Ebonics Slang No Substitute for Standard English, by Michael King

According to some black academics and race warlords, “Ebonics” is derived from one of three potential sources: 1) an African language passed on among blacks, 2) a vocabulary derived from encounters between African slaves and Irish immigrants or 3) a new dialect created since the 1960s by young blacks to separate themselves from whites.

No matter what the racial warlords may say, however, Ebonics is not a language. All it is is black slang.

Ebonics somewhat parallels southern slang, probably because so many blacks migrated to other parts of the country from the south. But the race warlords and their intellectual footsoldiers are trying to elevate slang to the status of a language by dressing it up with psychobabble.

Anyone who wants to find out more about the Ebonics debate should read the book by University of California-Berkeley Linguistics Professor John McWhorter, Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of “Pure” Standard English. He closely examines the argument for Ebonics. He also touches on it in his book Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. In the latter book, McWhorter argues that educators who rely on Ebonics as a crutch for students to learn “the Queen’s English” accomplish nothing more than leaving young minds further behind.

Rather than wasting time using slang, teachers need to use Standard English, period. Students already have no problem understanding Standard English on television and in the movies. One reason why students are having problems in school these days is because educators are allowing distractions like Ebonics to become the focus of education as opposed to removing it from the classroom.

Ebonics is a pillar of Afrocentrism. Through intimidation, violence and pseudoscholarship, Afrocentrists have dumbed down the education of our black children and kept white teachers from working with them. They deliberately cut off poor, black children from mainstream America.

Afrocentrists such as George Washington University professor Robert Williams (who coined the term Ebonics in 1973) claim it is disrespectful for white teachers to correct black children. Professor Charles Coleman of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) York College further argues that remedial education is harmful to black students. The result? At CUNY, remedial-level students can take college-level classes despite being only semiliterate.

My wife and I insist that our children speak in Standard English. Our parents raised us the same way. My mother used to tell me, “I don’t care what you say around your friends, but when you speak to me or any other adult, you will speak clearly and make yourself understood. Do you understand me?” Other middle-class black parents said much the same. Because my wife and I demand excellence and Standard English from our children, our children are succeeding academically in spite of the poor learning environment in today’s schools.

It all comes back to the lack of emphasis that many in the black community place on educational excellence. Substandard performance is accepted since doing well is perceived as “acting white.” The racial warlords promote this idea, albeit in a somewhat covert way.

It’s not uncommon for middle-class blacks to sometimes “go ghetto” and use street slang. I freely admit to using slang. We all do to varying degrees. But, as a professional, I do not use slang in business settings. I know where slang is appropriate.

Poor and working-class blacks with Afrocentric educators, however, do not have the opportunity to learn the Standard English necessary to succeed. They are stuck learning through Ebonics. What students aren’t told is that, without Standard English, their employment prospects after leaving school are virtually zero. This could lead to chronic unemployment and, potentially, a life of crime.

With educators teaching slang instead of Standard English, is it at all surprising that students are not prepared for standardized tests? Is it any wonder that many black students who go to college spend their freshman year in remedial classes, trying to learn skills and knowledge they should have gotten in high school?

We need to leave slang in the streets, and return our classrooms to Standard English. This will help to give our children the opportunities they deserve.

(Michael King is a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and an Internet and radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected] and http://www.geocities.com/mhking1/. A downloadable photo of Michael King is available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/StaffP21MHKingHead.jpg.)

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.