Date: Wed, 08 Jan 1997 20:39:32 -0800 (PST) From: Aaron Fox
Subject: The World From Brown's Lounge
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Just finished a long interview on Ebonics, a frustrating experience because you have to teach the interviewer the principles of linguistic theory before you can proceed to answer their questions. It seems to me our best hope of changing thing swould be to lobby for basic linguistic subjects to be taught in secondary school alongg with math and science. It is arguably as relevant for life as Trigonometry and Biology, for example. But this is not my subject of the moment . ..

I am put in mind, as the conversation slowly wrenches toward more class-inflected perspectives, of Michael Bell's patient and unassuming gem of an ethnography of what he calls "Black middle-class play" at a neighborhood tavern in Philadelphia (or was it Pittsburgh? yikes). The fluency and specificity of the discourse he recorded in BE/AAVE (or one of its obviously many class-marked lects) made a pretty clear parallel for me to W.J. Wilson's take on inner-city Black poverty in general, in which the structural and cultural squeeze is tightened by the spiral of a flight of the stably employed and stable employment from the city and the concentration of poverty's cultural and organic pathologies -- ranging from fetal alcohol syndrome to illiteracy to the kind of desperation most N. Americans don't think of as happening in "America."-- are concentrated, and distilled to their essence in the schools. (I am thinking of Kozol's *Savage Inequalities" and , Bourgeois's *In Search of Res[pect*) In this view "racism" is structural and operates through the mode of production and reproduction (as well as the informal economy), ultimately expressed as an internal class hegemony (within/between the working classes and within/between the various ethnicized factions of the poor).

The implications continue to ramify, as classism and racism are as creolized, as present and natural to consciousness and behavior and habitus, as naturalized and "unintentional" and total, as any language could ever be. No wonder Labov notes the *divergence* of AAVE and "Standard English" in the present, rather than the opposite common-sense convergence of American ideology.

Oh yeah, Bell. He describes what seems to me to be a relatively socially stable and secure world (and the discusive/moral norms of that world) in the midst of what many Americans might call a "ghetto" (in the 70s), (and yes, one could argue, as one could\ argue about my work in Texas bars, that alcohol is downplayed as a pathology; but in some places it's still a part of a healthy culture too . . .) The speakers he works are "middle-class" only by the standards of the modernist class ideology of the 50s-early 70s, when even blue-collar Americans like Bell's interlocutors could consider themselves in "the imperial middle" (DeMott 1991). The loss of that kind of middle-class (or solid working class) "play" and its rich linguistic repertoire both marks and probably contributes to the linguistic and cultural divergence and the social misery, replaced by a harder and more class-conscious and survivalist aesthetics evident in hiphop music especially, but also in the everyday speech genres of the ghetto.


______________________________________________________________________ Aaron A. Fox
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music
The University of Washington Box 353100, Seattle WA 98195-3100 FAX: 206-543-3285, TEL: 206-685-1811
EMAIL: WWW: ________________________________________________________________________

"We're not here for glamor or FAshion
but here's the question I'm askin
Why isn't young black kids taught BLACK? They're only taught to read, write, and act It's like teaching a dog to be a cat
you don't teach a DOG to be a cat
you don't teach WHITE kids to be BLACK
why IS that?
Is it because we're the miNOrity?"

KRS-1/BoogieDownProductions "Why Is That?" From *Ghetto Music: THe Blueprint of Hip Hop.* Copyright 1989 Jive Records (BMG)