Invisible Knapsack of Linguistic Privilege

Last August I had cause to think about the “invisible knapsack of white privilege” article, beyond where I originally found it. I don’t quite remember what prompted me to do this, but I started writing up a piece parallel to the original, about linguistic privilege. It’s been lingering in my post queue forever, and I figure I might as well post what I came up with; I don’t think anyone else has written up a version describing the feeling of being in the linguistic majority.

The original invisible knapsack of white privilege article does not sit well with me perhaps because it is dated (“I see people like myself on television, in magazines, etc.” feels off-kilter in this era where advertisers fall all over themselves to represent and reach a multiracial audience, though certainly not always for the same products and services), perhaps because it lacks nuance (as McIntosh herself admits, it’s hard to untangle the privilege of race from that of gender, and certainly class, race, and language are similarly entwined).

It’s easy to develop parallels to the original white privilege piece; a group at Earlham has already done it with straight privilege. The following list of linguistic privilege is a start, not complete yet. It comes from my own experiences of linguistic difference, observations in Quebec and the Bronx, my linguistics coursework, and, of course, Martin Espada, who taught me a great deal.

On a daily basis, as a person in the linguistic majority,

  1. I am not asked to repeat myself; the person listening assumes they know how to parse my speech, rather than assuming I am unintelligible.
  2. I have not been told I am stupid, a bad student, or otherwise flawed because of the way I speak.
  3. I do not have to wait to open my mouth until I know that people around me speak the way I do.
  4. I do not have to change my intonation, use of vowels, or enunciation when talking to “the people in charge.”
  5. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my way of speaking and writing not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.
  6. I can speak in public without putting my intelligence or work ethic on trial.
  7. I do not have to fear being turned away from jobs or social situations because of the way I speak and write.
  8. Outside of school and other instructional situations, people do not feel free or obligated to correct my writing or the way I speak.
  9. I am guaranteed to find teachers and professors who speak like me.
  10. I can be pretty sure that people on television, in movies, or on the radio will sound like me, and that newspapers and magazines will write in a way which is familiar.
  11. I can find reading material in my school which are like the books and magazines I read for fun, or like the books and periodicals my parents have at home.
  12. I can fill out legal, medical, and other forms without thinking about whether my writing will work against me.

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