Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Syntax and Grammar of Racism

I personally adhere to the standard rules of grammar when I write, and also when I speak - with the exception of when I am going wild with my old new york crew - but it is not a requirement for me that you are a perfect speller, or always use the accepted case, mood, tense, spelling, or preposition. It will never even remotely influence my opinion of your intelligence, competence, or personal standing. This is one of those subtle and widespread forms of elitism and classism masquerading as literacy and worldly intellectualism, and I would be remiss not to address this to the mindless clamoring rabble on social media who preach this Anglo-centric drivel in their comments.

What it is in actual fact is a pseudo-intellectual, parochial dogma of 'linguistic prescriptivism,' and its most ardent proponents are woefully ignorant of basic facts of evolutionary and social linguistics about how languages and dialects develop and the various factors in nature and society that explain why certain speech idioms and habits are acquired in some cultures and social groups but are excluded from others. This ignorance is on its own entirely understandable - not everyone is an expert linguist - but it should forfeit one's right to render judgment of others on the issue.

Something as seemingly 'bad' in grammar as the use of the infinitive where a present tense verb normally goes ("we be goin'") is actually a morphological feature of Caribbean and African American Vernacular English referred to as 'habitual be.' Languages range from having no tense at all (tenseless) to having up to four tenses, and the use of the infinitive here conveys the "aspect" of the verb, comprising in this case a continuous flow of time.

This feature of 'underclass' dialects of English is rooted in the mode of perception deriving from the unique historicity of the more egalitarian, cooperative social patterns of African peoples in their collective past. Their practices shaped a perception of time that isn't divided into the exchangeable, uniform units of commodities. Time is something to be shared, not something one spends and purchases, nor is it a finite resource to be individually owned and traded. As it so happens this is also a far more 'correct' statement of reality than the social construct of its Western European counterpart. Time according to this ideology is something to embody and accumulate as material, objective wealth for the purchase and abuse of the time of others, or as universal private property wholly indifferent to the living activity of human beings or to the natural world it uses in pursuit of its selfish interests, expressed in the attitude that 'what i do with my time is my business, fuck everyone else' present in ignorant, self-indulgent, egotistical brutes.

As further proof of the equality of slang and lower class dialects with the dominant grammar, the use of double negatives ("ain't got no") to express a negation is an idiom termed 'negative concord,' and it appears even in the Middle English of the European Middle Ages. It functions to emphasize negation, which only necessarily implies a positive when doubled in binary conditional statements, due to the 'law of the excluded middle' that is presupposed in traditional logical syllogisms, but which otherwise conveys a negative meaning that can be understood contextually. Even standard English speakers do something similar in 'anaphora', a device of repeating the same word twice as in 'never, never again.' Seldom is the implied negation brought into question here because of this.

If you object to these grammatical practices on the grounds of some perceived enlightened rationalism, or refuse to associate with people who adopt them, you be ignorant and unscientific, and are only acting to detract substantially from the cultures you can interact with. I really hope that privileging the Anglo-American dialect of whitey is worth the thick effluvia of bullshit billowing out of your uptight, 50 Shades of Gray-reading cracker face-hole which your self-satisfied, unquestioning conformity to arbitrary rules of speech conceals.

Though it may seem like a problem remote from the institutional racism and bigotry of AmeriKKKan white supremacism, it has tremendous consequences in the ideological structure that protects white privilege and perpetuates the marginalization of black and hispanic minorities. Even 'liberals' like Barack Obama can deliver condescending advice to black youth on how they might not reinforce their own racial stereotypes, or can avoid legal and social abuses on their own, mixing all of this with the multicultural language of the financial elite's official veneration of the legacy of civil rights leaders, adapted to a historical revisionism denying the latter's radical significance and aligning their deeds instead with the status quo. The message to minorities is thus an appeal to be more respectable, to not follow the gangster culture of rap music, dress more conservatively and speak 'normal' English, so they may one day realize the 'dream' of Martin Luther King. This type of liberal tolerance therefore amounts to creating opportunities for minorities to change themselves - to learn to imitate the white society that they must prove they deserve the keys to - as it remains wholly indifferent in its permissiveness of their culture and their 'right' to be different, but lets the inherent social risk of this choice fall on their shoulders entirely if any harm comes to them. Such promises are clearly empty. Even if the young generation of blacks were provided career training for future gainful employment, these jobs clearly do not exist, and private enterprise is helpless to provide them. Working harder in school might improve their potential earning power, except that there is already barely enough income going to labor as real wages, which have been stagnant for decades and are on a slow decline. Perhaps they could avoid the prison system or the plague of violent crime if they had more 'self-respect,' but the violence is all too often instigated by the police and it is common for the arrests to be conducted illegally or without provocation. Recidivism increases the likelihood of prisoners becoming repeat offenders. U.S. corporate capitalism cannot even deliver the rewards promised to minorities who make an effort even if it wanted to.

All of this dogma overshadows the empirical facts that whites remain willfully blind to, understanding that racial inequality could not survive without the majority consent of their silence. These are facts like the rate of unemployment for blacks being double what it is for white workers, the fact that the average black worker today earns 67 cents compared to every dollar earned by the average white worker in the same occupation, the fact of NAFTA's systematic liquidation of black workers from American unions, staggering incarceration rates and criminalization of black youth in the courts and prisons, discriminatory housing practices for black tenants and the disproportionate predatory lending to black home buyers, higher infant mortality rates and reduced access to medical care and education, and the fact that U.S. military aggression and foreign occupation targets and massacres Muslims and brown peoples overseas in the protection of its global market regime, its dollar's global power, the spread of its liberal democratic values, its trade bloc, its privileged status in the U.N., its World Bank and International Monetary Fund, its consumerism, and all other unmatched powers it has at its disposal for disciplining deviant regimes and groups with economic sanctions, blockades, tariffs, and through the international legal institutions it alone is free to ignore, not unlike the way standard English grammar alone is free to betray its own premises in favor of a unique figure of speech when doing so is convenient to its purposes. These things taken together are what the hypocritical apostles of the free market either deny, or else they simply pretend that individual responsibility and individual initiative assumed by minorities will wipe out all traces of its effect on inequality, without any need to resort to the 'uncivilized' methods of militant resistance, general strikes, boycotts, and organized mass agitation - these being to the stodgy formalisms of the juridical procedures the State submits all oppositional forces to, what black spoken language is to the prevailing standards of English. They must fit the rules of a stabilizing order or else anarchy will take over and everyone will do as they please, a privilege to disregard the damage one does to society in the name of self interest, denied to all but the most powerful predominantly white male business leaders and the opportunistic lackeys of the financial-military-industrial complex they command, who also happen to be somewhat more racially and sexually diverse in the positions to which they are appointed as servants of white supremacist values, in the hopes of the apologists and propagandists that the myth of real equality can receive a protective varnish. The apparent neutrality and universality of established rules of grammar casts a similar, superficial equality over the surface of the true, hidden hierarchy of culture behind it. The same artificial neutrality was obvious in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Not satisfied that a single homicide case could prove racially motivated premeditation, malicious intent or just premature defensive violence (some are quick to point out that the killer was light-skinned hispanic, forgetting the ambiguity of racial categories in general but especially hispanic in particular, or that he was also a wannabe pig cop, and most cops are white), the general response of whites was to withhold judgment about the role of race in the incident, leaving out of the picture entirely the reflexive rage it would have triggered in them had the shooter been a black adult male and the victim a white teenager, for the validation of which no proof of racism would scarcely have been necessary. The black reaction to the murder as racist was for whites an infinitive verb where the present tense should have been: blacks saw in the murder the constant, continuous presence of white racism, while whites confined the incident to the here-and-now. The grammar of white supremacy was challenged, and blacks were disregarded as incoherent at best, and conspiring to stir up discontent at worst.

Meanwhile, the racist policies of violent oppression, austerity and poverty in the wake of neoliberal economic deregulations perpetuate the very disadvantages and living condition of minorities which whites begin to regard as proof of their rebelliousness and the rationality of the penalties inflicted on them. Even something as innocuous as the stigma against the 'vulgarity' of their unrecognized and culturally devalued speech becomes an absolute indictment of these races when whites can be regularly heard attacking them for their intransigent refusal to discipline themselves against their endless cycle of oppression, exploding the grammatical transgression into an openly angry rant against their own white social order, and revealing the bizarre perception that it has coddled these people for too long at the expense of white security ("Why do they talk like that? And then they wonder why... [and] then we are the ones who end up paying for it...") The ruling class no doubt endorses and drums up this disgruntled white working class propaganda, to deflect this class's hostility away from its rule and against another section of the workers instead.

All of these economic and political powers leveraged against the victims of racism bear the same relation to them as the privileged grammatical conventions associated with the white upper class. Both indulge in all manner of omission, distortion, prevarication and blatant invention of facts to separate the condition and attitude of minorities today from their historical past, and to deny validity to their claims and feelings regardless of how reasonable they may be.

If speaking correctly is still that important to you, then begin with your thinking. It should be correct before it is spoken, the only proper form of speech being that of the truth, the real measure of the value of the words we choose to use. It requires us to comprehend the content of things behind their immediate appearances to, and a refusal to admit these appearances straightaway to the realm of the truth. It requires us to see other peoples as social beings determined in their consciousness through a definite and specific process of social production, and fixed thereby within a determinate range of potential material and intellectual faculties, habits, traits, and sensual activities. What appears to us as alien or foreign is something the more thoughtful among us alone will attempt to grasp in its unique intercourse with the world. There is no universal grammar, musical genre, clothing fashion, or model of beauty that does not belong to the universal human, that category which embraces the whole of the diverse and particular aspects and moments of truth it has passed through, and which alone represents the only true notion of what it is to be human.

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