Today, I watched a CNBC episode of their new series “What the Future” (WTF). I’ll refrain from commenting on their narrative and how they provide pleasant propaganda to the masses about helping those less fortunate. I find their message of “choice not charity” rather simplistic and self serving to their business clientele.
No, what hit me while watching the episode (about micro financing of urban poor in Nairobi) was how they used language – specifically subtitling. Every poor black person had their spoken language subtitled, even though their English was in many cases clearer than the white presenters’ /narrators’. Go figure? I’ve noticed this before over the years. Especially how Hollywood would throw in subtitling of Asian characters, even though their fluency and pronunciation was fine. What gives?
Language IS power and I find in operation here, a certain unacknowledged linguistic colonialism. No spirit that accepts the realities of the new “Globlish” and International English that is flourishing around the world. I essence, those with power and money – the producers of these shows (like CNBC) are saying, “We speak the right English and they don’t”. Even though their English is very clear and understandable, they are using subtitles to silently and serendipitiously promote the idea that these individuals, races, peoples, cultures are “lesser” and “impure”.
Now maybe I’m taking the arguement too far but I’ll let you be the judge. Watch the episode and come to your own conclusions. Language is used as a means of power and to power. In this case, I find it all a bit too much. I wish I could produce my own episode where all the whiteys were subtitled and the Blacks, Russians, Asians weren’t. The understanding would still be the same but the message, as McLuhan would have said, the “massage” , would have been different.
[by the way - I like the series! I just don't like their way of subtitling.]
I heard whispers of this when I was leaving my Public School teaching job in Toronto 4 years ago. But I never thought it would become a reality. Low and behold it did!
What am I going on about? Well, Canada’s first “Africentric” school, rubber stamped and approved (but with a few trustees who resigned and screamed bloody murder) by my former employer – TDSB (Toronto District School Board). Read about it here. Even better, read some of the comments here….they really give the debate some “flavor”. HERE’s a video interview with the school principal. HERE is a nice public debate video which provokes a lot of thought….
I’m wondering what other teachers think? I’m a pretty open minded guy and with something like this, I’ll let the jury sit and brew for awhile before forming my own solid opinion. However, I sniff something stinky ……
I worked a number of years downtown Toronto. Just off of Regent Park, St. Jamestown. Highest concentration of poor, urban immigrants in Canada. Our school in 2005 even winning a special award for being the most multicultural school in the world – 92 mother tongues (and with an enrollment of only about 600 students!). So I do think I have some experience from which to comment on this.
Why are we going backwards? Segregation? Isn’t the aim pluralism and acceptance of all students, irregardless of their skin color? Isn’t the goal to honor students along the lines of “primus inter pares” / “first among equals”. Each student’s culture being valued and NOT creating this kind of hyper ethnocultural approach that harkens back to aryanism. Sure I’m exaggerating but it is with a point.
The point is – if you want to stop the drop out rate of black youth – you don’t do it by “falsely” giving them pride in their racial heritage AT SCHOOL. This should be done at home (and Bill Cosby hits this right on the head in his book and new campaign – read about it). And it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the wider community and through segregation.
Culture IS important, very important. However, it can’t be inculcated. That’s education with a hammer. I’m against but let’s see…. Whatchathink? And also, let’s remember this speech by Martin Luther King Jr. Let’s remember it – it says it all……. It isn’t about making these kids feel important – it’s about THIS.