Wednesday, March 28, 2007

(reclaiming) black english in the ivy league

"I Speak 'Right', Not 'White' Bitch!" has been a recent topic of discussion in an online forum for black students in the ivy league. in addition to using disparaging terms that are problematically gendered, this topic fails to recognize how the politics of speech are constructed to assert white cultural hegemony. the following is a contribution to this ongoing discussion. hollablack.

i recognize the important need and desire in removing the oppressive power whites have in defining our identity by their standardization of universal social tools with their oh-superior race. i flip out when white people make white supremacist comments to me, "oh you speak and act white." No, your daily viewing of BET wouldnt even begin to prepare you to understand me if I were to act as my natural black self, how foolish I am in even my minimal attempt to relate to u and ur sheltered needs. we as minorities have the burden of learning the dominant form of language in America, but we must still retain what is "right" for us. thus the white supremacy implicit in the statement "I speak right, not white," must be attacked not foolishly accepted. to claim that you speak "right," is to concede to a form of white supremacy that is detrimental to our people, for it attaches a positive valuation to a type of language mainly at odds with the type of language us black people have historically spoken.

There is nothing "right" about speaking in a complete and proper sentence, or without slang. The purpose of language is to serve as a tool for interpersonal communication. I can understand the butchered English of my Eritrean parents, make out where the breaks "should be" in slurred Jamaican patois, and recognize the revolutionary power of African-American Vernacular English/ebonics/slang or whatever the hell u wanna call it. All of these different languages or dialects are therefore "right" because people who speak them can understand what others say. Moreover, they carry a culture that unites the global black community, for in their radical departure from British/American English they represent a struggle against slavery, colonialism, and white hegemony. For us, if any language is to be "right," certainly it is this one, for its tied to our history.

But language shouldn't be thought of in terms of the binary of "right" and "improper." It is this type of thinking that allows jobs to be denied to black people who speak with some slang, for if they don't speak the same way as a white person is thought of speaking, they must not be intelligent. obviously this is bullshit. personally, i have no problem saying i speak white english and black english. neither is right or wrong and neither is standard. either way, we must recognize this cultural crime thats been goin on across american society for centuries. how terrible it is for a childs development for them to be constantly told in school that the way they naturally speak is wrong

def peep june jordan's essay "black english/white english." she breaks it down

This post was copied and pasted into the north star by Naima because Andom believes in the gendered division of labor. Expect a forthcoming post on internal oppression.

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