Date: Sat, 11 Jan 97 16:57:48 CST
From: "Workers World" <email@example.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Don't dis "Black English"
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Jan. 16, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper
Why the uproar on Ebonics? Don't dis "Black English"
By Monica Moorehead, Workers World
11 January 1997
On Dec. 18, the Oakland, Calif., Unified School District
(OUSD) Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution
formally recognizing Ebonics, or Black English, as a
distinct patois--a blend of a distinct dialect with a
standard form of language.
In part, the resolution said that Black students should be
taught "in their primary language for the combined purposes
of maintaining the legitimacy and richness of such language
... and to facilitate their acquisition and mastery of
English language skills."
Oakland is a predominantly African American city located
near San Francisco. Fifty-three percent of the OUSD students
are African American.
Since this resolution was passed, there has been a growing
national debate in the media as well as among educators over
whether the recognition of Ebonics will discourage rather
than encourage the teaching of so-called standard English in
the "inner city" schools. Black students within Oakland have
varying opinions of whether they do speak a distinct
language rather than mainstream English.
Conservative opponents of Ebonics including those in the
big-business media reacted almost convulsively against the
idea. They are terrified that the initiative taken by the
Oakland School Board will set a trend. They fear other
predominantly Black school boards will recognize Ebonics in
their districts and this will lead to the promotion of Black
nationalist pride and identity rooted in an African
The Clinton administration quickly came in against Ebonics
and said there would be no extra funds for bilingual
The truth is that what the Oakland school board did was to
officially acknowledge what has been a fact for many
generations: a significant portion of the African American
population speaks a distinct form of English--and even this
form varies depending upon the material conditions and
different degrees of isolation of its speakers from the
Black English has played an instrumental role in
distinguishing African American culture for many
generations. Just pick up a poem written by Langston Hughes
or a novel by Zora Neale Hurston or James Baldwin or listen
to rap music by Ice Tea or the be-bop lyrics of Dizzy
Gillespie. Also Black English has had great influence on
other cultures worldwide and has transcended not only racial
but class lines.
Big publishing conglomerates and the music industry
continue to make big profits off the sales of these creative
artists expressing in their own words the experience of
growing up in and resisting a racist, bigoted society in the
areas of gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues and rap.
If Black English has permeated the "American culture" to
such a great degree, then why have the actions of the
Oakland school board caused such a furor? Is the issue
really whether or not Ebonics should be taught to educators
to deepen sensitivity?
The African American community should have the right to
decide that issue independently, without the biased
intervention of capitalist analysts and politicians.
The capitalist media and politicians certainly do not want
the cultural recognition of Black English to ignite millions
of Black youth into the political struggle for equality.
A GROWING GAP IN EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
The attack on Black English is also a diversion to cover
over the growing gap in educational opportunities for rich
and poor children in the United States-- and especially the
lack of opportunity for African American and Latino
Politicians like Clinton and others do not want that issue
to become a part of the debate because it exposes the
inherent inequality under capitalism in the form of cutbacks
in education--from the federal level on down.
This inequality is worsened where there exists an
oppressor white nation and many oppressed nations such as
African Americans--as in the United States. The capitalist
system itself prevents so many millions of Black youth from
learning standard English.
The 1954 Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. the Board of
Education--which challenged segregation--exposed the
apartheid-like conditions in education growing out of the
history of chattel slavery.
Ever since that decision, Black people have been
struggling for equal funding for equal education. Conditions
are getting no better; in fact, they are worsening.
A recent finding of Education Trust, a research group,
based on the National Assessment of Educational Pro gress, a
national test that measures student achievement, showed the
following: in 1990 predom inantly white schools--which had
low poverty levels--spent an average $6,565 a student; those
schools located in higher poverty areas with a majority non-
white population spent an average $5,173 per student.
ALSO A CLASS QUESTION
The report gave some indications that better educational
opportunities exist for Black children growing up in the
North than for those in the South. For instance, Black
fourth graders in Massachusetts are three times as likely to
be better readers than their counterparts in Louisiana. This
shows that differences in wages do make an impact in
educational achievement and that the right to a decent
education is not only a racial question but a class
The study also showed that in the underfunded schools,
only 54 percent of the science teachers were certified and
67 percent of the English teachers had at least a minor in
English. In the more privileged schools 86 percent of the
science teachers were certified and 80 percent of the
English teachers had a minor in English.
So again those school districts that received the most
funding were able to attract teachers better qualified in
Isn't it ironic that the same forces attacking Ebonics and
defending standard English in such a chauvinist way are
silent on the need to fight for more quality education for
the most oppressed and poorest children. Why are they not
calling for dismantling the monstrous Pentagon budget and
transferring those billions of dollars toward upgrading the
most underfunded schools from Oakland to South Bronx to the
hills of Appalachia? That would be a real affirmative-action
Once again the victims are being blamed for the oppression
they suffer in the capitalist media. Their argument is that
tolerating the use of Black English will prevent Black youth
from getting good paying jobs. Again that argument is an
excuse to let corporate downsizing and racist hiring
practices off the hook.
It's not Black English that prevents Black children from
learning to read and write. It is that the capitalist system
denies all children the right to an equal and multicultural
education along with decent jobs at a livable wage. It is
capitalism that holds back the full potential of cultural
development of whole nations of people.
Only under socialism, a system that puts peoples needs
before profits, will the languages of the most oppressed be
respected by all peoples.
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