Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Can slang be a language?
The man who coined the neologism, Ebonics thought so. The term is a conjunction of “ebony” and “phonics,” put together by Robert Williams (who founded one of the first Black Studies departments at an American university) by which he meant to convey the notion that the slang used by some (usually poor) black people constitutes a language in its own right.
Ironically – given the racial emphasis of Williams’ work – what he characterized as “Ebonics” is more white than black, as detailed in Thomas Sowell’s 2006 book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals.
Sowell – a black man who holds a doctorate in Economics from the University of Chicago – digs into the economic history of what is often mistakenly characterized as “black slang” – which derives from Elizabethan-England-era white slang, which traveled across the ocean hundreds of years ago to evolve into the slang spoken by poor whites in America, especially in the rural South – where it was transmitted to poor American blacks.
“These people are creating a terrible problem in our cities . . . they can’t or won’t hold a job . . .they flout the law constantly and neglect their children. They drink too much. And their moral standards would shame an alleycat. For some reason or other, they absolutely refuse to accommodate themselves to any kind of decent, civilized life.”
This is Sowell quoting – not the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan speaking of black people – as many Woke liberals would immediately assume. Which is precisely why Sowell chose the quote to begin his explication of the origin of Ebonics.
In fact, the words were uttered in the late 1950s . . . by a white Indianapolis, Indiana politician to describe poor whites from the South.
Who spoke the “language” Williams sought to legitimize as “Ebonics” some 25 years later.
“More is involved here,” says Sowell, “than a mere parallel between blacks and poor Southern whites. What is involved is a common subculture that goes back for centuries, which has encompassed everything, from ways of talking to attitudes toward education, violence and sex. And which originated, not in the South, but in those parts of the British isles from which white Southerners came.”
He goes on to cite some examples of “Ebonics” – that is to say, of white slang – including the use of the term Wist, to describe the card game Bridge. Wist, Sowell explains, is a term used today almost exclusively by inner-city black Americans to describe the game that was once called that almost exclusively by white English people who lived in England when Elizabeth I was queen some 400 years ago.
“Southern whites not only spoke the English language in very different ways from whites in other regions,” Sowell says, “their churches, their roads, their homes, their music, their education, their food, and their sex lives were all sharply different from those of other whites.” The same, he is true of many poor blacks, today – with the main difference being most of them are urban rather than rural, a legacy of the mass migration of poor blacks from the rural South to the industrial cities of the North and Midwest – the areas of the country where “Ebonics” tends to be spoken most commonly.
And not uncommonly – recently – by urban whites, who have adopted the same slang language as their own in the wake of the popularization of what “scholars” such as the creator of “Ebonics” and its propagators have given a kind of ersatz woke “authenticity.” White rappers – the Detroit-born Eminem, for example – speak the “language” because it is considered to be the true language of the “oppressed.”
They “keep it real,” even though it is false – in the sense that it is not about race. From South Boston to South Texas.
As Sowell explains with meticulous scholarship, it is about economics.
“Ebonics” is indeed the language – so to speak – of the oppressed. Almost all of whom were originally white and poor, the cast-offs (and kept-outs) of proper society, excluded by their fellow white “betters,” who sneered whenever they heard them speak.
Sowell says that while poor whites were encouraged to speak and write using proper language, their poor black compatriots have been encouraged to consider their use of slang as proper language, which has had the effect of keeping millions of them poor while at the same time encouraging them to believe that their poverty is due, at least, in part, to the “disrespecting” the way they speak.
The linguist John McWhorter – who is also the author of Woke Racism – says that use of such terms as “African American English” – i.e., “Ebonics” – to legitimize black slang (which, as Sowell notes, isn’t black slang in terms of its origins) only “serves to widen the perceived divide between whites and blacks in the United States.”
It’s hard to imagine it all, but when Snoop Dog, or 2 Chainz rap or when Megan Thee Stallion does a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos commercial, what you are hearing may have been language created behind a dingy pub in the backwater of England 400 years ago. You’re welcome.
A.J. Rice, is President & CEO of Publius PR, Editor-in-Chief of The Publius National Post, and author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, The Woking Dead: How Society’s Vogue Virus Destroys Our Culture.
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