Articles and Essays, Questions, Words & Works of Others

African American Vernacular English and a lay brief history of dialect integrity!

As posted to the United Front-Civil Rights Organization:

posted by Lex Scott


When white people or teenagers in general use it, they are still using AAVE (African American Vernacular English). It’s not only used by African Americans anymore, since our culture is mixed, and (especially suburban teenage male) whites were sold Black culture in pop culture (namely hip hop in the late 80s), and people who are not Black/African American feel a right to co-opt it. Also, I think since AAVE is an American dialect, Americans in general (of all colors and creeds) might use it sometimes, in certain settings–whether an authentic way they learned to talk or not, a later adopted dialect. I agree it can make people “sound ‘uneducated,'” but that’s because of race (and class) hegemony pushing whiteness=rightness in education.

The responses to the original anonymous Tumblr post point out that there is a grammar system–I think it’s also called a pattern of syntax–at play in “You [delete to-be conjugation] + article + noun object-of-sentence” or “You [delete to-be conjugation] + adjective.” And that, in fact, it *matches* the grammatical system (or pattern of syntax?) of Standard American English (SAE), or “proper” English.

Of course in actual life, in reality, at a job interview or in a professional situation, yeah, it sounds uneducated or is considered unprofessional–but that’s because the Anglo dialect (SAE) is the one given clout…by the clout-givers, generally the traditionally dominant culture, aka the culture of the group that violently dominated historically and continues to by all that historical privilege and advantage in the professional realms. In this country and culture’s case, often only when the original inventors and speakers of AAVE hold power in those realms, have staked a claim to clout, do current African American, and Brown People of Color speakers of AAVE pass the gate-keeping official and unofficial tests, prescribed and informal interviews and networking interactions, and algorithms of professions and professional climbing.  It’s also why AAVE is termed a “vernacular,” language spoken in daily life, colloquially.

African American Vernacular dialect functions with the same if not more complexity as Standard American English.**

See, even though AAVE (and other dialects) actually have grammar or syntax patterns = rules…they’re devalued simply because they’re not the norm (SAE) that white Americans developed for English, by natural random language evolution and on purpose, especially for education and for professional speaking.

Ask yourself: How does it sound when someone speaks with a British cockney accent? Educated or uneducated?

If you are a person who’s not African American and/or did not learn to speak AAVE growing up, do you ever say phrases like, “Where you going?” or even “Where ya going?” These also omit the “are,” the to-be conjugation (though I don’t know if it is happening in the same way linguistically!).
And would you say this, would you speak like this in a job interview or in a professional setting? More importantly, especially if you are a white person in a position of hiring or recommending power, can you accept copula deletion just as you would copula contraction? ^^

**African American vernacular dialect functions with the same if not more complexity as Standard American English:

Because English is largely lacking in the subjunctive and other general or what-if verb tenses (cases? Linguists please help me out here!), or doesn’t have a different-sounding word or verb conjugation for the subjunctive or a certain verb tense, Africans who were brought here retained these tenses from their African languages. For instance, saying “She be…” + adjective or + -ing verb, using the infinitive auxiliary, or helping, verb is actually from Yoruba tribe language structure! And from some other African languages, if I remember right what I’ve learned. And it’s a structure **more complex** than that of English! It makes for an additional verb tense. English is missing this kind of verb tense and murky with others: for instance, describing a chronological spot on a timeline that’s distinctly in the present but also a lasting, though undefined, length or range–so when Africans from many different tribes were learning English, suddenly forcibly put into English-speaking American environments as slaves, people or a single person from one tribe mixed up with people from all different tribes who spoke different languages, and communicating, especially learning some English was a matter of life and death, these verb tenses / sentence structures stuck around! The African language infusions clarify the English or add to it.
(Linguists, please correct, if the infinitive in “pronoun + infinitive” structure is not an infinitive auxiliary!)

^^…What if in your job, and maybe in your life in all aspects, you never have to use “professional” speak…? When African Americans and other People of Color (and poor whites and light-skinned people, namely the Irish, before the category of “white” became so omnipresent as the norm) were kept out of “professional” jobs and business and life, there was no need to learn or adapt to “professional” English of the dominant educated class/race/group. In that sense, of course it is just as “professional” to use whatever dialect you speak–or even a different language, a “creole,” or what’s called a “pidgin” (mixture of two languages into a business/commerce dialect).   If you *were* a business person of the year 18-something-or-other or the early 1900s, say, a butcher and maybe even owner of a butcher shop, and you, say, talk to a German to get lamb and to a Jewish Rabbi who speaks Hebrew to get Kosher meat and to first-generation Italian immigrants and Irish immigrants, etc., would you speak perfect King’s English or Standard American English of the time ? If you were an African American who until segregation mostly interacted for business only with other African American people, except maybe sometimes with other usually ghetto-ized People of Color and/or a few poor white people, often immigrant light-skinned people…wouldn’t the dialect would serve you just fine, including in your profession?

Articles and Essays, Happs!, Reviews, Words & Works of Others

Urgent Recommendation: Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN

CITIZEN: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Not racist? Hear, listen, and grasp social and race issues with the renowned author, playwright, and poet. “I don’t think we connect micro-aggressions that indicate the lack of recognition of the black body as a body to the creation and enforcement of laws.” Claudia Rankine said last fall in BOMB.
Wait, what’s a “microaggression”?? These words matter.
CITIZEN: An American Lyric divulges and dissects day-to-day, often sub-surface racism and its effects beyond the moment. Her fifth poetry book, it made history, nominated for two National Book Critics Circle Awards, for Criticism and for Poetry; it won the latter, along with the NAACP Image Award, PEN Open Book Award, and others, and is the only New York Times nonfiction bestseller of its lyric kind.
CITIZEN calls out in solidarity if you’ve ever been run into by an armored tank of racial marginalization or been caught in a nasty traffic jam of intersectionality. Rankine calls you to action if you give a hoot or are susceptible to participating in systemic racism. Cultural theorist Lauren Berlant described in the BOMB interview, “Citizenship involves metabolizing in the language of your flesh what you call the ‘ordinary’ injury of racist encounter.” Rankine’s prose details scene by the millisecond, along with internal reaction, piling on inevitable, immediate, smacking social resonance in fell swoop after fell swoop. Each scene rounds out with that “metabolizing” as it happens, or as its consequence plays out within black bodies and minds constrained by white hegemony and apathy.
Los Angeles’ Fountain Theater produced an adaptation in August, spotlighting the versatility of CITIZEN and Rankine’s multi-form and -genre work. Her dialogue and descriptions came to life on stage particularly smoothly: The ensemble cast rove among different characters, black actors facing white actors, playing out scenes of surprise verbal, contextual complicity or attack and slow-motion, time-stopped response, outburst, or restraint. Sitting, watching in your red theater seat became complacency; cringing and squirming in it were not enough.
In interactions of daily and professional life, how can white people stop colluding to enact racism, even if unintentionally? How can all people not commit and not accept racial microaggression? Recognition of such words and acts is a start.


A Positive of a Negative Proves a Mathematician a Performer

Gioia De Cari's TRUTH VALUES
Gioia De Cari completes a Master’s degree in math, at M.I.T., nonetheless, in just over an hour. She now performs with exactly enough dramatic flair and even some “spicy,” operatic singing, having turned from proofs to stage her wit; that is, from scholarly pursuit of logic to write, act, and tour her solo show. TRUTH VALUES traipses through that most illogical of tales, blunt sexism altering the female scholar’s narrative. Male chauvinist mathematicians (and other nerds) gender-discriminate or sexualize her at almost every turn, at odds with her Ph.D education. The UI WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) spearheaded bringing the autobiographical Best Solo Show winner to the Englert Monday night. De Cari delivers Lazer-carved characters who lecture her seminars or jive around the “party office” as TAs so that you forget only one actor plays them all. Guts, gusto, and unashamed femininity through her entire intense graduate career and teaching fellowship at Harvard add up to absolute, real theatricality.

An Oleanna fresh from across campus, minus the taint of Mamet’s mysoginy but unfortunately greater than or equal to that story’s professor’s, TRUTH VALUES brings quality to quantity in accents, the drive of the young mathematician and performer, and obectivity, via succinct dialogue and sometimes conjured costumes. The bare-minimal set exemplifies De Cari’s virtually lone navigation “Through M.I.T.’s Male Math Maze,” as she has subtitled the show. Directed with punch and elegance, award-winning classics director Miriam Eusebio (member of the historic feminist and LGBTQ collective Wow Cafe Theater and founder of the Intentional Theater) accelerates De Cari as young Gioia and her former, mathier colleagues and company to effortless synthesis, rendering obtuse where the acting ends and the directing begins. The lighting by Chris Dallos of Unexpected Theater casts precise environments, not too harshly but with no pretty ivy gobo.

If you missed the show, calculate how long it will take you to leave point A at a minimum of 60 miles per hour and arrive at point B, the next tour destination of TRUTH VALUES, as soon as possible.
Sept. 21, 2015

Articles and Essays

Equalism: 1: On Equalism (and a response)

Regarding Joss Whedon’s speech on “Feminist” and in response to RealLivingBeauty’s response.

I don’t believe a person has to name-drop a comprehensive history of feminist theorists–but one important tenet of feminism OR equalism is giving credit where credit is due. Homage for its own sake, sure, but more importantly for the consequences of respect and perception shift*.  I would like to know what consideration if any Joss Whedon gave the question of whether or not to include acknowledgement of the ideas or accomplishments (or names) of any feminist shakers. I do have a problem with his focus on linguistics regarding feminism without a holla to the work of Mary Daly or the effects of dialects gendered for the speaker. I think in fact that it’s a disservice to his public and a falling short on the part of his capability to not use his position to bring to light see it as the same way I wouldn’t make a speech on the current* (mis)use of electrical power without harkening back to Tesla and his philosophy and the lack of awareness about the Sphinx’ battery function.

I grew up and out of adolescence to Buffy. I came out to Buffy. I’m a fan of Joss Whedon.  Airing his work does not excuse the missing diversity in produced writers, creators, et al. on TV.

I have two brothers, raised by our single mother, who embody and enact feminist principles but have a huge problem with the name or word, not for its aestheticism but for its alignment with one sex/gender.  I’ve met hordes of women (straight, gay, bi, trans; of many colors or national or cultural origin) who proclaim themselves “not feminist, but” or denounce feminism, aligning it with being a “femi-nazi” and for fear of being seen as such, who don’t know who Elizabeth Cady Stanton was, that Rush Limbaugh coined the above term, or who the Guerilla Girls are. Or that their side-stepping standpoint is related to these not-famous-enough leaders of feminism and setbacks by sensationalizing opponents.

I understand that the term “feminism” alienates some men. The semantic problem with the word is not (primarily, if at all) its sound, as Joss Whedon purports, but its usage given semantic similarity to the terms “racist” and “sexist” that therefore aligns it with these…within a yet misogynistic society.  And a misogynistic society also hurts men, and depends on classism and racism and heterosexism (that last, a word not recognized by WordPress!). The sexism can be directed at men, and the racism can be directed at white people, even though these groups also get by on a lot of privilege.  Homophobic violence has landed straight people in the hospital.  Most males have at least one female in their lives they care about, whose survival, success, and well-being matters to them. Intersectional feminism shows the problem is people in power taking advantage of these many discriminating -ists and -ist attitudes bludgeoning people intermittantly, simultaneously, and in syncopation, like a million permutations of ominous chords of possible alignments.  As long as people with not as much power also take advantage of or submit to these -isms and their -ists, the usury and abuse are repeated and reproduced.  And to change it all: Recognize your privilege.  Make your voice heard.  If you can’t, seek solidarity; if your voice is heard, help someone who needs to be heard and wants to be heard.

As far as words go, feminism concentrates on the problems women face because of their sex or gender, the problems misogyny causes.  The movement is called feminism, and people who focus on these particular struggles and this portion of a philosophy of equality therefore called feminists–the same way some people are Afro-centrists, and yes, still need to be, and the gay pride movement keeps going strong, led by or in close conjunction with gay rights activists. And whether or not you argue the term crosses over to the semantically and functionally occupational “-ist,” remember that most activists don’t get paid for their work. Neither do most feminists, like me, and unlike Joss Whedon.

The problem with the word mirrors the problem with the movement’s history, tending toward the exclusionary as much as the possibly healthy and necessary separatist, continuing and contributing to the oppressions of people of color, people earning lower income, lesbians and gay men, and gender nonconforming people before that was a term, and reaping the benefits of colonialist occupation and oppression of so-called developing countries.  Until feminism caught up with the struggles of people in all these groups, and people realized how interconnected all these struggles for equality are, because women come from all these groups.  Everyone who is oppressed in one but usually more of these ways fights to be equal.  Fighting for equality brings to light the way things should be and the humanity we have in common and rights every single person should share: Civil Rights and Human Rights, acting on your Dream to pursue education.

Feminism has moved as a movement to be inclusive and feminists are leaders working and fighting for racial equality.  Not too many people believe men can’t be feminists.  I do believe that focusing on the equality pursued at the basis of helps promote the philosophy –and in a more inclusive way.  It leaves room for the acknowledgment, understanding, and addressing of how sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism take form in all different directions, when girls are schooled in being manipulative to counter men’s dominance, for instance. But where each of these structural and systemic discriminations don’t out-and-out harm the majority group, say, White folk, it sure plays dirty tricks on their minds and keeps our society as a whole down, sick, because for one, there are always individuals that make up a group, especially groups defined by identity politics, who might belong to other oppressed groups, and for another–every society won’t be healthy until everyone really is treated equally.   To attain this, we must all acknowledge and enact the equal fights of fighting for equalism.

When impressionable young people and workplace holiday committees are taught 1990s multiculturalism where appropriation counts for celebration of different cultures, they practice it unwitting of its offensiveness and that as a machination of oppression until they learn or someone shows them otherwise. When impressionable young people and unenlightened workplace after-hours parties are taught a vague mixture of vague scandalous riotous fake bra burning feminism, of Femi-nazis, shame, and blame, and that boys will be boys and girls should be skinny–we end up with guys being slapped in domestic relationships along with in the movies as a twisted new norm.  This is not the empowered female of feminism. Anything other than believing that speaking out against this as unacceptable goes against the principle of feminism, of equalism.  In this sense, yes, I vote to promote a new word, I vote with my right hard-won by feminist foremothers and feminist (“sympathizer”) forefathers, for a term that includes men being treated individually not as some new enemy, but be treated still as equals, for Equalism.

If that helps everyone be treated as equals with the progress and changing tides for all groups still fighting the good fight for equality and equal treatment, and the new or now recognized rather than well-meaning (even straight, white) men feel alienated, when they can be willing and wonderful allies, then I am an equalist. I’d rather let the sons of soccer moms and single mothers know they are needed, so they can fight rape culture instead of rape cases that prey on the poor and men of color.

On the other hand, each of these fights contains different specifics because of its unique history.  There is a fine balance between recognizing the equality that everyone deserves, and working for it, fighting for it and working on and fighting for the equality of a certain group that needs it. Every path to full equality is specific. Each group deserves the recognition of its struggle; each fight requires the understanding of this struggle to reach the same equality that other groups appreciate (or fail to) in their privilege. Because people have lived it as individuals and groups.  Feminism has expanded, finally, to acknowledge the intersections and multiple oppressions people face, to its credit, from Angela Davis to Feministing website.  I believe that Equalism, and pronouncing oneself an Equalist might take this on and teach it even more quickly.
I don’t think we should work to eradicate the term by any means, but it should never be used to validate bullying against individual males, in media or life, either.

And I -love- the connotation of “Feministing” and its visual cultural reference to Rosie the Riveter and daring female sexual pleasure; it packs the right amount of punch, a goodly productive portion of goading, and a physical and visceral rallying cry of solidarity.

~Shakin’ a feminist fist at Spike,

Sabri Sky

*also a (deconstructionist) new understanding, critique, and change of the rule-making experts’ doling out of credit … which translates to money and fair treatment of individuals.

**pun intended