Against Common Sense: Why Title VII Should. Protect Speakers Of Black English
The speech of many black Americans is marked by phrases such as ‘we be writin”‘ or “we don’t have no problems.” Because most listeners consider such “Black English” speech patterns incorrect, these speakers face significant disadvantages in the job market. But common sense suggests that there is nothing discriminatory about employers’ negative reactions to Black English because it makes sense to allow employers to insist that employees use correct grammar.
This article argues against this common sense understanding of Black English as bad grammar. The author first analyzes the extent of the job market disadvantages faced by Black English speakers and discusses the failure of common sense solutions designed to eliminate Black English speech patterns. The author then provides linguistic evidence to show that Black English is actually a distinct but equally valid dialect of English, which for historical reasons is largely limited to the African American community. She argues that, given this scientifically accurate understanding of Black English, employers who reject Black English speakers because of their speech patterns are in fact violating Title VII’s prohibition against race discrimination. The author explains why discrimination against Black English speakers should fall under the existing Title VII disparate impact framework and suggests a possible extension of Title VII doctrine to protect those Black English speakers whose employment opportunities are limited by weak written language skills. Throughout the Article, the author challenges readers to consider the sources and effects of their own ‘common sense” beliefs about language and urges them to accept responsibility for solving the problem of language discrimination.