One of the cleavages in communities of color is around language diversity. It seems that many schools are much more comfortable talking about meeting the needs of linguistically diverse students than the needs of racially minoritized students. Thus, dominant communities seem to find ways to deploy a “divide and conquer” strategy that moves the discussion away from race and racism and toward language.
On the other hand, Black communities seem to be less sanguine about bilingualism. Rather than seeing it as a asset they often see it as taking away from their educational opportunities. The Spanish-speaking communities of our nation are growing rapidly and rather than be threatened how might Black children acquire another language, especially Spanish so they can be better prepared for a dynamic and changing society?
Language is not rooted in race but we have allowed the dominant society to racialize it. Black people in Cuba, Honduras, Panama, and the Dominican Republic are Spanish-speaking. Blacks in Brazil and Angola speak Portuguese. Blacks in Mali, Senegal, Haiti, and Cote d’voire speak French. We are a linguistically diverse people and whether it be by colonization or heritage we have always had access to a variety of linguistic forms and registers.
Another issue that emerges when we talk about language is the legitimacy of Black language, sometimes referred to as Black English Vernacular (BEV) or Ebonics. Linguists like Geneva Smitherman, H. Samy Alim, and John Rickford tell us of its legitimacy while some African Americans and many Whites decry it as a corruption of English. But if African American children come to school fluent in BEV what is our obligation to them. Do we deny the existence of their language? Do we correct them every time they use it? Or should we be embracing it as a legitimate form of communication? What do you think?
Stay Black and Smart!