In “Your Average Nigga,” Young discusses a student named Cam who, when writing on the disconnection between literacy and black culture, wrote this for his thesis (along with Young’s input):
C: “’Your average nigga is given 5 words at birth”
VY: ‘that he is fated to recite for the rest of his life’ […]
C: “to get him or her through every problem they face. I don’t give a fuck!” (697).
The early education system determines many black students’ educational identity for most of their lives. Young deals with his alienation from the black community as a teenager who preferred plays over playing sports and wanted to learn in school instead of on the “streets.” He also received the same treatment from the white community and asked himself “which race wants me?”
Do these old white scholars recognize that their perpetuated standards in academia are creating an imbalance in multicultural students? Do they care? Plainly, I can say that they don’t. And what’s even worse, my students aren’t aware of this conversation. They at least deserve that respect—to hear our voices concerned for their own.
I became concerned for their own voices after seeing some of my young black students’ toned down writing. For example, Student 1 (whose name will be withheld) wrote, “I have two genres of Rap music soft rap playlist and I also have a savage playlist. It depends on my mood […] However, if I want to put deep emotion into my writing and show a more serious type of side to me I will put on harder rappers such as Young Pappy and French Montana to get me more in a serious and a slightly angry mood to put the serious tone in.” This “angry mood” is what Young says gives his black writers voice that his white students often met with disbelief and longing. It’s what I was looking for, but not what I received. This watered-down version struck me as impassionate and inauthentic, but it’s what I taught.
Teaching WVE was so easy for me, as is perpetuating the standard in composition classrooms. As I became more aware of the problem, I wondered why no action had been taken to rectify WVE’s grasp on academic writing. How could I hope for students to locate their identities as writers through their work if I had them leaving their identity behind to write in the first place? As a collaborative group of people working towards helping college students build upon their prior knowledge, we set them up to fail, and even worse, we know we are. An attempt to standardize a blend of WVE with student’s natural voices has been considered, known as Code Switching, but this has been met with resistance. Conversations are had, but no mandated defamiliarization of WVE in our systematic approach to teaching it has been incorporated. We are writers; teachers that offer nurturing guidance, whose students should step into our field knowing they won’t face discrimination here, like everywhere else. Ending the perpetuation of WVE in college composition is a small step in the right direction.