Instructor Guide: Background on Race and Language in the Writing Classroom

5 black students looking ahead

Language and race are intertwined.

Writing instructors need to know about race in the writing classroom in the following ways (adapted from Charity Hudley, 2021):

  • Knowing about racial and ethnic identity (that it even exists and what it entails)
  • Knowing about racial and ethnic practices and how they play a part in writing and experiences in the writing classroom
  • Knowing how race should impact writing instruction and assessment

Writing instructors need to know about African American English in the writing classroom in the following ways (adapted from Charity Hudley, 2021):

  • Knowing about African American English (that it even exists)
  • Knowing what African American English looks like in writing​, including college student writing and across genres (examples provided throughout the guide)
  • Knowing how African American English should impact writing curriculum and praxis (the purpose of much of this guide)

Raciolinguicism operates at different levels in the writing classroom (adapted from Charity Hudley, Dickter, & Franz, 2017 and Charity Hudley, 2021)

  • Personally Mediated Raciolinguicism is how we judge each other based on language and race. Writing instructors engage in Personally Mediated Raciolinguicism when they correct African American English and prescribe Standardized English over African American English. These practices discriminate against students based on their language patterns without recognizing the connection such language patterns have to the student’s race and culture.
    • What to do about Personally Mediated Raciolinguicism in your writing class: Recognize language and race as intertwined. Apply and adapt our examples of how to respond to students’ written African American English in ways that encourage linguistic agency. See the examples provided throughout this guide.
  • Institutional Raciolinguicism is when institutions implement policies and practices that discriminate based on language and race. Writing instructors engage in Institutional Raciolinguicism when they penalize African American English styles and patterns through their grading. The impacts of these grading policies and practices are further institutionalized as the grade on a paper affects students’ grades in the course, which affects their GPA, which affects their access to opportunities. Raciolinguicism institutionalized by grading thus creates a gatekeeping mechanism that limits opportunities based on students’ written language and race.
    • What to do about Institutional Raciolinguicism in your writing class: Examine and revise your grading policies and rubrics to avoid penalizing African American English styles and patterns. Use our grading and rubric examples and recommendations found throughout this guide.
  • Internalized Raciolinguicism is the acceptance of negative ideas about your language and race. African American English speakers are made to feel this way by personally mediated and institutional raciolinguicism. In response to their written work, students who have internalized raciolinguicism may have experienced instances of raciolinguicism described above, such as correction, negative comments, and low grades, such that they don’t even want to write.
    • What to do about Institutional Raciolinguicism in your writing class: Learn more about your race and linguistic heritage and African American English if it is not part of your heritage. Teach students about African American English using the examples found in this guide.

Anna, a college graduate, explains her experience and understanding of raciolinguicism when having her writing graded:

“[I wish I’d had] more understanding that as a person of color you’re going to be graded more harshly, especially by white professors. Standardized ways of doing things are code for white. Certain expressions are not seen as acceptable or important. I wish I had more knowledge of that. I think people who go to college need to know that you’re going to face these issues. Do you tell people that you need to learn to write standardized or stay true? If you’re not going to be accepted in academia, how can you change it?

Anna articulates the ramifications of personally mediated, institutional, and internalized raciolinguicism when it comes to writing evaluation. The recommendations throughout this guide will help you avoid grading bias, encourage students to stay true to their writing voice, and even contribute to changing academia.

Next Page: Types of Grading, Feedback, and Revision