Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

June Jordan argued that Black English is “an endangered species . . . a perishing, irreplaceable system of community intelligence,” and that its extinction means “the extinguishing of much that constitutes our own proud and singular identity.” Survival of what she regards as “our own voice” is threatened when “white standards control our official and popular judgements of verbal proficiency and correct, or incorrect, language skills, including speech.” As a poet whose own voice skillfully blends many of the forms of Black English with a complete control of “white standards” and traditional poetic forms, Jordan demonstrated the aesthetic potential of what Gwendolyn Brooks has called a “blackening” of the language. In His Own Where, Jordan attempted to capture the full range of possibility of Black English in an extended, frequently poetic, narrative written entirely in that form of discourse.

Jordan faced the challenge of constructing a narrative that did not require a return to “standard” English to explain phrases and terminology that might be unfamiliar to readers. She also chose to avoid giving the media-fostered impression that Black English is composed primarily of profane street slang. Buddy Rivers is depicted through the emerging pattern of his thoughts, and as the characterization is defined, the logical system of his mind—which is easy to understand and to follow, operating according to familiar suppositions...

(The entire section is 568 words.)