Talkin That Talk: Language, Culture, and Education in African America

By Geneva Smitherman | Go to book overview

18

LANGUAGE AND DEMOCRACY IN THE USA AND THE RSA

I recall vividly my initial reaction to South Africa on my first visit there during my sabbatical research leave in 1995. How much like me my South African Brothers and Sisters look, act, and think. “Girl, check this out, ” I said to myself. I noted, for example, that Black South Africans come in “all colors of the rainbow, ” as we say about ourselves here in African America. (The single difference being that “Coloreds” would all be considered “Black” in the U. S. —on the one drop theory, i.e., one drop of African blood defines you as “Black” over here. ) Then when I witnessed the “straight for English” and the “pressurizing for English” in education, even as I was struggling to master the click system of isiXhosa (an effort that an isiXhosa-speaking house servant gently upbraided me for—“Ah, you are paying good American dollars for this?”)—it was then that I realized for better or for worse, I was right at home.

(Memoirs of a Daughter in the Hood, Smitherman, work in progress)

THE STRUGGLE FOR language rights in the United States of America (hereafter USA) and the Republic of South Africa (hereafter RSA) have a number of startling parallels. While there are, to be sure, distinct differences between the USA and the RSA, there are also formidable similarities in terms of political economy, issues of linguistic imperialism, and domination and subordination vis-à-vis the European settler population and African descendants. Using what he terms “comparative Black politics, ” Walters provides a brilliant analysis of the past and present condition of Black South Africans and Black Americans. He states:

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