Language Dialects and Culteral Prejudice

I saw this video today, and it got my mind going on a topic I have been rolling around in the back of my mind for a while.

As someone who has travelled and lived overseas, and who has friends from all over the world, I like to think I am fairly cultured. That I am good at having a healthy perspective, or it should be easy for me to be tolerant of and aware of things that are merely cultural differences. For example, to not judge people based on the language they speak, or the culture they have been influenced by. Yet, I notice that I feel less apt to take the step to actively do that with Americans who vary from me culturally than I am for non-Americans.

I have a friend who hates it when people say “I’m not racist, but [insert something he will automatically interpret as racist here]”, so I hesitate to use the phrase. But, I guess that he, along with many others who often cry ‘racist’, incorrectly confound racism with cultural prejudice. So I am going to say it that way anyway, and just stick with me to the end of what I have to say.

I would say that I am not racist, but that I think my cultural prejudices could be interpreted as judging people based on genetic heritage (race). In fact, I think I just have some issues with cultures that are distinct, while also sharing enough in common with my own culture that I have trouble as perceiving them as a distinct culture; one that I should be sensitive to and tolerant of. I mean this in the proper sense of tolerance. Which is to say, not that you dismiss all aspects of a culture as okay just because, “it’s cultural”, but that you use proper discernment to separate the parts that deserve to be judged by moral/ethical standards from the parts that don’t.

Language dialects probably don’t merit cultural prejudice any more than clothing or food differences do, but I miss that somehow. I suspect I am not the only one to make this mistake. It seems to me tolerance as a virtue is just easier in some ways when it is more obvious that you need to be exercising it. Language dialects are to close maybe. They just slip by without triggering in me whatever makes me switch on the anti prejudice portion of my mind.

While I can’t say I don’t cringe a little inside when someone uses ‘axe’ in place of ‘ask’, or odd (to me) double negatives like “don’t nobody …”, I have been trying to see this pattern of speech as cultural rather than one based out of ignorance of language or lack of intelligence. It does help to think about what the British or someone from two hundred years ago would have thought about the way I talk.


One thought on “Language Dialects and Culteral Prejudice

  1. A guy on facebook commented on the video liked to in this post. It was one of the best comments I have ever seen on facebook.

    “Had to make it about race … Didn’t know the color of your face affected your linguistic grace. When she says “your language”, who is “your”? Me? Not sure. I grew up bilingual, every word double, not single. I spoke what people around me spoke, including English that was “broke”, with thick accents, Southern accents and whatever else made sense. And I know my non-English tongue sounded like my mouth was numb. If you work hard on your regression, and look deep for oppression, you will find it. Don’t push play on history, just rewind it. Language is about place, your group, your troop, not your face. Want me to think you can articulate? Don’t start by assuming I discriminate. Want me to see what you’re seein’? Don’t lump me in with 18th century Europeans. Speak the way you want; some will think it bad, others good. But 3 minutes into this, your anger is all I understood.”

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