College Fix, September 20, 2018
A sociolinguist from Stanford University claims the way African-Americans speak leads to discrimination across the board — in the court system, interactions with police, education, and employment.
Professor John Rickford says “Black Vernacular English” is viewed as less “trustworthy, intelligent and well-educated” than so-called standard “white” English, and that “dismantling this construction is part of the fight for racial justice.”
Speaking at Cornell University on Tuesday, Rickford, who is the current president of the Linguistic Society of America, said the “modern-day racialization of language” — which mandates that African-Americans conform to the white norm — has its roots in slavery.
The Cornell Daily Sun reports Rickford noted how court reporters in Philadelphia were woefully deficient when it came to transcribing testimony from black witnesses, and he highlighted how a meeting with Rachel Jeantel, the last person to speak with Trayvon Martin before “white police officer George Zimmerman” shot and killed him, was an eye-opener.
Rickford used research regarding racialized interactions between civilians and the police force, the school-to-prison pipeline, the racial achievement gap, racial socioeconomic inequality, and mass incarceration to support the arguments in his talk. According to Rickford, it was found that regardless of if a cop is black or white, they will use less respectful language when speaking with black citizens. He said that in job interviews, AAVE was often associated with stupidity, lack of education and poverty, forcing many black people to assimilate their speech patterns in professional contexts.
Linguistic politics today are based more on race than class, which Rickford analogized to how white poor and working class people historically aligned themselves with wealthy white people rather to suppress slave rebellions, with no benefit to themselves.
Rickford recommended that writing teachers in American schools teach BVE speakers “the linguistics of both [BVE] and standard English, instead of outlawing the vernacular and attempting to standardize language.”