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Jim Crow English - Kunstler
Thursday, 01 March 2007 09:36
by James Kunstler

Something's been bugging me for a few weeks, since Joe Biden made that remark about Barack Obama being "articulate" — after which everyone from Paula Zahn at CNN to the punditori at the Washington Post outdid each other jumping up and down deploring poor hapless Joe. The accepted idea, of course, was that Biden had foolishly revealed himself to be a racist for suggesting that Obama's language skills were exceptional for a person with more than one drop of African blood.

As usual in these matters, the uproar ended up being much more about white discomfort with the subject than the subject itself. After all, does anyone really doubt that there is such a thing as black English and that it is widely represented as such, explicitly, both in everyday speech and, to an even more extraordinary degree, in pop culture?

After the Biden gaffe, a number of black intellectuals and public figures went on the political talk shows to complain about white racism. Many of them spoke what I will dare to call standard  English and expressed indignation that black people might be expected to speak black English and be singled out as exceptional when they did otherwise.

But isn't it actually the fact that we have succeeded in ghettoizing the English language? No public intellectual, let alone a professional educator, or a politician such as Jesse Jackson, would dare suggest that black children would benefit from being taught standard (or "white") English in school — that is, drilled in its grammars and protocols the same way that arithmetic is taught. And white children who might attempt to practice speaking in black dialect would be excoriated for racist mockery, wouldn't they?

Is it okay to ask whether both manners of speech are equal? And if so, are they then not manifestly separate but equal? And if so, is English the last refuge of Jim Crow in America? And if so, why do white political progressives want to keep it that way? Or why would black people want to keep it that way? Is "diversity" just another way of saying Jim Crow?

Now watch the readers of this blog accuse me of racism for just asking these questions.

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Comments (1)add comment

Russell Wellen said:

Dialect -- or Disability?
In the last two paragraphs, Jim got on a roll, but I couldn't follow what he was saying.

I'm the father of a learning-delayed 12-year-old, whose disabilities are most pronounced in pronouncing. That is, he has speech problems. For instance, we've been trying to get him to say contractions properly. But he continues to leave the "s" off "it's" or "that's."

When I hear that in black dialect, I can't help but think, "If the speaker knew how much he sounded like someone with a learning disability, he might think twice about taking that kind of shortcut."

Still, it's a way of remembering and keeping green that education was denied to their African-American forefathers and mothers. Would that young blacks still listened to blues, too.
March 01, 2007 | url
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