Reclaiming my Language: The (Mis)education of Wonderful


When I decided, in high school, that I wanted to become an English teacher, I assumed English was about grammar. Particularly, I assumed English was about the use of proper grammar in writing. Of course, I did not want to be an English teacher because I was a Grammar Rant; I wanted to become an English teacher because I wanted, I needed African Americans to “write better.”

I saw the struggles of my African American peers, and the lack of motivation they had for writing. I also heard how they spoke outside ­ and sometimes inside ­ the classroom. They spoke what I considered at that point to be “broken English” and African American “slang.” And then they had the nerve, the unmitigated gall to write in this Black slang. I do not mean to suggest I did not speak this slang, because I did: at home, at recess, with my friends and in church. But I never would dream of speaking or even writing that way in school. What was wrong with these kids? Didn’t they get it? Didn’t they understand that if you can’t speak and write English you can’t make it in the United States? How were they going to get jobs? How were they going to have their voices heard if they kept speaking this vile, putrid, inferior form of English or rather slang?

I was insulted. I was ashamed. I was hurt. After all, White people already think African American people are foul­mouth, foul­smelling, ugly, inferior people who never seem to get “it” (whatever it is) right. Now we can’t even speak the language correctly after being here for over 400 years?

What was wrong with them? And in turn, what was wrong with me?

I was sure that if Black people could not speak well, write well, present themselves according to how White people designed this country, this system of education to work, then we would only reinforce negative views about us. My father always said, “Wonderful, no matter how many White friends you have, your face is always BLACK. And you will always have to do more to be considered equal.” And yet, there was something in High School I could not name. There was something that was wrong. ­ Not with my Black friends but ­with me. No matter how hard I tried, my face was “always BLACK,” and that would be the measure of me…

Wonderful in graduate school
Wonderful in graduate school

Through my journey to this “goal” of helpin’ Black folk out I realized that I was sellin’ out. I realized that I was oppressin’ my own language. A language I had come to speak in secret (at home and in my community) and despise in public (the academy). I was, for all intents and purposes, a linguistic Aunt Jemima. However, through the course of my studies, and some guidance from, oddly enough, “The Man,” I came to realize:

(1) my language is valid, complex, and filled with rich nuances I never knew existed;

(2) My language IS a part of the academy and other forms of public discourse; and

(3) I can only free myself and help other Black folk free themselves through my own language.

As Smitherman notes in her interview with Alim, “language is our identity, it is what makes us who we are… our language cannot be severed from our being in the world” (44). This linguistic double consciousness – talking White, actin’ White, and writin’ White a right peculiar way of living for Black folk. We been fightin’ this double consciousness and this troublin of our soul fo’ a long time now. The struggle for language rights fall in line wit the struggle for Black civil rights. Like Al Sharpton said, “We ain’t where we wanna be and we ain’t where we oughta be, but thank God we ain’t where we was.” But who I was make me who I am. Who am I? I Black. I woman. I lesbian.

Mama ain’t raise no fool and daddy ain’t told no lie when they said, “Wonderful, yous Black and yous female. Your only path to success through education.” But fo so long I was tryin’ to fix sumethin’ in me. Somethin’ wrong went my tongue. It was wild and couldn’t be tamed like Gloria Anzadula was talkin bout (75). I ain’t even realize I was tryin’ to cut my own tongue out. How dumb am I? My soul speaks through my language.

If I said it befo’ I done said it a thousand times: If you cain’t take the BLACK off my face you sure cain’t take the BLACK off my tongue. My language is ME and I am my language. It lives. It moves. It breathes. To kill my language is to kill me. Period. Point blank. End of story.

But Maybe some folks want me to die. That’s what happens when you kill a language. You effectively kill its people. Maybe you think I’m sposed to forget:

“If our enemies can make us forget these words, and then make us forget that we have forgotten, they will have robbed us of our ability to honor and summon our ancestors, whom we so desperately need now more than ever” (Rickford and Rickford 228).

I was almost took. Almost hoodwinked. Almost bamboozled out of my language. But While I almost forgot, almost is still not quite. And now I remember, I remember that I use Black English or rather Spoken Soul because:

“it is a language in which I feel comfortable… because it came naturally; because it was authentic… touching some time within and capturing a vital core of experience that had to be expressed just so” (Rickford and Rickford 222).

I was stuck in this linguistic push-pull, in this borderland and contact zone that is my Black body, in this tongue that is peculiar to my mind and my whole way of being. I was stuck. I was once troubled in the space between, but I done unstuck myself; done unstuck my language.

And I ain’t stuck no mo’.

10 Common Blog Writing Mistakes


Mistakes are part of life; we’re human and it’s inevitable. When writing for the web, specifically for blogs, sometimes errors are easy to stumble across due to the fast paced environment.

Luckily, this  article from The Entrepreneur provides an infographic a quick, visual guide on the top ten most common mistakes bloggers make, ranging from fragments and run on sentences to comma usage. If you have a blog or are thinking of starting, definitely check it out! Just keeping this common mistakes in the back of your mind might be a great preventive measure. Or simply look before you post!



Who Are You Writing To?


As a writer, when I saw a headline that read, “The Source of Bad Writing” I was immediately drawn and afraid at the same time; I wanted to know, but I was afraid some of it would apply to my own writing! But, alas, I clicked the link. The expectation of accruing some writing knowledge was too tempting.

According to the author of the piece, Steven Pinker, his take on where all this bad writing was stemming from was a disregard of an audience’s knowledge on the topic on which someone is writing.

As a professional writing major, I have it routinely reminded to me the importance of remembering my audience. Your audience, after all, in a way gives breath to your work. And a lot of writers are forgetting this vital fact. Pinker referenced a term by economists called “The Curse of Knowledge.” This phenomenon occurs when one has “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.” This, he says, it what’s happening with writers and why “good people are writing bad prose.”

So, okay, we get the issue and that’s great; now how do we fix it? Pinker offers a variety of insights, but also acknowledges how difficult audience acknowledgment can be. After all, we don’t know every pair of eyes that will view our work and it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will understand what we’re saying. But, to get a better grasp on audience, definitely check out Pinker’s advice.


A Scientist on Writing and Style


When you think about writing, you probably don’t think about the visual aspects, per se, do you? I know I didn’t. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker points out that writing is a very visual experience. He says:

“Good writing is actually written for the eye, it’s not just that vowels and consonants just pour into your ear, but as you understand language, you should be able to imagine what it is the writer is experiencing. The overuse of clichés turns readers’ visual brains off, and it makes writing dull and turgid. As they say, avoid clichés like the plague.”

For more on his take on style in writing, read this.