Here is my reaction paper to articles on Anti Black Language.
Fellow classmates – we back again!!
The combinations of the selected readings were an emotional journey in itself – from an overview of the origins of African American Language (AAL), then to an in-depth analysis of how society views dialects other than “Standard” American English (SAE) as lesser than, to how racist pedagogical and linguistic ideologies have seeped its way into our expectations for immigrants, and students’ who’s at-home language differs from English. Again, what I’ve gathered from the selected readings is that remaining uninformed about linguistic differences and the complexity involved, in my opinion, is a form of avoidance to change.
There were several key points brought up amongst the authors on how to effectively notice racist language, and how to counteract linguistic prejudice within the classroom and beyond. Although somewhat aware that African American Language is linguistically a language of its own with rules and conventions, I must have forgotten about the emotional pain tied to identity and self that is forcibly stripped away from this community (and others alike). Emotions come from lived experiences and personal encounters, and the debate on whether African American Language is an independent form of spoken and written communication is an argument I cannot personally identify with through an emotional standpoint of frustration. But is certainly an argument that I’m willing to become more educated on to initiate my own version of revolutionary pedagogy toward resistance (Baker-Bell, 2). I feel the need to commence my own revolutionary pedagogy of resistance. A resistance where I search for and read about peoples’ lives and personal stories that are opposite of my own, so that I can begin to understand the emotional injustices that define their sole purpose of existing. Or understand the cause they feel an overwhelming need to challenge and fight against in this very lifetime.
In Steven Alvarez’s essay, Official American English is Best, he mentioned a point on immigrant assimilation that supports the white supremacist credo against bilingualism and plurilingualism, ultimately revealing that “U.S citizens should not be inconvenienced with the burden to speak, read, or write in languages that are not English” (Alvarez, 93). I have a problem with the use of the word burden in that sentence to describe how “problematic” assimilation is for American English speakers. The point above speaks volume to Western privilege and ignorance. The point above is a perfect example of a thought process that avoids change. The narrative is twisted within the quote above, like how Baker-Bell noticed the unfortunate patterns of mainstream media outlets portraying the minority victim as the criminalized, aggressor (4). We all hold internal, preconceived prejudices and perceptions about the world around us; however, it becomes an “us” problem (or an “I” problem) when we let our preconceived prejudices turn into tangible frustration, hate, or avoidance. The tangible avoidance here is domination and elimination of all those who don’t speak fluent “Standard” American English.
The burden to encounter and navigate other languages is funded by ignorance and is absent of empathy. I think back to our class conversation we had after Cindy’s discussion lead on grieving a language that was once spoken within your family lineage, or even household – a concept I’ll never truly grasp but one that hurts my heart. Western society, backed by U.S. History with roots as deep as political imperialism and slavery, has become numb to how attitudes impact family dynamics not of their own race, religion, culture, or language. As if having to mentally translate a Spanish construction sign on your drive to work is much more frustrating than noticing how your mother’s Dominican dialect has lost its cultural flavor over the many years of assimilation or listening to your Nona’s heavy Sicilian accent for the last time because no other family member can speak it with such cultural authenticity.
Also, as an educator, I see so much beauty in language because it’s how we communicate with one another. When your dog’s ears fall flat with a low, monotonous – Roouuff sound, you know he’s sad or lonely. When your baby whimpers around 12 o’ clock and slams their tiny fists on the table, you know they want lunch. I am not comparing the language styles of a baby or a dog to non-native English speakers. Rather, I am proving a point on patience, and physical energy transmission. A dog and a baby don’t know “Standard” American English, but we still comprehend and offer unconditional love. We form our own language of understanding through trial and error. Many people disengage from or ignore other languages because they fear that they may offend their language in attempting to speak it or translate it. I tell myself not to be afraid, because they are humans too, who would probably prefer our attempt of communication rather than looking at them all befuddled. Language of all kinds help create and define the human experience. So, how rude of some to not even attempt to understand or learn more about the other languages that surround them. It’s their loss, though because they will only have effective, meaningful conversations with those who look exactly like them, and that is a very limiting lifestyle. Instead, I’d like to think of this so called “burden” as a wonderful blessing.
I still think that the position of voice in writing is quite crucial. I also believe language plays a huge role in voice. Many students who have English as a second language may have a different voice than people who wrote in English their entire life. I always knew that the English pedagogies have never considered “Black language” to be linguistically “appropriate”. It is no news to me that once again, Black people are treated as inferior, and it is truly heartbreaking. As a society, and as a group of intellects, it is our job to change these discriminatory approaches.
Anyways, here we go on to We Been Knowin: Toward an Antiracist Language & Literacy Education by April Baker Bell. This reading brings up imperative points about the lack of respect Black language gets when involved in the realm of ELA. She literally says “As language and literacy researchers and educators, we cannot continue to push respectability language pedagogies that require Black students to project a white middle class identity”(8). As eductors, how can we force a group of students to let go of their voice, and latch on to someone else’s voice. What happened to Individuality? Equality? And Respect? On page 9, I found what April Baker Bell said to be very compelling in the sense that the first step in antiracist language is to tackle racism as a whole. Which makes loads of sense since, generational racism is a real thing. We’re being taught by algorithmic racism that has been passed down from years, thus developing racist pedagogies.
Next runner up is African American language is not good English by Jennifer M. Cunningham. This one was a really good one that I would love to show my students. Cunningham solely focuses on African American Language and how it is literally derived from English vocabulary with African grammar. She stresses that African American language LITERALLY cannot be wrong as it is basically English. Considering we have educational and professional settings that do not accept African American language, deeming it to have many errors. Truthfully I forgot what page I am about to quote from so I apologize. “ These errors are not mistakes but, instead, occur when a communicator does not understand or is not aware of differences between one language and another or when, how, or why to switch from one language to another”. Cunningham discusses how it is not the writer’s fault that a teacher with a literal Masters degree cannot understand an individual voice (Sarcasm is real).
Majority of the articles were very informative and an interesting read. I just feel like as said in April Baker Bell’s piece, the first step is to acknowledge racism within educational systems as a whole.