Natalie Holder-Winfield

Natalie Holder-Winfield
Natalie Holder-Winfield is an employment lawyer and diversity consultant whose work has been featured in the New York Times, the New York Law Journal, Good Morning Connecticut, and Diversity Executive magazine. She creates customized leadership programs and training videos, integrated with diversity, for Fortune 500 corporations, law firms, government agencies and not-for-profit organizations, such as Time Warner, Deloitte, Proskauer Rose and the New York Mission Society. Natalie Holder-Winfield wrote, Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce: New Rules for a New Generation, after receiving program attendees’ requests for her training materials. New Rules provides human resource managers, diversity officers, managers, employees and students with practical advice and ideas for creating inclusive cultures. The book has been used to facilitate discussions at orientations, meetings, roundtable discussions, recruitment events and diversity training sessions. Natalie graduated from New York University, Tulane Law School, and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth’s Executive Education program. She is the Chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor & Employment’s Diversity Committee, a member of New York University’s Young Alumni Leadership Circle, and the United Way of Greater New Haven.

Natalie Holder-Winfield's Links
AUGUST 28, 2009 6:48PM

Uh Oh, Here We Go Again with Ebonics 2.0

Rate: 2 Flag


Teacher U, a collaboration of teaching organizations—including Teach for America—made a frail attempt to exhume the 1990’s Ebonics debacle by acknowledging African American English in their training curriculum.  After having their teachers-in-training read the article, Phonological Features of Chile African American English, which appeared in a June 2003 use of American Speech-Language Hearing Association, they were assigned to “translate” the following sentences into their “African American English form:”


  1. My aunt used to live in Baltimore with my three cousins but last year she moved to New York.


  1. John doesn’t mind being late for school because he doesn’t like to go to Ms. Johnson’s music class.


  1. Deborah liked to play with the girl that sat next to her at school.


And so on. (Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the teacher’s guide so your translation guesses are as good as mine.)


Giving Teacher U the benefit of the doubt, they may have had good intentions.  They may have been trying to make their next generation of teachers aware of inner-city culture.  Sometimes, you have to know where someone is coming from before you can help them. For instance, years ago, I worked with an attorney from upper-middle San Francisco who had difficulty communicating with our African-American clients because she didn’t understand that “having sugar” meant having diabetes. 


However, what is African American English? With the mainstream using terms such as “kickin’ it old school” and “holla,” African Americans lost any market share they had on urban slang a long time ago. 


Recognition of misspoken English will do nothing to help these children or Black people in general.  The children cited in the study were just 4-6 years old.  These children are at a crucial age where they are developing their vocabularies and rapidly gaining a better understanding of the English language.  Like all children, the children in the article probably used a wrong verb tense or two.  African-American children are not alone in mispronouncing words and having an occasional verb-noun disagreement.  As any English as a second language learner will tell you, the English language is probably the most difficult. 


 Although Teacher U teachers may be patient and willing to translate incorrect English, Corporate America is not.  I cannot tell you how many discrimination cases I’ve come across where someone was fired for pronouncing “asked” as “axed.” Sorry Teacher U, but this assignment gets an F.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I see your point if Ebonics is perceived as the use of bad grammar only.

I am a white rhetoric professor whose dissertation was about (in part) the rhetorical strategies such as double voice which are part of ebonics, the sophistic rhetorical history evident in Ebonics, and the very needed teaching of these strategies. That "bad" grammar is very similar in many ways to Shakespearean English particularly in the use of the verb to be.

I don't think the assingnment gets an automatic F. Maybe you need to learn what English teachers think about when they think about Ebonics -- even white ones like me and I would be incapable of translating those sentences.
Before translating, perhaps one of the students could fix the English in those sentences. The first one could use a comma, but the third would have gained me a whack on the head from Miss Sutherland in 1963 . Multiple whacks, actually, to accompany "The thing *that*, the person *who*".
Ebonics is not a matter of capability; it’s a matter of preference. In order to compete on an equal basis (economically), we need to possess the same skill set as the dominant culture. Ebonics is fine for chillin’ with the homies; but students need to master the ability to speak, read and write in the prevalent vernacular.