOC teacher candidates’ experiences with raciolinguistic injustices in teacher education programs and schools in British Columbia. It illustrates the intersecting biases of language and race that are especially important for teachers, teacher educators, and school administrators to be aware of and challenge.

Read the article

Ghanem, R., & Kang, O. (2021). Nonnative students’ expectations and linguistic stereotyping of English teachers in an ESL context. ELT Journal, 75(3), 330–340.

This empirical study conducted in the United States demonstrates how English-as-a-second-language students were affected by “reverse linguistic stereotyping,” in which the visual portrayal of a speaker influences listeners’ comprehension of the speech and perceived effectiveness of the speaker. The second author, Okim Kang, is a prominent scholar on this topic. She is interviewed in the show, Talk American (2018), on the National Public Radio (starting at 19:45).

Read the study

Enjoyed reading about intersecting biases of language and race? Learn about other topics we covered in the April 2024 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

Are you interested in staying up to date on the latest trends in teaching and learning in higher education? Sign up for our newsletter and get this content delivered to your inbox once a month.