Friday, May 6, 2011

The Language that Defines Us

By Cynthia Camacho

In the land of the “Free People”, touching more particularly on the subject on whether or not children should be taught using Ebonics, is the purpose of the Oakland School board Ebonics resolution.  I feel that a great justice was done in preserving the language and culture of the local citizens.  African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is about maintaining roots to an indigenous culture, one that is native to those who are descendants to slaves. Dating back to colonialism, blacks in America have communicated in their own language.  Instruction to African Americans in their primary language is essential in tracing back their heritage. Asking a person to give up their native tongue is synonymous to the genocide of one’s culture.  This can also be viewed as an unethical deracinating experience forced onto the culturally rich by a mainstream white anti-cultural society. Regardless of the origin of one’s language, be it AAVE, American Indian, Spanish, or any other linguistic form, all people should be given the opportunity to be educated in their primary language.  Only then are they given equal opportunity to truly receive a formal education. It is only by fully being educated in one language that you can even begin to be taught another. I’m telling you there is definitely some half-baked educational formula that keeps trying to oppress the less privileged bunch.

According to Elaine Richardson, black culture has been essential in the contribution to American Pop-Culture. With the rise of pro-athletes as role models and AAV used in mainstream ads to market to the masses, it has been proven that the Niger-Congo influences of Ebonics are part of the Anglo-culture and deserve a rightful place as a historic language in the Unites States. Whether it’s President Bill Clinton’s appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show while playing Blues music on his saxophone, trying to prove he was down with the people, during his pre-presidential campaigning days, or Ricky Lakes and Jenny Jones popular use of black idioms such as “sho nuff” and “is your man a playa”, AAVE has found its way into the mainstream of American culture.

In the article, Richardson also states that the reality is that individuals must check their linguistic and cultural identity at the golden door if the mainstreams status quo’s definition of success is to be thier destination. In my opinion, society has yet to master an unbiased educational plan that allows  an equal opportunity at upward mobility.  Specifically, I think of Dubois, who speaks about how ‘humanity sternly deprecates inequality in their opportunities for development’.  There is no sense to Dubois ideology and I could not be more in aggreeance with his statement, which recognizes how the culturally different must conform in order to succeed.  Though it is clear that the small minority who fight through the barriers in the primary education system and gain a coveted seat at a great university do indeed get to expand their opportunities by reading journals and in-depth studies meant to broaden their knowledge and perspective, there is no reason to ignore the trend of literacy lag in the Oakland black community.  In this community alone, students with just below a C average represent 53% of the districts population, and 71% of the district’s special education population.  Given those statistics, something drastic needed to be done, and perhaps the Oakland Ebonics Resolution that is implementing new educational programs, acknowledging Ebonics as language, will be the drastic option to help turn the situation around.  There are always signs of resistance that allow for the sometime distant but constant hollows of the underdogs to voice their opinions.  In this case they are putting on their boxing gloves and initiating a movement towards change.  It’s a historic moment in times where being the “other” gets put under the microscope for the purpose of gaining equality and enacting social change.  It’s this kind of action that needs to occur in order to put the Anti-Ebonics movement to bed, allowing at last for federal funds to be released in order to help the educational programs that are desperately in need of this higher levels of funding.

AAVE can trace it's roots to a combination of
West African tribal languages and US English
Why is it that America has not changed much since the 1990’s?  The AAVE/Ebonics as a legitimate language movement is a fledging force that is finally taking some of the steps necesary to achieve much needed social change. By looking within the heart of the Oakland School districts Ebonics resolution, and subsequent amendment, Richardson has clearly shed a ray of light on the severity of unequal education in this country.  As identified by Brown vs Board of education, even when students are guaranteed the right to equal education, there still lies a grey area, whereas as not all students will learn in curriculums that are developed to a cookie cutter format.  Agency must stand forth and allow the culturally different, minority groups, and those who are not so pocket rich to receive the same programs that can be modified in an ”a la cart” course format.  They should have access to the same-programs, which currently cater to the needs of the rich and socially privileged folks, helping their kids to be tracked on the “limited passenger highways to higher paying jobs.   To put it in plain English, schools need to give access to education with richer and more customized curricula, higher paid and trained professionals who are able to cater to the learning needs these under privileged students,  just like they do for the wealthier upper class.  How did it take this long for someone to patch up this crack in the system?  How does it take this long to understand and accept that the facts and statistics demand new and radical approaches to learning?

In conclusion, minority groups and individuals have the right to be schooled in their own primary language, one that has been given proper acknowledgement and respect by society, and one that is supportive of their background both as a culture as well as an individual.   If individuals do not receive this level of support in their primary language, then they are really not  truly given the right to be formally be educated in the mainstream Anglo-Saxon culture,  which of course is the heavy weight hegemonic class.  If this nation’s policies indeed include the right to an equal education for all, then we should explore every available avenue to find the best ways to deliver it.


Linguistic Profiling African American English Origin

Ricki Lake - Interracial Dating

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