Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Talking Black

As everyone knows, conservatives are rigid defenders of academic standards (except when it comes to biology, climatology, US history, and Biblical exegesis). That being the case, they object strongly to multicultural relativism (unless you're talking about the right of conservative students to stick their fingers in their ears throughout any class that threatens their personal identity, and still receive an A+).

Nothing exemplifies the bad kind of multiculturalism better than "Ebonics." Which is kind of odd. Considering that the kulturkampfers have developed a culturally oppositional speech community that's basically opaque to outsiders, you'd think they'd have a bit of sympathy for non-standard English.

Or at least, you'd think that if you managed, by some miracle, to forget that conservative culture is racist down to its corpuscles. Fortunately, Mike Adams is here to remind us that this would be a serious error:

Some people call them “wiggers” but I just call them “idiots”. I used to wonder where they learned to be so racially condescending - presuming that dressing and “talking black” was a cool thing to do. But now I suspect that many of them have taken a course under Maurice Martinez, an education professor at UNC-Wilmington.
Prof. Martinez, y'see, teaches his students something called "Black English," which is a bad thing, not least because it takes standard English words like "cool" and subverts their meaning. Worse, knowledge of this barbaric pseudo-language transforms white students into "wiggers" (not that Adams himself would actually call them that, even though the title of his article is "Wigger Please!").

And don't say this scenario is implausible. If it could happen, it will, so it does.

This a slightly inventive wrinkle on a dreary old debate. In more innocent times, "we" worried that black students would fail at life if African-American vernacular English were treated as anything more than pathology. Now, the problem seems to be that studying AAVE will turn white educators into a gaggle of faux gangstas who strut around their classrooms in sagging jeans, babbling about how Frantz Fanon is da shiznit, for reals. This scenario isn't racist, natch, because Adams isn't directly accusing black people of being incoherent halfwits; he's simply pointing out that white people who act like them come across that way.

And how could they not, when they've been corrupted by absurdities like these?
In his class, students are taught that “many African Americans speak and use a form of English that is somewhat different from Standard English.” They also learn that “the rules of Black American English are functional to those who use them.”
They're taught facts, in other words. But not the right kind. The important lesson here -- the only lesson -- is that Black American English is bad English, and identifies the speaker as culturally and therefore intellectually inferior. The solution, obviously, is for everyone to accept this judgment as neutral, objective, just, and final: if Standard English is good enough for Jesus, Shakespeare, Willis Carto, and Sarah Palin, it's more than good enough for black folk.

Of course, once you've realized that White English is correct English, you still need to know which white speakers to ape. Mike Adams would probably consider this person to be the Salt of the Earth, but that doesn't mean he'd cut a working-class black protester any slack for similarly "creative" spelling. As a general rule, blacks are better off imitating George Will or John Derbyshire, rather than the average Teabagger or pandering soi-disant hicks like George W. Bush. Southern colloquialisms that sound charming and folksy coming from Jeff Sessions are going to sound very different coming from an urban black teenager. This has nothing to do with race, though; it's just The Way Things Are. (And why don't you people something about those weird names, while you're at it?)

I should add that I'm old enough to be a bit shocked by Adams' use of "wigger," which I strongly associate with skinhead culture and groups like W.A.R. But of course usage changes -- no, really! -- and these days the term seems to be comparatively mainstream. It may even be "standard," for all I know. I suppose it must be, in Adams' circles, since he felt no need to explain its etymology.

At any rate, I don't think one can logically assume that a class on the structure and meaning of Black English will turn white education students into "wiggers," as opposed to, say, people who know something about the structure and meaning of Black English, and are therefore better equipped to understand and teach people who speak it. But I suspect this is a distinction without a difference in Adams' world.

Anything else I had to say on this subject, I said here. Oh, and here.

(Photo: Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, aka Amos and Andy.)


Jazzbumpa said...

if Standard English is good enough for Jesus, Shakespeare, Willis Carto, and Sarah Palin, it's more than good enough for black folk.

I am grateful to my favorite semi-deity of the moment (a green-eyed sylph, if you must know) that I wasn't drinking anything as I read this.

Though I haven't the faintest notion who Willis Carto is, I would have spewed all over my poor distressed lap-top. That would only worsen an already bad situation.

Cheers, Bro!

Jazzbumpa said...

OK. I'm only part way through your paean to Thomas Sowell, but in the interest of full disclosure, feel compelled to report that I am descended from Provided Southwick, whose unforgivable crime was to be a Quaker in a time of Puritans.

She was the subject of the true story upon which this
genuinely ghastly Whittier poem is based. Cassandra was actually her mother's name. Why Whittier switched them is, so far as I know, shrouded in the mists of history.

Provided was the second girl-child on the family to bear that name. The first one died in early childhood. She and her brother Daniel were to be sold into slavery to pay the debts from fines levied against the family for their religion. The grizzled, salty old sea captains in Boston harbor refused to be party to it. Pretty amazing story, and probably more than you ever wanted to know.

JzB the quaking trombonsit

Phila said...

I haven't the faintest notion who Willis Carto is

This is definitely a case where ignorance is bliss.