I’m an English major. It is a language of conquest.
What does it say that I’m mastering the same language that was used to make my mother feel inferior? Growing up, I had a white friend who used to laugh whenever my mother spoke English, amused by the way she rolled her r’s. My sister and I tease Mami about her accent too, but it’s different when we do it, or is it? The echoes of colonization linger in my voice. The weapons of the death squads that pushed my mother out of El Salvador were U.S.-funded. When Nixon promised, “We’re going to smash him!” it was said in his native tongue, and when the Chilean president he smashed used his last words to promise, “Long live Chile!” it was said in his. And when my family told me the story of my grandfather’s arrest by the dictatorship that followed, my grandfather stayed silent, and meeting his eyes, I cried, understanding that there were no words big enough for loss.
English is a language of conquest. I benefit from its richness, but I’m not exempt from its limitations. I am ‘that girl’ in your English classes, the one who is tired of talking about dead white dudes. But I’m still complicit with the system, reading nineteenth-century British literature to graduate.
IN THE BEGINNING, the Network Suits said, “Let them be white,” and reality TV cast members were white. Seasons passed, and they multiplied to a mighty celluloid nation, populated by dominant men and decorative women, Bachelors and Top Models, Apprentices and Swans. We shall remember this age as “BF.”*
After half a decade the Cable Suits gazed upon their Network neighbors’ unscripted creations, saw the ratings bounty sexism had provided, and grew envious. Then the Cable Suits decreed that producers must layer racism atop their misogynistic bedrock, saying, “Let us remake Black people in advertising’s eternal image.” So producers birthed a minstrel show and called it Flavor of Love, and it was bad, and Kentucky Fried Chicken was happy.+ Flavor of Love begat Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School and I Love New York, which begat Real Chance of Love. And lo, people of color began to rule over their own plots of televisual land. But there was much suffering; visibility became a plague on their McMansions. Competing Cable Suits discovered Black Housewives in Atlanta, reformed Black and Latino men From G’s to Gents, and taught White Rappers their place.