Megan Figueroa: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination!
Carrie Gillon: I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: And I’m Megan Figueroa. Carrie, your bangs look bangin’.
Carrie Gillon: [Laughter] Thank you. I cut them myself. They got so long, and I was like, they’re so close to being behind my ears and staying there and I just, one day, saw a video about how to cut them yourself, and I’m like, “Dammit – doin’ it. I can’t handle it any longer.”
Megan Figueroa: No, I’m glad I don’t have bangs. I was just thinking, I was like, “You know, who knows when I’ll get a haircut ever again.”
Carrie Gillon: I mean, it’ll happen. [Laughter] I mean, let’s remember the pandemic of 1918 did eventually end, got back to life, partied really hard – so, eventually. It’s just a matter of time.
Megan Figueroa: Then we can all get our hair cut.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. And there’s a lot of vaccines that are promising.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, I’m so excited. I already got my flu shot.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, really? That’s really early. It only lasts for six months.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, no, I was like, “Are you sure, pharmacist?” And she’s like, “Absolutely.”
Carrie Gillon: They do want people to have it because then there’s fewer people with potentially flu or COVID –
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. This year’s a little different, and she was like, “It takes two weeks to be effective anyway.” This year might as well just be as proactive and careful as possible.
Carrie Gillon: Just make sure you get a second one early next year.
Megan Figueroa: I’m happy to. Give me all the vaccines! Give them to me multiple times.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, same, oh my god. Not that I’m in the trial for the COVID vaccine or anything, but once it’s actually known to be safe, I am first in – well, not first in line. I’ll let the healthcare workers go first, etc.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Then I want it.
Carrie Gillon: Of those of us who need it less, I’ll be first in line.
Megan Figueroa: The U of A is doing some COVID anti-body research. I went and did it, and I was negative. Then, they wrote back and they’re like, “This could mean that you were never exposed, or that you were exposed and you never gained immunity.” It was basically like, “We don’t know anything. We really don’t know what this means yet.”
Carrie Gillon: Right. I mean, they don’t. But statistically, it’s more likely that you were never exposed. I think it’s about 14% though who are exposed don’t have any anti-bodies. And people seem to lose them over time too. If you were exposed really early on, by now, I bet they’re all gone anyway. I don’t know. It’s all very confusing.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. But very grateful to all the scientists and doctors that are working on this stuff. It’s a very exciting and sad time to be alive. It’s strange.
Carrie Gillon: That’s one way of putting it.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: It’s very strange. Because I think – so I always knew that pandemic was a possibility. There’s always things floating around that are new. Every once in a while, scientists would talk about it. This is not exactly what I envisioned. I think I thought it would be worse in some ways – like, more fatal or something.
Megan Figueroa: Or like, we’d be in bunkers.
Carrie Gillon: No, I don’t know about bunkers. I thought the situation would be worse. But the situation could have been so much better if the government had actually got its act together. In some ways, it’s worse. Because once I knew how fatal it actually was, I was like, okay, this seems okay. We can get through this. Then they did almost nothing. Anyway.
Megan Figueroa: Anyway. Let me get off that soapbox.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. All right. We have an email from Jeff – or Jeffrey. Sorry, I’m not sure which it is. “After listening to your recent podcast discussion about grammar corrections in dissertations and student work, etc., I recently found myself replacing references to ‘his or her’ with references to ‘their.’ I’ve recently become a convert to this usage in part because it’s more inclusive for gender non-binary, fluid folks and in part because Helen Zaltzman successfully convinced me that there’s solid, historical precedent for using ‘their’ in the singular.” Absolutely she’s right.
“However, I found myself correcting a document written by someone I supervise and replacing ‘his or her’ with ‘their.’ I changed my mind before sending it back to the colleague because I felt like it was affronting and just as obnoxious as someone fixing split infinitives.” I don’t think it’s as obnoxious as fixing splitting infinitives because you’re actually making it better and not just being fussy. Some style guides now use singular their, so that’s what I said, I was like, you can just point to some of these style guides and say, “Look! People are using this now.” And you’re the supervisor so you get to say. [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, exactly. Do you know if the AP is using singular they yet?
Carrie Gillon: I don’t. I know the APA is, but I don’t know about the AP. Probably, but I dunno.
Megan Figueroa: Get on board everyone because you’re gonna be left behind. You’re already left behind. We’re all here, c’mon.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. And it’s also less clunky even if for some reason being more inclusive is not a good enough excuse.
Megan Figueroa: Which it should be. Less just stop there. It should be, c’mon.
Carrie Gillon: It should be. But for those people who care about the prettiness of language, it’s not pretty. Anyway. So, what I wanted to tell you about was – I can’t believe you’ve never saw this on Twitter.
Megan Figueroa: I know. And I’m always on there. How’d I miss this?
Carrie Gillon: You must not follow as many political people as I do. So, someone on Twitter complained about Kamala Harris’s voice as reminding them of Marge Simpson.
Megan Figueroa: What? [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: I – [laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: Well, that’s new. I mean, I knew that her voice was gonna be put through the ringer because that’s what happens to women politicians and that’s par for the course even though it shouldn’t be. But Marge Simpson?
Carrie Gillon: That was basically how most of Twitter responded was, “What?” Then, the Simpsons even posted a clip of Marge.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, really?
[Clip of Marge Simpson talking]
I usually don’t get into politics, but the President’s Senior Advisor Jenna Ellis just said Kamala Harris sounds like me. Lisa says she doesn’t mean it as a compliment. If that’s so, as an ordinary suburban housewife who’s starting to feel a little disrespected, I teach my children not to name-call, Jenna. I was gonna say I’m pissed off, but I’m afraid they’d bleep it.
Carrie Gillon: The advisor to the president says she sounds like Marge Simpson, and everyone’s like, “What are you talking about?” and Marge responds with that.
Megan Figueroa: That’s amazing. And then add the whole “suburban housewife thing” – it’s perfect.
Carrie Gillon: That’s perfect because that’s obviously one of Trump’s favorite touchstones. He seems to think that suburban housewives are still living in the ‘50s.
Megan Figueroa: Well, that’s where he wants them to be and live in. Wow. I guess this is a good time to say that Kamala’s gonna go through a lot with regard to her voice, and you’re gonna hear things like “shrill” and – what else?
Carrie Gillon: I was expecting “shrill.” I even was like, if someone said that her voice was really nasal, I’d be like, “Yeah, okay. That’s a thing that people might complain about.” But somehow Marge Simpson just never occurred to me.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, I wonder what other [sighs] – other things we can expect this –
Carrie Gillon: I don’t know. That reminds me that Biden asked all of his VP potentials to come up with nicknames that Trump would call them, which I found absurd. What timeline are living in? But – you know.
Megan Figueroa: Right. What was hers?
Carrie Gillon: I don’t know, actually. That’s a good question. I didn’t see where the answers were. I just saw that he had asked them to do that. I mean, she’s been called “nasty,” of course, but “Phony Kamala” is her nickname apparently – just so boring. He’s losing his spark.
Megan Figueroa: Right. Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Like, “Sleepy Joe,” and “Phony Kamala,” it doesn’t really have the same ring to it as some of his other zingers.
Megan Figueroa: “Zingers”? [Laughs] Well, let us – I dunno. I’m already pre-emptively upset about all of the shit her voice is gonna take. Just her as a woman – as a black woman, as an Indian woman. Call it out when you see it.
Carrie Gillon: Please do call out anything to do with her voice or her looks. Anything that you could possibly even slightly consider “Maybe this is actually about her gender or her race or being from California.” Definitely push back on those.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely. Well, we have a really amazing episode today.
Carrie Gillon: Yes! It’s one of our better ones – I’m just gonna say it.
Megan Figueroa: Yep. Share it far and wide. It’s really important.
Carrie Gillon: Telling linguists, especially white linguists, what we can do to make linguistics less infused with white supremacy.
Megan Figueroa: Today, we have Dr. Anne Charity Hudley who is the North Hall Endowed Chair in the Linguistics of African-America and Director of Undergraduate Research for the Office of Undergraduate Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research and publications address the relationship between language variation and pre-K through higher ed educational practices and policies and high impact practices for underrepresented students in higher education. Thank you so much for being with us today Professor Charity Hudley.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, thank you.
Anne Charity Hudley: Thanks so much for having me!
Megan Figueroa: We’ve been really excited to have you on the show. I mean, this is our third anniversary, so pretty much for three years.
Anne Charity Hudley: Thank you.
Megan Figueroa: I say that it’s a perfect time to have you now, but I feel like it’s always a perfect time to talk about what we’re talking about, right.
Carrie Gillon: That is very true.
Anne Charity Hudley: It’s definitely a moment.
Megan Figueroa: We’re in a moment.
Anne Charity Hudley: That’s a way of describing it. I mean, it’s weird when you’ve worked on something your whole life – but it’s a moment. You didn’t plan the moment, but you go with it.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. With COVID happening, it feels like it’s a moment within a moment within a bigger moment. There’s just so much happening. It’s so much.
Carrie Gillon: It’s the Russian nesting dolls of moments.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. It’s a perfect visual. Earlier this year, you gave a plenary for the annual Linguistic Society of America meeting. We’ll link to it. But we wanted to ask you some questions surrounding this because I think it’s a really important talk. First of all, you said that we can no longer evade discussions of white supremacy in linguistics. What is white supremacy and how does it show up in a field like linguistics?
Anne Charity Hudley: Great. When I think about white supremacy, there’s the easy definition. That’s people who go around really saying things about the inferiority of people who aren’t white. They might talk about how they look, how they act, their intelligence, “I just don’t wanna be around them.” That’s one thing. It’s not that we don’t have – we still need to think about that – but when I’m thinking about white supremacy, I’m thinking about policies/procedures that are economic, that are social, that are academic, that are professional, that privilege the practices, the intellectual value, and the ideals of white people over other groups.
I think in linguistics the challenge is the first one, of course, we say, “Oh, we’re linguists!” We run around all day telling people that “All languages have value and look at all the cultures that we study and work with!” It actually makes it harder sometimes for people to interrogate that second definition because they’re so caught up in dealing with that surface level white supremacy of just being a diverse thinker. They haven’t thought about how it actually could contribute to the value – the lens – of doing that through a lens of whiteness, through a practice of whiteness, such that the researcher practices that one person may see as showing how interested they are in other cultures and other languages could be viewed by other people, particularly people of color, as colonial in their practice. I think that’s what makes it so hard in linguistics to really get this conversation going because of that dual function and that dual definition of white supremacy.
Carrie Gillon: What can linguists do, particularly white linguists, to fight white supremacy within the field?
Anne Charity Hudley: I think we really have to think about any time we are working or thinking where the white people are framed as scholars and be uncomfortable with those settings, no matter what we’re doing, no matter where we are. We need to think about it on three levels – who is participating as a researcher, who is participating as a student, who is participating as a community member. That’s one group or set of issues. The next one is – what questions are we asking and why? Who decided that those questions that we’re asking – the research that we’re doing, the content that we’re teaching – is what we should be focusing on? And was that a decision made primarily by white people?
As we think about those two aspects of it in particular, what’s really important is to think actively and aggressively about how you can include people in your teaching practices and your research. More importantly, what do people from that community value as the research questions? What would make a student of color want to be a linguist, want to be in your department, want to be in your class as a first-year student? And really start to make specific answers to those questions.
Megan Figueroa: I think about it, as an individual within linguistics, how myself I can think, “Okay, I’m actually thinking about white supremacy and racism and how these things show up.” And I think, “Okay, I’m good.” But then I forget about this bigger, larger institutional picture of, oh my gosh, what do my syllabi look like? Or what do the podcast interviews that I – or whatever – what does all of that look like? That’s so easy to forget about because you think, perhaps, you’re doing enough because you are thinking about that. But there is a bigger picture – element – here that is so easy to forget for white people in particular.
Carrie Gillon: We think we get a cookie just for doing one thing, and then we’re good. Don’t push us any more or we’ll crumble.
Anne Charity Hudley: Yes. It’s hard because these conversations have really not happened a lot in linguistics as they have in other disciplines. What’s tough for me sometimes is these conversations have happened in the social sciences – sociology, anthropology. It’s not that they’re fixed, right, or anything, but there’s an intellectual literature around this. There’s a growing literature in the STEM sciences as well. So, linguists who are coming from either side of this really need to interrogate those bordering literatures to really start to think about how people are doing this. We can’t use, “Oh, our discipline is small” or “It’s unique” or “We don’t have a lot of resources” as pragmatic reasons to not engage with dismantling white supremacy.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely. You mentioned the questions we ask or what might make historically marginalized students want to study linguistics – it’s true! As linguists, we hear so many times, “That’s not real linguistics.”
Carrie Gillon: What are the kinds of questions we should be asking? Or what kinds of questions would a student of color ask that we might not think of – or that I, in particular, might not think of?
Anne Charity Hudley: That’s the question that I’m hoping that people will actually ask to students of color. When I’m thinking about this actively, I’m thinking about recruiting outreach to groups, departments on campuses, student organizations that students of color participate in, scholarly societies that scholars of color participate in – like the Association for Black Anthropologists, the National Black Speech and Hearing Association, all the way down the different discipline areas – and saying that to them, “Why do you do linguistics,” or “Why do you not do linguistics,” and “What are the overlap challenges that you see?” That’s the type of discussions that I hope we will have so that those answers really come from different people and their different perspectives.
That’s the action that we haven’t done as linguists is that actual, real conversations with other disciplines on an informal level and a formal level that then becomes written up or presented in publications. That’s what we were really doing with that plenary address and our race papers to say, “Here’s some disciplines that we engage with, and we need to think about that.” I think it goes a long way because, at least for my generation or lens on being a person of color, risk management is at the height of it. In this day and age, we do have more choices about how we’re situated and where do we go and what do we do. I don’t see this in a desperation model like, “Oh, everyone’s missing out if they don’t do linguistics!” It’s actually the opposite. Linguistics misses out.
The students of color are pushed away from linguistics so long, they figured out how to be amazing scholars in education departments, in modern language departments, in anthropology departments, in English departments. Now, linguists have to figure out who they’re trying to be. That’s why I see the action coming from that side versus the other. Otherwise, you’re gonna really seem, as a discipline, I would argue – especially after this moment in time – even more remote, even more esoteric, and more unnecessary to a greater lens of people. The question would be, “Why should you not?” If you’re really not inclusive, if you’re still making these same arguments about why you don’t have people of color on your faculty or on your syllabi or in your research agenda, what answers could you actively have?
See, it’s in the process of making people actually answer the question where that starts to come out because then you start to address their perceptions or their rationales for it and figure out at what level you can help them engage with white supremacy, how much agency or power you have as a scholar or an individual, and how might you support them if they feel stuck in the power structure that sells. Right? Not everyone has that same ability to make change, so we need to figure out what’s appropriate for different people.
Megan Figueroa: That is such a good point. I dunno. I’m just a really anxious person, and there are some things that I feel get me to a threshold where I can’t be effective, but to think about how there’re different roles to play, and what can you play, and what can you do to be helpful in this moment and all moments is a really important point.
Anne Charity Hudley: What I’m doing a lot with my time is working with linguistics departments, with individual scholars, to really think about, “Okay, what can you do given your resources, given your career?” And the big one that I’ve been really interrogating is, “How much are you willing to risk or put on the line?” Understand, from the history of people of color in academia or people who were white who were trying to be allies or co-conspirators or just support systems, what does that look like so that you can do it in the most effective way possible.
Carrie Gillon: It’s interesting that you bring up “What can you risk?” or “What are you willing to risk?” because that’s what I’ve been thinking about with the Pinker letter. Certain people were explicitly told that they should not sign it because it could affect their career. We can freely sign it because it’s not gonna affect ours not just because we’re white, but also because we’re sort of outside the boundaries of academia. I’ve been thinking a lot about that. How can we make it safer for people to do that?
Anne Charity Hudley: I think the way – we have to have that discussion in linguistics. In terms of making something more inclusive as a discipline, or as a group, or an organization, how do you make it safer? You actually have to ask the people who are in the most vulnerable positions. They have to write that out. I think that is something that – I really think of this in terms of Zora Neale Hurston’s famous quote, “If you don’t talk about your suffering, they’ll just pretend that you enjoyed it.” The whole thing will just be swept under the rug intellectually, emotionally, right? That’s a really tough space because when you have a discipline like linguistics where we have several generations of people who had to do that to participate at all.
We’re in a situation where it’s even more disbelief that people are experiencing these things because they’ve been so swept under the rug. I think it’s really important to think about what people’s individual and collective goals are just in terms of like, what are your careers goals, your economic goals, your academic goals. The way that I really wanna advocate for people who feel like they’re more outside of what they view as the “main” group of linguistics, or if you’re students – understand that structures and power dynamics should be your first step, and how they play in to what you can do, but also, what are actually the goals and sentiments of people of color around these issues, and how they vary by people’s perspectives.
For me, I focus so much on this in terms of policy and procedure because that’s my own individual lens, but it’s also, in my take, that’s where we are as a discipline. We don’t have the policies and procedures in place to deal with a lot of issues. I mean this in the organizational structure in our organizations but also in our departments. That’s something that we have to think about because, otherwise – I know as mid-forties person of color, fighting individual battles like that, it would just be all day every day. It just is exhausting. We know from the history of social movements and how, in particular, black people move through the academy, honestly, it’s not as effective as we would hope it would be if we don’t have those policies and procedures.
This goes back to why, again, linguistics could be a risky discipline for someone to choose. Because if you look at – if I’m gonna make a choice about being in a smaller discipline where people haven’t really interrogated these issues or be a linguist in another adjacent area where people have interrogated this more, which one are you gonna pick? That’s why I’m saying we have to come face forward on these professionalization issues in linguistics if we wanna get serious about inclusion.
Megan Figueroa: We need to get serious about these policies and procedures and all that because otherwise we’re not gonna be able to empower historically underrepresented racial groups authentically.
Anne Charity Hudley: That’s exactly it. Because no one’s gonna stick their head out for an issue they’ve been working 30, 40 years at a career, right, in the same way. I just really want everyone to think about their strategy and their positionality, especially if things are being white-led in terms of support, of actually having to talk to scholars of color before you do something that you think is in support of them. It’s not that people will agree, but you’ll get a better sense of their range of opinions of that.
That’s why, for me, my models are all about deliberative discussion to really figure out who the stakeholders are in a community research-based model and then restorative justice. My attitude is, especially the way that higher education is set up, if we don’t use a restorative justice model, change is really hard. Because once someone has tenure, and especially if someone is senior, the stakes are really actually low in many ways for them to change or do anything. If you take any other approach, just because of how higher ed is set up, you really have to tell me what your outcomes that you hope are gonna be and give me some evidence for why you think that would work. I mean, that’s just the tough part of it. I’m not condoning it or excusing it as a thing to be inactive. I’m actually looking at that as a strategy. We have to think about it that way.
Carrie Gillon: Can you explain a little bit about how you can use restorative justice in higher ed to affect change?
Anne Charity Hudley: I think the first part that you really have to think about is how different people will see the same situation and at least get their narrative take on what they few as the situation. I think that’s so important because you need that information even to make a good strategy about addressing systemic racism or white supremacy in a given place or space. Then, within those narratives, you have to actually figure out who are the people who are the levers for change and how much are they willing to risk in the given situation given where they are, especially if it’s different from your own position.
You really have to triangulate those three, for me, those three points along those narratives. Because I could have a great plan, but if I can’t get anyone else to help me enact it because they don’t understand it, they don’t agree, or they don’t see my point of view, it’s really hard to move that muscle. I mean, in my position, they’re mostly usually senior to me. I’m on the LSA EC because I wanna know how it works. I do undergrad research because I wanna think about, critically, how do we help more students involved in undergrad research who are underrepresented not just for our discipline but in the academy as a whole.
I’m moving on to planning a budget because a lot of this stuff has to do with money. Most of our discussions in linguistics about inclusion have never talked about money. That’s just way behind other disciplines. These are the things that we have to learn if we really wanna make someone move half a mountain or move some muscle. I think a lot of us are now – people of color or people who are really devoted to these issues – are more junior in our field. I think we have senior people who are willing to help and are knowledgeable about this, so we kinda have to do some learning so that we can all get this one the same page. That’s my point of view with it.
Megan Figueroa: You mentioned our field being behind. Here’s a good example of this. The number of minoritized scholars who hold advanced degrees in linguistics is so small that there isn’t even a number to quote. But there are so many minoritized scholars who are working on questions surrounding language. But like you said, they’re in anthropology. They’re in education. They’re doing the work elsewhere. Do you think that we have a gatekeeping problem in linguistics?
Anne Charity Hudley: I do. I absolutely do. I decided, given my level of seniority and everything, that I have to speak about it. The first time it appeared to me was in my senior year. I had done linguistics at Harvard, undergrad, and I did the accelerated masters program. I had done everything right – had great grades, knew I could get into graduate schools. I did my thesis. For most people, this would’ve been amazing. But I got “magnum cum laude.” And I wanted to know why I didn’t get “summa.” I did not let that shit go. I was asking around. Then, one scholar of color pulled me aside and said when they were in the meeting, they had decided that part of the issue of how they decide summa was based on the topic.
Carrie Gillon: What! Oh my god.
Megan Figueroa: Uh…
Carrie Gillon: What was the topic?
Anne Charity Hudley: It was looking at linguistic variation in the idiolect of Bessie Smith and thinking about how a black singer is both a performer, a figure, an actor and how their voice and – mostly I focused on the pronunciation changes in the articulation of melisma, the way that you do the blues – same sound over music – when she had different recording contracts, so who wanted her to sound more mainstream or more not.
Carrie Gillon: That sounds fascinating!
Megan Figueroa: That’s amazing!
Anne Charity Hudley: But this is what I mean in terms of how do you think my career has been tampered. I was like, “That’s the coolest shit ever!” from my point of view. And from my advisor’s view, it was amazing. But other people were still having the rhetoric of, you know, “We don’t do sociolinguistics. What’s this cultural aspect?” It was really informative to me about how individuals’ decisions about what you should study and what you should do and how it relates to what they do and how what they see as important – how that as a collective process becomes models of white supremacy.
Juxtapose that with my advisor being like, “Look, you gotta go to Penn. They’re not gonna care about this. They even have faculty who study similar topics.” It was mind blowing for me to go from that situation where everyone saw what I was doing as interesting but insulary to then my graduate program where that would’ve been a perfectly normal thing to do without anyone ever questioning it. Then, proceeding to – that was the end of the meeting – but then proceeding to do that same kind of work in this area of – how I see myself – language, literacy, and culture intertwined and having a pretty good life.
I saw a lot of people get all these narratives about, “Oh, you can’t do this! You won’t get a job! You won’t get published! Linguists won’t take you seriously!” and me just being kinda like, “Oh, okay.” I’ve been benignly told, right. Always, it’s trying to help me. “Oh, I should’ve changed that topic” or “I shouldn’t have put that grant” or “Be careful how you do frame these books because it’s not in this vein and your degree is in linguistics.” My point of view is every time someone tried to do that to me, it’s trying to help me and my best interest, but it’s a benign manifestation of white supremacy.
But we’ve got to look at what people are – and this is a crucial moment in linguistics to think about this model because many departments and faculty have decided that they were gonna be more inclusive of people who aren’t white is to get graduate students, when they don’t have faculty in place. So, I have been a careful student of what are these faculty telling these students about what’s gonna happen in their career and what evidence they’re using. Because I see so much, not just in linguistics but across the board, when white scholars mentor scholars of color.
The first things I wanna know are – who are you colleagues and friends who are scholars of color that will help you navigate what kind of advice you’re giving to your students? Do you even understand the difference between the way scholars of color move through life, not just if you’re an academic or if you have a job – just the whole thing? Where have you gotten your lens on that? That’s my first question when people start saying, “Oh, I’m taking in two black students and we got a lot of Latinx students right now.” I’m like, “Okay, so, what’s your plan?”
Megan Figueroa: I want to bring up this question because, speaking of taking on black students, in your plenary – going back to that – you quote James Baldwin in The Brutal Truth. I love this so much.
Anne Charity Hudley: This quote by James Baldwin from the essay “If Black English isn’t a Language Then What Is?” It appeared in The Atlantic I think in the early 70s. “The brutal truth is that the bulk of white people in America never had any interest in educating black people except as this could serve white purposes. It is not the black child’s language that is in question. It is not his language that is despised. It is his experience. A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled. A child cannot be taught by anyone who’s demand, essentially, is that the child repudiate his experience and all that gives him sustenance and enter a limbo in which he will no longer be black and in which he knows that he will never become white. Black people have lost too many children that way.”
Megan Figueroa: It’s so powerful. How are linguists complicit in repudiating black students’ experiences?
Anne Charity Hudley: I think this is the big crux of it – if we don’t take a broader view of language that really thinks about people’s experiences, the content of the language, what they’re talking about and how they’re moving through the world, my argument is that even our linguistic analysis that we perceive as not revolving around these issues are limited in scope by not engaging with those aspects of it. This can be a broad inclusion question, but it’s just as important as a technical intellectual question about how we think about what’s going on.
The important part for thinking about this more specifically with black students is that they’re gonna be thinking about both, and so you have to really help them think about that. And then if you don’t know, you have to be immediately resourceful in figuring out what other scholars – what other thinkers – have come at these questions from different angles and could help them really think about that for their academic work and the interplay of their academic work with their life and their career goals.
It’s been really exciting here at Santa Barbara to be able to take that on fully in terms of the content that I teach – teaching African-American language and culture on the undergraduate level and doing it in that model, and on the graduate level, and then having a set of courses that I’m doing to prepare a large number of graduate students of color truly think about their place in the academy. I teach a course on community-based research that has a focus on getting grants because if you can get your own money, you can move on quicker. I have a class on thinking about being a linguist in the UC, thinking about the LSA, thinking about the world. How do you move as a linguist through higher education? Then this year, coming up, I’m doing a class on scholarly communication and linguistics, so thinking about writing articles, journals, book chapters, doing podcasts, public appearances, job talks, the whole range.
Because we have to be serious about thinking about the interplay between what we view as linguistic topics or intellectual content of the past and how we do that in a justice-inclusive and professional way that prepares students for careers. No more league of just “Oh, that person got a PhD. Oh, I don’t even know what happened to them,” like, after they’ve graduated because it didn’t work out on the job market or something. I take that really seriously from the Baldwin quote is like, we cannot fool students like that. You got a first-generation student who is low-income who’s gonna devote 5 to 7 to maybe 8 to 10 years getting a PhD – can’t just be told at the end “Good luck.” It’s not in good conscience.
For me, a lot of why I went into an undergraduate university at the beginning because I kept seeing it happen to people not just in linguistics but across the board. So many of my great friends started off with me full of hope and promise, and they experienced racism, they experienced intersectional discrimination around gender or sexual orientation that was both aggressively at surface level but then also at the intellectual devaluation of their interest. Then, at the end, no one helped them make an exit plan.
That, in my life, has really been the most impactful thing to watch because it’s not something you could see right when you finish a PhD. You gotta watch that over 10,15 years. So, it’s now that I’m thinking about my colleagues and friends. And some of them are fine. They don’t wanna do linguistics. They found that our doing a PhD. That’s great. But we gotta look at why that happened. We can’t just say, “Oh, because they weren’t interested anymore” because we gotta see, well, what made them not interested.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Absolutely. You’ve done so much great research on K through 12 schools. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how the work that we do in higher ed on linguistics, all this research we do, could actually be harmful at that level as well – and also the good it can do. I think of your research and the good it can do. But also, yeah, what is the harm that linguists are playing at that level?
Anne Charity Hudley: At that level, when we don’t bring in that language and that cultural experience overlap – we are doing a lot of great work, let me say. Helping people understand that languages vary and that they change and, you know, people can speak multiple languages at one time and their head’s not gonna pop off. I mean, [laughter] these are things that we need to keep working on. But we need to think about how to make that make sense for more educators, and we need to really examine how we say it – is that how people understand it?
It’s a production/perception issue in terms of – I mean, I’ve had this in my own experiences. I have a lifetime of studying linguistics. If I go into a school for an hour and I give it my best shot, I still need to evaluate how that’s been interpreted and put into practice. I feel like that’s where we are with K12 is that we’ve got a lot of good material, but we haven’t figured how to disseminate to more educators. And we haven’t figured out how to evaluate it, to tailor it for its preciseness, its usefulness, practicality in a given classroom situation given the different dispositions and backgrounds of different educators. So, if some of ya’ll wanna work with me on that, that’s huge because that’s what we’re gonna tackle next.
I’m even now, like, last week, I did a Zoom with some people who had worked on my past projects. So, really going back to people and saying, “Do you use this information? How? How does this come out in your curriculum, in your thinking?” It’s really thinking about how we integrate it rather than having a model of linguistics as fun facts. Fun facts can be so fun, right? You feel so great. It’s liberating. You think, “Okay, I’ve let them know,” but like, a year later, is anything from the fun facts integrated into their practice, their disposition? How is it impacting the student experience? These are the different dimensional evaluation questions that we need to be working on.
Carrie Gillon: In the LSA statement on race that you and Dr. Christine Mallinson drafted, you state, “There is no linguistic justice without racial justice.” What do you envision for linguistics as a field or academia at large going forward? What does a racially just linguistics look like?
Anne Charity Hudley: I think we’ve got three ways that we can come at this most specifically. I think a mix of them will make sense. I think for some people it really is gonna look like following some of the stronger models that have come out of the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, other scientific organizations. The American Association for the Advancement of Science put out a really strong statement to address structural racism just this week. We’re gonna look at that and interrogate what makes sense for those for linguistics and what don’t.
That’s gonna mean stronger and more organized inclusion practices in terms of really having models for hiring, for graduate student admissions, for helping students in undergraduate learn about linguistics just like we see across other STEM sciences. I have a site from the National Science Foundation for research experience for undergraduates – people doing that either through NSF or other funding – but also many universities support that work. Individual faculty can say, “You know what? I’m gonna commit to making sure I’m working with programs on campus that are designed for students from historically underrepresented groups.”
The next one, which is really important and is way harder, is to say, “You know what? We’re gonna have to look at our departments and say, ‘What are we offering? What are we teaching? What are our research agendas? How do we come in conversation with scholars of color both on the teaching side, but also on the research side?’”
The third one is, I think, the most immediate and most important is that realistically the way that we’re gonna do that is through partnerships – partnerships with scholars of color who are interested in language on our particular campus or across disciplines or across areas – and really start to ask them about how they think one and two should go, and then be realistic about the career pathways. If we’re gonna do more inclusion – “Where do you see these students going?” – and really thinking about the partnerships that you would have. That’s if they’re getting a PhD, or if they’re gonna work in industry, if they’re gonna be educators. What partnerships should we have as departments, as individuals, and as scholars? We want research to really make that more real.
That’s kinda my three-way model of thinking about that. But I’ve also seen, especially with all the events of this summer in linguistics and in the world, we need a stronger commitment in our linguistics classes/departments of really understanding racism and how it functions just in general from a scholarly lens, and then really thinking about – some departments have been already starting to really commit to writing out plans that make sense for them for where they are.
Some good ones I’ve seen – the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, University of San Diego. If you go to their websites – and I can send you the links – at least they’re starting to be honest about where they are and what their next steps are. I think that’s really important so that people can learn together but then also act together as they do that. In my model, you’ve gotta engage with people. We had a meeting where people came and shared information. I encourage you to write to the EC. I encourage you all to flesh out your thoughts on that so that we can have real good discussions once these task forces are created and these town halls happen so that everyone’s points of view are there.
I know that’s work. It puts a burden – believe me, having to sit down in the middle of all the stuff I’m doing for black communities to write a statement on race for the LSA is not – you know what I’m saying? But it’s what we had to think about – how we can all share that work, I guess.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. Can you explain what the task forces are and the town halls, too?
Anne Charity Hudley: Right now, they’re formulating task forces to really address these issues and look at all the information and everyone’s points of view. Then, the idea is that there will be town halls, my understanding so far – this could change – at the LSA annual meeting. That’s what the executive officers have been working on right now.
Megan Figueroa: What words of encouragement do you have for students of color who might be interested in linguistics, whether it’s just as an undergraduate degree eventually, or if they’re like, “I wanna be a linguist. That’s what I wanna be”? What encouraging words might you have for them as we’re in this state of like – as our field is trying to grapple with all of this? Obviously, we’re a work in progress.
Anne Charity Hudley: I’ll tell you what I tell my students. And they laugh at me. You know that movie. It had Tom Hanks, and he was on a boat or something, and there was pirates. He was a captain on the boat, and then the pirates came on there. I don’t know. The guy says, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m the captain now!” I dunno what the name of that movie is because I honestly never saw it. I just saw that part.
My students get nervous when they think about this. I say, “Look at me! We’re linguistics now!” You’ve gotta come at this from an angle of not necessarily always asking – but being in conversation with people and being respectful – but as many, especially black, women know, if you’re not offered a seat at the table, you gotta just come up and bring a chair. We’ve gotta advocate for ourselves in that way because asking, asking, asking across an intellectual career defeats the purpose.
We need to be entrepreneurial in thinking about – I love how the Scholars of Color in Linguistics group has got started. The Spark Society. Thinking about organizations. We’re gonna be talking about starting the Society for Black Language and Culture and also the Journal of Black Language and Culture. We need to create structures that are supportive that you don’t have to beg to be a part of.
I think my word of encouragement is like, “Let’s get scholars of color in linguistics” as a real org, set up so that it can support – it can be how the founders think it would make most sense. It could be, like, you have online conference and you keep more of a social media support. For the Society for Black Language and Culture, we’re focusing on making the journal – figuring out ways that make sure that people have better publication venues now that we have more black people participating in linguistics.
Our conference last year, we were just happy to have whoever was at the institute. We ended up having 53 full participants for both days. Now, on the online model, this morning, I sent out an email to 250 people who had registered. So, that’s my word of encouragement is what we need to do now is get organized so that you’re not begging and asking other people to accept you as your constant model.
We need to go from a model of “I hope they think I’m smart” or “I hope they’ll accept my paper,” to “I know I’m smart because I’m doing work that helps other people of color and I can have a real conversation about accepting my paper because the intellectuals who are making the decision about how this scholarly communication goes are actually well versed in my areas. They understand my academic experience and they understand my lived experience.” I think once I get my own students even to shift that thinking, you have a whole different sense of agency and determination about what does it mean to be not just in a discipline but in higher ed overall.
Carrie Gillon: What about non-academics? What can they do to help racial justice?
Anne Charity Hudley: I think there’s actually a lot. We wanna think about this strategically. You can think about the work you could do if you are not in academia at all – like, companies and corporations are having these same types of conversations and models about who’s participating, who has access, what are the policies and procedures gonna be, who’s making those decisions and why. The next thing you can really think about if you’re not in academia now, a huge part of the way that these things have changed is by conversations with alumni – thinking about where you did attend and thinking about the communities that you live in and being participatory. That’s why I love public education – being participatory in thinking about these issues as they are government policies that affect higher education and affect hiring.
The big one for me for Californians, for example, is Prop. 16. Prop. 16 is on the ballot in November and is designed to repeal the ban on affirmative action in California. Everybody in California needs to be thinking about this. I don’t care if you’re a linguist, a practitioner, whatever. We need to look at those type of policies in terms of how hiring is done. What are your local policies on discrimination? If someone really, actually files a complaint, what happens? What’s your representation look like?
We need to think about this in our careers, but we need to think about those government policies that make this stuff possible. Why are there so few black linguists in California? Every UC has some form of linguistics, cognitive science, something along that continuum. Well, it’s because Prop. 16 needs to go through. And then things will really change.
I think, right now, even on the individual level, seek to educate people in your social and community group. Interrogate who you’re talking to and why and really start to have some of those conversations. My favorite website for that is the Speak Up campaign that’s led by the Southern Poverty Law Center on their Teaching Tolerance page. That just gives you good things to say and think about even in community settings with family, friends, neighbors – truly spread that information.
Because, like I said, I’m really big on making people feel like there’s something they could do no matter what position they’re in or what level. I think that’s a good place to start. As people who are trained in linguistics, we should be leading those conversations. We’re the ones who should know how to do it.
Carrie Gillon: This has been such a great conversation. Are there any last words you wanna leave our listeners with?
Anne Charity Hudley: Last words. I would say the one that most people have been talking about, especially people like me who’ve been working these issues our whole life and then we find ourself in this moment, is think of three to five things that you could really do and talk about with other people of color that you could help keep this momentum, energy, even interest going as time moves on.
The way I do it with my colleagues here – I work in the Center for Teaching and Learning. I work with lots of faculty on these issues on campus. I get them to think about things that they could do in the short term and the long term, and how many minutes it will take them to work on these issues and how much they’re willing to commit either in a day, a week, a month, a year, a five-year period, right, to work on inclusion. I wanna encourage people to think about not just what they wanna do or what they wanna change, but how much actual time they’re willing to devote to try to make something happen.
Megan Figueroa: Well, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for being here with us.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, thank you.
Megan Figueroa: We always like to leave our listens with one final message – don’t be an asshole.
Carrie Gillon Don’t be an asshole.
Anne Charity Hudley: That works. Don’t be a racist – how about, today we can say, “Don’t be a racist asshole!”
Carrie Gillon: Don’t be a racist asshole.
Megan Figueroa: Don’t be a racist asshole.
Anne Charity Hudley: Bye.
Megan Figueroa: That’s the truth. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: We would like to thank our newest patron Emil Asanov, who is our first Russian backer.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, thank you!
Carrie Gillon: Yes, thank you.
Megan Figueroa: We are going worldwide.
Carrie Gillon: We are worldwide.
Megan Figueroa: I know.
Carrie Gillon: We have been worldwide. [Laughter] But I dunno why I was just like, “Oh, Russia!” When I was in high school, I had a pen pal from Russia. So, I dunno. I guess technically it was the USSR at that point. So, yeah, I was very excited.
Megan Figueroa: That’s fun. Well, thank you!
Carrie Gillon: Anyone else wants to join us, the $5.00 level, you get our bonus episodes.
Megan Figueroa: Which are very salty and fun.
Carrie Gillon: Yes.
Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon, for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @VocalFriesPod. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and our website is vocalfriespod.com.