This Sunday I’m preaching about xenophobia, the fear of strangers. We will look at some of the ways our biases manifest themselves in ways we don’t appreciate. I almost lost it recently when someone made fun of the way a wonderful African-American spoke. Few of us would do that, but many of us have hidden judgments we don’t understand.
For example, when this country first began to integrate our schools the commonly-held opinion was that black students were “behind” white students. There was some truth to that because black schools in this country always had been more poorly funded and staffed. It wasn’t until years later that educators like Janice Hale Benson came along and pointed out that Africans and African-Americans tended to be much more right-brained than their Euro-American counterparts.
Euro-American children are object-oriented and linear and can be handed a book or a piece of paper to learn from, while African-American children learn better with a great deal more contact with people. Dr. Benson went on to explain that Africans always have carried their children longer, held them more often, and touched them with greater frequency than American parents. When black children suddenly had white teachers who did not touch them they tended to perform more poorly. Benson also reminded us that Jesus was from Northern Africa.
In linguistics, the view often has been that African-American speech patterns were inferior or uneducated, yet no one ever bothers to explain to Euro-Americans that, in fact, there is a logical explanation for the diversity of speech patterns, and it has nothing to do with intellectual inferiority. For example, in African dialects, there are no fricatives. That is African words have no hard endings as in words like “hard,” “end,” and “context.” African words tend to end softly and open-ended like “Kwame,” “Ghana,” and “Nigeria” English words don’t tend to end like that.
African dialects also have no verb tenses and no “th” sounds. There is no “this” or “that”; rather it would be “dis” or “dat.” That isn’t ignorance; it is simply a different cultural background.
When singing, white people tend to clap on the beat, while black people tend to clap on the offbeat, yet no one is foolish enough to accuse African-Americans of being musically inferior. Different is not deficient in music or in life.
Rev. Michael Piazza