Them Cultural Appropriation, Ebonics Etymology Sussex Blues

Sometimes, Things Ain't What they Seem

Every so often, I find myself lapsing into my native dialect or patois.

Most find it somewhat curious, some even charming, but this week it
got me accused of cultural appropriation. That's a dire crime in my
politically correct Los Angeles world. The crime in this case, I was
told, was speakin' the black dialect commonly called ebonics while bein'

I told my accusers that what they be callin' black dialectical ebonics
actually be white dialect.

Say what?


Mo' inta thet down the page soon as I woa back buck an' have
Mistah Wikipedia splain' the bamboozle called cultural appropriation.

He defines cultural appropriation as "the adoption of elements of
a minority culture by members of the dominant culture because of the
presence of power imbalances that are a byproduct of colonialism and

Wrapped your mind around that? It gets better.

"Cultural appropriation is often considered harmful, and to be a
violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the
originating, minority cultures, notably indigenous cultures and those
living under colonial rule."

Cultures have collective intellectual property rights?

Who knew that -- or this?

"Cultural appropriation can include using other cultures' cultural and
religious traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and music ... outside
of their original cultural context ..."

Sports teams in Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, DC and other
places been gettin' wupped on for that for years.

Now, I consider the aforementioned an example of cultural Marxist
identity politic insanity intended to bamboozle America and muddle clear
thought to our detriment. But as insane as the concept of cultural
appropriation seems to me, it is apparently bought into by more people
than I wanna believe and has caused much misery to those accused of the

Fo' 'xample, in Portland, Oregon, two women were publicly shamed and
hounded to the point they were forced to close their burrito stand for a
financial loss because, as a local paper and beaucoup activists said,
the women committed the unpardonable crime of fixing Mexican food while
not being Mexican. What's more, they had dared fix Mexican food for the
purpose of profit and praise, according to the critics, when only
Mexicans owned that right due to their traditions, cultures and ethnicity.

If that sounds crazy, also know them Portland folks published a boycott
list of restaurants that serve food fixed by cooks who are not of the
same ethnicity or race as the food they offer. As Reason magazine
explains: "If you're a white person, you have no business running a
restaurant that serves Asian, Latin, African, or Indian cuisine. That's
according to the creators of a "white-owned appropriative restaurants"
list, which accuses lottsa Oregon establishments of engaging in cultural
appropriation — defined as a tool of "a white supremacist culture."

Who knew the Klan could cook?

That raises a questions you may be thinking of about the definition
of "white."

If that means Caucasian, anthropologists I've consulted tell me India
Indians are generally Caucasian even though their skin be dark and the
British called them "blacks." So are Iranians. They are, in fact,
Aryans, the whitest of the Caucasian whites even though they too have
darker complexions than the typical Norwegian. So does that mean the
Iranian Muslim in my morning Santa Monica coffee group who owns his own
Italian restaurant near LA's Getty Museum and fixes great Italian fare
is committing cultural appropriation? Did he "steal" the culture of the
New York City Italian restaurant where he learned to make the food? Do
remember there was a time when Italians -- especially Sicilian Italians
-- were not considered white, were shunned as "colored" and were the
victims of the largest mass lynching in U.S. history.

If that seems complicated, the intricacies of cultural appropriation
crime were no less severe when I reverted to my native speech. I was
told in no uncertain terms that it be racist mockery fo' a white boy
like me to I be speaking ebonics.

The term ebonics was coined in 1975 by social psychologist Robert
Williams to put a name on the "language" many blacks spoke. Ebonics
became widely known in the 60s from the angry rantings of Black Power
advocate Ron Karenga. He be da bamboozle man what originated the
cultural Marxist holiday scam he admitted lying about called Kwanza.
Ebonics became headline news in 1996 when the Oakland School Board
included it in its foreign language courses. Common suppositions hold
that blacks invented or developed ebonics on their own, but them notions
be wrong.

Fo' da reca'd, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford professor of American
History and etymology, noted in his book "Albion's Seed" that ebonics
actually be an appropriation of white speech. It's the black adoption of
an English dialect spoken in the area of North Carolina and Virginia
where I spent my childhood years that was transplanted there by English
settlers from the Sussex area of England.

So the original culture of ebonics ain't nothin' black culture in
America invented, it be the regional dialect written and spoken in
Sussex England well into the 1800s. It's a polyglot of old French,
Scandinavian (Viking) and Anglo-Saxon. Thet mean it ain't at all like
Gullah. Thet be the offshore South Carolina Creole language that's a
combination of various West African languages with some English
sprinkled in. Ebonics be Sussex dialect that was not just spoken but in
print as well.

Fo' 'xample ...

Here be two versions of the biblical love poem, the Song of Solomon, in
the Book Ecclesiastes.

The King James Bible version:

The song of songs, which is Solomon's.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better
than wine.

Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment
poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.

Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon
me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of
the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and
come away.

The Sussex dialect Bible version from around 1860:

De Song of songs, dat is Solomon's.

Let him kiss me wud de kisses of his mouth; for yer love is better dan wine.

Cause of de smell of yer good intments, yer naum is like intment tipped
out; derefore de maidens love ye.

Look not upan me, casue I be black, cause de sun has shoun upan me; my
mother's childun was mad wud me; de maud me kipper of de vineyards; but
my own vinyard I han't kept.

It be differen'

So when I get inta me dialect, whereas others may go over there, I be
"goin' or yondah."

Whereas others would say don't move, I'd say "bide you be."

Other words and speech ways you surely recognize ...

Words like Bamboozle -- yeah, bamboozle, Bandanna, fust, atwixt, dis and
dat, flapjack, whoppah, his'n, innards, lay-off, mess o' greens,
moonshine, passel, shock, pekid, skillet, unbeknownst, nocount, biscuit,
chittlins', a-go-in, holler -- they all be Sussex dialect what is
mistaken for ebonics.

Phrasiology too.

Sussex uses the preterite instead of the participle in auxilery verbs
such as in "he was took bad" or "he was drove to it." Blacks picked that
up as well.

Those and other words and phrases said by black and whites alike that
have crossed over cultural barriers are now heard in mainstream speech,
or at least on the water's edge of it. If others see cultural
appropriation in that, I see they be teched an' too poisoned by
identity politics.

Fac' is, the whole concept of cultural appropriation be basically
anotha' of them bamboozles dreamed up by academics what probly be
smokin' rabbit tobacca' an' drinkin' shine -- or maybe even "pink lady."

So don't 'timidated.

You tell 'em all how da cow ate the cud if you be accused.

Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated film
producer and former reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer News Hour and
ABC News.