Black familes and Bilingual Education…Hablamos Espanol?

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!

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2 thoughts on “Black familes and Bilingual Education…Hablamos Espanol?

  1. As an immigrant to Kansas from the South (Texas) and a White female, I also have to “watch my language” even in primarily White environments. Isn’t this code switching? Is it appropriate to teach code switching in the public classroom? I wonder what others think, too.

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    • Thank you for reviving a topic that still baffles many English educators who come into contact with native speakers of Black English Vernacular (BEV) in their classrooms. Since BEV doesn’t seem connected to legitimate examples of cultural capital (or economic capital for that matter), educators seem confused about what to do when they hear this register spoken or see it written in the classroom. Those who pride themselves on being anti-racist educators who advocate social justice might rally behind the celebration of multiple registers, but I am not sure anyone has ever been able to truly tell students what BEV can ultimately get them in the future, as it relates to a career and financial matters. Public schools offer second language in the typical forms of Spanish, French, and Mandarin, because the global economic world has somehow determined “value” in those languages. How can we locate and promote the value in BEV? As a former English teacher, I taught my students about the power of language and how to navigate within, around, and between the language of power. I also taught them to celebrate their home dialects and registers they brought to our classroom that were not legitimized within the larger curricula, but I often found myself at a loss when students or other educators inquired about what careers or what spaces legitimized the use of Black English. As someone who studies languages & literacies, I am still interested in Black English and examining how it might be legitimized within traditional academic spaces. I hope others chime in too!

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