Response to James Baldwin Article – Jamirka De León
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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