Date: Sat, 21 Dec 1996 18:56:59 -0500 From: Ronald Kephart Subject: More on Black English Sender: To: Reply-to: Ronald Kephart Precedence: bulk

Thanks to John McCreery for his (as usual) perceptive insights. His post reminds me of yet another of those issues, and that is that just because everybody speaks the "same" language, standard English or whatever, this does not mean that everyone will get along or that no-one will be oppressed. Ever hear of Northern Ireland, or Bosnia?

A few years ago I had an African American student in a number of my classes (he was a Spanish major). He was from Arizona, and spoke English with what I would call, for want of a better term, an unmarked accent. In a linguistics class, we were discussing the What to Do about Black English question. Many of the ("white") students expressed the idea that if all those BE speakers would just get off their butts and learn to speak standard, everything would be OK for them. In a very moving speech which chagrined, perplexed, and/or offended most if not all of the other students, he made the point that in his experience speaking standard English is not enough. He himself was not a BE speaker. Yet (he said) he had felt the effects of being perceived as "different" in a society that was founded upon and still operates (to a greater extent than we want to believe) on racist principles.

So, John, you're absolutely right that no matter how well these kids learn to speak, read, and write "standard" English, things will not be better for them until the society they live in is healed. And, it seems, too many people would rather be ill.

On the other hand, as someone points out in the film "American Tongues", if they do learn standard English and they're still oppressed, the oppressors will have nothing to hide behind.
Ronald Kephart University of North Florida