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When you say I sound white or act white, you are, intentionally or not, saying 3 things:

  1. White is some optimum state of being that I am trying to achieve through my actions and words, rather than Standard English being a language I acknowledge is necessary to progress in the world.
  2. My attempt to achieve this optimum state amuses/angers you because, as I am an inferior being, my efforts are surprising/uppity.
  3. Ebonics, slang, whatever, a language that evolved out of arguably the most driven effort to SURVIVE that the world has ever seen is something that you/I think is worthy of shame.

All of which are presumptuous and SO VERY IRRITATING.

If we cannot even respect this brilliant testament to the human mind, how can we respect the culture that fostered it? If we look down upon the people who use Ebonics, how can we affectively help those people overcome the many hurdles they face every day? Furthermore, how can we teach ourselves to be open to their ideas, their perspective, if we refuse to truly LISTEN to them?

So I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say may that when you say I sound/act white, you don’t REALLY know what you’re saying.

And that’s understandable. We live in a culture where racism is so subversive people don’t even notice it most days.

That doesn’t make you racist. I repeat, THAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU RACIST.

I mean the action of saying I sound white is kind of racist, but YOU aren’t.

The reason why this particular statement irks me so much is because I think Ebonics is a truly remarkable language.

Millions of captives were taken from their homes, few sharing the same culture, the same traditions, or the same God, much less the same language. These people, if they survived the tumultuous trip to the Americas, were forced to work together in an effective manner and if they did NOT do so, they and the people they cared about were severely punished.

Despite being prohibited from learning to read English, or even really speak it beyond the basics, these people built a language, a combination of their enslavers’ language and their varying native languages. Slowly this language became more and more like Standard English, yet not quite.

Generations later these people are “freed”, if we can consider the slave-like tendencies of sharecropping, the installment of grandfather clauses and other hallmarks of the Jim Crow era, and the steady increase of hate crimes, “free”.

…. That was heavily sarcastic. I’m sorry.

Meanwhile, this language continued to evolve with its community. For example, as the community was constantly attacked the language became more militant, hence the multitude of colloquialisms for guns. Why?

You never know when you might need one…discreetly.

Another example: white superiority is submersed in almost every aspect of American culture. Hence, the projected inferiority of African Americans also becomes imbedded in their language.

Yet, despite all these trials, this language survived. It, and the people who created it, SURVIVED.

However, right now, in the present, when this community is truly supposed to be free, we still see subtle, but vicious attacks on African American culture, and in particular its language.

This grand thing that was made in the midst of a desperate situation, this amazing universal code that was understood by almost all African Americans, this truly living language, has been systematically criticized and manipulated by those in power so that it is made out to be something inferior.

That is a problem, one we need to address, both in our own communities, and on a broader scale.

Because I don’t sound white.

I don’t sound “intelligent”, as so many people rephrase it.

Ebonics is in no way a language inspired, influenced, or created by unintelligent people.

I sound like I’m speaking Standard English. That’s it.

I personally cannot speak Ebonics, not for lack of trying, but rather for the same reason I spent several hours a day practicing Spanish for my Foreign Language oral exams: it’s not my natural dialect

And if it was okay for me do an immersion course in Ebonics I would have done it years ago, because it is a language I deeply admire.

You have to remember this wasn’t a language created by one person adapting to Standard English, or even two people adapting to both Standard English and each other’s language.

It was a Whole. Freaking. Continent.  It was Babylon.

And it’s a testament to human ingenuity and spirit that my people found a way to communicate at all.


Categories: Racism