Ebonics, and other things.

Yesterday, I started to comment on my friend Cecily’s post but it ended up being a post in and of itself, so I figured it’d be best to make a post of it here.* She wrote about conversations she had with ladies in her neighborhood, where they planned to school their children, and how the fact that most of the children at the school were African American tied into their decisions. One woman she talked to didn’t want her child to go to their local elementary because she didn’t want him to learn ‘Ebonics’. Immediately after reading, I didn’t even really know what to say, but I wanted to comment. I felt that maybe, being a minority and having children that were mixed, and one child in particular that has been mistaken for fully white, I had a different perspective.

Ebonics is, inherently, a racist term. It implies that black (ie., “ebony”) people speak in a dialect so broken and incomprehensible that it needs to be separated from the rest of the English language and learned. It may not have been coined negatively, but regardless, it is a sweeping generalization that paints black people as uneducated and incapable of understand or speaking as “good as the white folks do.” You don’t have to be a politically correct über-liberal to see how that’s a bad thing.

For her to assume that the children at that school all speak that way is prejudicial, and unless she plans to shield her child from all forms of entertainment, such as hip hop and Quentin Tarantino movies to name some off the top of my head, for the rest of his life, he’s going to learn it, at least some semblances of it, whether she likes it or not. And what’s wrong with that, really?

I’m not dense enough to suggest that many of the black people I know aren’t more likely to say “Y’all niggas done lost yo damn minds, fah real doh” (spoken exactly as I typed it) rather than “you guys are insane, seriously” but so what? As long as these same people know the correct way to say what’s on their minds, and when to use that wonderful, wonderful thing called code-switching, what’s the problem?

I don’t speak that way. I used to, when I was younger, but now, I don’t really bother with it, although if you smack me in the middle of a group of black people, such as my cousins on my grandfather’s side, after a while I’ll fall back into it. Just like if I spend too much time with my grandparents or my boyfriend, every little bit of Southern in the way I speak will be exacerbated too. Still, being as I normally don’t talk like that, I find it seriously offensive that if she saw me entering a school, maybe with a little boy or girl that was my skin tone, she’d assume that I did. Just the way that I’m sure people here in the South see my tattoos and piercings and wrongly assume I’m a bitch with a long criminal record. That – the assumption based on appearances – is what’s prejudicial here.

I won’t call her racist, because I’m very big on semantics, and there is an astounding difference between racism (ie., hating someone) and prejudice (ie., generalizing or having preconceived notions and opinions) in my opinion. For a popular example of the difference I consider between the two words, look at Ms. Morello from the show Everybody Hates Chris (an all around brilliant show). She frequently assumes Chris’ mother is a crackhead, his father is absent, he has a dozen brothers and sisters, and that he eats ribs and pig’s feet, but she doesn’t hate Chris or treat him unkindly or unfairly. She’s not racist, she’s prejudiced. I believe that White Privilege allows the average white person to believe things and feel things about other races that implicitly affect their view of the world, whether they are aware or have ill feelings or not.

The lady Cecily was talking with may not have any idea that what she said was offensive, although I strongly doubt that. Why? Because I don’t believe she would have used that term or even brought up the race:school thing in the discussion had Cecily been a bit more brown, but she MAY be sheltered. Which, to me, says something else about her. Cecily lives in Philadelphia, right? There’s no way she could have had so little interaction with black people that she not realize that term was offensive unless she was almost purposefully avoiding it. “It” being interaction with black people.

I worry about how parents like this, and the children who ultimately learn from them, will affect my children. Bella has a slight concept of color, and she calls herself pink and me brown, like Cecily’s daughter Tori does. For a while, she was seriously obsessed with the differences and somewhere along the way she learned that being pink was better than being brown. I don’t profess to be color blind – no one is, and if you are, you’re doing yourself and the world around you a disservice by ignoring the differences between the races – but a child should never get the impression that anyone is less than because of their skin.

Which I guarantee you the child of that woman who doesn’t want him to ‘learn Ebonics’ is going to learn, listening to the conversations of his parents. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that eventually (whether coaxed or no) the child will learn to believe that since a school full of black people is inferior to a school full of white people, the same must be true as a rule for the general population. It is very possible for his parents and himself to be almost completely unaware of such a belief, too.

Hence, the perpetuation of white privilege in America, repeatedly passed down, even unknowingly.

I am hoping that no matter how black or white or Hispanic my daughters end up looking, or how gay or straight or bisexual they are, or how Christian or Muslim or Atheist they decide is right for them, that they are always not only tolerant and aware of the differences between them and others, but that they welcome situations that put them outside of their ‘comfort zones’, whatever those may be. How else are they supposed to grow or develop into tolerant individuals? I would hate for anything that I do, or anything that they pick up from other, more close minded people, to inhibit their ability to accept the world around them in a complete way.