The Drug Enforcemnt Agency’s plan to hire nine translators to interpret conversations between African American drug dealers is causing controversy, as many don’t consider Ebonics a language.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is recruiting nine translators — in Ebonics.
That revelation is reigniting the debate over whether the DEA is unfairly targeting African-Americans, and whether Ebonics is a legitimate dialect of its own.
The DEA says the translators will help decipher wiretapped communication between African-American drug suspects. For some in the media, the very idea is laughable. Fox News’ Bret Baier quotes an anonymous DEA official: “The official added there is nothing racial about it, describing rapper Eminem as ‘one of the best speakers of Ebonics there ever was.’ No word whether Eminem has actually applied for any of these openings.”
But on BV Blackspin, Boyce Watkins says this isn’t a joke. And Ebonics isn’t the official language of black people: “The first thought that came to mind was whether the agency is presuming that drug dealers speak a dialect of English that matches that of the rest of urban black America? … most of my urban friends don’t understand drug dealers either. … the DEA would be better off hiring a former drug dealer.”
San Francisco’s KPIX-TV says the revelation should remind its viewers of the firestorm of criticism Oakland, California’s school board faced in 1996, when it tried to mandate some instruction in Ebonics, which ended up sparking a nationwide debate over whether Ebonics should be sanctioned as a legitimate dialect.
REPORTER: “… many linguists have concluded Ebonics actually is its own language variety with its own set of rules. … Alim, who has written books on black language and hip hop culture says there’s a rich irony in the fact that teachers were not able to use Ebonics, but now police are.”
H. SAMY ALIM: “So rather than legitimizing African-American language in schools in order to help students learn, we legitimize it in the streets in order to imprison them.”
A reporter for Memphis Fox affiliate WHBQ-TV spoke with a University of Memphis professor who says the specific hiring of Ebonics experts raises a troubling question: “The very fact the agency at the forefront of the country’s war on drugs should ask for aid in this fashion should send up at least one immediate red flag.”
DR. LARRY MOORE: “We’ve entered in this country in which people with degrees have a total lack of common sense. If they don’t have some undercover agent, maybe black inner-city, that can’t speak inner-city hip-hop language. For them to advertise is very scary. It means, how are you busting people right now?”
But the non-profit, Blog Critics says the recruitment of Ebonics experts ISN’T a bad thing. An article on the organization’s website makes a historical comparison: “This situation is not unlike that of Native American code talkers … who especially distinguished themselves in the South Pacific during World War II. Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, went so far as to declare, ‘Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would have never taken Iwo Jima.’”
So is the DEA recruitment of Ebonics experts offensive, practical or a little bit of both?
Writer: Christinga Hartman
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