Racism Should not be Trivialized in Accusations

by Bert Sperling | 11/5/99 6:00am

To the Editor:

In last Wednesday's issue of The Dartmouth, Mark Yohalem accuses Noah Phillips of racism, yet Phillips never mentions race in his article. Phillips simply labeled the use of "sup" as Simian. I have to admit, I think this is pretty dorky, cause everybody my age says "sup" or "whassup." But as dorky as it may be, it's not racist. The equation of "sup" with the snobby academic elitist concept of "Black English" is Yohalem's, not Phillips'.

Yohalem writes, "Actually, 'sup' is a part of the language that has come into being largely due to the dialect called 'Black English.' It is a conflation of 'what,' 'is,' and 'up.'" What makes Yohalem an expert on the etymology of the slang term "sup?" Everybody I know, black, white or whatever, says "whassup" or "sup" to say hi; I've been doing it my whole life. Personally I don't know what particular group of people started using it, and how does Yohalem know? Yohalem was born way after "sup" started being used, so he has no first-hand knowledge of where this expression came from. The contraction of "what," "is," and "up" seems like a pretty basic and obvious contraction to me, and not one clearly originated by one particular group of people. I bet whoever told you that "sup" came from a "dialect" called "Black English" was a snobby, rich, over-40 classist academic elitist.

Besides, what is "Black English"? To me that is a dumb concept. It is possible that some black people may use different expressions than some white, hispanic, or asian people, but it doesn't mean that they are speaking a different language. Is there "Black French?" "White Spanish?" Why does one have to label things "Black?" When you attach racial labels like that, that is where racism can start. Hell, does Mr. Yohalem want to get the water fountains labeled again like they used to be? People like Lincoln and MLK Jr. fought to bring people together and to get people to recognize everyone's similiarities, not spearate them into groups and focus on their differences. There doesn't need to be the distinction made between "Black English" and "English" any more than there needs to be a distinction between black water fountains and white water fountains.

All my black friends that I've ever known speak English, not some weird made-up concept like "Black English." Even if black people coin a term, like "chronic" or "endo," they are still speaking English. I'm white. When I use an expression I heard from a black friend, like "I wanna dig that girl," does that mean I am speaking "Black English?" Or maybe since I am white, Yohalem might suggest I am speaking "White English." Neither is the case, I think -- I think I am speaking plain old English, no matter what my skin color. There are lots of different races of people that speak English here in America, but there's only one English language. That so many different people speak the same language is part of what makes the language of the United States especially cool.

I hate racism and racists, and there's certainly plenty of both still going around. But people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln got a bullet in the head fighting racism, so Mr. Yohalem, don't trivialize their lives by making such inaccurate and irresponsible accusations of racism.

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