I couldn't make up my mind about the Oakland, California, school board's decision last month to certify Ebonics as an official language for black folks, so I decided to consult the experts. I put in a call to the Home for Retired Racial Stereotypes in a black section of Hollywood. The Kingfish answered. "Holy mack'rul dere, Andy, somebody wants to talk 'bout dis 'ere Ebonics. Could you or Tonto tell Buckwheat come to da phone? He de resident expert."
"Here I is," squeaked the famous Our Gang character a few moments later, before dropping into a baritone so deep I thought it was James Earl Jones. "Farina, Stymie and I only spoke that way in the movies because white people wrote the scripts," Buckwheat explained. "Our parents and teachers would never let us get away with speaking anything but proper English when we weren't working. The Kingfish usually speaks properly too, but he's hoping that since Black English is back in vogue, he can make a comeback."
Trying to conceal my amazement, I asked what Buckwheat thought of Ebonics. "In my opinion," he replied, "the entire controversy could have been avoided easily if the Oakland school board knew how to speak better English. They had the right idea, after all. It makes perfect sense to help teachers understand that youngsters from underclass neighborhoods speak differently from other Americans and that their distinctive speech patterns don't mean the kids are stupid." He continued, "In fact, school systems in California and other states have been using this idea since the 1970s, when some scholars concluded that Black English is a distinct language with its own grammatical rules. Since more than half the black students in Oakland drop out before they finish high school, officials have to do something. If you can't hook them on phonics, it's certainly worth trying to hook them on Ebonics."
He paused briefly to gather his thoughts. "But that common-sense message got lost because the school board wrapped it up in so much Afrocentric jargon and education-speak that people thought the board was trying to dumb down the curriculum by teaching bad grammar and syntax. There was enough mangled phraseology in its resolution to make 16 episodes of Martin. But wait, let me get the Kingfish in on this. He's an expert on malapropisms."
The Kingfish came back on the line. "Dat's right, Brother White. When I perused the resolution from de school board, I thought somebody had made a typogirraffical error. Take dis 'ere sentence, which I quotes verbitim: 'Studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English.' Up on Lennox Avenue, dat means dat black children can't speak properly because of dere heredity. It sound like one of my schemes for trickin' Andy out of his money."
"Quite so," Buckwheat chimed in. "Why would anyone throw around highfalutin' phrases like 'Pan African Communications Behaviors' unless they were trying to bamboozle the government into financing a bilingual education program for ghetto kids?"