In Nobody Mean More to Me Than You And the Future Life of Willie Jordan, June Jordan of State University of New York recalls her experiences with teaching a Black English course after having black students being disturbed by the use of Black English in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. When they realized it was a written form of how they talk, they decided to translate it into Standard English, which later is described as White English. Feeling like there is value in how Blacks communicate, June Jordan started teach Black English as a viable language. Throughout the course, she and the students started to create rules and guidelines for consistency of the language.
The first half of the article deals with those rules and some excerpts of the student responses. The second half of the article focuses on a student Willie Jordan, who was doing a lot of work on the mistreatment of Black Africans in South Africa. Willie was a very interested student who would show up to class early every day and then suddenly stopped coming to class. When June reached out to him, he agreed to come and see her. When he shows up he reveals that his brother who was unarmed was shot and killed by the police. His family had no money for defense and Willie was outraged and mourning what had happened. The class decides to write letters in Black English stating their demand for justice to the police department as well as send it to Newsday.
A black police officer shows up in casual dress to the class and sits in the back. Eventually, after listening to the class’ letter plan, the officer comes forward and identifies himself and while smiling he tells the class that the police are the ultimate authority and the death of Willie’s brother was because he overreacted and not because of racism.
The letters are not published and nothing is done about Willie’s brother’s murder. Not enough money is raised for legal counsel and it all gets swept under the rug by the powers that be. After doing some research, Willie finds the police report untruthful. The report states that his brother reached for a police officer’s gun and that is why he got shot. Yet the autopsy report shows that he was shot and excessive amount of times including a few bullets in his back. The results points to a different story of events, one that has his brother being executed.
I found this article very interesting due to a recent conversation I had with some black friends while visiting them in Chicago. I only mention their race as it is pertinent to our discussion. Robert, who grew up in North Omaha, and DeVon, who grew up in a suburb in the state of Michigan. I had just been learning how Ebonics/Black English is now accepted as its own language. They were bothered by the idea that it is considered a language and did not believe me until Webster’s dictionary was brought out and I proved it as fact. That didn’t stop their reservations nor did it quell their opinion of Black English’s acceptance. It should be noted that during our conversation, BE was referred to as Ebonics. Robert said something similar that was stated in the article that his parents disciplined him if he spoke in anything other than Standard English. DeVon said that world of language was not his own. He was not around those that spoke like that and didn’t like his culture spoken for in a language that, in his opinion, was less than. So here I was a white man, trying to convince two black people that BE is something that should be respected. It was a surreal experience that got heated. We eventually ended the conversation with an agreement that while it is an accepted language, they didn’t accept it. Furthermore, their opinions strongly leaned toward the idea that it shouldn’t be accepted by others either. I felt lost about the whole issue. I just want to respect people’s wishes about their culture, but when a group is so divided on this particular polarizing issue, it is hard to know where to stand. Should one portion of a group speak for the whole? Are my friends whitewashed? Having been friends with Robert for fifteen years, I know that he is secure in who he is and his ‘blackness’ doesn’t seem to be “whited out.” In his words, he just speaks, “correctly.” It should also be said that Robert, did attend a mostly white private school while in Omaha. So, he came from a primarily black neighborhood but learned in a primarily white culture. So, if anyone, I think he has a more well-rounded perspective. It leaves a lot of questions. The fact that June Jordan’s article was written in the early 80’s and the event of the police shooting took place in 1984, makes Willie’s plea at the end of the article all the more saddening. “Something has to be done about the way in which this world is set up. Although it is a difficult task, we do have the power to make a change.”
With all the police violence still seen against the black community, I have to wonder. Do we?