by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Since you can’t bring up a racial issue in this country without whites running to one side and blacks running to the other, let me try a different angle on this Ebonics idea.

If I were black, I’d be insulted.

If I were black, and a school district in California said, “Let’s take the way you black people speak, even though it is pretty much English, and make it a language all its own, and call it Ebonics, and use federal money to train our teachers to speak this mutant language, so they can teach your failing black children how to read and write real English” — if I heard that, and I were black, I would be ticked off.

I’d say, “You think we’re not smart enough to teach our children the English language, so you’ll bend over to accommodate our stupidity? Thanks for nothing.”

Now, of course, I am not black, and you may choose to dismiss my thoughts by saying I am not wise enough to comment, since my skin is a different color.

But you’d be doing exactly what the people behind Ebonics are doing.

Making excuses, and keeping people apart. The crutch of the matter

This is not about race. This is about intelligence. And I refuse to believe intelligence is related to skin color. The whole idea for Ebonics came from the poor performance of black students in an Oakland, California, school district. Board members there were frustrated, so they figured training teachers to speak “black English” might make them more effective teaching
“white English” and thus raise the test scores.

And even though there is no plan as to how to do this, even though one board member admitted the confused roots of this idea when she said,
“Whatever we are using now, it’s not working,” the district will apply for federal funds for this program. They will ask the government to support a crutch that no other ethnic group has ever needed.

It is not needed now.

Our black American children are no less intelligent than any other children. If their schoolwork is poor, it’s because study habits are poor, home environment is poor, or emphasis on the value of education is poor.

It’s because there’s too much TV watching, and not enough fathers and mothers saying “Come on, let’s go over your homework.”

It’s not because a kid hears “We be eatin’ dinner” at home and reads “We’re going to eat dinner” in a book.

Even the name Ebonics — which comes from “Ebony” and “phonics” — emits a separatist tone, a language based on skin color. Would we then call standard English “Ivoryonics” — mixing “Ivory” and “phonics” — even though it is spoken by every race of people?

Apparently, I am not alone in seeing Ebonics as an insult. Steven Gooden, a 30 year-old black man who served as honorary youth chairperson at the last Republican Convention, told the Associated Press: “This is a racist affront against people who have struggled for decades to be part of the American fiber.”

A black writer named James McBride told USA Today: “It’s more important that black children learn to speak proper English, because that’s what they need to succeed in America and the world.”

A good friend of mine, who happens to be black, put it rather simply: “Show me a foreign country where they speak Ebonics, and I’ll agree it’s a second language. Otherwise, you’re just lowering the bar for my people. And we don’t need that.

“We’ll go over that bar same as everyone else.” Parents need to speak up

Now the catalyst of this idea — bad academic performances by our black youth — is a serious issue. It should not be dismissed. But perhaps the problem, like most issues of childhood, should be directed at the parents.

If black parents are using such language as “we be going” and “I ain’t no fool” at home, that’s fine. But they need to emphasize to their children that this is not the dialect of most books, tests, and applications, it is not the dialect that will bring jobs and success in the mainstream, and as such, it would be wise to know both.

This is no different than a Southern white parent who uses a phrase such as “He ain’t got a lick of sense, no how” teaching his child that you can’t write that sentence on a test exam.

We are not talking about some kind of alien-speak. Most Americans can easily understand what is being called Ebonics — it is part of our TV shows, music and movies.

But calling it a language, and demanding federal money to train teachers is not showing racial respect. It’s saying that even though Korean and Chinese children come here not knowing a single word of English, they can grasp it and excel in school, while blacks who have lived here for generations need special help.

I don’t think that’s true. It is not about skin color, it’s about trying harder, adjusting priorities and getting parents involved. That’s how you do better in school.

Of course, I am white, and maybe, if you’re black, you disagree with everything I’ve written here.

Then again, you understood it, didn’t you?

I rest my case.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!