Monday, May 2, 2011

So By Language, You Mean Ethnicity?

By: Krystal Flores 

The Oakland School Board’s proposition on Ebonics had quite a few things wrong with it. For starters, they wanted to declare Ebonics as a whole other language in itself, rather than just a different dialect of English. Also, the school board wanted to hire educators who were fluent in Ebonics in order to teach their student body standard English. The board was also willing to teach existing educators how to speak Ebonics. The ideology of this “plan” was that teachers would know Ebonics and therefore, be able to show students how to translate it into standard forms of English. 
Below are clauses seven and eight from the Oakland School Board Ebonics Resolution:

7) Whereas, the interests of the Oakland Unified School District in providing equal opportunities for all of its students dictate limited English proficient educational programs recognizing the English language acquisition and improvement skills of African-American students are as fundamental as is application of bilingual education for others whose primary languages are other than English; and 

8) Whereas, the standardized tests and grade scores of African-American students in reading and language arts skills measuring their application of English skills are substantially below state and national norms and that such deficiencies will be remedied by application of a program featuring African Language Systems principles in instructing African-American children both in their primary language and in English. 
Clause seven seems to clearly compare bilingual education to “African-American education” in that English is not the “primary language” of these people. If this is the case, then why is Spanglish not considered a language in itself as well? From the ways in which Ebonics is portrayed in the media, it seems as if it was declared a separate language because it could not be understood by the majority of English speakers. However, Spanglish is a mix between Spanish and English, so we could apply these same ideologies of Ebonics, to Spanglish. Spanglish is only understood by people who speak both English and Spanish, but a sole English, or a sole Spanish speaker, would not understand Spanglish. This is why there was such an uproar over declaring Ebonics its own language. 

The above cartoon relates to clause eight because it portrays the misconception that speakers of Ebonics, in particularly African-American speakers, do not have the same levels of intelligibility as standard English speakers do. Making the claim that “the standardized tests and grade scores of African-American students in reading and language arts skills measuring their application of English skills are substantially below state and national norms” turns Ebonics into a race issue, rather than a social class issue. 
I think the audience member on this video said it best: 

(1:00 to 1:42)

Working off the comments of the audience member, we must now examine the underlying issue of Ebonics, which of course, is ethnicity. 

In this cartoon, the white, country farmer seems to be the main target. It is ironic though because the person who is labeled “moronics” represents an image of the type of people who complain about everything that is wrong with our society, conveniently overlooking themselves. 
Was the audience member right? Is the issue of Ebonics “coming to the forefront because it is [being used] not so much by black children, but others?”
Answer: yes, of course
Eminem, in his song “The Way I Am,” once said: 

And look where it's at
Middle America, now it's a tragedy 
Now it's so sad to see, an upper class city
Having this happening 
(2:30 to 2:39)
Even though this song is not referring to language, the overall idea behind his words is that things only become an issue of importance when white, middle class, and upper class people are affected. 
Theresa Perry, in her article “I ‘on Know why They be Trippin,” stated “ . . . African-American children accounted for 80% of the school system’s suspensions and 71% of students classified as having special needs.” I am not sure how many people are aware of how easily statistics can be twisted and turned in order to “support” one side of an argument, but here is a case of twisted statistics. “Special needs” is a term that is often misused and thrown around. It is associated with physical and/or mental disabilities when in fact, that is not the case. If “special needs” indeed referred to the physical and mental capacities of individuals, it would not be limited to mainly one ethnicity. Again, we have this issue and underlying message of social class playing a major role within this topic. 
The idea of African-American students having “special needs” is ridiculous. The fact that the Oakland Unified School District wanted to teach educators how to speak Ebonics by means of communicating with students is also ridiculous. They were treating the students at this school as if they were not smart enough to understand standard English. As if the Ebonics speaking students would not understand a standard  statement such as, “I am going to go to the bathroom,” because it was not said as “I finna go to da bafroom.” 
In August of 2010, there was a newspaper article written by Nick Allen in The Telegraph which discussed that the DEA was looking to hire “Ebonics translators . . . to interpret drug wiretaps.” 

Ebonics, unlike what we have heard in interviews with Garrad McClendon, is not portrayed as a “beautiful language” that holds value in certain social circumstances in society. Ebonics is getting connected to wiretaps with drug dealers, which essentially connects language with crime and lower classes of society.

On the one hand, we have the racial issue that if one is African-American, they must speak Ebonics, and on the other hand, we have the social class issue that African-American’s do not have jobs (jobs is bolded in the cartoon). Unlike the opinions of our society and McClendon, the issues of progression within lower class societies stem much further than the things that people say and how they say them. 
I will leave you this poem entitled “Tongue Tactics” by my favorite female poet Mayda Del Valle, to lastly tie together the connection of Ebonics in relation to Spanish, and the way properness is supposed to fit in as the ideal that all should aspire to. 

This poem has so many messages within messages that it would take me two whole days to analyze it all for you. Therefore, I will allow you to explore it on your own. 

No comments:

Post a Comment