I had a thought this morning about the much-maligned (and oft-defended) use of the Ebonics constructions "I be" and "you be." There's been a longstanding argument between those who view it as a crippling bastardization of "correct" English grammar and those who legitimize it by arguing that (a) it is closer to the grammar of America's founding fathers than contemporary accepted (white) grammar is, and/or (b) to criticize it as inferior to accepted grammar is a racist rejection of its self-contained and Afrocentric logics.
I guess my idea falls close to, but not quite inside, the (b) category above. I was thinking about those rare occasions when the phrase "you be" occurs in the context of "correct" grammar. The only one I can think of is when the verb "to be" takes the imperative mood, as when two people are playing billiards and one says "I'll be solids, you be stripes." I can't think of any "correct" appearances of the formulation "I be," but the "I'll be" above (future continuous, I guess you'd call it) is pretty close.
So, that brings us back to Ebonics.
What is the significance of the fact that the dominant formulation of the verb "to be" takes its cues from the imperative mood and future continuous tense? It seems to me there's an implicit existentialist argument here, directly related to African American slavery and its legacy of social immobility.
To put it plainly, my premise is this:
When black Americans use the phrase "you be," it is not a description, but an exhortation. "You be" is a command, a requirement, that in the face of a socioeconomic system that treats you like chattel, you must remain human, and in the face of violence and privation, you must remain alive. Stay alive, Stay human. You be.
Similarly, we can view the future continuous-sounding "I('ll) be" as an implicit promise of reciprocation, a pledge. As in, if you stay alive and human, so will I. There is no present tense for us, the grammar seems to argue, so if we are to exist, it must be in the future. Try to stay alive till then.
I'm not a linguist, so for all I know, this is well-worn theoretical ground. But even so, it's an interesting idea, I think.