Ebonics and Black Identity

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May 11, 2011

Ebonics and the Black Identity

You sound like a White person. Why do you talk like that? You are Black… talk and act like it. These are some of the things I heard growing up throughout the years. Because I grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood and went to predominantly Black schools, my Black identity was always questioned by my peers based on the way I spoke. How did the way I speak change my identity to not be considered “Black enough”? Language and identity go hand in hand and language serves as a way to identify with one’s culture. The language of the Black community has been through the ringer of negativity and is often thought to be socially unequal to Standard English. Though only considered a dialect and useless compared to Standard English, Ebonics, or Black English, establishes a bond between those in the Black community, while also creating an identity that separates the community from the mainstream group. However, the dialect is not the only factor that marks a person’s identity.

Is Ebonics a language? In my opinion, Black English is a dialect and not a language. Though I do not view it as a language, I believe that Ebonics is an aspect of the Black identity and culture. Amongst many linguist scholars and intellectuals, this has been a reoccurring debate for several years. In 1979, James Baldwin wrote an article for The New York Times entitled, “If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” In the article, Baldwin expressed his strong views on the “language” of the Black community and how it is important to the identity of Black people. He stated, “It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity” (Baldwin). Baldwin argues that Black English is a language in its own right because of its...
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