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The right to define: analyzing whiteness as a form of property in Washington state bilingual education law


Recent studies of language policy and bilingual education have focused on federal level legislation (Wiley and García in Mod Lang J 100:48–63, 2016., and immediate consequences of state level policy. Although Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been employed to analyze the structural impact of local policy on minoritized communities (Davila and Aviles de Bradley in Educ Found 24:39–58, 2010), few studies have explicitly connected CRT and language policy, or applied CRT to state level law. In this study, I apply CRT, specifically the theory of whiteness as property (Harris in Harv Law Rev 106:1–63, 1993), and the theory of raciolinguistic ideologies to three Washington State laws related to bilingual education: the Transitional Bilingual Instruction Act, the Seal of Biliteracy law, and the Dual Language Grant Program Bill. I utilize a Critical Discourse Analysis to examine the laws, related legislative reports, and materials such as guidelines created by Washington school districts. Results of this analysis suggest that the discourse embedded in these laws and related documents upholds whiteness as a form of property. Further, I relate these findings to language planning, and suggest that language education policy-makers employ racial impact reports (Fathi in Gonzaga Law Rev 47:531–545, 2009) in order to re-center race, racism and racial inequity in language planning.

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Figure 1


  1. Recognizing the deficit orientation of the term “English leaner,” I follow García (2009) in using emergent bilingual or linguistically minoritized students to refer to multilingual students. “English learner” appears in quotations to refer to the term as present in official documents and policies such as the laws studied.

  2. Language education policy refers to policies, bills and legislative acts that impact language education. These policies are often connected to language planning efforts at the state and federal level.

  3. In alignment with other critical scholars, I purposefully leave the terms white and whiteness lowercase while capitalizing other racial groups (Asian, Black etc.). This practice acknowledges the long history of racial oppression in the United States and works towards liberation of historically minoritized and oppressed groups.

  4. Latinx or Chicanx is a gender inclusive term for those ethnically identifying as part of the Latinx or Chicanx community. Rather than the male-ending -o, or female ending -a, the x is inclusive of both and of all other genders (See deOnís 2017).

  5. It should be noted that race refers to socially-defined categories solidified through colonial histories. Racism is linked to systemized oppression arising from institutionalized power afforded to white groups rather than communities of color. Communities of color refer to all racialized and historically minoritized groups in the United States including Latinx, Black, Asian and Indigenous populations.


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Correspondence to Rachel Snyder.

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Snyder, R. The right to define: analyzing whiteness as a form of property in Washington state bilingual education law. Lang Policy 19, 31–60 (2020).

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  • Bilingual education
  • Critical race theory
  • Language policy
  • Discourse