Monday, May 9, 2011

The Stigma’s surrounding Ebonics

Jessie Pimentel

     “Instead of calling it Ebonics, I call it bull crap… You're trying to justify bad English. You're justifying poor English with Ebonics because there is a misnomer that the majority of people out there, who are African American, speak that way and that’s not necessarily true…. I don’t see why it [Ebonics] would be part of our culture. Why are we dumbing down African Americans?” (1:14) says Perri Small, a panelist on a show entitled “The Ink Spot”. On the show, a group of African American interviewees, ranging in professions, debated on a book called Beyond Ebonics: Linguistic Pride and Racial Prejudice by John Baugh and its presentation of Ebonics as a language. While two panelists, including Small, decided that Ebonics should not constitute as anything more than broken English, Garrard McClendon, who we have seen in clips before in class (the author of “Ax or Ask”) decided to defend the validation of Ebonics as a dialect despite being shot down many times. Ultimately, the problem presented here comes down to the numerous misunderstandings that surround Ebonics and why it should be considered a language.

     To different people, ‘Ebonics’ has already been considered a valid language, yet there are many groups who fail to see Ebonics as a language, rather it is understood to promote downward mobility for African Americans, because they “are not being corrected”. Rather than utilize Ebonics to teach students who are struggling in school, Ebonics has been criminalized as a non-standard form of English that lets African American students slide by in school. Like bilingual education, concerning Spanish speakers learning English, similar arguments have been presented when discussing the validity of the importance of anything considered non-standard English. Bilingual education has been called a waste of state funds, a waste of time and generally useless when learning English. Like the English only movement, legislation has also been passed in order to criminalize Spanish speakers. Prop 227 proposed that English immersion would be a success to teach ESL students how to not only learn English, but ultimately fit into American society since English (supposedly) allows one to climb the ladder of achievement.

     The same method of thinking was described in The Anti-Ebonics Movement: "Standard" English Only by Elaine Richardson when presenting legislation that used rhetoric similar to prop 227. “New York representative, Peter King, not only introduced the anti-Ebonics legislation into congress, but he also sponsored an ‘English-only bill’ in the 104th congress that would… [Discontinue] federal support for bilingual education programs’… The national anti Ebonics resolution, H. Res. 28, asserts that ‘no federal funds should be used to pay for or support any program that is based upon the premise that ‘Ebonics’ is a legitimate language’” (4-5). While Richardson’s piece was written more than ten years ago, the same beliefs still surround the idea of Ebonics as a language, with a lot of concern regarding the finances used to teach students with Ebonics. Even though the benefits that may come with teaching in Ebonics seem well worth the cost, it is interesting to see how priorities are organized when placing the education of certain students in the background and masking it behind the notion that African American Vernacular English can not be considered a language.

     The misunderstanding of Ebonics on the terms that it would only be a financial waste was enough to get many supporters who were only exposed to the money going into Ebonics classes. The representation of the language as one that could actually assist some African American children in doing better in class was avoided in order to depict Ebonics as a method that would make ‘slang’ the new ‘standard English’. This calls into question the way in which the media assisted in misrepresenting how Ebonics would be used in the Oakland District Board of Education case in 1996. Just like prop 227 was represented in the media as being a rejection of good old fashion English, Ebonics was also portrayed in the media as merely a dumbing down of African Americans. In “I’ on Know Why They be Trippin” by Theresa Perry, she describes how the media played a vital role in creating a mass that viewed Ebonics, not only as being incorrect English but also moving away from traditional “American-ness” that threatened the existence of standard English. “The media deserve blame for their gross misrepresentation of the resolution and their failure to capture the resolution’s essential elements. Even after the spokespeople for the Oakland School Board, the superintendent, and members of the school board had asserted over and over again that the school system was not abandoning the teaching of Standard English, TV news accounts continued to lead with this claim. Reporters continued to ask Black spokespeople what they thought about the Oakland decision to teach Ebonics… one found phrases, sentences taken out of context, and outright distortions of the original resolution” (3). Therefore, the use of media was vital in depicting the supposed negative effects that Ebonics would have in changing not only how children are taught but American culture as a whole.

     Even though one may think of Ebonics as more of an efficient way to teach students who are struggling in school, it is still rejected another method used to create divisions between whites and blacks in the U.S. When discussing the use of Ebonics in the classroom, it seems that the biggest fear that is ignited by anti Ebonics supporters is that the language will be used to give a disadvantaged group a leg up in school. It is not appreciated as a language that can be taught, nor is it considered a language with a valid past, therefore, in order to understand the importance and significance that African American Vernacular English has, it needs to be represented for what it truly is and how it would benefit many struggling students. While it will be very difficult to remove the stigmas that Ebonics has surrounding it, it is still important to inform others of the efficiency that it has in the classroom.

An example of how AAVE has been misinterpreted as being ‘slang’. (Above).

And as a extra, I looked at these two commercials which were entitled “I Know- Latina/English” and “I know- African American/English”. You know, since all Latinas speak with an accent and all African Americans use Ebonics.

No comments:

Post a Comment