As a university tutor in my hometown, a city which is roughly 40% black and 37% white, I still had students asking me, “Do they just never learn how to talk right?” I pull up a chair when this happens, “Listen up, gang.” So what do I tell them? Well, the goal is to convey that, scientifically speaking, non-standard varieties of English such as the English spoken by Rachel Jeantel and the ‘proper English’ they’ve been taught are equally communicative. I go over the differences and point out that both have a rule system that must be followed to speak convincingly.
But then, I don’t see why there should need to be that justification. So I end up trying to teach respect. If they have a student that speaks a non-standard variety of English, they need to understand that that student is therefore competent in understanding at least two versions of English: the version they speak at home and other safe environments, and the one forced upon them when listening to you. Respect that.
The alarmingly pervasive idea that standard English equates to ‘good grammar’ and non-standard English equates to ‘bad grammar’ is false and exclusionary. When it’s used in conjunction with intelligence and credibility of a young black woman, it’s reminiscent of the faulty scientific racism of “The Bell Curve.” But language shaming is currently acceptable behavior in the status quo. It is one of the last bastions of unabashed racism and classism.