African American Literacies

By Elaine Richardson | Go to book overview

Introduction: don't we still have to prove our humanity?

The first time this prof humiliated me was when I used “nocturnal insects” in my paper on my neighborhood to describe my roaches. I had heard the word nocturnal and I thought I'd use it in my paper. My neighborhood was exciting to me, and I wrote about it. I thought he wanted us to tell the truth, from our own perspectives, and make it interesting. My neighborhood flourished in trade and industry with “the number house, ” “the reefah house, ” “the after hour joint, ” and other houses of ill repute. We also had churches galore. Lots of them right next door to each other-“sto fronts, ” we called them. Men and women went in and out of those houses 24/7/365. I couldn't wait until I got old enough to go into those joints, too. (That's another book though.) They shot dice on the side of the number house. Smoked reefah on the side of the reefah house. My Pal, the proprietor of the after hour joint, didn't let people hang around outside of his joint due to police heat. At about age 13, I could talk and shoot some mean dice. “Bet you don't barg.” “Baby need a new pair a shoes.” “7/11 is heaven.” I thought he would like it, my English teacher. I laid it all out there. I remember talking about the kind of clothes people wore and being really descriptive. Okay, I didn't know how to use punctuation correctly, but was that any reason to give me a “D?”

We were from the same kind of place, Mike and me, and we were the only two Black people in the class. The assignment was to write about our neighborhoods and how they influenced us. Mike never let me read his paper, but he tripped the prof out, too. Mike was using stuff from Manchild in the Promised Land as his model. Neither Mike nor I liked how the prof would change the meaning of what we were writing about when he made us rearrange it and change our words. He did tell me that I was using dialectal variants. But that was the extent of any explicit instruction in negotiating different discourses and ideologies. When I went to his office for help, our twenty-minute sessions seemed to take a great toll on him. He seemed overwhelmed by the number of grammatical sins I had committed. Perhaps he pitied me, wondering why I was even attending the university. He did ask me what high school I attended. When I told him, he shook his head and directed me to further work in the writing center.

In my visits to the writing center, one teaching assistant would deal with my

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