Ebonics

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Ebonics: (Merriam Webster) Black English.

(Urban Dictionary) Ebonics is the language of African-American Ancestry, struggle, pain, intelligence, love, mercy, understanding, survival, resistance, and enjoyment. Ebonics, represents that warm place in the hearts of many of us African-Americans, when we think about our Ancestors, who could not speak nor understand English, but struggled to speak a language they were not taught formally for hundreds of years. Ebonics allows us to connect with our Ancestors through language. Ebonics is a language that is celebrated, enjoyed, and spoken intentionally by me, because it is easy on my tongue, fun, creative, and saves time. I ‘respect’ Standard English, but I ‘LOVE’ Ebonics and Slang, because they are a part of me – a decent and meaningful part of MY history, My culture, and MY family. My Ancestors spoke Ebonics while they cried in pain, but now, I can speak Ebonics while I smile with joy.

Growing up, I went to school in the suburbs. The majority of kids in my classes were white, especially since I was in a lot of advanced classes. There were usually a few black kids peppered into the class, along with a token Mexican or Asian. Since I was in these advanced classes, I was exposed to more things than other kids, which allowed me to become more “cultured”, which in turn got me teased for “acting and talking white”.

When I was in 5th grade, we got a new homeroom teacher. I believe it was her first year teaching as well. I don’t know where our new teacher came from, but she made it very clear she had no experience dealing with minorities or any POC (People of Color). This particular year, my homeroom was made up predominantly of minorities.

One day, a couple of months into the school year, my mother received a phone call from my homeroom teacher requesting a parent/ teacher conference. My homeroom teacher informed my mother that my best-friend and I had been speaking Ebonics in her classroom and she was “concerned”.

It was 1996 and the term Ebonics had been in the news quite a bit. I think my mother initially thought that phone call was a joke. The teacher explained to both my mother and my best-friend’s mother that we were using contractions such as, “ain’t” and “y’all”, which she thought was highly suspicious and inappropriate. Yes, we were using these terms, so was everyone else in the classroom. The Caucasian kids, the Mexicans, AND the Black kids. We all used these phrases, but we used them in conversation with each other. We knew the correct contractions to use when it came to our work. For whatever reason this greatly disturbed our teacher. My mother was livid. I’m not exactly sure what was said in the exchange during the parent/ teacher conference, but what I do know is that my teacher never made anymore phone calls to my mother and she didn’t question us about our use of the word, “ain’t” ever again.

All my life I have been very conscious of the way I speak. There are definitely times when I “code switch” much like what people who speak “Spanglish” do. Sometimes it gets tiring to do, especially when I have to explain definitions of words to people of a different culture, who still don’t understand the meaning of the definition. It doesn’t mean that how I’m speaking is incorrect, ignorant, or wrong. I’ve even had a family member (they are Caucasian) question my ability to maintain a corporate job because they believed my use of Ebonics made me “ignorant and ghetto”. I actually had a falling out with this family member because of this conversation. How dare someone proclaim my ignorance because of the way I speak. That’s like calling an ESL student stupid because what they are trying to say doesn’t necessarily translate into English.

What many people continuously fail to understand is, Ebonics has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s level of intelligence or socio-economic status. Just because someone doesn’t talk in a way that may be deemed as proper does not make them stupid. And Ebonics should not be a reason for non-POC’s to sound an alarm. Just like there should be no such thing as “talking white”, there should be no such thing as “talking ghetto”. If people would only have a greater willingness to understand…. Watch the video below for a little bit of a break down of the roots of Ebonics.


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