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Kayla Cason – “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” by James Baldwin – Response

Posted by Kayla Cason on

James Baldwin’s op-ed “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” was a piece I did not realize I needed to read.  My initial reaction to the title was bewilderment yet great interest in discovering what Baldwin wanted to convey. Once I began to read, I felt myself connecting with Baldwin and agreeing with and understanding his stance on the comprehension of African American culture in America.  In this op-ed, Baldwin explains how the creation of a language “ comes into existence by means of necessity, and the rules of the language are dictated by what the language must convey” (Baldwin 2). The creation of Black English is a prime example of this. According to Baldwin, the force that drove the establishment of Black English was the significant language barrier between slaves imported into the U.S.  Because they derived from a variety of African tribes and nations, they were unable to effectively communicate with each other in order to maintain a community and survive. This “brutal necessity” of surviving in a foreign land as a slave drove Black people to develop their own language. However, there are people who do not acknowledge the existence of Black English. To this, Baldwin challenges them in explaining the circumstances that force a new language to come about, and how the severeness of slavery was enough to be an exigence for the development of Black English.  

One of the several points Baldwin makes that caught my attention was his analysis on African Americans’ lack of education throughout history.  He states “ The brutal truth is that the bulk of of white people in American never had any interest in educating black people, except as this could serve white purposes . . .” (Baldwin 2).  Captivatingly, Baldwin emphasizes the truth about the historic relationship between White and Black Americans. Black America’s ignorance was not a product of their own choices and actions but the result of the constant belittling and suppression from White America.  The refusal to provide the same education to African Americans was a tool used to keep White people in power. Educated people of color, even in today’s society, are a threat to the power of white supremacy in America.


Michelle Ortiz James Baldwin Reading Post

Posted by Michelle Ortiz on

In “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What is?”, James Baldwin discusses the importance of language. He discusses that every person has a common language in which they articulate. Through these variety of languages, people express different realities and experiences they must go through. He shows this by writing “Frenchman living in Paris speaks a subtly and crucially different language than from that of a man living in Marseilles; neither sounds very much like a man living in Quebec; and they would all have great difficulty in comprehending what a man from Guadeloupe, or Martinique is saying . . .”(Baldwin 1). Baldwin also mentions that people must accept other’s achievements and identity which can be done by accepting one’s language including black language. Your language says a  lot about the type of person of who you are. He mentions how we, as humans, must not penalize people of color for creating their own language the shows the reality and struggles they have endures throughout history. “Black English is the creation of the black diaspora” (Baldwin 3). Black English represents black history and their struggles they have faced ever since they came to the United States chained to each other. Lastly, Baldwin mention how “. . .white people in America never had any interest in education black people, except as this could serve white purposes . . . A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled”(Baldwin 3). This is very important because white people that despise people of color refuse to truly teach people of color, to help them become the best person they can be just because these type of people do not see the potential of a black child and that is something these children cannot afford.

James Baldwin, a brilliant writer, states “He cannot afford to understand it. This understanding would reveal to him too much about himself, and smash that mirror before which he has been frozen too long”(Baldwin 3). I found this very interesting and in fact, true. By saying this Baldwin is implying that white people refuse to understand black language for a reason. This reason is because white people were the ones that caused this language to form. They forced people of color to struggle, to lose their native languages and adapt to horrific, unsafe environment they must and continue to experience. White people cannot afford to neither accept nor understand black language because it will force them to accept and view who they really are as a person. It will allow them to understand their history as well; the history of plundering and denigrating the black body and that is something they refuse to accept. However, I believe the past will catch up with these racist, white people and sooner or later they will have to accept not only black language but the reality of their own history.


Response to James Baldwin Article – Jamirka De León

Posted by Jamirka De León on

In “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?,” James Baldwin addresses the way a language evolves and goes on to describe how “black english” evolved and grew into a language.  Baldwin explains how people evolved a language to “ . . . describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order to not be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.” In other words, he is saying that people evolve a language in order to be able to control the circumstances or situations they live in or in order to avoid being overwhelmed and consumed by a life or situation that they cannot control.  He also mentions that language is a form of identification when he says that “ . . . It reveals the private identity, and connect one with, or divorces one from, the larger public, or communal identity.” The language someone speaks helps identify them or distinguish them as part of a larger group. For example, in England and America, English is spoken but each has its own characteristics that help compare one to the other which makes both languages incomprehensible to each other.  Baldwin then goes on to explain how black English emerged when he says that the language came to existence out of a means of “brutal necessity.” They had to create a language that the white man wouldn’t be able to understand for their own protection. Slaves did not come into this country speaking the same language and if they did, slavery would have never lasted as long as it did. This directly connects to his previous point where he says “What joins languages, and all men, is the necessity to confront life, in order, not inconceivably, to outwit death.”  Black English evolved by means of survival.

In addition, I found it interesting when Baldwin says, “He cannot afford to understand it.  This understanding would reveal to him too much about himself, and smash that mirror before which he has been frozen for so long.”  Here he’s talking about how white men could not afford to understand the language that has evolved as black English because it would reveal to them to the truth of the lives they lived.  It would reveal to them how cruel and evil they were and why this language had to be created in the first place. Understanding this language would finally reveal to them the reality they refuse to face and see for themselves.  I found this interesting because the reason a language evolved could reveal the reality of something to a greater public which is something that seems obvious to me but also complex.

I wasn’t really confused on anything other than the phrases he used in the second paragraph on the second page such as “let it all hang out.”  Overall I found this article to be extremely interesting and it made me think about our language and how it affects the way we see the reality we live in.

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