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Reclaiming Race: Culture, Community, Identity, and Language

May 23, 2022

Reclaiming Race: Culture, Community, Identity, and Language


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This blog post is the second of three in Lifting Every Voice: Valuing Black Language and Culture in Classrooms, a Reading Opens the World series. It is adapted from an American Educator article of the same name. Read the first and third blogs.

Register for the three Share My Lesson webinars the authors of this piece are giving.

Race is a social construct, and by extension, race can be seen as a myth. But to many people from racialized groups, race is the realest thing we know. In particular, race affects where we live and attend school and who our classmates are. Teaching about race and culture to students matters, as the multicultural movement has been asserting for the past 50 years.

There is a clear need for educators to receive more resources, training, and support about race, culture, community, and identity in the classroom—and their intersections with language. Many educators want to more deeply understand what race and ethnicity are.  We must engage with Blackness to dismantle anti-Blackness, and language is a key part of these efforts.

Honoring the cultural and linguistic heritage of students who use African American English while also preparing them to live and work in a society where standardized English often dominates is thus a complex and multifaceted goal for educators (and students and families). In many other communities, including immigrant communities, students face pressure to assimilate to English to do well in school and life. While there are many school and community programs to aid students who speak a primary language other than English, few programs are in place to help students who use varieties of English, including African American English. Often, the general sentiment is that students who grow up speaking English should be able to produce standardized English forms no matter their background.

Educators must recognize the ways in which language and race are interrelated and intertwined with culture, community, and identity. By working to establish an equitable learning community, all students’ cultural and linguistic heritages can be valued and included as part of their trajectory of academic success.

As a tangible strategy for creating an equitable learning community, we have created the Share My Lesson webinar “Affirming Students Through a Language and Literacy Equity Audit." Much like an equity audit, the language and literacy audit actively seeks out the linguistic strengths of your learning community and is designed to be used with teachers, students, administrators, and community members. The audit will help you support literacy in its multiple definitions and learn with students as linguistic experts by valuing what they know about language. We suggest you view the linguistic autobiography webinar before viewing the language and literacy audit webinar.

About the Authors

  • Anne H. Charity Hudley is a professor of education at Stanford University, where she focuses on the relationship between language variation and educational practices. She is a fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 
  • Christine Mallinson is the founding director of the Center for Social Science Scholarship, a professor of language, literacy, and culture, and an affiliate professor of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 
  • Rachel Samuels is an elementary student support specialist in Williamsburg, Virginia. She was the 2019 Virginia Reading Teacher of the Year. 
  • Kimberly Bigelow is an assistant principal of literacy in Washington, DC; she has 15 years of experience as an elementary teacher and instructional coach. She is an AFT PD National Trainer.

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The AFT was formed by teachers more than 100 years ago and is now a 1.7 million-member union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are... See More

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