On December 18, 1996, the school district in Oakland, Calif. designated Ebonics as a main language of its predominantly African-American student base. The move was met with heavy resistance and criticism, leading to an amendment that ultimately reversed the resolution.
The term Ebonics has been replaced with a more contemporary term, African American Vernacular English, but among some language experts controversy remains about what that exactly means. At the time, the school district viewed Ebonics as an entirely different language, not an English dialect. There was also wording in the document that suggested that understanding Ebonics would serve as a bridge to teach Black students the rigors of standard American English.
The passing of the resolution kicked off a flurry of protests which helped push along an amended document. At its root, the wording that Ebonics was a “primary” and “genetically-based” language inspired much of the pushback.
But the amendment did little to quell critics who wanted the resolution done away with altogether. It included the promise that Oakland’s Black student population would be taught standard English without a reliance on Ebonics.
Little Known Black History Fact: The Battle Over Ebonics was originally published on blackamericaweb.com