Black English as Literary Style - Social Justice Wiki
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Black English as Literary Style

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“And cause my Mama come up there in a minute when them teachers start playin the dozens behind colored folks. She stalk in with her hat pulled down bad and that Persian lamb coat draped back over one hip on account of she got her fist planted there so she can talk that talk which gets us all hypnotized, and teacher be comin undone cause she know this could be her job and her behind cause Mama got pull with the Board and bad by her own self anyhow.”

- Gorilla, My Love


Through her word choice and rhetoric, Toni Cade Bambara reaffirms the reality and beauty of the black community. The use of a black dialect is always politically charged; it can be seen as Bambara’s way of questioning the authority of Standard English. By writing, the racist historical marker for linguistical development, in Black English it places it on the same level as Standard English. For other cultures this forces them to learn a black dialect. To give credence to this idea Bonnie TuSmith, President of the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, illustrates an example from Toni Cade Bambara’s short story, Playin’ with Punjab. A social worker asked the protagonist to stay by her side, “I need you right here with me to translate, Violet, cause you know I don’t speak negro too tough.”

Toni Cade Bambara

TuSmith sets up a parallel between the social worker and other cultures reading of Bambara’s work. She sees Bambara’s reply as being, “if you want access to the black community… it is up to you to learn to ‘speak negro;’ and if you want access to Gorilla, My Love, it is your responsibility to learn its linguistic framework.” This is especially true since Toni Cade Bambara is writing primarily for black people. Through writing in a dialect it is saying that code-switching to a black dialect is just as worthy as code-switching to understand a white dialect.

Bambara’s use of a dialect differs from white author’s use of dialects for blacks. The dialect that she chooses does not demoralize, it uplifts. The language is able to tell other cultures, and reiterates for blacks, the validity of black dialects by being written in a dialect but not an “eye dialect.” An eye dialect compared to the written dialect of Bambara is the aesthetical difference in reading “nuthin” compared to “nothin,” or “‘cause” for “kawz.” Toni Morrison defines an eye dialect as “the dialogue of black characters…construed as an alien estranging dialect made deliberately unintelligible by spelling contrived to disfamiliarize it.” Janet Ruth Heller also points out that this type of dialect makes the character seem stupider and distance the reader from the text. Bambara does not want to create borders with walls, but the possibility of meaningful exchange. Toni Cade Bambara use of Black English gives the language validity as being able to transmit intelligent and insightful thoughts and ideas. The feminism of the 1970’s focused on claiming an identity for the self. Bambara’s use of Black English can be seen as her claming an identity for the black community.