5.23.2006

Speaking in Tongues other than English

All this talk about making English the national language got me to thinking about my upbringing and how I was taught to speak by my parents and grandparents as well as the other grown ups around me. I'm not an immigrant. I'm an original native born American and anyone who knows history, knows that only two ethnic groups can make that claim; Native Americans and, since 1619, the descendants of slaves. My people were slaves. Since they were ripped from their homeland, I don't have any other country to claim other than the United States of America where we've been here in a direct line, since 1790.

Since I was born five years after the end of World War II, there was Jim Crow, but no Brown vs The Board of Education. The Ku Klux Klan was ascendant. Integration was a new concept. Separate but equal was the law of the land.

Growing up you were expected to know your place, be as respectful and as invisible as you possibly could be around Whites. That meant being clean, quiet and well spoken at all times when in public. Failure to do this, especially if you were male, meant at the minimum, a public tongue lashing from the offended white person, jail or sometimes even death. Blending in was a survival tactic taught from birth. And that brings me back to language.

You were expected to speak "proper English." What the kids today call "talk white." When I was a child that was simply survival, the best way to get thru school and to get a job. It's second nature to me now,

But how we talked at home and around the neighborhood with our neighbors is and was different. Sometimes it's called "slang." Sometimes it's given the official name of "Ebonics." Under any name it is and has been derided by both Blacks and Whites as not a good way to talk. When the City Schools of Oakland tried to teach Ebonics, school officials were castigated and roundly chastised by everyone, nationwide. They were accused of bringing down the race and making fun of Blacks. I guess if the slaves forced to come to this country could have somehow preserved their languages intact, despite the bombardment of white European/Christian culture, maybe Ebonics would have been taken more seriously.

But when you think about, Slang, Hip Hop and yes the bigger catchword Ebonics are languages. Just like French, Spanish, German, Italian, Polish, Czech, Hebrew. It's the language of America's Black neighborhoods. So why do we get laughed at when we choose to speak our first language but Hispanics and other immigrants get rewarded with multi lingual signs, English as a second language courses, and a myriad of defenders of all walks of life standing up for their right to speak what they know?

I don't think there needs to be an official law recognizing English as the official language. It's really just another attempt by the ruling class to keep things "pure" if you will, and to preserve the comfort level of the paler masses. Blacks and Native Americans have always been bi lingual and will continue to be until there is a complete blending of the races in this country. The very language itself has changed and will continue to change to reflect America's ever-changing population.

Ya feel me on this?
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