If Black English Isn't a Language Then Tell Me What Is?

Topics: White people, Race and Ethnicity, Black people Pages: 14 (4805 words) Published: March 15, 2013
Occidental College

ECLS Student Scholarship English and Comparative Literary Studies (ECLS)


BALDWINISM: The English language functioning as a system of racism and colonization in a “Post”Colonial America Julian Mitchell
Occidental College

Follow this and additional works at: http://scholar.oxy.edu/ecls_student Recommended Citation Mitchell, Julian, "BALDWINISM: The English language functioning as a system of racism and colonization in a “Post”-Colonial America" (2009). ECLS Student Scholarship. http://scholar.oxy.edu/ecls_student/11

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1 Julian Mitchell Senior Comps 03.18.09

The English language functioning as a system of racism and colonization in a “Post”-Colonial America. James Baldwin’s If Black English Isn’t Language, Then Tell Me, What Is asserts the English language as a contemporary system of racism and marginalization. The construction of Western language reflects the same alienating principles which validate the Western ideology of race, executing the political and economic agendas of both colonization and nationalism. Therefore, the English language is colonial because it establishes a power structure which imposes whiteness to create a means of identifying and objectifying the “other”, placing empirical value upon racial separation. “Whiteness” is defined as “the quality of being white or freedom from darkness and obscurity; purity or cleanliness”. Thus, Baldwin argues that language implements a system of race within speech and literature, in which “white” English or “proper” Western language signifies access to white privilege and the achievement or stride toward racial independence. Consequently, “Black” English is despised and considered mystifying and impure. For this reason, the English language demonstrates a political device, exercising its inherent whiteness to subjugate and destroy the cultural relevance of colonized people. Language must then be identified as a tool of separatism on the basis of race and class, mimicking the framework and function of both slavery and colonization. Functioning as such, language proves the existence of the colonizer

2 in a “post” colonial society. Marginalizing “black” language objectifies blackness to the critical lens of Whiteness. Baldwin addresses the absolute necessity of “blackness” to the historical maintenance of white power. This is why Baldwin refutes the naïve notion of “slang” or “black” English not being considered language in regards to appropriation. Rather, Baldwin challenges us to recognize the system of oppression language was founded upon and functions in accordance with. The ruling class uses language to subjugate and exploit the “other” in a cowardly attempt to manipulate a common culture that falsely affirms “white” as superior. We must not only understand the contemporary existence of racism and colonization, but the ways in which blacks have been historically positioned within these systems to remain cyclically enslaved. Baldwin declares the argument of language “has nothing to do with language itself but with the ‘role’ of language” (1). Examining this, “Baldwinism” refers to Baldwin’s rhetorical strategy of awakening the human consciousness to the presence of colonial systems such as English language. Speaking with a piercingly direct eloquence, Baldwin explains how such intellectual institutions refute blackness in order to uphold the distinction of whiteness in the Western racial paradigm. The concept of “Literary colonialism” personifies the ways in which English language facilitates social order and reproduces black dialect to re-assert power to whites in hopes of eradicating the presence of blackness in...

Cited: Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. First. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955.
West, Cornel. Race Matters. First. New York: Beacon Press, 1993. Roth-Pierport, Claudia. "Another Country: James Baldwin 's flight from America." The New Yorker February 9, 2009: 102-106. Baldwin, James. "If Black English Isn 't a Language, Then Tell Me, What is?." The NEw York Times July 29, 1979: 1-3.
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