Black English

"Those is the niggers that was f--kin' with my sh-t." "I knew that nigger was one of the niggers I could rely on." The first speaker was a twenty-something "homegirl" from the projects, the second a drunk in his late 30's. Both were riding on New York's A train on different days and at different times. There was nothing extraordinary about their usage.

"That's 'transcendent' [black] English," said the young New Yorker, correcting her white professor, a 40-year teaching veteran. Faced with an error-riddled paper, the professor had sought to correct her English. But she denied his expertise. It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand.

From the end of the Civil War through the 1950's, accommodationists such as Booker T. Washington, nationalists such as Carter G. Woodson (in The Miseducation of the Negro, 1955) and W.E.B. Du Bois, and revolutionaries such as George S. Schuyler (whose pseudonymously printed, serialized 1950's newspaper novels have recently been collected as Black Empire) all were of one mind on the need for black Americans to become not just literate, but superliterate. Black illiteracy was either the result of racial oppression or of the passivity of the "inferior" black masses. In any event, educational movements led by the "talented tenth" would teach the Negro to outwit the white man.


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