AAVE is not your internet slang. It is Black culture.

Illustration by Isabelle Roque

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. 

“Yas queen!”

“Period.”

“Whew chile.”

“No tea, no shade.”

“Woke.”

“Turn up.”

“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. 

31 Comments

      • Can I say it? I’ll say it. Fuck off, the both of you. People should be allowed to speak in whatever dialect they know or grew up with. People can also take part in whatever religion they choose. Get out of here with your derogatory assumptions and your verbal attacks.

        • Thank you for pointing that out. It’s really sad to see people being misjudged just because of their ethnicity. I don’t know about you but that’s a very weak and uneducated narrative to have on an individual. I don’t wish that on anyone. Please treat people the way you deserve to be, the world would be so much kinder that way.

        • Fuck YOU Karen, I mean Katie. NO ONE ASKED YOU, YOU ENTITLED SUBURBAN CUNT. I don’t care how many Black friends you have or how many Black cawks you’ve shoved down your throat, it’s not your place to interject. You don’t get to tell someone how to react to being disrespected. It’s funny how when outsiders disrespect anything associated with Blackness and we stand up for ourselves, we are chastised for doing so. Yes, we SHOULD be able to speak in whatever dialect we want without knuckle dragging, plane crashing, suicide bombing idiots like this spewing this hateful, elitist ass rhetoric. But here we are. Newsflash! The world is anti-Black as fuck. You worry about extinguishing that for future generations, NOT policing the words of some stranger on the internet who is RIGHTFULLY upset for her culture being disrespected.

          • Ah i see the christina turns out to be a Karen. Who wronged you that youre like this. Id like to reiterate that the reason that people are anti-black is probbaly like people like you. they dont have to bow down to your rasist ass. So youd better get used to iit

          • lol so they’re defending black culture and people and you have the nerve to act like that? Because they’re defending Islam and Muslims? Lol what a joke. You what people to respect you and your culture, but not the other way around. And it’s ok to do because they are or I guess you are, “upset”? but you can spew your hatred against Muslims (people who are minorities and discriminated against in the us because clearly you need to be reminded) and it’s ok “bc I’m upset boo hoo about one dandole person said about my culture but I’ll use that excuse against the person defending Muslims”. This is y humanity it garbage. 🙂

          • You are a racist piece of shit karen, I mean ChRiStInA, What katie said is true. it is YOU that is the entitled cunt. Your the type of person to complain that bathrooms stink. You are the type of retard to say that global warming is hot. Yes, the world is racist as fuck but that doesnt mean you can just go commenting shitty comments on people that have more braincells than your entire family tree. You are a type of karen that cannot be expressed in words. Fuck you and delete your entire account

          • You get shoved. In retaliation, you hit the person with a bat, but wound up also hitting everyone around you. And then you ask “Why everybody mad at me for defending myself?” I don’t know Christina. My guess is because you don’t know how to aim. Religion and vernacular are not the same. Especially when that vernacular can belong to a person with that religion

        • Katie I’m black so I don’t even care if anyone says these words. So I agree with your arguement Katie and Fuck Christina. And who ever wrote this article sounds retarded asf. Katie your pretty cool. Christina you’re the one who’s really sucking black cawks. you dirty whore.

    • Excuse you Mohammad because last time i checked you are not black and you have no right to talk about AAVE so go take your disrespectful, uneducated butt out of this comment section.

  1. Period, early 15c., periode, “a course or extent of time; a cycle of recurrence of a disease,” from Old French periode (14c.) and directly from Medieval Latin periodus “recurring portion, cycle,”. Tea, mid 17th century: probably via Malay from Chinese (Min dialect) te ; related to Mandarin chá. Shade, Middle English schade, Kentish ssed, from late Old English scead “partial darkness; shelter, protection,” which means they were appropriated from other cultures language by African Americans. How many other AAVE words/phrases started out as words from other languages? You can’t claim words are being appropriated from AAVE when those words were appropriated BY AAVE.

    • I agree. All language falls under this ignorant “witch hunt”. All languages are appropriations of each other because we all come from the same place.

  2. I use slang and shit cuz it makes it easier to say things. I don’t need to be overly verbose just for the sake of being overly verbose. Just shut the fuck up and let me say “lit” when I’m smoking weed.

  3. I used to teach self defense to foreigners, and I told all of the ladies I taught that, regardless of what they wore to a night club, they should always wear a trench coat when they left the club. None of my au pairs ever got raped. None of the other teachers could say that.

    Should you be able to wear whatever you want and not get raped? Sure, but that’s not the world we live in.

    Should you be able to speak however you want and let your academic achievements speak for you? Yes, but again, that’s not our world, and it never will be.

    It is an evil, fallen world, and no amount of laws are going to change hearts. Only love can do that, and unfairly, it falls to us to change hearts by lovingly changing the only thing we can change: ourselves.

    So, like wearing a polo shirt to go golf, it falls to us to assimilate to society or face the consequences. It is not fair, it is not right, but it is simply the way of humankind, which is why I am not a humanist.

  4. Bro wtf like literally u are just nitpicking things now and that grocery girl was just saying u sis cause she would have probably said that to a white women too. U are just overreacting on this situation and therefore I declare u as a boomer Karen who can’t adjust to internet slang and has a urge to write this whole article. I rest my case.

  5. Thank you for this article.

    I am white. I grew up in an area where the majority of residents were black people. My parents did not use AAVE. From an early age, I developed AAVE speech patterns such as hella for emphasis, aks for ask, tryna for trying to, and finna for I intend to.

    Decades ago, when I was an English major in college, I had a discussion about grammar and syntax with a fellow student. During this discussion, my classmate informed me that while it was acceptable for me to naturally speak the way I did among black people who knew me, I should be careful around other black people. I learned white people speaking in this way sounds like mockery; it’s similar to a non-Spanish-speaking person using “Spanglish.” I was also instructed to refrain from using any slang in mixed company so as not to encourage other white people. I am ashamed to this day that I had to be told how to act rather than coming to this conclusion by myself. In retrospect, I was ignorantly disrespecting the culture that graciously accepted me for who I was.

  6. Wait a second, wait a second. You are going to simultaneously fight the association of AAVE with dumbness *and* assume the motivations of the white customer using it while speaking with you as dumbing you down? So when a white person speaks in AAVE it’s an appropriation of your exclusive culture or even a microaggression meant to make you feel dumb, but when a black person speaks in SAE, that is *not* appropriation of white speech, but rather just you being intelligent and articulate? Are you seeing the holes in your logic here? Basically you’re saying that if a white person expects you to speak in SAE in order to display your intelligence, that is an insult, but then I the same breath you literally explain your use of SAE as stemming from the fact that you are intelligent and articulate? You see the contradiction here, right? When white people code switch while speaking to you, it’s appropriation… but when you do it it’s for acceptance…? I genuinely do not understand why black people insist on living among white people and then complaining about it a lot. If white people don’t interact with you it’s a microaggression. If they do interact with you it’s an invasion of your black space. If white people expect you to speak like them it’s insulting. If white people speak like you it’s appropriation. Honestly I pity black people because it seems to me like they spend their entire lives thinking about their blackness. Truly one of the greatest privileges of being white is that I don’t even have to think about my race. I’m just alive and I don’t really care what color I am. I have a very uncomplicated enjoyment of the cultural fruits of the entire world and I don’t define myself in contrast to the racial identities of the people around me. Above all, I love knowing that when my ancestors were confronted by the arrival of ships from foreign lands showing up expecting free labor, they fought back with brutal violence and unrelenting refusal to be dominated. When famine and hunger fell upon the land, they left it all behind and *put themselves* on boats to start anew on the other side of the ocean. This never-ending sad-sack bitterness about every aspect of your life and every white behavior you observe drags you down and taxes your joy and energy in this world. The American slave trade was a tragedy. Even if West African tribal leaders hadn’t happily sold slaves to European slave traders, Europeans would still have made it happen through simple force of will and superior technology – and yes, it’s a tragedy. Nobody with a firm grasp on reality can deny the fact that racism has always been working against black people in America… and also, it is simultaneously unavoidably true that black people spend an enormous amount of time fixating on and whining about every white behavior. Here is some parting food for thought: if you feel disconnected from the culture of your ancestors, and you deeply resent sharing your culture with other races, and you are bothered by the presence of white people in what you like to call “black spaces”, and you are proud of your roots…why don’t you go back to the motherland and dedicate your resources to supporting and building up the ultimate exclusive black space? Let me guess: because white people ruined Africa also? Or is there another reason? Is it maybe because you are absolutely dependent upon white people? I don’t envy you for having to wrestle with the answer to that one.

    • Spoken like a true racist, Michael McCarthy. Now go back to your gated community and enjoy a cold drink by the pool.

  7. I believe you on all of the terms except “period”. “period” has been a way to definitively end a conversation going way way back. My white mostly irish mother was using back in the 1970s, and got it from her lily white WASPy mother who was using it in the 1950s.

    All the other terms? Believable that Gen Z got it from AAVE.

    But “period”? Even if they got it from AAVE, AAVE isn’t the origin. It’s been part of mainstream culture for at least 70 years.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Confronting Childhood Faves: Racism In Music - NewsProPlus.com
  2. Previous AAVE is not your internet slang. It is Black culture. – The Commonwealth Times – Top Biz Op
  3. AAVE is not your internet slang. It is Black culture. - BlackInfoToday.com
  4. AAVE is not your internet slang. It is Black culture. – The Commonwealth Times – The Cryptocurrency Quote Machine

Leave a Reply