My “Unstandardized English” podcast

I created a podcast. (There aren’t any episodes yet. )

My wife, who is usually right about what I want even before I realize I want something, thinks I should talk about “all of the things [I] like to talk about” (that’s a direct quote) in podcast form.  Years ago I would have ignored this advice. I put up a protest when she suggested it.

Reasons why I tried to weasel my way out of it:

  • I don’t like my voice
  • I don’t have time
  • No one will listen
  • There are so many already
  • Many other nonsense things

I’ll debunk these briefly.

My voice: My voice is Northeast/New York nasal and can come off shrill. It has very little baritone. And it got me a ton of teasing growing up in the era of Steve Urkel and Carlton Banks, to the point where I subconsciously tried to deepen it for a long time. But as I grow more confident in my figurative voice as a writer and scholar, it’s time to embrace my speaking voice. If it does nothing else, it will help me in my possible future presentations and teaching.

Time: I have time. Even with the puppy, and work, and school, I spend far too much time idly pondering “issues” and wanting to take them apart. I don’t need to be recording an episode every day or even every week. So long as I do it consistently, it will work fine.

Audience: You’ll listen! And you’ll share! And honestly, a few dozen people is a good enough audience for me. Maybe it will grow.

Repetition: Eh. If I ground it in my perspective, which belongs only to me, it will be authentic and hopefully resonant. And if I do it well, it just won’t matter if it covers similar ground to others.

So. Let’s talk about what it will be.

I wanted to discuss race and language, but I needed a hook. And one thing I’ve thought about writing about – that I realize would be richer in a more informal audio format – is to look at words (or phrases) that are not inherently racist (so, no slurs) but are often used, unintentionally, in ways that other and devalue the minoritized. I’m talking about “accent,” I’m talking about “low-skill,” I’m talking about “professional/unprofessional,” I’m talking about “cultural fit,” I’m talking about, in what will be the subject of my first episode, “expats” and “immigrants.” My plan is to invite those who have some expertise (either through their profession or their life experience or both) that would highlight something compelling about a particular word or phrase and how it is often used to perpetuate systemic racism, and hopefully find ways for educators, parents, and students to contend with the words we choose to use. It’s not an empirical study, but it’s a bit of critical discourse analysis, some critical and racial literacy, using the lenses of critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, and a bunch of other (critical) things. (Maybe I should say “critical” again!)

My goal is not to get you to stop using the words I analyze in this podcast. I want only for us to chew on and consider the impact of the way these words are used. I expect some will get in their feelings thinking that I’m calling everyone racist for using what they see as innocuous words, but 1. if you think you’re being called racist and I haven’t done so explicitly, ask yourself why you default to that assumption, and 2. that’s not the point. We live in a society suffused with systemic racism and it’s literally killing people. Our language is part of that violence, even the words we tend to classify as “neutral.” Ultimately, there is no neutral, and there is no “standard” without the majoritized having chosen it. So, I am calling the podcast “Unstandardized English” to try and take apart the supposedly harmless words we all use in an accessible and hopefully engaging fashion.

I have, uh, no episodes, so there’s nothing to listen to yet. I hope to secure a guest at some point soon and have an episode out in the next few weeks.

Here’s the link again. Add it to your bookmarks if you would be so kind and I’ll let you know when there’s actually something to listen to. And if you, my race and language audience, want to be a guest, I am sure we can find a word or phrase that’s ideal for you to analyze with me. Also, feel free to suggest words for my ongoing list, which has about 25 items on it thus far and will continue to grow.

Thanks for reading and, I hope, listening someday.