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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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Hogarth judge

Bill Cosby v. Black English

Bill Cosby addressed the NAACP at a conventioning commemorating Brown v. Board of Education and apparently brought some wrath down on his head when he said:
They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: "Why you ain't," "Where you is" ... And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. ... Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. ... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!
From my perspective, the problem faced by American Blacks is not that they are Black, but that most of them have roots in the American South. They absorbed that area's speech habits, fell under the influence of its folkways, absorbed a less baroque but still potent version of its violent culture of honour, and acquired a variant on its folk religion.

Jim Crow bred trouble for generations to follow. It put people beyond the protection of law: a dangerous evil, because in the absence or hostility of law, your personal security is contingent on the size of the chip on your shoulder. To be a civilized human being, first and foremost, requires a willingness to forego or postpone revenge. Without real legal resource, to back down is to look weak and foolish, and invite further abuse. The man who reacts violently to insult is admired; consider the tale of Stag O'Lee. Slavery did not do this to them. The white antebellum culture of honour, which idiots still romanticise, and the heritage of Jim Crow did this.

This surely is not an African heritage --- hardly anything about Black vernacular English or Black culture can be traced to Africa, despite some speculative claims. Black vernacular English has no African, or for that matter non-Germanic features; everything it shows also appears in basilectal dialects of the southern USA and England. For that matter, their problems have little to do with the legacy of slavery. Caribbean Blacks and African emigres don't have these problems; their sons and daughters get on the fast track with little difficulty, and at least the Caribbeans were also descended from slaves.

The problems Blacks face in happier climes have little to do with skin colour. They stem mostly from the fact that people suspect they're of a Southern heritage even before they open their mouths. And dislike of the Southern heritage may be a stereotype, but it is something more excusable than an irrational prejudice.