Commentary

The Truth About Talking Black

May 09, 2017

In a former life, I worked in the marketing department for a small brokerage firm. It was, I thought, an elegant gambit. I had decided to turn myself into a business journalist, so I wanted to better understand financial markets and reporting. I got the education I needed, just not the one I expected.

It took about a month to realize the terrible mistake I’d made. The firm specialized in “speculative” stocks and used a variety of extraordinary emotional sleights to make their products appealing to the most loyal common denominator they could find: White folks who hated the government. (It’s not on my LinkedIn, so don’t even try.)

They were in the business of hedging a dangerous world. It was before conservative television news was born, so they mostly pressed investment newsletter writers into service. They focused on the four “G’s”: God, gold, and guns will save you from kleptocrats and race rioters. And in the years ahead of Y2K, stock up on groceries and related stocks as well. Mining companies. Private prison firms. I’ve read every one of Ron Paul’s investment newsletters. Ask me anything.

A former imperial wizard, then living in Russia, was a client.

I didn’t last long.

But on my way out the door, and because the devil had grabbed my tongue one fine day, I told what passed for a management team that new NASD regulations now required that all the firm’s collateral materials had to be published in Ebonics as well as standard English. Back in the day, Bill Cosby was still eating pudding and telling boys to pull up their drawers, and had recently grabbed the mic to weigh in on whether Ebonics should be taught in the Oakland Public Schools. So, I was sick of him too. I don’t know why I said it, I think I just trying to be a jerk. But the wave of outrage that erupted when they believed me was just too good to be true.

This memory came flooding back as I read Vinson Cunningham's gorgeous review of “Talking Back, Talking Black” a new book by the linguist, writer, and Columbia professor John McWhorter. It was brought to my attention by raceAhead reader Megan Carpenter, and I spent the better part of my yesterday thinking about how the language used by non-majority people in majority cultures is viewed and policed.

In his essay, Cunningham begins by recalling his love for the late comedian Bernie Mac, who was an expert speaker of Black English. Cunningham expresses delight for the emotional redemption associated with the idea that black speech is important, real and true. “In the book, McWhorter offers an explanation, a defense, and, most heartening, a celebration of the dialect that has become, he argues, an American lingua franca.”

I must admit, it was a redemption I didn’t know I needed. From his essay:

Talking Back, Talking Black,” then, is a kind of apologia. In five short essays, McWhorter demonstrates the “legitimacy” of Black English by uncovering its complexity and sophistication, as well as the still unfolding journey that has led to its creation. He also gently chides his fellow-linguists for their inability to present convincing arguments in favor of vernacular language. They have been mistaken, he believes, in emphasizing “systematicity”—the fact that a language’s particularities are “not just random, but based on rules.

Feeling alone and under siege in the investment mindset of the real America, I instinctively used black speech as a weapon, a big talk back before I disappeared entirely. I didn’t fully understand the depth of their contempt for the fake NASD rule then, but I do now. I also now understand how exhausting it is to be as afraid as the firm’s customers were, living in the Venn overlap of privilege and oppression, believing all day long that the next Rodney King was coming to turn their stolen tax dollars into crank and drank. And worse. Fear makes easy marks out of regular people.

But those men in suits sure got powerful mad when I told them they’d have to spend money to black up their stuff, their faces all red and saying certain things. They’all lost their mind up in there, but we gon' be alright.

On Point

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The brief in defense of the executive order that bans people from six Muslim-majority countries, cited a 1971 Supreme Court decision that allowed Jackson, Mississippi to defy an order to integrate public pools by closing them instead. That decision, widely contested, did an end run around the segregation question by calling for courts to not investigate the constitutionality of the motives of local officials. It’s this clause that Trump’s Justice Department wants to emphasize, saying that looking into “governmental purpose outside the operative terms of governmental action and official pronouncements,” would be fraught and hazardous. It did not take a mystic to understand what the white city managers of Jackson were up to in the 1960s and ‘70s, so this legal argument is raising eyebrows. I wonder what Sally Yates thinks of it?

Huffington Post

On racism and policing in America

CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent Jeff Pegues has a new book out today that explores how racism continues to plague police departments throughout the country. Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America uses data and deep reporting to explore the reasons why white supremacy has been able to take root in police forces around the country. “Over the last several years, in addition to the police shootings that have sparked calls for reform, there have been scandals in departments from coast to coast,” he writes. “Some of those scandals have highlighted explicit racism within the ranks.” And it’s getting worse. The FBI says there’s a special name for white supremacists who try to blend into society while covertly advancing their cause: ghost skins. At least one group has been encouraging ghost skins to seek law enforcement jobs. Click through for an excerpt.

Alternet

One more time: It wasn’t economic anxiety

In a new analysis of post-election survey data, The Atlantic along with the Public Religion Research Institute have found that white working class voters with money woes were more likely to vote for Clinton over Trump. But white voters with education and wealth, who largely carried Trump into office, were more likely to report a feeling “cultural anxiety” or “feeling like a stranger in America."  There were three clear predictors of a Trump vote: feeling America needs to be protected from foreign influence, immigration fears, and no longer believing that college is a viable option to achieve the American dream. Click through for the specific demographics, but the only thing that should surprise people is that people are surprised by this.

The Atlantic

Understanding confirmation bias

Confirmation bias happens when you pay attention to facts that support what you already believe, and we all fall prey at times. But, argues Gene Morrissy, a partner at consultant firm RHR International, it can wreak havoc in C-Suites and election alike. “The real danger is that alternative points of view or facts in opposition to the recommendation are unrecognized or even suppressed,” he says. He offers four tips to making better decisions, including asking up front for a list of all the data required to make a smart decision. But he suggests one simple question can lead the conversation in a more productive way: “What if we’re wrong?” Holding space for alternative facts and discussions can help make sure that the best information comes to light.

RHR International

The Woke Leader

When only the powerful have access to digital systems

This is a brilliant (very) long read, a complex subject made profoundly accessible. Ross Anderson is professor of security engineering at Cambridge University and a founder of the field of information security economics. He was there at the beginning of all of it, and understands how the early habits of the software industry (ship it fast, fix it in version three) has helped create the problems we have today. He walks through the history of cybersecurity, which has advanced in a relatively short time to become almost incomprehensible to the masses of people who use online platforms every day. There was a time when a low-level manager could fix an ATM, he says. Now, it requires game theory and Nobel level genius to keep an internet enabled nuclear facility from getting hacked. And then there’s you and me. “When you look at systems like Facebook, all the hints and nudges that the website gives you are towards sharing your data so it can be sold to the advertisers. They’re all towards making you feel that you’re in a much safer and warmer place than you actually are,” he says. The result is that in an environment where we’re encouraged to share, we become the both the victims and the weapons in an information war. An essential read.

Edge

Understanding Africa’s history

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The Conversation

We are all thirsty

And so, everybody drinks. Enjoy this gorgeous video, uploaded by John Wells from The Field Lab, a Southwest Texas alternative energy and sustainable living field laboratory. After placing a camera at the bottom of a pail of water, he was curious to see which desert critters would come to relieve their parch. Nothing about race, just a lovely moment for a random Tuesday.

Bored Panda

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