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Why don’t we say “Ebonics” anymore?

Many of us still cringe when we hear the term “Ebonics” because white people pitched a fit in 1996 and we’re still dealing with it. So we say “AAVE” now. 

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Ebonics is trending on Twitter right now and I stuck my head in real quick to see what the fuss was about. I ended up writing a little thread about it because, when I was growing up, I remember “Ebonics” as a term, and then it just sort of disappeared. Now everybody says AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and Ebonics is almost a bad word. Black people don’t use it. Linguists don’t use it. But what happened to it?

Oakland happened.

If you have a negative reaction to the word “Ebonics,” you’re not alone. A lot of people, especially those who were paying attention to the news in the mid-1990s, have the same reaction, but let’s go back to the 70s.

Robert Williams, a Black psychologist, came up with the term “Ebonics” in 1973 as a combination of ebony and phonics to give a new name for the way many Black Americans speak. Before that, the most widely used term was “nonstandard Negro English” which sounds like Black people took English and messed it up. It’s nonstandard communication. It’s wrong because it’s not regular English. Ebonics, on the other hand, is its own word with no relation to “English” as a term.

Researchers and educators have put a lot of effort into studying the racial achievement gap for decades, but especially since the integration of schools. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this educational environment where Black kids don’t succeed at the same rate as white kids, and most of them are roadblocks stemming from racism in America — poverty, school funding, class size, over-disciplining, etc.  Ebonics was thought to be another factor. The language white children hear at home is the language they hear in schools and the language on standardized testing. Black children hear Ebonics at home, and when they come to school, they’re just told the way they speak is wrong, without any context for why or how to code-switch.

It’s like Black kids grow up learning to make waffles, but white kids grow up learning to make pancakes, and school is IHOP — they know exactly how to do it when they get there, but Black kids will have to make an adjustment. The theory was proven in experiments where white kids were given standardized tests sprinkled with Ebonics, but with the same subject matter as before. Suddenly, white kids did terribly and Black kids excelled — white kids didn’t know how to make waffles.

Perhaps more important, the teachers didn’t know how to make waffles either, and the American education system would rather punish than instruct. The research started to come to a head in the late 80s and early 90s when teachers started to realize (notice?) that there was a disproportionate number of Black kids in special ed classes and classes for “bad” kids, but they were no less intelligent than their white counterparts. Teachers saw Ebonics as incorrect or broken English, and Black kids were punished for it.

Now we take a detour to…Norway!

There are a lot of Norwegian dialects and there’s not necessarily a standard spoken version the way we have standard American English or standard British English. In school, you learn a standard written version, but when kids come in with their own dialect, they’re not told that it’s wrong and punished for it. They’re taught to relate their dialect to the standard. You make waffles at home, and this is how we will modify that to make pancakes.

Oakland decided to try out a Norwegian model when Black kids came to school speaking Ebonics. Instead of telling them they were wrong, they proposed  a more instructive approach where they can relate it to English. Instead of punishing Black kids for making waffles, Oakland wanted their teachers to know how to make waffles so they could help the kids turn their waffles into pancakes. Waffles aren’t bad, but you’ll have to know how to make pancakes. 

That’s an important point. Part of the reason Black kids would do poorly on certain tests is the fault of the teachers misunderstanding what the kids themselves were conveying, because the teachers didn’t know the rules of Ebonics.

This was the goal:

“At home, you might say she scared but here we don’t drop the verb “to be” so it’s She is scared.

This had been the standard before:

She scared…what? What did she scare? Nothing – we are talking about her being scared of something so She IS scared and you are wrong,” without any explanation why.

Oakland had a sound proposal backed by research, but White America lost their proverbial **** over it. Thousands and thousands of news articles were written about Oakland wanting to teach Ebonics to the kids, and Liberals and Conservatives alike agreed that was a terrible idea. Famous Black people weighed in and agreed it was a terrible idea. And you know what? It’s not a great idea. Why teach something in school that will put you at a disadvantage later in life?

But that wasn’t the idea! No one in Oakland was proposing that at all. Why would they need to teach kids Ebonics when the kids already know Ebonics? The goal was to use the language they know — the rules and syntax of language they’re fluent in — as a foundation to build upon.

Oakland is saying They already know how to make waffles, so we can alter that to help them make pancakes.

White America heard Everybody has to make waffles now and they were enraged. The issue made it all the way to Congress where they ended up passing legislation to strip federal funding for schools that tried to implement any recognition of Ebonics in the classroom. The “fear” of Ebonics was so great, The New York Times famously ran this ad (for free) from a head start organization:

ihas

Note: That’s not even correct Ebonics because that subject/verb doesn’t agree in any pattern of how we speak. This is clearly another instance of white people outside of their lane in a weak attempt to make a point.

Ebonics became a bad word, Oakland gave up on their very reasonable proposal, and no school district since has ever tried to implement recognition of Ebonics as a valid form of communication. As with so many things in the US, White America had a knee-jerk reaction to another perceived threat to white supremacy, this time in the form of Black people having our own language recognized and validated in an attempt to give our kids greater code-switching tools.

And now many of us still cringe when we hear the term “Ebonics” because white people pitched a fit in 1996 and we’re still dealing with it. So we say “AAVE” now.

 

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Race

Seneca Village, Black displacement, and the history of Central Park.

Let’s have a look at the first free Black settlement in NYC.

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Some tweets about Central Park have been going viral the past two days and they are missing valuable context and clarity. Yesterday, I saw this one:

Black people owned less than 1% of the land that would eventually become Central Park.

Seneca Village was about 5 acres of land. Central Park is almost 850 acres of land. So no, the area was not called Seneca Village. There were lots of little villages with their own names dotted throughout the area.

A third of the people in Seneca Village were white. In fact, most of the people in Central Park were white — they were Irish and German farmers.

The United States is a terrible country founded upon theft, greed, and subjugation. All of this land was stolen from Native Americans in the first place, so this is not an effort to impart any warm and fuzzy feelings about US history. Hyperbole is the enemy of truth, and exaggeration in one area of history serves to undermine facts in another. We live in a country where textbooks speak of slavery as a valid business model with a few mean employers. Because of that, when we are trying to force the reality of the horrors of slavery and racism into the American narrative, we can’t afford to embellish other injustices.

When you say Black families had their homesteads razed to make way for Central Park, the average person will picture roving bands of white people setting fires and violently chasing Black people with dogs and weapons. It happened all over the country throughout our history. Countless Black communities are forgotten today because the history of white America is written in Black suffering.

The location of Central Park wasn’t a decision made with race at the forefront. Seneca Village was indeed the first free Black settlement in NYC after slavery was outlawed. Free Black men could vote if they owned enough property, and around 15-20% of those property-owning men lived in Seneca Village. The city did take control of that property through eminent domain to make way for Central Park. All of these things are true.

These things are also true: At its peak the population of Seneca Village was less than 300 people and a third of those people were white. The total population of the area now known as Central Park was almost 2,000 people, and the majority of them were Irish and German farmers. The city used eminent domain to take all of their lands, but that doesn’t mean the lands were stolen from them. All of the residents who owned their property were paid for it — double or triple what the original selling price was — but they couldn’t say no to the sale. The city forced them to sell and move elsewhere. Aside from that though, most of the population of NYC lived below 14th Street, which meant much of the rest of Manhattan was semi-rural and people farmed land all over the island that they didn’t own. When the city decided to build Central Park, they forced the squatters to start paying rent to the city, and when they couldn’t pay, they were kicked out.

The image being painted on Twitter is that Central Park was full of communities of prosperous, land-owning freedmen who lost their voting rights when NYC decided to build a park where the Black people live. And that’s a fair assumption! NYC is full of racist building projects, and US history is full of racist legacies where successful Black towns were essentially punished or destroyed for simply thriving. That’s not quite the case for Central Park. Most of the displaced people were white. Most of the residents of Seneca Village were poor and 80% of them didn’t own the homes they lived in. Those who owned property, which in turn meant they could vote, were paid more than they’d originally invested.  They could use that money buy property elsewhere, which meant they could still vote.

But! This is still the United States. While racism may not be the central figure in the creation of Central Park as it was in other tales of yesteryear, it’s still there as a supporting character.

When NYC wanted a park, the original location chosen was a place called Jones’s Wood. The prosperous white families in that area successfully fought the city, so a new location was scouted and the city settled on the area now known as Central Park. Seneca Village was a very, very tiny portion of the land area and the Black residents there were a small percentage of the mostly white population that would be displaced, but there were very prominent Black families in Seneca Village. The majority of the residents were indeed poor farmers, laborers, and domestic workers who didn’t own land, but the people who did own land were important to the Black community in NYC at large.

The Lyons Family in Seneca Village were conductors on the Underground Railroad.

All Angels church was one of the few interracial congregations in the country. When riots broke out in Lower Manhattan as white racists attacked Black abolitionists, Seneca Village much farther north was spared any damage. As a result, this much more rural area attracted other prominent Black activists, and by the time Central Park was planned, 20% of the Black voters in the city lived there. The residents of Seneca Village put up a fight against the city just as the residents of Jones’s Wood had, but where those prosperous white families ultimately prevailed, the prosperous Black ones did not, and the city moved forward with its plans.

The two biggest takeaways from the creation of Central Park and the history of Seneca Village is the lack of violence and the displacement of white people. Those two factors counter the image most of us have when we hear the city took land from Black people to make a park. There are no stories of Black displacement where most of the people affected were white, and there are few stories of Black displacement from the 19th Century where the government engaged in protracted legal battles with the residents and ultimately paid property owners for their land.  Seneca Village should be remembered as the first free Black settlement in NYC, but we don’t have to paint it as another Tulsa to drive home the history of racism in the US. There are enough Tulsas to go around.

 

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Some sources if you want to read in more detail:
NY Times: Seneca Central Park
Columbia University: Seneca Village
CentralParkNYC.org: Seneca Village
Documents of the Assembly of the State of NY 

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Race

Leave slavery out of your abortion conversations.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery

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Another day, another White Liberal unnecessarily using slavery to make a point.

(Twitter)

Joyce Alene is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. She has appeared as a legal analyst on various cable news channels and she was an attorney for the Obama administration. And she thought it was a good idea to compare abortion rights to slavery.

Not sure why this repeatedly has to be explained over and over, but it is very much possible to discuss persecution without bringing Black people into it. There is never a need to compare any struggle in this country to the worst atrocity in the history of the United States, and doing so makes you look unserious. What we are dealing with right now in regard to reproductive rights can be discussed on its own merit. We should be horrified by what’s happening, period. No hyperbole is necessary. No conflation with genocide is needed.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery, when absolutely nothing the Modern White American faces has any similarity? Nothing the Colonial White American faced had any similarity. Leave slavery out of the conversation.

It’s a double insult. On the first side, Good Whites can’t come to grips with the foundation of America’s success in the world firmly resting atop slavery, so comparisons to modern struggles are subconsciously made to lessen the severity of what happened. Even the most liberal of White Americans has a difficult time accepting the fact that everything you see owes it existence to slavery. There would be no United States without the economic engine that was chattel slavery. From Yale to Bank of America to whiskey — the legacy of slavery is everywhere.

On the other side, too many Good Whites feel such a strong need to identify with the oppressed that they will manufacture similarities that don’t exist.

Or possibly a third side:

If you acknowledge that it’s a bad take and you don’t mean any offense, then you only said it to be shocking and to grab attention. You have trivialized slavery as a gotcha for clicks, and that’s even worse.

Women are being oppressed. Yes, restrictive legislation on reproductive rights disproportionately affects poor women and women of color, but all women are at the mercy of an evangelical government that believes it has the divine right to subjugate Eve’s daughters. That is enough to work with. Comparing it to anything other than that is a distraction and a disservice. Women deserve rights on their own merit.

 

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Race

We gotta invite Tigger to the Cookout now.

Maybe it sounds so much like n—-r some people just lose their minds.

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Some cartoon characters are Black because they’re created that way.

Some cartoon characters Black because we decided they are.

And some cartoon characters are just cartoon characters. I don’t recognize any Winnie the Pooh characters from my daily life, so they’re just animals to me, but we might have to welcome Tigger into the family. There’s no other explanation for why this white lady is so mad that he’s on a flag.

Tigger must’ve played rap music in her driveway or looked at her purse on the elevator or something, because this lady is acting like that flag says Black Lives Matter And Yours Does Not. I am very certain there are no rules (by this non-existent housing association) prohibiting a cartoon character flag and this woman feels like “rule” is the same as “I don’t like it,” which is unsurprising given the age and hue of the protagonist in this short film. My first retail job was at Bath & Body Works in a Southern shopping mall, and if there’s one thing I know for certain about that particular demographic it’s that they definitely believe personal opinions are facts, feelings are rules, and there is a manager of something somewhere who will side with them so they can get their way.

Bless the restraint of this homeowner. I probably woulda cussed that woman from here to Tara and then I would be gone with the police after she called 911 on me.

 

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