Is a communication a means of power? Can language define the individual who speaks it? According to James Baldwin, the answers to both of these questions would be “yes”.
James Baldwin’s analysis of language is interesting. From his posing question arises numerous questions and ideas in my head. What is the exact definition of language? Is he trying to say that “Black English” or colloquialisms should be accepted as proper? Should we even be concerned with speaking proper English?
Baldwin does bring up great points in his essay, yet there are a couple of things I that do not coincide with me.
One aspect that I totally agree upon is when we are discussing a topic we must come to understand it. Baldwin suggests that we must look at the origin of “Black English” and how it came about. He provides information of how “Black English” formed from the period of slavery in the U.S.
As we look at the past and come to understand the development of “Black English” it is revealed that there was an oppressor who had no interest in the oppressed being able to communicate. Therefore, the oppressed had to develop a new language, Black English. Eventually as the oppressed began to communicate they would express, despite their lack of education, that their way of living was not just. Eventually, they were able to rise out of that state of oppression. Now that the slaves were “free”, some were able to seize opportunities of education.
As time has progressed, so has the African-American community. Yet, there are still many who have missed the opportunity of education, therefore they are stuck in a state of ignorance not knowing who they are, where they come from, why things are the way the are in their community, etc.
So, as far as this essay expressing that we should educate ourselves on “Black English” is much appreciated. This way, we as African-Americans know of our origins. Yet, I feel Baldwin is trying to glorify the use of “Black English”. I am not saying there is anything wrong with using colloquialisms, slang, Ebonics, or whatever we want to refer to it as. This is fine, as it is a part of our heritage. But, as citizens of the United States, a place we now call home, we should also be able to speak and write in proper English, just as James Baldwin has done in his essay. If he really believed we should stick to speaking and writing in “Black English”, wouldn’t he practice what he preached? As long as we are educated on who we are, no one should be able to derive us from our heritage despite how well, or not so well, we speak.