You’ve heard it before. You’ve seen it on Twitter or even posted in the Facebook comments section. Each time you come across this phrase, you either simply ignore it and move on with your day, or it makes your blood boil in anger. Maybe you experienced it firsthand. You may have been casually talking to the person you’re with in your native language, about dinner plans for the night, while you’re in line at the grocery store. You hear a scoff behind you but you think nothing of it. You keep talking. Then all of a sudden the person yells “Speak English, this is America!” You turn around in shock and your heart is beating out of your chest in fear and in anger all because you spoke the language you grew up speaking at home. How can someone possibly be angry about this? I’ll tell you how. Racism and xenophobia.
The unfortunate reality is that some Americans are taught the racist lie that English is the only language that should be spoken in the United States. It’s almost like an English language-supremacy in a way. While it may be the most common language for 78% of the country, there appears to be internalized stigmas toward people who speak a different language. Not surprisingly though, it’s based on racism. When someone says “Speak English” to a person of color who is speaking their native language in public, or someone who is dressed differently, it is a derogatory and disrespectful demand. And contrary to popular belief, The United States does not have an official language.
Microaggression vs Racism Toward Language
Stigmatizing languages comes from a microaggression or even bold faced racism. If there is a microaggression of muttering under your breath when someone speaks another language, it may have been subconsciously learned. The good news is, it can be corrected. For example, it may be due to growing up in an overwhelming white population that only speaks English. If there is little to no exposure to other languages, people have to learn that there are other languages besides the ones they hear at home. Other times, if it’s someone who’s obviously racist and telling someone they don’t belong in the United States until they learn English, it’s no accident at all. Those who think this way fail to realize that the United States is only 4.2% of the world’s…