The folks at MyBrownBaby posted a doozy of a post on Monday. In the post, the writer (who happens to be one of my editors, shhh…) explained why they gave their daughter lessons in Black English. Ya know, what white folk and bougie negroes commonly refer to as “ebonics” or what Africana Studies peeps like to call “African American Vernacular English.”
On a personal level, I have seen over the years how important it has been to my relations with other African Americans that I am able to effectively code switch. It puts other blacks at ease, lets them know who is “down” and who is not. To be honest, it becomes even more important the more educated and successful you become—because often the expectation by those within the community is that you won’t be able to do it. Or that you wouldn’t want to. When you can, it conveys a great deal of information to them about your upbringing, your familiarity and comfort with all different types of black folks—in other words, that you don’t believe your education and income make you better than other black people.
This is important stuff. I want my daughters to be as adept at code switching as I am, so that they will feel comfortable in a variety of situations, and be able to make other black people feel comfortable with them. I think this is an essential part of their education and development.
So the black English lessons will continue over the next seven years, until both of them are off to college.
Personally, I was happy to see this post because it is rare to see people view AAVE in this manner. Usually, AAVE is called ignorant and those that speak it are told they need to learn how to speak “proper” English. Well, some of the commenters didn’t see it that way. The blog post have 50 comments and counting. Some called my editor’s efforts “asinine” and even I had a little shade thrown my way by some random African commenter with a hefty “blacker than thou” attitude. Some of the commenters seemed to be under the impression that these parents were setting their children up for failure. Others balked at the idea of having to “code-switch.” As I read the discussion, a quote came to mind.
“Nobody in history has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”
Black people (and other people of color) are constantly spoon-fed this idea that if we cater to the standards set in place by our oppressors, we will see liberation.
We try to change everything from our hair to our speech to our culture to fit these ideals. We have our schools banning locs and braids to teach students how they should look when they go to work for other people. AAVE is seen as “ignorant” and “ghetto” and people to speak proper English but conveniently ignore the fact that English is a bastardized language. Black people have to worry about job applications when naming their kids while you have white kids walking around that are named after food and auto parts and they don’t have a care in the world. We’re taught to stamp out everything that make us who we are so we can win the rat race that we’re taught is success. That poster on MBB told me that African American had their identities stripped when we were taken from African but blasted those that didn’t speak “proper English” in the same damn post.
It isn’t just done to us either. LGBT folks are told to tone down their queerness to be accepted by heteros. Women are put in a position to have to choose between family and professional development, a choice a man rarely has to make. Marginalized people are given a laundry list of stuff to do that will appeal to the privileged folk and a lot of them eagerly follow that list hoping they can be privileged too. They strive to assimilate without realizing those in power aren’t trying to give you their piece of the pie.
We need to set our own standards. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do what we have to do to keep food on our tables and clothes on our backs but this policing within our own communities has to stop. For now, we have to code-switch to get these jobs but if we’re looking to have own entities, we have to retain our uniqueness and we need to fight to have it recognized.
Y’all better listen to Assata.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Speak!