Building a new relationship: Cultural Heritage Informatics and Black English
This post is dedicated to the amazing and internationally renowned Dr. Geneva Smitherman–Dr. G. To keep it brief, as she has too many accolades to list, Dr. G is the University Distinguished Professor Emerita in the Department of English and Core Faculty to the African American and African Studies (AAAS) Program at Michigan State University. Most importantly, she is the preeminent scholar in the field of linguistics, specifically, African American Language (AAL), Black English (BE).
Dr. G teaches an online class AAAS 891 focused on African American Language, a class I’m currently enrolled in and enthusiastically support. Believe it or not, African American Language does exist. It is not slang, broken English or some contrived dialect that spawned yesterday. Black English is a legitimate language contrary to popular belief. The history and many books on the subject speak for itself.
Post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the integration of classrooms nationwide, the exposure to the tongue of Black America—Black English—“a style of speaking words with Black flava—with Africanized semantic, grammatical, pronunciation, and rhetorical patterns,” according to Dr. G, came this abrupt awakening no one was expecting. Since that time there has been ongoing onerous debate about the place of AAL in education. Both sides have vehemently argued for and against it. Maybe digital? Why not digital?
The explosion of the digital space has been the truce or the much needed answer. As a digital zealot, Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) could possibly be the solution to this decades old debate. How and why? The infinite lifespan of a project in the digital world coupled with the creativity and customs of CHI may make the perfect focus group to allow for AAL in the classroom beyond social media, blogs and the like. This relationship could influence pedagogy, epistemology and rhetoric. Ideally, this is the beginning of something revolutionary in education, Black America, CHI and the digital communities.