Social Question

dpworkin's avatar

Harry Reid is taking a lot of heat for his political analysis of Obama's attractiveness as a candidate. What do you think?

Asked by dpworkin (27080points) January 10th, 2010

Is he being punished for being frank, or was there something racist about his assumptions?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

35 Answers

Mamradpivo's avatar

I don’t understand the ‘well-spoken Negro’ thing. Harry Reid isn’t the first person to make this argument either. Is Barack Obama the first well-spoken African-American these people have ever met? I know they all live in DC and are completely isolated from the real world, but the part of Washington that isn’t Congress has a huge percentage of African-Americans, a ton of whom are professionals.

I think it’s probably a combination of frankness and prejudice. I don’t think Harry Reid is racist, but I think he’s used to (like many wealthy liberals and all politicians on both sides) thinking of people who look different and come from different backgrounds in the abstract.

torch81's avatar

He’s getting less heat than any republican in his position would be taking.

dpworkin's avatar

I think he was distancing himself from the reality, and discussing Obama as a political phenomenon, and he was making the point that Obama’s well-spokenness was an asset. If Obama sounded like Wanda Sykes he would have been unelectable in racist America, and I think Harry was just recognizing that.

mattbrowne's avatar

I think his remarks were unwise, not to say outright stupid. Obama won the elections because he was the better candidate. I greatly admire Obama’s intellect and his second book ‘The audacity of hope’ really impressed me. I think we should skip the question of Obama’s HTML color code and tackle the real problems on this planet.

dpworkin's avatar

Oh, I agree with your feelings, @mattbrowne, but they don’t amount to professional political speculating, which is what Reid was doing.

janbb's avatar

I’ve been more away from the news than usual lately but from what I read on CNN, I agree that Reid was not being racist, but making an accurate, if untactful, political judgment. Obama got elected because he was the best candidate but he would not have won if he had been a Chris Rock or a Whoopie Goldberg stylistically. I am generally a believer in political correctness but I often have a problem with politicians having to back down after offering an honest opinion. So often the outrage is political posturing by the other party and fills the 24 hour news cycle up with crap.

mattbrowne's avatar

@pdworkin – Yeah, I fear there’s some hidden agenda involved.

delirium's avatar

Wait, as in talking about how attractive Obama is? Because, well… yuh… he’s downright gorgeous. Although it doesn’t influence me politically, I can appreciate a president who is that easy on the eyes.

Qingu's avatar

HIs remarks weren’t a comment about Obama, they were a comment about the stupidity of the American people, and I agree with them.

Buttonstc's avatar

I was going to ask a similar question after hearing that item on CBS Sunday morning but focused totally on the speech patterns.

I doubt that Reid’s intent was racist. Albeit, he probably should have kept his opinion to himself.

Sometimes it’s very difficult to answer a “what if” scenario. Other times it’s remarkably simple.

If you kept everything about Obama the same, but substituted the speech patterns of Al Sharpton, it’s doubtful he would have been elected.

Let’s not forget that we’ve just had eight years of a President who actually was stupid as well as sounding stupid (or inarticulate, if that sounds better)

We are justifiably gun shy about electing another inarticulate (and possibly stupid as well) President.

Would Obama have been elected if he spoke like Wanda Sykes or Al Sharpton?

Remember the ideas and everything are the same. The only difference is in the expression of them.

I think most of us get Harry Reid’s point, unfortunately. I think Obama was fortunate to have been raised from childhood with articulate speech patterns.

This was one of the main points all of the teachers (mostly black, some white) at the elementary school in Bklyn where I taught tried to impress upon the kids.

If you want a professional career, you need to be able to use standard English when the situation calls for it. Speaking to your boss as if he were one of your buddies from the neighborhood is not appropriate.

Constantly using “Aks” and double negatives just won’t fly. Dems da rules whether you like it or not :)

aprilsimnel's avatar

And there’s the nub.

Why is this particular speech pattern considered “articulate”? Because the manner in which upper middle class, northern-ish American white men speak and carry themselves is considered the norm and the ideal in the US.

Why haven’t we gotten past that particular surface by now? So what if Obama’d spoken with that Sharpton twang? So what if he’d been darker than a paper bag? Would that make so much of a difference? Why? I haven’t gotten a good answer yet when I’ve asked. “Oh, it doesn’t matter, April!” my friends will say, and yet it’s the same type of person repeatedly who runs and wins.

Granted, I’m happy for Obama that he won, but sometimes I get the feeling he’s in office partially because this country wanted to pat itself on the back for something in these last 10 years.

Personally, I found Clinton’s speech pattern pretty darn inarticulate when he first came on the scene, and I had to root that out of myself, after years of being told by white and black people that educated persons didn’t have any type of Southern accent at all. Then again, I was 18 as well, so… you know, judge-y teenager…

The so-called “black accent” is merely a variant among many Southern accents, anyway. Maybe it’s good that Reid was called out for those remarks, so we can ask ourselves some tough questions about why the social and political capital of a person in this country is lower the less the person sounds or resembles a middle-aged, suit-and-tie-wearing, Anglo-Saxon-ish, white, Presbyterian small business owner dude from Bloomfield, Indiana.

Buttonstc's avatar

@April

I don’t know that it’s merely a “twang” that’s the problem.

I also don’t think one necessarily needs to sound “white”.

All of the black teachers in this particular school ( and about 40–50% of the students families) were from various parts of the Carribean and spoke with some type of patois, for lack of a better term.

But for all of them, GRAMMAR was excellent. Having lived in two major metropolitan areas for most of my life (Bklyn. and Philly) I have encountered people of every skin shade and accent.

Invariably, most foreigners spoke better English than native born Americans.

It’s not necessarily being white that counts. It’s being educated. People who are speaking like
“White trash” don’t get a pass from me either.

Grammar standards exist for a reason. Ignorant is ignorant regardless of skin color.

ANYONE regardless of how they were raised, can learn good grammar unless theyre too lazy or busy making excuses to try.

If you went to a Doctor of any color and his grammar choices made him sound like an ignoramus, are you seriously going to tell me that it wouldn’t affect your confidence in him?

Please, let’s not be ridiculous.

I think this current trend of black kids being mocked for “sounding white” and adults backing up that nonsense does a great disservice to them and their future job potential.

Why strive for the lowest common denominator? There is absolutely nothing preventing a black ( or white) child from the poorest family from rising up the success ladder.

But telling him that he doesn’t need to bother with grammar and the basics of the English language is placing a huge unnecessary block in the way.

Parents enrolled their kids in OUR school because they knew that their kids would be held to a standard. There was never any attempt to change a Jamaican accent, Mon, just the language and grammar choices, both spoken and written. The two go hand in hand. If you speak like an ignoramus, you’ll end up writing like one also.

But crappy grammar, spelling and language was fair game. The chances of them landing in a successful profession despite sounding like a street punk were miniscule. Compare the number of rap stars or sports figures to the numbers of successful black Doctors, Lawyers, Scientists, Business Mgrs. statistically speaking, and the point is self evident.

If anyone, black or white, is willing to train themselves to speak AND WRITE standard English, they still have the choice to slip back into whichever ” dialect” they care to use. They have the option.

Giving them excuses for a failure to learn standard English, deprives them of many job OPTIONS. To suggest otherwise is extremely unrealistic and results in them being even more deprived.

janbb's avatar

@Buttonstc Lurve and a kiss – MMWAHH!

Buttonstc's avatar

@Jan

Thanks. I may not be popular for saying those things, but I know for certain that there are a lot of those kids grown up today who are not drug dealers , petty thieves, or in jail because we all didn’t ease up on standards and made sure that they had increased their OPTIONS in life.

Education is the answer to a surprising number of recalcitrant problems. As corny as that may sound.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I’m not talking about grammar and education. People in the national political arena, for the most part, are college-educated and know and use standard American English grammar. Even Al Sharpton, as much as a jerkface as he is, uses standard English on the Sunday morning political chat shows. And that is not what I’m asking. I think POC are held to a higher standard. Let’s say a guy like Bush, but who was black, ran for President. That wouldn’t be borne. Blacks would be ashamed of him and everyone else would laugh him off the national stage.

Or say Chris Rock, who indeed knows standard grammar, or Whoopie Goldberg, or Dave Chappelle, whose parents are tenured university professors, even, ran for president, they woudn’t get elected, even if in every other respect they were exactly like Obama. Would they? I submit that they would not. Because like Henry Reid said, they are not light-skinned people without an accent. And I’m asking why those aspects in this day and age make a difference. Why can’t such be looked past? Because if they were, Henry Reid would not be able to say what he did.

Buttonstc's avatar

@Jan

One minor bone that needs picking.

Whoopie Goldberg actually speaks quite well. Have you seen the movie “Corrina, Corrina” ?

She is actually a good example of what I was trying to say.

She has the OPTION of speaking standard English ( because she knows it) or drifting into “dialect” depending upon her mood and circumstances.

Bill Cosby does the same. There are lots of others that don’t spring to mind as easily. But it’s an interesting contrast.

I’m not saying that black folks , or Southerners, or Cajuns or whatever should abandon their distinctive speech patterns. Merely that they need to give themselves the OPTIONS of using that or standard English.

If the fail to learn standard English, they are drastically reducing their options in all sorts of ways.

janbb's avatar

I think part of what we are seeing is what went on when Jews – and of course other “ethnic” groups – first entered the public arena. Jews were not able to succeed if they were deemed “too Jewish.” As time passed, and more Jews were accepted in more fields, the issue of being too Jewish has faded. It’s not surprising therefore, that the first African-American to break the Presidency is not “too black”, but this distinction will fade (as it were) over time, I believe.

dpworkin's avatar

Harry Ried specifically acknowledged that Obama has the option of speaking so-called SAE.

janbb's avatar

@Buttonstc I was typing before I read your last post. Oh, of course, and I’m sure that Barack can slip into black speak as desired as well. No one should lose their ability to speak to different groups in different ways. I think we’re on the same page here.

jca's avatar

@Buttonstc: lurve to you! i hear many blacks from all walks of life using terms like “aks.” educated people who should know better. it’s not a matter of “sounding black” or “sounding white.” why do they use a term like “aks” when no matter how you slice it, it’s spelled “ask” and should be pronounced “ask.”

dpworkin's avatar

@jca I respectfully disagree. No linguist would ever make a hierarchy of dialects and declare some superior to others. You just have a preference for hearing the word “ask” pronounced a certain way, and you can draw no other conclusions about the speaker unless you are exercising a personal prejudice.

Buttonstc's avatar

@jca

I can tell you why they use aks. It’s because in childhood this is what they were surrounded by.

And for whatever reason, the didn’t choose to train themselves out of it or didn’t have teachers ( like the ones at our school) willing to harp on it every single day until it was just easier to surrender and pronounce it correctly already.

I think a parallel can sort of be found in speech therapists correcting a child who lisps.

Lisping is not related to anxiety the way stuttering is. It is nothing more than a poor speech habit. (they use the term “lazy speech”). They use a series of focused exercises for proper placement of tongue and teeth.

After that, it’s merely a matter of repetition, repetition, and more repetition until a new habit replaces the old.

So why don’t they focus similarly on aks, which is likewise a poor speech habit ?

My guess would be PC, pure and simple. Back in my day it was the excuse making of Ebonics. Nowadays, it’s the posturing about “authenticity” whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean.

Obviously that nonsense didn’t fly at our school. And, interestingly enough, it was the black teachers doing the majority of the harping. Why?

Well, the excuse makers would most likely be tut-tutting about racial self hatred and trying to stamp out the childs authentic dialect, bla, bla, bla.

Ha ! They never met these ladies. They had more pride in being black than any American born ones I’ve met. They grew up in the Caribbean and came from educated families and they weren’t going to allow these kids to get away with crap.

And there was many a kid, long graduated, coming by for a holiday visit from whatever college, who made it a point to tell them so and share a chuckle over their childhood ignorance.

So any black adults still using aks never had anyone in their lives who cared enough about them to break the habit and kept deluding themselves that talking like that is being “authentically black”.

What a load of horse turds.

Buttonstc's avatar

@pd

I just read your response and respectfully disagree.

Someone speaking with a Jamaican accent and using expressions peculiar to that language is speaking in a dialect.

It’s as simple to correct as a lisp.

Or are you of the opinion that children shouldn’t have that corrected either?

Just tell people who can’t help but notice it, that they are misjudging the kids dialect ?

Please.
Purposely mispronouncing how a word is spelled is not a “dialect”. It’s a pronounciation error, pure and simple.

Under your system, the logical question is: Where does the excuse making end ?

Would you say the same for something like “birfday” another common mispronounciation among black kids. It carries over into many other “th” sounds as well. It’s just glaringly obvious in that example.

Sort of the opposite of a lisp, which INSERTS “th” sounds where they don’t belong.

filmfann's avatar

the guy is a jackass. BFD.

dpworkin's avatar

@Buttonstc We are discussing different issues. I agree that it is a mitzvah, not a burden, to teach someone to be able to access SAE if they wish. I also believe that Geechy and Gullah, with their long histories, and there own phonemics and morphology, are not somehow “sub-optimal” dialects. The ideal, to me, is that anyone who speaks a non-standard dialect be fluent in both SAE and BAE, and that we not make the mistake of calling one “better” than the other. One is more useful in the professional, political and business world.

Buttonstc's avatar

@pd

I’m really not familiar enough with the two dialects you mention to be able to offer an opinion on them one way or another.

But perhaps I should give a few examples of what I would consider to be dialect to clarify the issue.

One example of what clearly would fall under the “black dialect” label would be somthing like the phrase “cut off the light”.

The kids in my classes used this all the time and I had never heard it used before or since.

Another one was the term “case quarter” when referring to 25 cents and making change. As in: “Do you have change for a case quarter?”

To which I, of course, replied: “I have no idea what a CASE quarter is but I do have two dimes and a nickel, if you’ve got a quarter. ”

But after the first time, I just accepted it. I still have no idea of the origins of it and neither did they, but it just wasn’t that big of a deal.

I would consider both of those to be an example of dialect (or regionalism, if you will).

But, I’m sorry. The same does not apply to either aks or birffday. Those are just plain ordinary mispronunciations, poor speech habits. No different from lithping. And I firmly believe that they are most definitely sub-optimal.

If those black folks born outside of the US can take the time and effort to speak English, then those born here, in an English speaking country are without excuse.

I believe that speaking properly pronounced English is much much better than lithping or aksing. Trying to uplift lazy speech patterns by calling them dialect helps no one.

It may sound more politically correct, but I’m not the only one who feels it’s nonsense. There are a walloping bunch of black parents who agree with me on that. They see nothing charming in having their child sounding like a street thug and excusing it as “dialect”.

And it’s not because it offends my judgmental ears (as someone suggested in another thread). I most certainly don’t walk around in my everyday life correcting other peoples English. They are adults and have every right to their choices regardless of how ignorant it makes them sound.

But I’m not going to kowtow to the PC police trying to make excuses for not requiring more of these kids.

During part of the time I was teaching, there were those trying to float around the theory that not as much could be expected of black kids They had gotten such a poor start that they couldn’t be expected to be equal to white kids in achievement and test scores.

That is total crap. Speaking statistically, we were disproving that patronizing crap load on a daily basis. We expected a lot and we got a lot by refusing to lower the bar.

At the end of the year, the majority of kids who had come to us from the public schools, tested at grade level or above instead of however many years behind they had been prior.

The majority of those who had been with us from the beginning were at least two full grades OR MORE ahead, according to standardized test scores.

All of this Ebonics nonsense and PC excuse making serves only to further hold back these kids. Our school was certainly not unique. Every so often there will be news reports of various schools, some in the absolutely worst neighborhoods and many of parents with little education consistently turning out top notch achieving kids.

I guarantee you they are doing it the same way. Hard work and high expectations. No question about it.

They aren’t making dialect excuses for the kids. They are requiring them to do better and change. They don’t allow aks.
And they don’t tolerate them calling each other niggas and hos either.

They hold them to a high standard and guess what? The kids achieve because they are expected to. They don’t have excuses made for sloppy language or bad behavior.

So, I’m certainly not the only one being old fashioned. Tons of black parents who care about their kids are the same way. And they instinctively know that having street thug bad grammar and sloppy language can’t be prettied up by giving it a fancy term or excusing.

And good grammar most definitely is “better” regardless of what the PC position is.

Gullah is a dialect. Talking like a street thug isn’t. Aks and birffday as well as double negatives and crappy careless grammar are characteristic of street thug language and not something to emulate as “authentic”. (Unless they have a multi-million dollar record deal from a rap label and don’t have to worry about earning a living~ )

Well, I’ll get off my little soapbox now. Sorry for the rant.

But I make no apologies for deeming sloppy grammar and lazy pronunciation as “sub-optimal” to say the least.

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t really understand how we disagree.

Buttonstc's avatar

I don’t know that you and I disagree a lot on the broader issue about Harry Reid and such.

The specific issue of the word “ask” is the fly in the ointment here indicative of a larger issue You told a previous poster that he/she was exercising a personal prejudice because they have a preference for hearing it pronounced a certain way (as if there were no objective standard for how it SHOULD BE pronounced by anyone, black or white)

You further stated that no linguist would ever make a hierarchy of dialect and declare some superior to others (as this poster was evidently doing, according to you.)

You (or the linguists with whom you agree) are thus raising careless speech to the exalted level of dialect.

I THEN made an analogy to a problem encountered by speech therapists, ie: kids speaking with a lisp. Evidently you skipped that part.

Both lithping and aksing (as well as birffday) are simple errors in pronunciation.

Making excuses for them (such as suggesting they are dialect) does nothing helpful for anyone.

This is closely related to the whole Ebonics issue from back in the day. It is also first cousin to the rap industry claiming that this type of speech combined with crappy ignoramus grammar is “authentically” black speech. This is excuse making, pure and simple and helps no one.

If that were true, then “white trash” could also proclaim their ignoramus grammar as “authentic” white speech.

It’s crappy grammar and careless regardless of which race utters it. Do linguists honestly expect us to accept the same from white trash? Why do they seem to think blacks get a pass ?

By scolding others for creating a hierarchy, you apparently are of the same opinion as these linguists whom you cite.

I asked you before, where does it end?

And since lithping and aksing are BOTH the exact same type of careless pronunciation, why does one deserve speech therapy while the other gets exalted as dialect. ?

If that makes sense to you, please explain it to me and the other poster before dismissing it as merely personal prejudice.

And what would you have us do with “birffday” and similar instances of substituting “ff” sound in place of “th” ? It’s fairly common among black kids. Is that also supposed to be called dialect as well?

If linguists sitting in their ivory towers are making pronouncements on all of this and the rap industry wants to keep throwing out the red herring of authentic, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us are required to toss out common sense. Just because talking like a street thug is currently perceived by SOME to be cool and authentic doesn’t make it so. A linguist can pretty it up all they want, but ignorant is ignorant and you know it when you hear it.

Dems jes da fax.

I hope that clarifies things.

dpworkin's avatar

I speak of dialect in the linguistic sense, which definitionally does not include non-systematic mispronunciation. “Aks” for “Ask” is a feature which obeys the morphological rules of African cognates. “Birfday” does not, so I draw a distinction between the two.

“He going to school” and “He be going to school” are constructions which follow rigid linguistic rules, and in fact allow a subtle distinction which SAE does not allow. Should either phrase be used in commerce? My answer is a realistic “no”. Is the morphology of these phrases inferior to SAE’s morphology of the verb “to be”? My answer is a realistic “no”.

I agree wholeheartedly that mastering SAE is much to be desired, and is sine qua non in some professions. I agree that it should be taught. I do not agree that BAE is for that reason inferior in some way as a dialect.

You may feel that it has a certain moral inferiority, or civic inferiority, but that does not diminish its linguistic standing as equally valid as all other languages and dialects. The harder that linguists have tried to make hierarchies of languages and dialects, the more they learned that it is simply not possible to do so.

Buttonstc's avatar

@pd

Ok I sort of see where you’re coming from on aks. I’m not sure I buy into it, but I’m willing to ask a few questions and learn something.

If it is the case that it so “African” then one would expect more recently emigrated blacks from Africa
to be speaking that way also and probably more so.

In my experience, that has definitely not been the case. Philly has a large immigrant population from all over including many Africans from various nations.

I’m also not referring to an academic institution here either. I’m talking about the various cab drivers, shopkeepers, fellow vendors at street fairs etc. Hardly positions requiring formal language.

I don’t hear any of that in their speech. AT ALL.

As a matter of fact, they are rather contemptuous of American blacks and their language.

As I mentioned, their speaking of English is so far superior to American blacks it’s ludicrous.

I’ll buy the argument for fairly isolated populations such as the Gullah having these patterns persisting for many generations.

But every other immigrant group has managed to acquire standard English in a generation of two at the most.

So why not American blacks ?

Anyhow, it makes little sense to me that kids who would be hard pressed to find Africa on a map and have been here far longer than most recent African immigrants, can’t manage to speak standard English. The excuse is their African heritage patterns?

But people from Africa speak far better English than they do?

This doesn’t make sense to me. Does it make sense to you

dpworkin's avatar

The reason that new immigrants don’t use that construction is that it is an artifact of slavery, e.g. it is not a modern convention.

Buttonstc's avatar

I honestly don’t understand that at all.

Presumably the African languages have not changed that much. This either has it’s roots in African language construction or it doesn’t.

The blacks in the Carribean were also slaves originally and earlier than in America. Again, at the risk of belaboring the point, they don’t speak anything like “aks” and the “weebees”.

They had a similar experience. Slavery and adapting to the English language (albeit the Brit version of it :)

dpworkin's avatar

It has a lot to do with tribal issues as well. I’m sorry, it was neatly explained to me but I have forgotten the details. I still have my textbooks from my linguistics courses, maybe tomorrow I can get you better information.

Zuma's avatar

@Buttonstc “Both lithping and aksing (as well as birffday) are simple errors in pronunciation.”

I don’t think so. I think these and “talking like a thug” are deliberate usages intended to express racial and class solidarity, much the same way a cockney accent expresses class solidarity in the British class system. It’s not because they are lazy, ignorant, thuggish or unable to master SAE; they are simply refusing to assimilate into the standard English speaking community because they see that community as an exclusive white person’s club which is hostile, oppressive, and treacherous—and for good reason—the lifetime odds of a young black man going to prison are now somewhere around 30%, and it isn’t because they commit a disproportionate share of crime.

Speaking “incorrectly” is a way of saying “fuck you” to white people. They know that slang and Ebonics grates on our ears and drives us crazy, which is why they do it. If you want to see the engine of this language mutation in action, you need to go to prison and see how black people are treated there. The racism is open, flagrant, and scandalously unfair. Blacks in prison deliberately mutate their language so as to make it as unintelligible and unusable to whites as possible. They mumble, they make up words, they use slang, they pepper their speech with nigga, nigga, nigga, they moo and bray in order to express their absolute disgust and rejection of white culture and everything it stands for—its “correctness” its “book learnin” (which, in their shoddy, substandard schools, they have only experienced as a form of humiliation) and anything that might be construed as intellectualism.

For them “talking white” or sounding “smart” is taken as a betrayal of black solidarity, a selling out of one’s “blackness” in exchange for assimilation privileges, which may or may not be forthcoming (and which usually aren’t). When blacks in prison greet one another with ”‘Sup, Nigga?” what they are really saying is “hello my fellow black brother united in hatred against the white race.” I’m serious. You cannot imagine the depths of anger and hatred they feel, and for very, very, very good reasons.

To say that the black ghetto-speak that mutates out of this experience is “inauthentic” is to profoundly misunderstand the situation. The reason “incorrect” black English persists is because racism persists. If succeeding in American society were simply a matter of learning to speak “correctly,” blacks would have been assimilated long ago. The decision not to assimilate—indeed, their deliberate divergence from white culture—is a way of saying to American society, “We refuse to go quietly into the great melting pot until we are dealt with fairly.” Until you treat us fairly, we are going to be an irritant, a burden, and your worst nightmare. (In prison blacks actually become and refer to themselves as nigg-ers, because this is what white society is forcing them to be. If they can’t escape this stigma, they will become it in spades, so to speak, and throw it back in white people’s faces.)

The election of Barack Obama has started to turn the corner on all this. He is the undeniable icon that if you do try you can succeed. And so, those blacks who think they have a shot are starting to speak standard English again—and you are seeing more and more black faces on TV who don’t “sound black.”

But this may not last. If Obama doesn’t deliver on America’s promise to treat blacks as full equals, they are going to feel abandoned and betrayed once again, and their language will become more and more divergent and unintelligible from SAE. Right now Obama is a symbol, but he is not actual change. And he is turning out not to be the hope they voted for, since like the black mayors that came into power in the 1960s, there seems to be a tacit understanding that they will not fundamentally challenge the white power structure, or any other power relations in the society. Real change won’t come until there is substantial economic investment in the nation’s inner cities to undo generations of redlining, disenfranchisement, and economic disinvestment. So far, there has been no deescalation of the war on drugs, which sends the bulk of blacks to prison. And there has been no substantive reform of the entrenched racism of the American criminal justice system (although Eric Holder is better than nothing).

By the way, this same thing is going on among “poor white trash” in prison. I’ve even seen skinheads and guys with swastika tattoos deliberately talk “incorrectly.” Indeed, some of them, when you get them in private, will admit to liking rap music—because the thug life, when you really think about it, is all about a lack of legitimate economic opportunity. We imprison 2.3 million people—6–7 times more people than other industrial democracy—because we no longer make anything as a nation, and prisons are a way of providing good jobs to reliable right-wing constituencies.

The problem is not blacks inability or refusal to learn “correct” English, it is a more structural economic problem: an inability to provide enough good jobs for everyone, and a race-based allocation of good jobs to whites in preference to blacks.

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