Archive for the ‘assimilation’ Category

mutual assimilation

Mutual assimilation is where two peoples take on each other’s ways and become more alike over time. You saw it in ancient times between the Greeks and Romans, in China between the Chinese and Manchus and now in America between blacks and whites.

Over the past 50 years blacks, in general, have become much more like middle-class white Americans while whites themselves have become less square, uptight and corny than they were in the 1950s – think of “Leave it to Beaver” or even Carlton on “Fresh Prince”.

Blacks are affected by white ways through education, television and just living in a country that is mostly white.

Whites are affected by blacks through music, dance, sports heroes, comedy and so on. Especially music and especially jazz, hip hop and, yes, even rock music. The whole idea of being cool came to the white middle-class from black jazz musicians by way of the hipsters and later rock musicians, like Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger.

This mutual assimilation is seen most clearly in the English they use.

You can see it among blacks in the characters in Terry McMillan’s books:

Here is Mildred in the late 1960s:

Naw, don’t believe half the shit people tell you ’cause don’t nobody know everythang. Not even your mama. Believe me, I ain’t gon’ steer you too far off in the wrong direction.

Unmistakably black.

Now compare that to Sabrina in 2004, old enough to be Mildred’s granddaughter:

I have an appointment with my adviser that I absolutely cannot miss… because I have to postpone my admittance to grad school now that we’re going to England in the fall.

It sounds completely white.

It is more than just a matter of education and speaking proper English. Sabrina’s mother speaks proper English too, pretty much, but she still sounds black (here talking about meditation):

Hell, I been breathing every single day of my life, but they claim if you breathe a certain way – and how many fucking ways can you breathe is what I’d like to know – but listening to them, you’d swear you get a buzz or something.

Except for “I been breathing”, it is perfect Standard English.

Meanwhile in the late 1900s, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, a huge number of words and phrases came pouring into White English from Black English. Most people forget that each of these were once black:

square, corny, uptight, cool, lame, hooker, redneck, wing it, laid back, messed up, go with, Disneyfied, ace up one’s sleeve, mind-boggling, dude, cry baby, snitch, hang loose, read someone like a book, my bad, wannabe, vibes, downhome, wigged out, bug out, split the scene, bad scene, bad mouth, talk shit, groovy, kinky, raw deal, do tell, high five, don’t sweat it.

If things keep going the way they are then in a hundred years there will be little difference: blacks will seem whiter than they do now and whites will seem blacker, meeting somewhere in between just east of Alicia Keys.

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