Re: Ebonics and the Classics, anyone?

From: David Meadows (
Date: Tue Jan 21 1997 - 21:54:25 EST

Interesting defenses of Ebonics today; obviously the NPR program to which
many have referred did not mention anything about certain members of the
Oakland board declaring the basis for Ebonics to be "genetic" and a language
unto itself (as opposed to a dialect of English)[I heard her say the
words!]. Sounds harmless enough at first doesn't it? But let's take this to
its natural conclusion ... once you can declare that a pseudo language is
something which is genetic and worthy of federal funding, what is going to
be next? I can't give any examples because I will be branded a racist, but
it's not difficult to imagine something which is considered a stereotypical
barb associated with persons of various ethnicities being declared 'genetic'
and so something which will either be taught in school or compensated for
monetarily by the state. I'm waiting for the day now when 'genetic' reasons
are used to justify a rise in the minimum wage. This isn't the end of
something, it's just the beginning (just as university courses based on
*Stolen Legacy* were just a beginning ...).

Consider also what would happen if I, a white, anglo saxon catholic, had
declared that some feature of 'African American language' was genetic. It
seems to me that it was not so long ago ... about the time that Martin
Luther King was having his dream and was incubating that dream in millions
of others ... that millions of folks had opinions that certain sectors of
society were 'inferior' because of genetic reasons and those reasons were
used to justify the oppression of those sectors of society. And in the
generation before that, 'genetics' was used as an excuse to send millions of
folks to the gas chambers. In this generation, the trend is for scientists
to declare that various criminal types are genetically predisposed to do
this or that to my children or your mothers or sisters and so should not be
held accountable for their actions. While the folks promoting Ebonics, as is
typical of the 'left', do seem to have genuinely good intentions en face,
what they are really doing is telling the African American community that,
no, you're not speaking badly ... you're speaking a different language. The
problem isn't with you, its with everyone else. You are not responsible for
all the bad things that happen to you because you can't speak properly.
Ebonics is little more than another example of the dumbing down of standards
as they apply to special interest groups, another example of the
predeliction for embracing mediocrity as a cultural norm instead of pursuing
excellence, and yet another example of preferring to lay blame on others
rather than take personal responsibility for ones actions [and I'll
paraphrase something I've said before -- instead of teaching Ebonics, the
Oakland board would do better to have students read Euripides over and over
and over and over]. Perhaps worst of all, Ebonics is providing yet another
wedge driven by members of the african-american community to further
separate the folks they claim to be leaders for from accepting the minimum
standards required for success set by society at large. And when you
consider the fine oratorical standards set by the Reverend Doctor Martin
Luther King, it is nothing short of shameful.

Other than that, though, the whole notion that this is rooted in West Africa
blah blah blah is such blatant garbage that I'm surprised anyone with a
university degree would even accept it. I realize the situation in the U.S.
is rather different than it is here in Canada, but I for one would love to
know why, if this language is genetically based, Canadians of African origin
don't speak like that. Why don't the Jamaicans who immigrate to Canada speak
like that? Why don't they speak like that in the Bahamas? Barbados? Why
don't the dozens of folks I have met from West Africa who attend
universities here speak like that? Why is it I have a colleague in my
department from Ghana who speaks English (and French, for that matter)
better than I do? And if Ebonics is genetically based, it must also be the
case that my wife's native language (Sicilian) is also genetically based and
so she should speak English badly as well ... she doesn't. Other members of
her ethnic community do speak English badly, but it is the same bad English
that one associates with a lack of education, not a genetic predisposition.


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