Mississauga woman’s demand for English-speaking doctor spoke volumes: Paradkar 

Interesting reflections on perceived micro-agressions following the open aggression displayed by the woman asking for a white doctor at a clinic.

My mother bristled at the same question – “where do you come from” – given her slight Russian accent.

Since them, I have been particularly sensitive in not asking that question whenever being served by medical professionals, despite my curiosity in terms of how easy or how hard it was for them to become certified and practice in Canada:

The woman’s behaviour comes as a surprise to some because it shatters the delicate veneer of equality that surrounds the idea of multiculturalism.

While her demand for a “white doctor” has received the most attention, it’s her insistence on one who speaks English — in a clinic where everybody clearly speaks it — that interests me because it sheds light on a language-specific “micro aggression”— a term used to describe seemingly inconsequential offences that stem from deeply biased attitudes.

The most commonly known micro aggression is the otherization implicit in “Where do you come from,” invariably asked to people of colour.

Another — and this one also raises the hackles of some white people — takes the form of a compliment: “How articulate you are. How well-spoken.”

So colonized was I that it took me a while to comprehend the offensiveness behind what I thought was essentially a handshake between two equals.

It was also slow to dawn on me because — confession alert — I was busy turning up my nose at the grammar deficiencies of spoken Canadian English, with dropped g’s and h’s, or mispronunciations; “pome,” for poem, airplane for “aeroplane,” all-timers for “Alzheimers,” or missing prepositions; “He wrote me” as opposed to “He wrote to me” or mistaken tenses; “I wrote him” instead of “I have written to him,” among countless others.

How fuddy-duddy of me, you say?

Very.

Urban Indians, who speak English with varying degrees of fluency, are brought up being constantly upbraided on the “proper” way to speak it. The ultimate authority of “propah” were the old men from the upper ranks of the army, navy and air force. Men who would say things like “brolleh” for umbrella, and whose penchant for propriety would have made the Mississauga woman feel considerably provincial.

While I love the English language and try not to see evolution as transgressions, I see the condescension now, and how it cuts across colonial and class lines.

I understand now that when people tell me, “How well you speak!” it’s an expression of surprise at how fluent I am in the Queen’s language, despite my accent, despite where I come from.

My colleague, feature writer Jim Coyle, has experienced this micro-aggression, too.

“As a son of immigrants whose own parents didn’t go past Grade 7, I have an acute ear for the veiled slurs of my betters,” he once told me. “As I moved up in social class, it was often remarked on with surprise how “well-spoken” I was. As if this was remarkable in an Irish Catholic from the wrong side of the tracks.”

It’s a way of patting you on the head for aspiring towards a benchmark modelled on upper-class English ideals.

The establishment of a narrow expression of English as the standard has come at the cost of suppression and erasure of native languages across this land and world over.

The English spoken in the Mississauga clinic wasn’t the woman’s kind of English. Ergo, it was faulty and invited contempt.

The ranter said what many unconsciously feel but don’t express.

When we judge as unintellectual or uneducated someone who speaks differently, we give meritocracy a sucker punch and place mediocrity with the “right” voice above brilliance with the alternative one.

Linguistic bias blinds us to great ideas, gifted stories and scientific advances. It further marginalizes and silences women who, having faced barriers to English education, are now rejected from the simplest of jobs. This hurts our productivity and leaves us culturally impoverished.

In the end, it leaves us well beneath the promise of the potential true multiculturalism holds.

Source: Mississauga woman’s demand for English-speaking doctor spoke volumes: Paradkar | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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