Fluent in Ebonics


Yesterday was my first day back to work, and I couldn’t be happier, despite the unpleasantness that morning. That school has such a profoundly positive effect on me. I take two busses there, and the alone time is relaxing. But the second I walk through that door, I feel the love and community there. Everyone is so pleasant and happy. My co-workers respect me and my boss appreciates me. The kids are always so glad to see me and are always telling me that they like my class the best. It’s one of the most wonderful parts of my life.

This week consists of educator’s professional development seminars and training.  I sat at a table with some of my favorite co-workers, the art teacher, the 3rd grade group leader, and the 4th grade group leader.  It’s my second school year there, and I’m becoming closer to the staff as time passes.  We were divided in groups based on our tables for our group activities.

The first activity was called “Number Knockout”.  You are given a 5 by 5 grid of random numbers.  The instructions are to use those numbers by addition, subtraction, multiplication, and / or division to get a predetermined number.  I am terrible at math.  It was up to the group to come up with as many number combinations as they could.  The mood in the room was light; everyone was joking and conversing.  When they were determining who won, I said, “Hey, we were at a serious disadvantage!  We have two fine arts teachers at the same table!”  Everyone laughed.

The next activity was called “Shorthand Code”.  The objective was to come up with as many phrases using only netcode – like CUL8R and B4UGO.  I hate using that.  I don’t use it in text, blogs, emails, or anything.  I am a person who seeks to preserve the correct use of the English language, instead of letting it disintegrate into grammatically incorrect, misspelled garble.  I thought it was going to be challenging.  But as soon as I got into it, I was unstoppable.  I kept churning them out.  And because of that, my group voted me as the one to present it, in front of everyone.  Yeah, you know I have anxiety.  But we were deemed the winners.

This led to the first racial joke I’ve encountered at work.  See, I work in an inner-city youth program in a predominantly African American community.  When I was hired, I was concerned that race may be an issue.  I’m one of four white people who work there.  It never has been.  They are an incredible, accepting community.  There, you are what you are.  If I seem quirky, they don’t care.  It’s just part of who I am.  They don’t suspect anything is wrong with me.  I’m T.M.  They always see the best in me.  I am enthusiastic, warm-hearted, friendly woman who is passionate about what I do.  I love it.

The point of the exercise was to help us understand the importance of positive, clear communication with our students.  This includes establishing expectations and providing clear instruction.  Which lead to a mention of Ebonics.  The presenter said, “T.M. seems to be fluent in Ebonics.  No clue how!”  Everyone roared with laugher, including me.  It seemed so, but I’m really not.  I am the whitest girl you’d ever meet.  My skin could rival Casper the Friendly Ghost, and I have white blonde hair.  I grew up in the suburbs, attended a school that was lucky to have 10 ethnic people in a graduating class of 247, and participated in extracurricular activities that did not include any participation from minority students.  Hell, I only knew one African American man in college!

I guess I can be proud.  I am not only a decent writer, a good musician, an excellent vocalist, I am also fluent in Ebonics. Ha!

I hope today is as great as yesterday!

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6 thoughts on “Fluent in Ebonics

  1. I’m not sure how I would have reacted in that situation, but it does read like a wonderfully warm experience. On the one hand, I want to applaud how far we’ve come. There was a time when I was the only black person in my school, nevermind in most of my extended family! On the other hand, I still hope for a time when those jokes aren’t funny just because they’re not relevant. It’s not that I want us to be one homogenous culture. I would just like for us to realize that our skin colour has little bearing on who we are 🙂
    I hope you had a great day, today, too.

    • When it comes to the African American community, I absolutely applaud how far we’ve come. The community I work in is nothing like it is portrayed to be in the news or within white, suburban neighborhoods. That proves who still has the biases and who doesn’t. The people I work with, mostly women to be honest, are such loving people. At first, when I started to work there, I was also concerned with the fact that I was an outsider. Majority of the staff are related to other staffers, live in the community, and mostly have children who attend the program. I don’t live in that community, and I’m not related to anyone either. But since the moment I walked through those doors, I have been treated not only like a friend, but like family. That’s what a community is all about. And that’s not something that exists in the white bread world that I was raised in.

      There are no barriers there. I have never heard anyone (including the children) drop the “N” word or any other racial slur for that matter. The joke wasn’t biting; it was hilarious. The speaker said, “We can’t be speaking in our own code, like Ebonics, except…” which led to the, “T.M. seems to be fluent in Ebonics. No clue how!” He was right! I started out as a country girl in the mountain of Georgia, moved to Pittsburgh to live in a white suburb, and have a blended accent that usually comes out sounding a little Mid-western. I’m a music teacher and that’s painfully obvious by the eccentric, kind of bohemian clothes that I wear. I look more like a folk singer than a thug. Really, how would I know?

      Do you know what I hope for? I hope for a day when the white communities, who think they are so civilized, high, and mighty, look around and realize that they’ve destroyed themselves by being self-centered, shallow, and biased. African American communities are setting an example by being an actual community, instead of just individual families that live around each other. Schools aren’t just places where the children learn, they grow. Community centers serve as the social hub, and they provide necessary services and activities that enriches everyone. We don’t have community centers here. And schools are a place where they herd children into graduating classes of several hundreds into a huge campus on top of a giant hill.

      Personally, I see it as a problem within the whtie community, as I’ve illustrated. But it’s nice to see that within my own generation, that has the potential to change.

  2. Pingback: The Fine Art of Ebonics « Bipolar Inspirations

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