This week in my African American rhetoric class, we read about Ebonics and the argument that California Public schools proposed that Ebonics, or black vernacular, or African language systems should be taught separately in schools to help African American students increase their standardized test scores. Of course, the ‘Amos n’ Andy’ show was mentioned, a show on which characters engaged black vernacular and stirred up controversy about stereotypes and racist representations of blacks.
Some bloggers have posed the question “how far has TV really come?” Throughout our argument over whether ebonics is its own language, I became very frustrated by the stupidity of it all, yet intrigued by the complex layers of the conversation. The proposal that black vernacular is its own language is appalling because it implies that African Americans do not understand standard English, when in reality, whites simply do not understand the art that is black vernacular. It is when black vernacular on television is paired with its usage by poor blacks that it becomes problematic. But in shows that are predominantly African American like “Martin” (which I’ve watched recently in honor of the late Tommy Ford), it is simply considered slang because it is not over exaggerated and it is performed authentically by black characters.
Thankfully, black sitcoms (although their popularity is sporadic) give black audiences affirmation, affirmation that we don’t often get in education systems, to bring my conversation back to the California ebonics discussion. If white teachers attempt to speak or teach ebonics to black students, it is like teaching a natural born athlete how to run – pointless. Further, it is more of a mocking than an affirmation. It is a reminder of the disconnect from our original cultures and languages and a forced learning of standard English to assimilate to American culture and obtain equality. Black vernacular is therefore, an art form. It is an illustration of resistance because it subtly and slickly breaks standard grammar rules and allows each African American to style the language in his or her own way and still be understood by their black family.