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Mobilization 2/21
Writers Group- Roxanna, Friday Alexander, Jack Crawford, Aunt Dot, Alexander Hillian, Len Hubbard, Andrew Jackson Brown, Sanford Jackson, Mallard Merriman, John Shavers, Samantha Phillips, John Wesley

By Aunt Dot

February 1997


Now listen children, most of you just donít know much about our true history. When the slave master was around our ancestors spoke in coded tongues that allowed perfect communication between brethren while the message as interpreted by the enemy seemed totally benign. So one slave may spread the word of a mass exodus to the others by singing "Steal away to JesusÖ.. tonight" right in front of that heinous monster while massa thought the poor darkie was simply trying to sing his way into heaven.

We have maintained the tradition into modern times. When black folks talk to one another the tone inevitably turns to what until recently we simply called "blacktalk" now called "Ebonics." Itís our way. We never needed anyone to endorse our language. And clearly as the majority group began to use any one of our expressions we abandon those terms and use something else. For example, those of you who lived through the sixties might remember how the Johnny Carsons picked up expressions like "sock it to me" and "right-on." No black persons that even remotely considered themselves hip would use those tired phrases.

In fact, I suggest that no single group of people have added more language to American English than us. The majority group is constantly borrowing from us. The most apparent is the way Americans use "ainít" when the desire is to emphasize a point. However, for our people a different challenge arises. In order to thrive in the majority world, where most of the jobs and money exist, black folk must be able to communicate in the language of the majority with equal clarity.

One thing that made Malcolm X such a dynamic speaker was his ability to communicate at all levels. Everyone could understand him, including unfortunately, our enemies. They realized how dangerous he was to the status quo and plotted his demise. Malcolm could talk to hustlers, pimps and prostitutes in the local tongue just as clearly as he spoke to presidents, senators and wealthy businessmen. Our people (our children especially) would again benefit by using Malcolmís example. Be bilingual!! In fact, be trilingual or quadralingual. It is wonderful to be able to communicate in our own language. But not to the point that we forsake the rest of the world. The SAT is given in standard English. No, that is not accurate because some parts of the SAT are written in "High Kingís English" that some highly educated people donít really understand.

Ebonics. At first I wondered if this was a trick to get our people to become even more insular by legitimizing the very thing that keeps us down -- inability to communicate. And donít call me paranoid. Somehow our kids are stuck in the belief that it is not cool to be smart in school. That achievement is reserved for white people. So we fear success as a mark to separate us from the crowd in a negative sense. Do you think the "role models" for our kids as propagated by the press in music and the movies represents the nerd or the gansta? Again, so donít call me paranoid. I wouldnít put it past our enemies for a nanosecond (thatís techie talk for one billionth of a second). We are constantly falling for tricks and games.

The real question: is there a role for Ebonics in the educational system? My answer is a definite maybe. Teachers will be better communicators if they learn to talk with the students in the local dialect. But that alone wonít solve the problem. It wonít even scratch the surface. I believe we need emergency reeducation in grammar, parts of speech and basic sentence structure. No one should be allowed to finish the seventh grade until a base level of proficiency is achieved in English. Our leaders, particularly the ministers, need to emphasize the need to be able to speak clearly and correctly, when necessary. Some of our people must learn the difference between specific and Pacific, between irrespective and irregardless. Misuse of the language in this manner is common amongst our people (even those who are supposed to know better).

And I really donít wish to see this as a means to let the majority further bastardize our way of speaking. A white person I know was trying to be hip by asking a black woman if she agreed with him by asking "can you get down on it?" instead of "are you down with that?" (correctly pronounced in my Brooklynese Ebonic dialect: "r u down wit dat?"). I explained to him that the lady he spoke to that way could take his quip as a license to slap his face. I have always resented seeing whites try to be hip with me by stepping all over our vernacular. When I was growing up, we spoke to whites in their language to avoid exposing them to ours. Admittedly, we were social isolationists who never hung out with whites outside of school. We lived in different worlds.

Anyway, my bottom line to any and all black people: be bilingual. Better yet, learn French or Spanish too and be trilingual. Learn Swahilli or Yoroba. It is essential to being a complete black person in this world. And if you have to choose where to put your emphasis just consider the rewards. Your friends should accept you no matter what. So if you ainít down wit the latest phrase, donít sweat it. Youíll survive it. Just remember, the majority world is only looking for an excuse (and the inability to communicate is a good reason) to reject you.

The Real Problem

And by the way, those of you who accept the need for teaching white people to communicate with our kids, I offer an alternative. Using ebonics is addressing the wrong problem. Push for curriculum change such that our kids find the subject more relevant to them. Include all of our history as a part of American history. Tell the truth about math concepts attributed to the Greeks were really African / Egyptian in origin. Stop making our kids read about "Nigger Jim" in Tom Sawyer (unless we will include equally offensive materials that whites wonít appreciate). Cover African and African-American literature. Disclose that Alexander Dumas was black. Tell the real story of colonialism and that it was based on the incorrect demonic principle of white supremacy (as opposed to teaching that era of history as if it was quite normal for whites to rule the world).

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with black kids. The problem is that they are being exposed to a system that teaches them that we are inferior or ,at best, not important by way of noninclusion. And they reject it by not participating. Any kid who can memorize NWA, Ice Cube and the like at 600 words per minute forwards and backwards is not dumb. He or she may not be motivated but they are not incapable of learning. Give them something that is inclusive of their reality and reflects their self-worth. Results are guaranteed!!

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