411 Focus

When Blacks migrated, they took with them the English they had learned as slaves ...

Contributed By:Dorothy Nevils maslivend@sbcglobal.net

From history to habit

A few years back, there was a kind of movement, embraced by some, decried by others. There was debate, and as with most debates, or arguments, there was a line drawn, and people gathered on one side or the other, each defending, if not “to the death,” at least to the “dust,” their truth, as the rope slipped through burning palms, until there was a pile of coughing opponents where they really didn’t want to be.

Such a “tug-of-war” continues today, and folks continue to “take sides,”even if not as prominently as they did a few years back. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to hear the word “Ebonics,” though it’s still capitalized, and so, I suppose, considered a proper name.

What you’ll hear instead is the phrase “broken English” or “poor grammar,” indicating incorrect usage, rather than “a different language.” No matter how folks spin it, in the end, just like speeding, wide turns, and parking on the curb, it’ll be classified as “poor,” not “different,” and it’s habit.

I don’t like the draping of habits as “urban.” That word means city. Adding -sub to it added another meaning, a racial one, for sub means “under.” What you have, then, is city + under, which actually describes a “pulling away from,” as happened when Blacks left the South, especially, to seek a better world up North. They settled in the cities, apartment buildings, where they could house relatives that followed, and be able to get around for work, necessities, etc. What followed was an exodus, or pulling away, by the whites from the city (urban) to build new communities, or suburbs.

When Blacks migrated, they took with them the English they had learned as slaves, servants, and field hands, much of it poor. Gradually, they extended their English vocabulary, but with segregated classrooms, discarded textbooks, and teachers just a few steps beyond their students, language skills still lagged.

Eventually, after marches and Martin and murders, the physical wall that separated the races was torn down, and “little black boys and little black girls” sat in the same classroom; but when the bell rang, they went back to their own turf. There, the generations spoke the “language” learned but a few years earlier… and that continues today.

As a teacher, I found it difficult to change my students’ language habits. It was as if I were stripping them of what they clutched so tightly, like a “security blanket,” or what defined them. I was, in their mind, trying to change them. For so many, I could not pry the broken English from them as something passed along to them, not something that was their roots, but splotched like mud from a wagon that got too close. They didn’t want to talk “white.” What “splattered and stayed from plantation life” was not white!

It’s time for us to push our students, our children to throw aside poor grammar. It does not honor our past! It does not signal pride! It does not authenticate us as African American!

We have to get the message across to those who think so. What it does is throw a burdensome blanket around your shoulders, weighing you down so that others the same distance from your goal… will get there ahead of you!

You want to honor your past? Then learn the language of your past, the language that identifies your origin, your roots, not your enslavement!

Or does that require too much effort?

Story Posted:02/10/2018

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