There's a new job skill that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is requiring of a few agents: how to speak Ebonics. And that's probably because it is not usually taught in schools.
I never thought I'd live to see the day when mastering slang or speaking poor English could help one land a good job. But that's along the lines of what the agency is looking for, according to spokesman and Special Agent Michael Sanders.
But let's define what Ebonics is.
The term "Ebonics" was coined in the late 1990s as a way of referring to what most consider African-American vernacular. However, this particular "language form" -- as Mr. Sanders refers to it -- is not restricted to African-Americans only. Ebonics has been used by people of various racial backgrounds, including white Hip Hop artists like Eminem. Yet, there is still a racial undertone to something that has the root word "ebony."
To understand this better, I reached out to a friend in Brooklyn, New York named Juan C. Perez. He operates a blog about urban culture called "Highbrid Nation," where he occasionally covers issues relating to the justice system. And he doesn't just see things from one perspective, given his mixed heritage having African-American and Dominican parents. As a native of the Bed-Sty neighborhood, he knows firsthand how Ebonics can cross cultural boundaries. But I didn't expect him to agree with what the DEA is doing.
"You have to understand people if you're going to police them," Perez said. "How can you monitor wiretaps if you don't understand the voices on the other end of them?"
While Perez makes a good point, I look at the issue a bit differently. We are dealing with a high level of imprisonment for men of color. According to the latest report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, African-American and Hispanic men are imprisoned at a rate over eight times higher than their white counterparts. And that's not to say their white counterparts don't know Ebonics, but I'm sure they weren't expected to know any Ebonics either.
There seems to be a stronger push to incarcerate minorities, rather than educate them. And that makes me turn more colors than just "black." When statistics show that it is cheaper to educate someone than put them in jail, you almost wonder if this is an underlying ploy to keep impoverished minorities in their place.
Maybe I'm reading too much between the lines. But no matter how you "interpret" it, I'm not sure that understanding Ebonics is the best way to fight crime.