Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor
“You talk white.”
I’ve never been quite sure how I should feel when I hear that. Am I supposed to be honored or offended?
I am articulate. I speak eloquently with minimal pauses and stutters. I formulate well-thought-out responses and provide my direct opinion. Words come easily to me.
But I am also Black. Because of the misconceptions and stereotypes placed on Black people, it’s generalized that we must not speak proper English. Therefore, I must speak like a “white person.”
Nobody seems to find such commentary offensive. There’s a false narrative that speaking properly and refraining from using slang means that one is speaking “white.” A narrative that was created by the same victors of it: white people and their superiority complex. But that generalizes Black people to the bare slang and “ghetto talk” of their stereotype; it instills some belief that Black people are uneducated.
Yet, the same uneducated slang that the Black community — my people — were ridiculed for using growing up is now your pop culture and internet lingo.
“No tea, no shade.”
“I feel you.”
We’ve all heard these terms in our conversations or on our social media feeds. But many of you haven’t stopped to think about where these popular phrases come from. So, in honor of Black History Month, let me give you a quick lesson.
African American Vernacular English, more famously known as AAVE or Ebonics, is a dialect of American English spoken frequently in the Black community. AAVE is commonly associated with a difference in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary from the standard American English dialect.
AAVE is more than what you hear in hip-hop and rap songs. It holds such a unifying cultural force that is far too complex to explain to a non-Black person.
So, next time you’re lit, slaying and/or on fleek, thank your friendly Black community for sharing their culture with you.
It always disappoints me to see how this country neglects the accomplishments of Black people by taking the community’s work and making it their own. The appropriation of AAVE has been so normalized that many of us haven’t even noticed it.
To a majority of the social media community, we don’t even notice how immersed into AAVE we are. It’s a commonalty in everything we say. Yet, many Black people — including myself — have been bullied for our utilization of AAVE.
Ebonics has been heavily associated with the negative connotation of the ghettos and the crimes that occur in them. Rap music, films and television that discuss the brutal realities of growing up in impoverished Black communities detail the actions committed in the community with AAVE. An unintentional link between violence and Ebonics is therefore formed.
Artists like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. are prime examples of this link. They have paved the way for much rap and hip-hop music describing the struggles of Black America, while utilizing Ebonics and AAVE in their lyrics.
What people tend to forget is that the Black community is more than just the violence we experience. By associating the way Black people talk with the grave injustices that affect their community, a dangerous duo is formed.
Let me break it down. AAVE is seen as this form of uneducated, Black talk. It is also commonly linked to the violence in Black communities. This reinforces that false perception that Black people are committing crimes because they are uneducated.
You see, Ebonics is far more than your internet slang. It is a stem of Black history and culture.
Now that I’ve given you a bit of history behind AAVE, let’s dive into how offensive it is to have a dialect created by my community used as a relatable trait.
I worked in a retail store in Carytown last semester. Most of my coworkers and the shoppers were white. One day, a group of white VCU students made their way into the store. I greeted them, and one of them made sure to call me their “sis” before they went to look around.
They shopped for a bit, before they came back to the front for some help. The same one started every sentence with “girl” and ended it with “sis.” I fought the urge to ask her to stop. It’s almost like she thought I wouldn’t understand what she was saying if she didn’t add that bit of a “blaccent” into the conversation.
A blaccent is popularly known in the Black community as a non-Black person of color or white person speaking in what they believe is AAVE.
That interaction is a normality for Black people. Unfortunately, many non-Black people of color and white people think speaking in a blaccent is necessary for our comprehension.
At that moment, I couldn’t even react properly. If I had asked her to stop calling me that, I would’ve fit my angry Black woman stereotype. Instead, I allowed her to run with the notion that her blaccent helped my dumb, Black brain understand what she was saying.
It is infuriating to be dumbed down to a certain set of misconceptions that you had no hand in creating.
Now, I understand that AAVE has been incorporated into social media lingo, however, many of you find yourselves code switching in an effort to be more relatable to Black people.
Similarly, code switching is going back and forth between languages and dialects in conversation.
According to an NPR article, one of the main reasons people code switch seems to be in an effort to fit in. Now, before you tell me that you don’t mean to do it, code switching can be both a conscious and unconscious act.
Keep that in mind the next time you have an urge to call every Black girl your sis and every Black man your dawg.
On the inverse, code switching is a survival tactic for many Black people. Because we’ve been shoved into this false box of improper English, we have to switch back and forth between Ebonics and Standard American English frequently. Think about how we talk at work or a job interview, versus how we speak when we’re with our family and friends.
AAVE is being swallowed into internet culture and erased from the collective. But Black people will never forget the dialect they created. Ebonics is not ghetto talk. It is not violent. It is not your internet lingo. It is the dialect of thousands of people. Give them the respect they deserve.
So, no matter how hard your TikTok or Twitter feeds try to convince you that Ebonics is simply just internet slang, remember the complex history I shared with you today.