In efforts to not only revive this blog, but also have some pretty vulnerable connections with my #blacklinguisticarmy, I have decided to put my language fate into the hands of my oldest son….
Last week, I, in a sadistic attempt to be spontaneous, posted a PUBLIC, LIVE video declaring I was going to have my son teach me Mandarin and inviting the world on my journey.
Yes, I temporarily lost my mind, but I only recovered it AFTER I hit “post.” So here we are.
I have begun to publicly learn Mandarin from my son and I am allowing you a chance to peek in. All the video lessons are live and these reactions, are in real time, not scripted.
I’m doing it because many of my clients have said,
“Well it’s easy for you to say that, you already know Spanish!”
“You haven’t had to struggle like this in language in a long a time.”
And they’re right. But, I want them to see I’m not some bilingual unicorn, language struggles come across the board. How else than to show you all how I am learning a language that has absolutely NO CONNECTION whatsoever to anything I’ve learned before.
But also, for my parents that think they can’t learn from their kids, I’m walking humility in real time too. What does it mean to see your child as elder in a skill you don’t have? How can I apply this very African principle to how we live in our house and model it for you too?
So, here we go. My first lesson. Y’all. My brain was done after 2 sentences. TWO!!!! Check us out:
Now, before you start himmin’ and hawin’, remember the name of the blog site, mmmkay?
This may be controversial and totally antithetical to what you see folks doing on the Gram and what not, but I want to share a story about traveling while Black that may make you uncomfortable.
Es necesario decirte that I am not sharing it because I want you to feel uncomfortable, but to talk about some of the real things that happen despite the fact you might know the language and how our Blackness is still a factor AUNQUE hablas español.
I had been dying to go to Spain. I had tried two other times prior to 2015. Each time, the trip was set, I was paying my little money toward the trip and then…..a war broke out.
En serio, Desert Storm I AND II respectively.
But, in 2015, I finally got my chance! I was on my way to Spain for Professional Development and I was AMPED!
I get to the location where we would be having our sessions and I look around the room at all the participants……the only butterscotch chip in the cookie si me sientes….
No matter, I’ve been there before. I got this!
But then it happened. As casually and as surprisingly as to be expected. I was walking home from dinner with everyone and there was a man sitting on a ledge, watching us go by. One by one, each woman in our group got a friendly “buenas noches” until he got to me, then it switched….to a proposition…yup, THAT kind of proposition.
Luckily I had a comeback! Shut it ALL THE WAY DOWN! But many of us are not as fortunate.
We have no idea how to respond
and some of you, didn’t even realize WHAT was said, because you’re not as adept in the language as you thought!
The thing is, nobody with me that night or even the next day could even understand what was happening racially in that moment. The prevailing factor was that because of the color of my skin, it meant:
You could make assumptions.
He made assumptions and the women with me made assumptions. You’ve heard them:
“I don’t think that’s what he meant.” (Because you, lady, have the ability to read into the mind of complete strangers)
“Maybe you misunderstood him” (Because somehow, it is my language ability that has me feeling that way and the misogynistic assumptions of this man)
“I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it” (Because….wait for it…..)
“You should be flattered!”
These are the things our classroom experiences with language don’t prep us for. There’s no lesson on “how to defend your Blackness overseas” or “How to break stereotypes while traveling in Spanish”
But it’s something you need AND it’s something your child needs before they do that study abroad.
That’s why when I started doing more study abroad programs at my university, I advocated for Blacks students to have a safe space to talk about those real issues. They were able to take on those countries with a whole new bag of tricks. I gave them #blackawayfromhome swag.
Just like I give you #languageswag when you work with me.
Doing all the things in Spanish just like English.
And just BEING Black in this world.
All while keeping your identity as priority and giving you the things you need in Spanish to do it.
Yes, love there is raícismo when you travel, but your full armor of #languageswag can deflect it!
I had an interesting dialogue with my advanced folks in my exclusive group this week around identity. We went deep into the proper forms of address for folks who are descended from Latin American countries versus folks who speak Spanish.
Did you know that Latino/Latina/Latinx are really terms used in the United States to refer to people who are descendants of Latin American countries that CURRENTLY LIVE IN THE U.S.A.?
A lot of times we use titles and names to describe and may not know the full history behind the word (we know a little something about that, don’t we?). But it did get me to thinking:
Do we really know the history behind some of the names we give folks for the sake of identity?
Do we really know the history of ethnocentrism and colonialism associated with terms like Hispanic, Latino/a/x, Mulato/a, etc? If we knew those histories, would we adjust how we ascribe name and title to folks?
There’s no need for me to go all into it in terms of history (y’all got Google University just like me and 2020 is my year to stop educating about oppression in the midst of my own oppression, ya feel me? I think very little of your cognitive ability if I feel I need to explain to you what I was able to find by reading). But here’s something to consider:
Ask the person you are speaking to in Spanish their country of origin. Are they:
Now even those these have a bit of colonialism behind them (did the Quechua decide to name themselves Peruvian?), but trust me, just like us, it makes a difference to call folks how they want to be named!
Sooooooooooo… I know it’s been a minute since I have posted over here. But you know, it’s 2020, time to tweak the vision and whatnot, and evidently, folks have been dipping further and further into misinformation when it comes to Blacks and language than I thought I could ever imagine.
Yes, this will be a bit of a rant. But we need a new walk in this decade year, mi gente!
La historia for the those who need backstory:
A sister/colleague and myself are prepping for a major presentation this Spring. We call ourselves getting some informal intel around our topic and she happens upon a social media group where somebody was fussing about language discrimination.
Yes it’s important to note the person was Black (duh, you did catch the name of this blog page, right?). Yes it is important to note this is a multilingual language discrimination accusation at hand.
Now that you got the backstory, I can jump into where my rant starts. So this person is fussing about how a company requiring someone be bilingual for a job is a form of language discrimination. My colleague casually (and appropriately) suggests this person take a few classes to bone up on the language for the job.
Then it happened. That comment. The one that people think is claiming victimhood when really it is steeped white, heteronormative, cis-male oppressive language:
Why I should I have to learn their language?! Any job that requires me to have to learn their language is just trying to ice me out of a job!
Bruh. Really?! Did you really just say that?
Okay. I get it. As a Black woman, I know there are countless oppressive and microaggressive tactics that are imposed on black and brown bodies that introduce spikes, hurdles and obstacles in this game called life. But as someone who has been studying this, I gotta call foul on an intentional “ice out” because as this poster stated “they already know we can’t speak that stuff.”
My people. Mi gente. Kinfolk. We BEEN doing this language thing.
We were multilingual before multilingual was even a thing.
Before colonialism and the “rape of Africa” we were:
Speaking Portuguese before the Portuguese got there
Speaking Dutch before the Dutch got there.
Hell, there were folks in Kush fluent in Greek before they stole their first thought from our libraries. (yeah, I said it!)
You know what. Let me stop typing. I’ll just let you hear what I had to say about this mess:
We have to get to a place where we remember our linguistic legacy, y’all.
We need to remember that language is ours.
We need to remember that we are built to speak multiple languages
We need to remember that nommo comes right out of Afrocentricity. That means the power of the word is in us. It IS us.
I want you to tap back into your ancestral power of multilingualism. TODAY!
I need to do better about posting more blogs for y’all. I can’t be coming on here ranting for the people all the time! Now that my business is running a bit more smoothly, I’m coming on here with more stuff to say!
The bottom runaway slave announcement speaks particularly to a French slave who also speaks English. Makes me wonder, why was it important to note she was bilingual? (more on THAT in another blog)
In the process of completing the literature for research, an historic artifact was uncovered: a posting for a runaway slave which indicated the multiple languages the slave spoke (see above). Advertisements for runaways placed in mid-18th century newspapers made frequent reference to their proficiencies in German, French, Spanish, Irish and Dutch. Conversely, servants who were monolingual in English were so identified, as if that was something unusual or noteworthy (Read, 1937).
This got me thinking, is there anything anywhere that shows how long African Americans in particular have been speaking more than one language fluently? The true answer is unclear. But I did find some information about bilingual Africans in North Carolina during our period of enslavement. I decided to write about it:
Newton (2010) discusses the presence of Gaelic-speaking Africans in North Carolina during the period of enslavement. In his historical account, Newton describes an interaction between an African slave and an Irishman just arriving to the United States: “the Irishman assumes the slave is Irish and the slave in turn is able to imitate the Irishman’s accent, suggesting the instability of linguistic identities as well as the necessity to nuance racial categories” (Newton, 2010, p. 98). This anecdote supports Newton’s argument that “racialism was the only dominant notion of identity to downgrade or neglect the role of language” (Newton, 2010, p. 96). The speaking of Gaelic presumably served a functional purpose. But the functionality can be seen as two-fold. First, it allowed the African slaves to be able to engage with the Irish settlers at the basic communicative level. But secondly, as inferred by the anecdote by Newton, it allowed the enslaved African to be able to use language as a tool of social maneuvering, allowing the use of language to function also as a means of transcending the racial barriers set in place by the enslavement hierarchy thus making “the disparity between language as identity and race as identity” (Newton, 2010, p. 99) less clear.
This passage from my research uncovers fascinating information about the presence of bilingual African Americans dating back as far as slavery! There is space (I have already taken up with my own research) to discuss how African Americans used bilingualism as functional tool for survival and transience, that I know I have never seen before. I know I am a bit of a language geek so this may excite me waaaaaaay more than it excites you, but hey, I’m still going to share it. Who knows, you may get excited about it too!
I was perusing through social media and came across this image that struck a nerve:
There are couple things that I see here and they all relate to why I chose to create this blog. First, the use of the books. There is a rhetorical message being sent that the books are stacked under the children the way they are. Even more telling is the Black child, has no books. To me, this speaks to the dangers of the academic achievement gap discussion. Yes, there is one, I don’t deny that. But what systems are in place in order to perpetuate its existence? Continue the divide? Maintain the inequities? More importantly, what role are you playing in the midst of all of that? Do you sit back and shake your head at the atrocities from the comforts of your own privilege? Do you turn your head and look at funny cat memes hoping that the problem will eventually fix itself? Do you march right into the thick of the issue and flip tables and shake down “educational crooks” in order to incite change? Or, are you a combination of those depending on whether or not it’s in your community, someone else’s community, your child, or their children?
The second thing that drew me to the image: look at what the children are drawing on the board. Despite the fact that two of the children have the books to help them reach more of the board, they are drawing stars. STARS. But the child in the middle with seemingly the least access to the board is drawing the ENTIRE GALAXY! Why does this matter, Dr. Anderson? You seem to be making a big to do about this picture.
What I do is language. I am the driving force behind the Bilingual Brown Babies movement, which is growing everyday. But what you may not realize is that I know from my experience as a teacher and linguist that there is a phenomenal pool of linguists being overlooked merely because of lack of access. My own children, still in their single digit ages, have vocabulary on a 5th grade level (in two languages) and are reading beyond their grade level. Could you imagine if more immersive language programs were implemented in what have been deemed “low performing” schools what that could do to the passing rates for all these state assessments? I can. There is a school in my city, with one of the lowest passing rates for the state assessments. They introduced dual immersion to the school 3 years. Those students just took the state assessment for the first time and the overall school performance skyrocketed…from one class.
Language is necessary for addressing some of these educational issues. I truly believe bilingualism is the tool to unleash the galaxies in the minds of our Black children.
So today’s post is bit more vulnerable. Not like my rant yesterday was not, but today I am thinking about many of the stereotypes about Black children that limit their potential in ways that is difficult to fathom. I’m going to stick to my wheelhouse here, because this can lead us down the rabbit hole to think about all the ways this manifests in Black children’s lives. So let’s talk about language….
With the rise of language immersion programming across the United States, the increasing interest and understanding of the impact of foreign language acquisition on academic achievement and career success has moved to prominence within this country. However, due to privilege, equity and power practices within academia, what should be seen as a universal approach to cognitive ability has instead been placed into elite and unattainable categories reserved only for those who can afford the opportunity.
What does this mean? There is still disparity when it comes to a beneficial curriculum model for students of color, due to educational access, and lack of equity from district to district. This is the age old battle Black students, particularly in major cities have faced since suburban flight in the late 20th century.
So here’s the info about foreign languages and Black children…
There is very little discussion about African American foreign languages learners. This could be why there is an even smaller collection of research about African American bilinguals.
Lack of equity in, for example, language immersion programs, runs the risk of maintaining the achievement gap status quo. The emergence of bilingual education, in particular dual immersion, is a development that further separates and distinguishes the middle class economically and racially as it is believed that bilingualism is not a collective asset within the Black community in the United States. Those Black middle class families that are able to afford their children dual immersion education thus separate themselves from the general Black community. Ideally bilingualism is an asset for all of society and there must be ways to introduce it to all classes through the educational system. However, it is not.
But my question is:
Short answer: there’s no interest in it. So again, “WHY?” The convenient little box that allows for the school to prison pipeline, that limits the academic success of a controlled number of Black children and other things are contributors. This convenient little box includes stereotypical statements such as:
“You can gauge a child’s academic success by 3rd grade.”
“Language programs are of little use in lower income schools because we just need them to get their assessment scores up.”
This last one, right here, miss me with that. Here are the facts by way of example:
In the state of Texas, testing data from the district found that 10th graders from K–5 dual language programs scored higher than those in the district’s regular programs on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge (TAKS) statewide tests in reading, math, science, and history.
One’s ability to speak in more than one language has been proven to boost standardized test scores in vocabulary as well as improve one’s chances of being considered for employment in the globalized world.
For me, I see the fight to push for bilingualism in the African American community as activism. I see me trying to increase the strength in number of African American children who are able to speak more than one language as a direct challenge to the school to prison pipeline. I see it as adversary to the notion that all Black boys are inherently misbehaved in the classroom and need special accommodations or to be removed from the classroom. I see it as (part of) the answer to the academic achievement gap that folks like to spit out when talking about our Black children despite countless examples of contradictions to that statement.
In a very basic, yet petty nature, I want to looks of astonishment that my children get for speaking Spanish “so well” to fade in non-reaction as it is the norm.
This is the first post for this blog and my apologies that it has to be a rant. I am ON FIRE right now!
Seriously, I’m HOT right now! Can we stop with this foolish stereotype now?
I recently submitted an article to a journal for bilingualism about the lack of inclusion of African American bilinguals in current research. It was rejected. Now, that part does not bother me. Rejections are more a part of the publishing process than you could ever imagine. No really. As scholars we get hundreds, HUNDREDS of rejections for our research. But I digress.
It’s not the rejection, but the comments from the reviewers that has my blood boiling this morning. Both reviewers could not understand why in my research I don’t talk about how African Americans are really bilingual in Ebonics (the word they used) or African American Vernacular English, or AAVE (the technical term that should be used). It was beyond their scope of understanding why I would talk about African American bilinguals and not talk about Afrolatinx, as they are the ones who are “truly bilingual.” If I may, let me just share an excerpt of my introduction here:
This paper seeks to outline the current research regarding African Americans and language in order to establish the need to specifically address the role bilingualism, beyond the use of African American Vernacular English, as a viable critical assessment of the connections of language and identity within the African-American community.
I mean, did they read the article? That excerpt was on page 2.
I specifically say that it is NOT about AAVE or Ebonics but rather about the other languages African Americans may speak.
Here’s my issue: why is it that mainstream society has a hard time seeing beyond its little box of Blackness?
Let me make sure I say these two things loud and clear for the people in the back:
AAVE is a variant of English and NOT a foreign language. Here’s some research for you:
A vernacular is defined by Holmes (2001) as “a language which has not been standardized and which does not have official status” (p. 74). However it can be argued that this definition of vernacular implies a vertical analysis of language and sociolinguistics and assumes that all vernaculars are lower in position. All dialects of a language have a vernacular, and therefore even the “standard” language in a society has a vernacular. Vernacular is the “language used for everyday interaction” (Holmes, 2001, p. 75). Vernacular can be explained as the authentic expression of the masses not monitored by form found in the standard. It is highly creative, “the most colloquial variety in a person’s linguistic repertoire” (Holmes, 2001, p. 74).
2. African Americans can speak more than one language fluently to the point of near native ability and thus can be conversant in languages other than English and its variant, AAVE.
I speak Spanish fluently. My children speak Spanish fluently. I am not of neither Spanish nor Latinx heritage. BUT we are STILL bilingual. By not seeing anything beyond our use of AAVE, you are silencing and ignoring our true capabilities. More research:
This can unknowingly support the presence of “linguistic racism” (Wolfram, 2001, p. 346) regulating linguistic diversity within the African-American community to only dialect diversity and not addressing linguistic repertoire diversity. By including the African-American bilingual to scholarly work on linguistic diversity, it is possible to address the issue of linguistic racism with counternarratives and voices from the margins.
We don’t want to be linguistic racists, people. We want to fully and completely acknowledge the broad scope of language capabilities within the African American community. I’m here to help change the narrative.
This post is a start. But there will be more. This blog is now here for two reasons:
To add complexity to the narrative about language and African Americans.
For evidence, scholars can be ruthless. Y’all need to know where you heard it first.
More to come…..
Anderson, K. J. (2015). Language, identity and choice: Raising bilingual children in a global society.
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books
Holmes, J. (2001). Introduction to sociolinguistics (2nd ed.). Harlow, England: Longman Publishers.
Wolfram, W. (1997). Dialect in society. The handbook of sociolinguistics. Malden, MA:
Blackwell Publishing, 107-126.
Wolfram, W. (2001). Reconsidering the sociolinguistic agenda for African American English:
The next generation of research and application. In Sociocultural and Historical Contexts
of African American English (Sonja L. Lanehart, Ed). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: