This week, we read Vershawn Ashanti Young's book, Your Average Nigga: Performing Race Literacy and Masculinity. As we discussed Young’s experiences and arguments, we shared key terms, ideas, and topics that we thought were central the readings.
In his book, Young tells his personal story, including how education separated him from his family and friends, and from a black, masculine identity. However, in his profession in the field of education, he felt singled out for being black among mostly white colleagues. Young shares his experiences because he knows that he's not the only black man who has felt such things.
In each of these areas of his life, he had to leave a part of his identity behind.
Young realized that he made specific rhetorical moves in order to signal certain identifications to certain groups of people (110). While this rhetorical dexterity may be applauded or praised, it is mentally and emotionally exhausting for the speaker. One classmate pointed out that Young describes his existence as liminal: he is always between identities. We wondered if the image on the cover of the book was speaking to that at all (below).
Young suggests that when people are forced into changing their speaking and writing in certain contexts, they are linguistically performing. These “Linguistic Performances” are tied to identity, including racial identity, and cause a sense of “Linguistic Schizophrenia” (96). Linguistic Schizophrenia happens when people feel they have to switch from performing one part of their identity to performing another. It is like switching between multiple personalities in order to guard against discrimination, insult, or violence.
Specifically, Young speaks of black males who feel pressured to make different linguistic and rhetorical choices whether at home, at school, or at work in order to fit the identity expected of them in those contexts. When Young performed his academic identity in academic circles, he felt that he was insufficiently masculine or insufficiently black. When he performed a black, masculine identity around friends and family, he felt insufficiently himself as well.
He claims that this problem is due in part to education, which is standardized and normalized by the dominant culture (white people). Black males tend to view elementary education as white and feminine, and fear not being seen as masculine by their peers (90). And so, they give off an attitude of not caring. Young argues against some scholars we've read about this semester, including Rosina Lippi-Green and Lisa Delpit, refuting their claims that black student merely need access to certain codes of power, i.e. 'Standard English' in order to be successful in the marketplace (94-95).
Young declares that education must change. He introduces the idea of 'code-meshing' as a way in which everyone – regardless of language – can benefit, because it's “more in line with how people actually speak and write” (7). He claims it is more effective than 'code-switching', which makes people use separate codes of language in contexts such as home and school, performing partial identity linguistically. Code-meshing allows people to mesh codes rhetorically, freeing them to use their full linguistic repertoires.
We wondered how this would work in education, leading us to ask:
We are learning to be willing to grapple with tough topics without clear answers. This complex topic deserves more attention from educators, not only in writing theory but in practicing possible solutions.
At the end of Young’s book, he is still grappling with validating his full identity. He is currently the chair of the CCCC, and caused a heated discussion by not writing his Call For Papers in 'Standard English'. How can we continue grappling with the realities of linguistic performances, linguistic schizophrenia, and systems of education... and how they affect peoples’ daily lives?
Examples of code-meshing:
Gloria Anzaldúa: "How To Tame a Wild Tongue"
Jamila Lyiscott: “3 Ways to Speak English”
Vershawn Ashanti Young: "Should Writers Use They Own English"
~ DK ~