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IT AIN'T ABOUT RACE: Some Lingering (Linguistic) Consequences of the African Slave Trade and Their Relevance to Your Personal Historical Hardship Index

  • John Baugh (a1)

While most Americans agree that government officials failed to act promptly to provide food, water, shelter, and other relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, they disagree about the racial relevance of this negligence. Nevertheless, the unavoidable images of the storm's disproportionately high number of African American victims among those unable to flee a foretold disaster brought into view the specter of racial inequality. While most theorists and commentators have used race and poverty as the primary lenses through which to view Katrina's human toll, this paper utilizes linguistic rubrics and relative immigration status to address inequities globally suffered by people of African descent. In the case of American Blacks, our emphasis is on Blacks with ancestral ties to enslaved Africans, since those who suffered most in the wake of Katrina were not merely Black, but also direct descendants of American slaves of African origin. Framing the discussion in terms of linguistic ancestry, its relationship to slavery, and instances of (c)overt social and educational apartheid born of statutory racial segregation, I develop a Historical Hardship Index as an alternative way to advance equality in the period after the end of African slave trade. The proposed Historical Hardship Index can be applied—with slight regional modifications—to anyone, anywhere, without reference to race.

Corresponding author
Professor John Baugh, African and African American Studies Program, Campus Box 1109, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130. E-mail:
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The research cited herein has been made possible by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation to study linguistic profiling in housing, education, and employment. Their support has resulted in major advances in law (Smalls 2004), education (Alim 2005), linguistics (Preston 1999; Baugh 2000, 2003) and economics (Nelson 2006), while at the same time promoting greater access to fair housing and fair lending throughout the U.S. I would also like to thank Larry Bobo, Charla Larrimore Baugh, Laurie Calhoun, and Aaron Welborn for their collective encouragement, suggestions, advice, and thoughtful comments on early versions of this paper. Additional support has been provided by Washington University's African and African American Studies Program, the Center for Humanities, the Center for Joint Projects, and the Harriet and Dred Scott Scholars Program for the Advancement of Human Rights and Justice. All limitations herein are my own.
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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Alim, H. Samy (2005). Critical Language Awareness in the United States: Revisiting Issues and Revising Pedagogies in a Resegregated Society. Educational Researcher, 34(7): 2431.

Baugh, John (1991). The Politicization of Changing Terms of Self-Reference Among American Slave Descendants. American Speech, 66(2): 133146.

Baugh, John (2005). Conveniently Black: Self-Delusion and the Racial Exploitation of African America. Du Bois Review, 2(1): 113126.

Fordham, Signithia and JohnOgbu (1986). Black Students' School Success: Coping with the “Burden of ‘Acting White.’”The Urban Review, 18(3): 176206.

Ogbu, John (1992). Understanding Multicultural Education. Educational Researcher, 21(November), 5–14, 24.

Purnell, Thomas, WilliamIdsardi, and JohnBaugh (1999). Perceptual and Phonetic Experiments on American English Dialect Identification. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 18(1): 1030.

Rickford, John R., Angela E.Rickford, and JulieSweetland (2004). African American English and other Vernaculars in Education: A Topic-Coded Bibliography. Journal of English Linguistics, 32: 230320.

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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
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