Today, I was talking to my coworker about bachelor’s degrees and college. (Context: We have a fairly close friendship as far as work relationships go.) She brought up another of our coworkers, saying that her bachelor’s degree must be fake because “Have you heard her talk? She sounds so ghetto. She’s illiterate. Just watch, her degree is going to turn out to be fake.”
I was so taken aback. She was serious. I tried to defend my other coworker. Despite her flaws, she’s quite intelligent. The “ghetto” way she speaks? A regional accent combined with black vernacular that I have heard her turn on and off dependent on the professional setting she’s in. She’s quite proficient in code switching.
I also tried to point out that I often switch between pidgin and standard English depending on my environment. This does not make me unprofessional or illiterate. She got genuinely offended, stated that she did not want to have this conversation with me anymore, and left my office.
This conversation happened hours ago, and I am still running it through my head. I can’t believe she said those things.
It’s that kind of toxic thinking that can make immigrants afraid to teach their children their mother tongue. It makes them afraid that their children will be looked down on for not being able to speak proper English. But then the children are at a disadvantage because that creates a disconnect with their culture. (Also, being multilingual benefits people professionally as well as personally.)
This is a harmful microaggression than often goes unchecked. People tend to let it skate by. I almost did today. I may or may not have created a rift in the relationship with my coworker, but I don’t regret what I said. I encourage you to do the same.
“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”
- 1 John 3:18 NLT
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