By Antonio Moore, Special to AFRO
“To be Black and woke in America is to be in rage all the time,” a quote by James Baldwin on the African American experience. Growing up as a Black kid in Baltimore and the education system, I quickly learned that the way I spoke at home, and outside of school, was not recognized as ‘proper english.’
‘I ain’t got no pencil,’ ‘I dindu nuffin,’ ‘I be,’ ‘dat aint right.’ Are all phrases and expressions teachers mocked when I would use them. Of course, my educators were swift to correct me by saying ‘You mean, ‘I don’t have my pencil?’’ in a condescending tone. Often times as Black youth we are subjected and conditioned to believe that the way we practice speaking isn’t worth being respected.
As a young person in these institutions, we are often unaware that the very traits unique to our identity as young Black males are slowly being stripped away from us. We are being molded in the way we talk, the way we behave, in the way we dream and in our expectations of life. Of course as a kid, I accepted this molding, thinking that it was just a part of the American standard education, and a central part of what it took to be successful in this country. In reality, it was death by 1,000 cuts. But it as I got older, I became “woke” and deeply entrenched in my identity as a proud Black kid in Baltimore City.
I began to have rage.
This rage sparked an interest in me to examine the fabric of our society, and the conventional social norms of what is deemed as acceptable language professionally, academically, and socially. The Educators in particular, and administrators belittle this identity any way that they can in an attempt to mold young Black kids into what society and historically racist institutions consider to be “civilized” or “respectable.” But what isn’t understood in the recognition of our vernacular, is the fact that it is rooted in diversity, individuality, and identity. Let us take a walkthrough of the notable African-American vernacular in Baltimore and its cultural significance in relation to the African Diaspora.
All of the city’s surrounding counties in Maryland are noted for its famous vernacular. Christine Mallison, a professor of language and culture at the University of Maryland Baltimore College outlines this phenomenon in a statement about language “Language differences occur naturally, and are a part of how we define ourselves, individually as well as socially. Whether we drink soda or pop, whether we pronounce aunt as ‘ant’ or ‘anht’ or ‘Baltimore’ as ‘Bawlmer’ or ‘Baldamor,’ language tells us who we are as speakers of the ever-changing english language.” And for the people of Baltimore, this practice serves to be a badge of pride in the city in which we belong.