The Savagery of U.S. Monolingualism, Part I of 2

MultilingualismI often encounter African American college students (and to a lesser extent, AfroCaribbean students, at least those who genuflect to what they call “British culture”) who speak with great pride about only speaking/writing what they call “Proper English,” never speaking a word of Ebonics which is often erroneously interchangeable with “street slang.” These students often cite this ability as the reason for their stellar, academic performance in school.  Despite the fact that we are not at a national, competitive university, these students often think they are at Hahvahd, all because their teachers have emboldened and praised them for their acquisition of a standardized English (if you saw their writing’s content and style, even this, however, is questionable).  Besides the anti-black nature of this sentiment (if black people speak it, it must be wrong) and the utter inability of any of these students to offer any accurate definition of what Ebonics is, the ideology of American empire is fiercely evident.  Only in the United States can you be considered educated or intelligent because you only speak/read/write one, standardized, school variety of a language.  Forthrightly admitting that you do NOT speak/read/write any regional or local dialect and that you canNOT speak/read/write a second, third, or fourth language is simply not cause for celebration.  In many places, this inability marks you as an illiterate peasant who has had no access to school and even that is rare considering how so-called “peasants” often sell wares at markets that require some linguistic diversity.

being_bilingualThe most popular universities in France, for instance, are taught entirely in English, and students of color there go home to speak a third language other than English and French.  Only the context of a savage ignorance and unfound arrogance in U.S. monolingualism/empire would make African American college students think themselves educated for not speaking/reading/writing their own dialect (I do NOT actually call or think of Ebonics a dialect, but I will go with that here for the sake of the argument) and another language. What these students believe to mark them as “educated” actually marks them as ignorant in many, many other parts of the world.  They have traded in linguistic competence and marketability/international relevance for the ability to call themselves MONOLINGUAL AMERICANS.  The levels of stupidity are astounding.

I don’t want to make it seem as if the African American students who I have described have designed these regimes of power or that they are wrong about the status accrued to the linguistic defect of only speaking/reading/writing one language variety.  The ways that we mark and make English Language Learners at-risk students only perpetuates such false consciousness.  The fact of the matter is that bilingual students are less likely to drop out of public school than English-monolinguals. If anything, these students are at-risk of losing their mother tongues, since by the third generation, most children have completely lost facility in their parents’ language in the U.S.  The medical research that I have read also seems to lean on the side of bilingualism: people who speak multiple languages are less likely to get Altzheimers as quickly BECAUSE THEY USE THEIR BRAINS MORE. To be more crass about it: you are less likely to forget your own name and address as an elder if you speak more than one language/dialect.  Yet, here we are, in America, acting as if multilingualism is a sin against humanity.  (Though one might argue that such conclusions are only likely from a monolingual population who literally uses its brain LESS…sorry that was just too easy, just had to go there!)  U.S. colleges and universities have an especially uncanny ability to maintain the savagery of U.S. monolingualism.

Wnglish-onlyAt a previous university, I read terrifying email exchanges (these happened before my arrival) initiated by a chair from another department. This chair forwarded an email to the director of the writing program (WPA) from an international student who composed her email with many surface errors in it.  This chair was incensed that this student could have done well in her one semester of first-year writing and demanded that the program be held accountable.  There is no evidence that the student’s issue, as indicated in the email, was ever addressed, despite the fact that she/her parents paid 35K in tuition each year for this college.  The WPA forwarded this chair’s email with the student’s request to DOZENS of adjuncts, graduate students, instructors, etc teaching in the program echoing this chair’s disgust WITH THE STUDENT’S NAME AND EMAIL visible to EVERYONE (and, obviously without the student’s knowledge or permission).  If you think this is ethical (or even LEGAL) behavior, then just imagine that this were your child and your 35,000 dollars!  Yeah, didn’t think so.  One semester at a U.S. college simply won’t produce perfect grammaticality but that such an international/ELL student has no right to privacy or respect because of this “imperfection” is criminal.  It should come as no surprise that monolingual, monodialectal white men perpetuated the regime I just described and, true to the whiteness of higher education, no one ever challenged their authority or even their own knowledge (or rather, lack thereof) of language and literacy education.  I don’t know what this student’s abilities actually looked like so I can’t give a counter-profile/counter-story, but I can offer multiple counterstories from my own classes this fall.  The triple-threat coming from 1) digital culture(s); 2) multilingual/multidialectal college students of color; and 3) female professors of color will shake up/out new stories of higher education in the 21st century.  It’s an interesting time to be in the academy.  And by, interesting, I do not mean safe, comfortable, equitable, or humane, but then again, the academy has never been that for many of us.  We need to narrate/theorize/take on this triple-threat as part of the work we do in the academy if we want to ever challenge a system where a student for whom English is her THIRD language can’t even get the help she needs from administrators making 6-figures thanks to the tuition she pays. Silence is always complicity.

The Flies & Barnyards of the Rich & Shameless: Gentrification in BK

gentrifyGentrification takes on new meanings when you live in Brooklyn/New York. The all-encompassing, rapid, commercial take-over is astounding. I moved into my Brooklyn home in 1998 after living in an apartment for five years. I was a public high school teacher with a savings account from the Municipal Bank, got a home loan through FHA, and moved into what we called back then, an “FHA neighborhood.” My down payment on my house cost less than the broker’s fee+lease agreement for most Brooklyn apartments back then. “FHA” meant that I got a fixer-upper in a neighborhood where I was once robbed by a crackhead— or rather, accosted, since the crackhead didn’t get anything off of me (as quiet as it’s kept in this world that treats crackheads like scary monsters, they are actually physically weak so, in other words, it doesn’t take too much to whup one’s ass which is exactly what I did). The crackheads that weren’t jacking wallets and purses were hookin on the street corner. Those days are long, long gone now though. A new 14-story high-rise dots every five blocks on the avenues.  A typical 2-bedroom apartment (maybe 800 square feet) will run you $3500.00 right now.  Needless to say, ain’t no crackheads in these parts today!

There are many places that give wonderful social, economic analyses of the calculated displacement of brown and black peoples in 21st century Brooklyn/New York (older, white residents still desperately try to hold on to rent-controlled apartments and get treated so much more sympathetically by NY media venues). That’s not what I want to talk about though. I want to talk about the thing that no one mentions in terms of gentrification in Brooklyn and all of these so-called improvements: the everyday aesthetic demise. Continue reading

The Price(s) We Have Paid: Happy Juneteenth!

tpMy father and his closest friend, a man I call an uncle, discovered an easy way to save money: always wet your toilet paper and paper towels.  Apparently, once these rolls dry after you have wet them, they no longer roll as easily because ripples have been created.  This will slow down your roll, LITERALLY, if you take too much toilet paper when you are on the throne, for instance.  People use less paper products, the fewer paper products you need to buy, the more money you save: it’s all a vicious cycle.  I hover back and forth between two adjectives for this practice… CHEAP…and… RIDICULOUS.  It does, however, offer me endless opportunities for shit-talking with my father.  I could tell any array of such stories to convey how frugal my father is, but I hope this lumpy toilet paper saga will suffice.

Unlike some of my peers, I was never the type of child to be embarrassed by my father’s frugality, not even them $2 grocery store sneakers.  I think a lot of people could use the character building that comes from building a real sense of worth rather than buying labels as the sole sign of worth. Given the high price African Americans have had to pay for every advancement we have achieved (think back on the parents who sent their children into the terrordome of Central High School in 1957 Little Rock, Arkansas as just one example), paying yet another high price for something as insignificant as a clothing label seems, at best, redundant for us. Continue reading

Mean Well, But Do So Poorly

european-colonialism-in-the-middle-eastI was sitting in my office one evening, getting some work done before I left for the day.  A student happened to pass by my door and stopped to talk about my office artwork and decoration.  I had never met or seen this student before.  He rightly assumed that I did work related to African American and African Diasporan cultures.  I was curious about his interests and became even more curious when I heard he wanted to teach English overseas, especially in the Middle East.

I began to tell this young man about a friend of mine, a rather radical Black studies scholar, who is currently teaching in the Middle East.  The young man grew excited by this example and began to talk excitedly about his dreams of teaching The Great Gatsby to people in Palestine.  It was difficult for me to listen to much of what he had to say after that, all about his civilizing mission, all about how he could get Palestinians to understand themselves better with his hit list of white male authors.   Continue reading

Digital Labor, Race & Gender in the Academy

agendaFor each class that I taught this year, I created a class agenda that guided what we would do.  The agenda is meant as a guide rather than a script to keep me moving towards the goals and promises I have made on my course syllabus which is usually 12-15 pages long.  Each agenda for each day of my class is posted to the course website.

In addition to this website/blog, I have:

  1. a professional ePortfolio that archives all of my teaching, research, and service since I secured tenure two years ago now
  2. a wordpress site for my English 101 course (Public Writing, Rhetoric, and the 21st Century)
  3. a wordpress site for a class that I taught last year and hope to build as ongoing archive of black women’s rhetoric
  4. a weebly site for my English 201 course, Digital Rhetorics (with a companion weebly demo site as a skeleton for the websites that students create)
  5. two demo sites on digication as a skeleton for the ePortfolios that students create
  6. a website on digication for a series of workshops that I did for sophomores and transfer students designing digital resumes (with a companion weebly demo site as a skeleton for the websites that students create)
  7. a website on digication that explains the CSS of the platform
  8. a forthcoming website on digication for an honors seminar in writing and rhetoric that I will teach next year
  9. a website (not fully public yet) on digication for an online journal of first year students’ digital projects and essays (launched in fall 2013)
  10. a forthcoming online, undergraduate journal
  11. the beginning stages of a scribd account, youtube channel, and soundcloud account in order to upload media to my websites in different ways (I plan to create some apps and screencasts this summer also)

Continue reading

Congratulations, Andrene!

andrene congrats

Click here for Andrene’s ePortfolio, PRETTY FOR A BLACK GIRL (created in her first-semester “Freshman English” course)!

Thank you also to the Africana Studies Department’s willingness to embrace what Abdul Alkalimat, in his definition of eBlack Studies, has called “a new conception of mapping our existence in cyberspace.”  We are proud of you, Andrene!

Happy Mother’s Day to the Women Who Have Kept Me (re-posting)

Many already know that my mother lives with me now.  After she lost her job in the recession crunch, I had to do some financial wizardry and move her from Ohio to Brooklyn and become a new head-of-household of sorts (I have always been able to make a dollah outta 15cents but this took a little EXtra creativity).  As I get older, I realize that most of us daughters will be facing similar circumstances in caring for aging parents. My mother, however, does not consider herself aging so we go to a Jazz Brunch/Bar in Manhattan every Mother’s Day and by Jazz, I mean a real quartet that does covers like “All Blues” from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, NOT that Kenny-G-Twinkle-Twinkle foolishness.  It has only been in the last few years that I have even been in the same city as my mother on Mother’s Day so I figure we may as well go all out (which, for my mother, also means eating my dessert.)

"Fruit of Generosity" by Leslie Ansley (exhibited at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in 2012)

“Fruit of Generosity” by Leslie Ansley (exhibited at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in 2012)

I know Mother’s Day can be mostly a Hallmark invention, but I must admit that I like a day to put it all on pause for mothers. For me, that means all the women in my family who have raised me… which is a lot.  I have strong memories of being a little girl and various adults, especially my family and close neighbors, asking me: “who keep you when your momma work?”  OR “who keepin you right now?” (the second question was for when I was on a part of the block where I wasn’t supposed to be or at the corner store without permission). Who keep you?  That’s always been a favorite expression of mine.   Continue reading