Why Is Fluency In English Always Conflated With Intellectual and Racial Superiority In The Heads of White Folks (And some Black folks too)?

Adebayo Adeniran
4 min readSep 24, 2023

Just asking..

Element5 Digital via Unsplash

Jann Wenner isn’t alone in this.

You can bet your earthly possessions, safe in the knowledge that you will win handily, that most white folks — liberal and conservative — actually do think that fluency in English is a marker of intellectual and dare I say, racial superiority.

Racial superiority?

Yes indeed.

Whiteness is as fragile a construct as it gets and one which is entirely contingent on forever justifying its superiority to the other and the English language has been a useful tool.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she did so to capture man’s inhumanity to man, but in seeking to reflect the lives of the African-American protagonists in the book, she unwittingly created a multi-billion dollar industry of Black minstrelsy, which was used to mimic and mock Black speech, thus lending the notion of racial inferiority.

In lots of ways, Beecher Stowe’s Frankinstein monster, still wields considerable power in the lives of billions of folks in the English speaking world in the 21st century.

If you are a Black man or woman operating in predominantly white spaces, your intrinsic worth is inextricably linked to your command of English.

You’re quickly dismissed and not taken seriously, if you are thought to be inarticulate.

Anyone who remembers what was said by the Amazon bigwigs about Christopher Smalls, who worked arduously to enlist thousands of Amazon staff into union membership, will readily recognize what’s being written here.

And if you are articulate?

You might be taken seriously.

But what if you are extremely articulate? And I am talking Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, levels of eloquence, which is earth-shattering and era defining?

You will be hated and deemed to be something of a threat. Not unless you fall into the category of those who are completely obsessed with being liked by white folk.

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Adebayo Adeniran

A lifelong bibliophile, who seeks to unleash his energy on as many subjects as possible