Ebonics policy leaves a bitter aftertaste

By Garry

I’ve always said it. No one believed me. I said it over and over again, but white folks just wouldn’t believe me. “Stop these silly delusions, little Negro boy,” they contended, “You’re not bilingual.”
“Yes, I am! English is not my primary language.
“Black-folks-speak is!”
Thanks to the Oakland Public Schools, my little affirmation has been given a little credence and has gotten Americans of all backgrounds involved in the debate over whether or not black English is a language unto itself.
When I come to think of it, hardly anyone in my neighborhood speaks Standard American English (also known as SAE).
Hell, you’re more likely to find a theist professor at Stanford University than hear Standard American English spoken in Phoenix’s poor south side. The tongue of choice is either Spanish or black English — now known as Ebonics. If we sent one of Stanford’s good ol’ boys into the hood and had them, say, order some chicken at the local Popeye’s, I think we’d have a nice formula for chaos. One of two things would happen: 1) The man behind the counter would speak only Spanish, and be able to perhaps mouth (at best) a few phrases in English like “Bienvenidos a Popeye’s! Can I take you order?” 2) Or, Flannery, our good ol’ boy, would get Dwayne and Shaquesha on the other end: “Ima’ hook ya’ up — a grip of da’ fowl stuff fo’ only 10 ducats?”
Flannery might as well be in another country.
But the case is no different for blacks either. If Tyrone took Shaquesha to the opera, he couldn’t flex his Ebonics skills at the ticket office: “Hey, Chez Whitey, am I good fo’ da’ hook up? Me and my biyotch wanna get our swerve on!”
Chez Whitey, unfamiliar with this bizarre tongue might feel threatened … and call the cops. I suppose it’s good that most black folks don’t like opera to begin with.
There is no question that Ebonics and Standard American English have their differences; few whites can understand African-American vernacular. However, every black in this country understands English.
This is where I have problems with the Oakland Schools’ proposal.
Standard American English, though perhaps not as attractive as Ebonics, is appropriate in all occasions, even at Popeye’s. Jos, Dwayne and Shaquesha must be able to speak English as well as Flannery — the good ol’ boy from Stanford.
Yet the Oakland Schools’ system doesn’t seem to think so.
They want to surrender the good fight to ghetto slang. “Forget the rhymes of Dr. Seuss! Bring on the lyrics of Dr. Dre, he gots better things to say!” My beef is not with the study of Ebonics. The development and dynamics of language has always been an engaging and provocative topic. However, when the focus shifts from philology to teaching English as a second language for blacks, I become offended.
What are we saying: “Niggas don’t speak English?” I can assure you that every black American in my neighborhood understands and can speak English; it is simply that they choose not to — unlike the young Mexican immigrants who can neither speak nor comprehend English. Yet Oakland insists that Ebonics is the sole hope of reaching those underachievers in their school district.
Who the hell do they think they’re kidding? It appears to me as if Ebonics is an excuse for bad teaching in Oakland Public Schools. When I was in elementary school, Ebonics was forbidden in the classroom; only English was to be spoken — and rightfully so! Good teachers would abhor the “ain’ts” and double negatives commonly associated with Ebonics. But Oakland has opted to embrace this corrupted form of communication in the classroom. “To hell with English; let’s be certain our students are comfortable in the classroom; let’s protect their cute culture and language.” And thus a new wave of half-assed, miseducated Negroes enter the next millennium.
Thank God Oakland has only half a million people.

This piece was first published in the Jan. 7 issue of The Stanford Daily newspaper.