In my training course in becoming a tutor at my campus writing center next fall, included in our weekly reading was Nancy Barron and Nancy Grimm’s article “Addressing Racial Diversity in a Writing Center: Stories and Lessons from Two Beginners.” The article centers around the issue of the collaboration between people of different racial backgrounds in a writing center, and in educational institutions as a whole—institutions which are dominated by mainstream ideology and methods of writing. Barron and Grimm discuss how imperative it is to “leave colorblindness behind,” or in other words, recognize that we cannot operate on the assumption, or the ideal, that race should not matter in writing. Barron and Grimm put forth that writing as if there are no differences between us stifles the voice of what they refer to as “writers of color.”
It is true that a certain dominant, American, perhaps “white” perspective is often the norm in American institutions, as students craft papers at the university level. However, in regards to the content of thought, my own experience has suggested that on the whole, the diversity of viewpoints in papers is accepted. Grimm and Barron cite the case of an African-American student who held back many of her insights in order to present a tamer, more conforming persona to her professor though her papers, and while I believe that it is part of the job of the writing center to bring out a writer’s true ideas, and guide the writer to write with conviction about what he or she is passionate and honest about, I cannot say that I have ever encountered negative feedback or a rejection of my ideas in the few pieces of writing I have done from my perspective as an individual of Mexican heritage. Though, admittedly, having been born and raised in a very American way, I am not sure that my racial identity is often explicitly invoked in my writing. Still, there are individuals who have trouble accepting the ideas of writers from different backgrounds, but I have only noticed problems and clashes in ideas on an individual basis, not on the whole.
If we are concerned with the oppression of certain styles or writing or ways of expressing ideas that may stem from racial differences, that may not fit with the “Anglo” norm, we also must consider that in institutions, there must be a certain degree of uniformity, such as MLA formatting or typical organizations or papers in certain disciplines. These are merely the expectations of different academic fields, and what has become acceptable in a particular field has been long developing. Deviations in structure may complicate the presentation of ideas.
However, if the concern is that we, as writers in English, in a particular country, are being oppressive of modes of thought stemming from non-Anglo perspectives, I would honestly have to say that I require further clarification and examples of such cases, as I have seen very few. Racial differences do exist, they do matter, and they do inform an individual’s perspective and way of discussing an issue. In institutions that value diversity and are comprised of a diverse student body, it seems that professors and teaching assistants have traditionally expected and accepted this diversity of thought across races.
Monica Masiello, Stanford University ’14