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In my most recent diary, Cultural Language, Linguistics, & the Ebonics Debate, I presented the readers with an opinionated response paper that I had written while in college. When presenting it, I failed to explain my purpose for posting it. Several commenters were offended by the content and felt that I may have been ignorant, naive, and/or disingenuous. I felt it was necessary to reply to their comments, which I did. However, I know that not all readers read the comment section, so I have reposted that general reply below, in order to avoid any more confusion. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

This is not part of the Race and Prejudice series. For me it wasn't a thesis or valued paper. It wasn't research. It was an opinion of what I thought about the book. I find the term Ebonics offensive, which is why I wrote in such a vein.

My thesis for graduation, however, was research and serious work. It's titled, The School-to-Prison-Pipeline: Are the State of Wisconsin Policies Targeting Black Youth for Incarceration.

In regard to defending this old paper, I will get serious and will say this:

What the book was trying to argue is that Ebonics (the spoken language that blacks were assumed to use) should be used in urban schools, so that the students would understand better, thereby increasing their ability to learn. It was their argument that black students weren't achieving because they weren't understanding what they were learning, because it wasn't presented to them in the language they used. And in typical fashion since the era of school reform began, drastic changes needed to be made. I found this offensive and decided to address it in the way that I did. And I think I raised a good argument. People speak with accents and different dialects. English is spoken in various ways throughout the country. And it is true that no one teaches in the accented English used by immigrants to this country in order for them to learn better. Why would blacks be singled out? English is English. And it should be presented in its proper manner whenever taught. The correct way. One must learn the proper way to read and write. We can't dumb ourselves down literarily. In regard to the statement about learning the slave master's broken English. Well, as offensive as that sounds, it is true. The Africans brought forcefully to this country had their own language and customs, but those were stripped from them. They had no choice. In regard to statements made about the way different people speak, it's true. Very few people make a big deal about the way southerns or east coasters speak. But a lot of blacks are often corrected when they don't add the past tense "...ed" to the end of a word, or an "" or make plural a noun, or when they use a double verb. The use of language to degrade blacks has been used since the Jim Crow era. And that history has moved into the present, only with more subtlety. I included a few websites for you to go to for reference.

And by the way. I wasn't being disingenuous. Quite the contrary. Based on the content of the book, and looking at what I had written in its regard, I realized that what I wrote was nothing less than a rant. I found it somewhat humorous and was, in essence, laughing at myself, which is why I presented it the way I did. That's why I said I would not be upset if someone disagreed. But in no way will I stand down from the content from which I have written. I'm not a linguist. I'm an educator and I take learning and the people capable of learning very seriously. I don't care much for school reform because our politicians rarely go into education with a plan. It's all knee-jerk reaction, which doesn't work in the real world. And I strongly support and stand up for minorities because in this society the odds are stacked against them. There are some minorities who have made it to the land of success, but many, many, more are stuck in an unending cycle of poverty and strife. Some of it is their own fault, but a lot of it is not. Not when we live in the richest country in the world. And I will not tell a person with no resources that they have to find a way on their own with no help. Not that every minority is an innocent bystander in their own quest for life, but I refuse to blame the victims for being systematically marginalized by the institutions that govern his or her lives. And I'm aware that a lot of what I usually write is sobering and even offensive to some, but people spend more time fighting to maintain their place in the racial stratosphere (which I find are the people already at the top) and not enough time trying to help the cause, so I help the cause.

But when it comes to this work, because we all have our views - and because just because I'm right, it doesn't mean that you're wrong, it just makes us different - when someone finds opposition to my work, I must use the immortal words of Claude Adrien Helvetius: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

Originally posted to Will Smith on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 02:27 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community.

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Comment Preferences

  •  fair enough (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz, Will Smith, magnetics

    I'm completely out of field, and I haven't read the book and almost certainly never will.

    Arguably the heart of the Oakland resolution read:

    Be it further resolved that the Superintendent in conjunction with her staff shall immediately devise and implement the best possible academic program for imparting instruction to African American students in their primary language for the combined purposes of maintaining the legitimacy and richness of such language whether it is known as "Ebonics," "African Language Systems," "Pan African Communication Behaviors" or other description, and to facilitate their acquisition and mastery of English language skills;
    Based on absolutely no evidence, I have a hard time believing that many of Oakland's students are in need of bilingual instruction in English and Ebonics by whatever name. I find it much easier to believe that all students would benefit from some understanding of language variations, and that at least all teachers should have some such understanding.

    A few weeks ago we attended our younger daughter's high school graduation, and the principal pronounced "ask" as if it were "ax," evoking a frisson of dismay. (I heard someone muttering about "grammar.") That moment proves nothing, but it got me musing on people's assumptions about language.

    Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

    by HudsonValleyMark on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 07:34:09 AM PDT

    •  That moment proves a lot. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HudsonValleyMark, magnetics

      That's precisely what I was referring to. I wasn't mocking the way others talk. I was trying to bring light to instances light the very one you mention. The language used by people of color is used many times to discredit them or their intelligence or legitimacy for a position, etc. it is a big deal. And I agree with the lack for need of this type of bilingual instruction. Thank you for this.

      •  Not to mention (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Will Smith, IamGumby, magnetics

        no one would suggest George W Bush needs ESL classes because he pronounces "nuclear" as "nucular"...

        Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

        by awesumtenor on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 09:04:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  People did assume he was dumb as a result (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Will Smith

          Whatever the merits of the conclusion, his nonstandard language was not proof of it.

          Freedom isn't free. Patriots pay taxes.

          by Dogs are fuzzy on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 12:02:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  People thought he was dumb (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Will Smith

            because every academic quantitative measure and a life of affluent failure said he was...

            Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

            by awesumtenor on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 01:30:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Well the evidence is in that he was dumb. (0+ / 0-)

            He was unaware of the existence of Shia Islam (as opposed to Sunni) when he launched the invasion of Iraq.  How anyone could be unaware of this who lived in America during the Iranian hostage crisis is beyond me.

            Dumber than a sackful of hammers, is my verdict.

            And don't get me started about R. Raygun, who spoke rather more correct English.  Even his buddy Margaret Thatcher was on record as saying there was nothing between his ears.

            The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

            by magnetics on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 10:54:41 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  It always pissed me off that the NYTimes (0+ / 0-)

          corrected his grammatical errors when reporting his sayings (this was verifiable by the frequent availability of video), but tended to report the speech of African Americans and Africans with peculiarities (if any) of grammar and pronunciation intact.

          The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

          by magnetics on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 10:51:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  it's a good example, yes (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Will Smith

        I wouldn't say that it proves a generalization, but you saw what I was getting at.

        Incidentally, I immediately thought of the Billy Joel song, "Don't Ask Me Why." In the verse where he sings "Fool them all, but baby, I can tell / You're no stranger to the street," he sings "Ax" instead of "Ask." I've filled in a whole class-consciousness backstory, but I have no clue how much of it is true. :)

        Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

        by HudsonValleyMark on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 04:24:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The money game (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Will Smith

    The effort in Oakland some years ago to offer a bilingual program in "Ebonics" was a direct reaction to the funding then available for bilingual Spanish programs. Oakland has a larger Black than Hispanic population fraction, and Blacks have long resented money spent on bilingual education in California. (I was one of the first teachers in California to offer bilingual science in 1971).

    In a very abstract way, Ebonics is a valid language similar to Gula, rather than merely a heavily accented English. But, make no mistake, the real issue was money for school aids.

    •  Gula (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Will Smith

      I don't mean to pick nits, but it is my understanding that Gula is an African language. The African-American language that evolved among slaves and their descendants in the South Carolina and Georgia (perhaps parts of Florida as well, I'm unsure about that) sea islands is "Gullah" (or, considerably less commonly, "Geechee"). I think naming the language correctly is important, since part of Marquetta Goodwine's (Gullah Queen Quet) mission is to promote understanding and preservation of Gullah culture, and she argues that their distinct language is an essential part of that.

      Anyways, minor quibble. Agree with the rest of your comment.

      One cat away from crazy.

      by IamGumby on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 12:02:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I speak English (my mother tongue) and also, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Will Smith

    with more than passable fluency and accent, Italian, Spanish, and French.

    I also converse with my various in-laws, who speak Black American English in varying degrees of intensity, as judged by accent, intonation, phraseology, vocabulary, and idiomatic repertoire.  I also speak with my boss, whose ultra-thick Scottish accent you could cut with a band saw, but with no lesser implement.

    Black American English is surely English, and Black American English speakers have no difficulty understanding white American English speakers, including those with strong foreign accents.  The idea of Ebonics as a separate language is a pure shuck, and I am blown away that its advocates are not laughed out whatever town they raise their heads in.

    As far as other (formerly) hot button issues touching Black America, let it be recorded that I oppose reparations for slavery, but would favor reparations for such horrific events as the Tulsa race riots of 1921, inasmuch as specific harms (there were so many!) could be identified for compensation.

    Unfortunately (tragically, in my view) the number of people who could benefit from this is small, and decreasing yearly.

    This is also manifestly a rant; I apologize to anyone whom it pisses off.

    The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

    by magnetics on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 10:48:02 PM PDT

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