I wrote this to express some of my thoughts on “Black English”, “Black vernacular”, dialect, “AAE (African-American English)”, “Ebonics”, etc., whatever people calling it these days. What does it mean when writers and other artists express it in their work? When others appropriate and abuse  it?

I focused more on the first question. The second one–I so don’t feel like going there right now….

[Originally posted to msqueenly.wordpress.com.]

We’ve all heard it before, I’m assuming. A reader complaining or even returning a book to the store for a very specific reason.

You’ve heard it, haven’t you?

“Why did she have to write this book in that broken English like that?”

Or this comment from Amazon.com:

“Written in Ebonics– The subject matter of this book is already disturbing enough, why did the author add insult to injury by writing it so poorly and in ebonics?! It’s a good thing I borrowed the book didn’t go out and spend my money on it!”

Now, when I was a little girl growing up Georgia, I used think there was something wrong with the way I spoke. The influence of reading historical romance, I thought, helped me clear that up. People often commented on how well I spoke. In fact, it earned me the reputation of being a nerd and was part of the reason kids bullied me. Guess they thought I thought I was too good for them.

The comments above are often said about the work of artists like Sapphire, the Black female author of Push, the book that the recently-released-in-theaters film Precious is based off of.

I think that there are artists who abuse and appropriate the use of “Black vernacular” (many writers in particular) or what is called “broken English”, thereby oppressing and creating mocking, racist caricatures of the people who speak it. In the case of Precious in the book Push, I would say that the dialect of English that she speaks and writes in is the result of an education system that neglected her and a parent who verbally and physically abused her–and we see this all too often in American society in particular. Precious could not read or write when we first met her in the film and the book.

Just to note, Black and African people in America during slavery and after Reconstruction for a while were by law barred from learning to read and write along with everything else they couldn’t do because of the oppressive white-dominated world their ancestors had been dragged shackled into in this country.

Some might ask, how do you explain people in school who speak “kind of” like that anyway on a daily basis? I, for example, am in college and I still speak way differently when I go home to Georgia than I do on the streets and in the classrooms of a predominantly white university and city. “Black English/vernacular” or “Ebonics” (I don’t know how PC that really is today…) is a part of our culture. Some people lump our way (and by “our”, I mean Black peoples) of speaking under slang or fads. It is a comfortable way that many of us have spoken since we were children. You don’t just learn it over night. Hell, sometimes we make words up or adjust them to express what we mean! A lot of people who don’t understand this would accuse us of ignorance or stupidity or of being “ghetto”, but that is because they do not understand. They don’t even understand what we mean when we use the word “ghetto”.

Sometimes I feel like I’m forgetting how to be around my own family and friends when I go home, as if I have been assimilated into this white way of speaking and thinking of the world. It seems like they are talking too fast or using words I don’t understand. Its like I’m forgetting that comfortable language in order to learn how to move in the white-dominated, academic and literary world.

With this said, I would argue that books written in the vernacular–not all of them are bad. I had decent English teachers growing up and I think I had a natural inclination towards a passion for reading and writing unlike Precious.

A book like Sapphire’s Push is written that way for a reason. I think that reason is to illustrate the trials that Precious faces being illiterate and struggling to learn how to read and write at the age of sixteen. I think that reason is so that the reader must struggle with her and, in doing so, understand and appreciate her experiences. That is the true definition of having passion for someone, as Black author Nancy Rawles gave a speech on last Spring at the Seattle Public Library–being able to suffer and endure with them.

[Originally posted to msqueenly.wordpress.com.]


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