Rereading structural racism and exclusion inside the policy

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This paper elucidates a critical reading of language policies that uncovers its racial discourse arising from its intersection of power, equity and diversity, particularly the historical remnants and recent demographic changes in Asia. Home to Asia are a sizeable number of Confucian societies that respond differently to equity and diversity when compared to their Western counterparts. Underlying this response is the Confucian conception of social justice expressed through the idea of impartiality rather than equity (Kennedy, 2011). Such conception invites new challenges on striking a balance among supporting the ethnic identities, languages and cultures of minority groups and avoiding social separation and ethnic conflicts.

In this paper, we turn to this challenge in Hong Kong, where Chinese language acquisition is a repeatedly reported concern of ethnic minorities in the local (government-funded) education system. We draw on two studies with ethnic minorities, their parents and teachers that involved a documentary analysis, interviews, and classroom observations. We particularly attend to the interests of the dominant group to unpack the nature of these language policies, several important factors related to complexity, contextuality, complicity, complementarity, and continuity of linguistic capital (Pennycook, 2000, p. 50).

By plotting the continuity and transformation of language policies in the pre- and post-handover periods in Hong Kong, the emerging findings suggest how certain Confucian ideologies manifest in past and current policies and linguistic practices in education for ethnic minorities. The paper highlights conflicting educational expectations, policies and practices, revealing how centrism in educational intervention reflects the proclivity towards new-integrationist (assimilationist) approaches to cultural diversity (Gube & Gao, in press). The outcome can be a cultural condition that privileges impartiality and sameness.

Going against the “grain” of such a condition beyond developing new modes of inquiry, we argue, requires a critical rereading of extant policy arrangements that challenges obscured racial orders subsiding into ethnic privilege and underdeveloped diversity discourse infiltrated by Confucian ideologies. While vouching for progressive and equitable steps that influence minority children arising from the socio-historical conditions of Asian societies, we conclude by raising questions about the practical prospects of diversity management but justifiable in policy terms, which characterize heterogeneity along with the homogenizing forces against linguicism and structural racism.

Putting this perspective into practice means sustaining critical debates in and for Asian countries to re-envision multiculturalism and multilingualism in ways that attend to diversity and social equity. This perspective also acts as a catalyst for constructive dialogue, considering the increased global flows of migrants and refugees. Copyright © 2019 AERA.


Conference2019 Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: Leveraging Education Research in a “Post-Truth” Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence
Abbreviated titleAERA 2019
Internet address


Gao, F. (2019, April). Rereading structural racism and exclusion inside the policy. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2019 Annual Meeting, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto, Canada.


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