Black English (blacklish), as explained by a black man.

This board has discussed race before and some of the problems associated with race relations. Unfortunately, it seems that, unless very careful, the original poster has to censor his/her comments to avoid being called a racist and many observations are scoffed at, with links to written proof demanded.

Well, not everything about race is written down.

I disagreed with Ebonics when it came out, Kwanzaa when it popped up, FUBU (For Us By Us), a black clothing line and several other forms of obvious favoritism or seperationist actions by African-Americans who have been demanding equality for ages. The NOI just disgusts me. In looking at other ‘minorities’, I’ve seem similar discrimination pressures, but more appropriate responses. I’ve noticed, among blacks, the dichotomy between those who speak excellent English and those who speak, well, black. Once I was told that they could not speak average English because of their mouth structures, a theory which has long since been debunked. I noticed that the language mess is mainly here in the States.

It is hard to discuss because of the ravaging you can get by PC fanatics.

I was listening to a talk radio show today, when a very well educated Black man called in to discuss something with the host. He had once been a DJ and was trying to start some sort of talk show, but did not know how to go about it and was actually getting some resistance from the black community.

In the conversation, it came out that blacks deliberately encourage among themselves, a black language. Like calling shrimp shrimps, using de and da instead of the, and so on. He said that he was kind of an outcast because he chose not to speak that way because he knew that in the current world of business, no black was going to get very far speaking trash. The other blacks, not all, but many, consider the broken English a black language, which is separate from the whites, deliberately promote it, and have claimed variously that it is a ‘racial’ thing, a ‘cultural’ thing and an ‘ancestral’ thing, which he felt was all crap.

I thought about Ebonics, where teachers were supposed to learn how to communicate with inner city kids in school who spoke ‘blacklish’ (black English) instead of the kids learning to speak like the majority of the English speaking world. I mean, I’ve met black Africans who speak excellent English with a heavy African accent. Curiously, most actually speak in a much higher tone, even in their native language, than most black American males, which makes me wonder if the deeper voice has been cultivated to give one an appearance of being menacing.

I’ve met Hispanics who speak good English even with translation problems from being bilingual, though the gangs tend to use blacklish. American Indians, who are persecuted probably even more than Blacks, especially in Western States, speak English well with no made up words. I’ve found the same in Asians, Middle Easterners, and any other ‘minority’ race.

It got me thinking.
Why do many blacks demand equality but then fight to develop things that separate them from everyone else?

There is a big black community in my town that I drive through on business from time to time. It is a real dump. Dirt lawns, crappy houses, poor roads and high crime and drug areas. Interestingly enough, many blacks have moved out into other areas, where they drop most of the blacklish, have real nice homes, good jobs, no more dirt lawns and crime is low. A whole lot of these people are looked down on by the others if they select an area which does not have a majority black population.

So, why does a race deliberately fight being accepted by everyone else, then just as deliberately, work to undermine and delay such progress? Self-esteem? A feeling of inadequacy? A desire to remain separate after all? Identity crisis?

This guy on the radio show was not the first African American who has talked about similar things, but who seem to have little success in reaching their ethnic group. Though, when I turn to black radio stations, they’re heavily into blacklish, which seems to encourage a continuation of the problem.

Through my own knowlege, I know of no other ethnic group which has wanted general equality and lack of racism who has done so much to delay the progress. This action I just do not understand.


So, why does a race deliberately fight being accepted by everyone else, then just as deliberately

Should have read:

So, why does a race deliberately fight to be accepted by everyone else, then just as deliberately, work to undermine and delay such progress?

Dayum, G-Dawg. You bettah step back and RECOGNIZE, fo’ I bus a cap in yo azz.

Seriously, though, I think that you’re on the head with the idea that you have a culture who wants equal rights, but does not find interest in defining themselves by the standards of the majority. It’s kind of like, in my opinion, “We want the same rights as you, but we don’t want to BE you.”

Am I off the mark on that?

Would that also be, where someone is accused of “acting white”, if he or she does not use “blacklish”, or acts somehow different to a stereotype?

…as opposed to…?

**Black Male here **

This is a subject that occurs frequently among my friends. There are several factors which I believe explains the phenomenon you’ve laid out. The following will be long and high on opinion.

First Ebonics:

Fractured english was particularly a southern practice that migrated north with blacks as they moved to the cities to take factory jobs. The pratice arose from Jim Crow laws and not wanting to appear as uppity in southern communities, where intelligence was a sign of “getting out of your place”.

Much the same happens now in inner city communties, and is partly tied both to the illegal drug trade (and rap music to a degree) and the relative poverty you’ll find in thse communities. While blacks have positive role models all over the place, the most visible in these communities are the dealers. Here they have a glaring example that they do not need to have an education to reach the dreams of fancy cars and nice clothes. especially after rap was adopted by perveyours of the drug trade.

It’s not uncommon for children and even adults in these communties to see kids trying to acheive in school as “acting white” or being an “oreo”. In a community where intellectual acheivement is frowned on, it’s not very surprising to see those who want to get along, adopt the patterns of these “leaders” to avoid standing out.

Another thing you touched breifly on, I’d like to expand on is the abandonment of the black communities by other blacks. Resistance between upper income and lower income blacks is hardly surprising. It’s similar to the white communties “white trash”, or “trailer park sect”. There is a significant difference between educated and under educated people. Both in actions and speech. That one group would move away from another is no different that the “other side of the tracks” dichotomy prevalent in small towns and high school.

As weirdly ironic as it may sound, an apt paraphrase to that is “separate but equal.”

Be that as it may, I think that it’s a perfectly decent idea that is poorly implemented. By that I mean that blacks have every right to cling to their own cultural values, but this particular one, poor english, is detrimental to their success in other areas. It is no great secret that there are plenty of successful black businessmen, lawyers, doctors, and so forth in our country these days. To get that success it is pretty much a sure thing that they have to speak standard english in their academic and professional lives. To denigrate their accomplishments as “acting white,” as some sort of cultural betrayal, is sad, not to mention harmful to the black community in general IMHO.

Well, since this is great debates, we like proof, rather than assertions. There are lots of assertions out there. Proof is another matter.

Well, I personally don’t care much for any of the three, but what’s your beef? FUBU sells heavily to the “white” market and the inventors of the line seem, from an interview I read to be just fine with that. Why do you care?

Strikes me as a natural reaction to centuries of rejection. When I was a kid, segration was still the law of the land. It’s not been that long folks. It takes a while for things to heal. Some black folks are going to be nursing the wounds of this era, and the racism which we stil find today, for a while.

Me too, but they’re only a few thousand fruitcakes so…

Most other minorities are new to the USA and don’t have to face the ingrained racism we have in our culture. A lot of progress has been made, much more than radicals like to admit, but its still there. These things heal slowly. I imagine that only the kids born now will be more or less free of the old segregationist hangover. Like I said, I remember segregatist things as a small kid, visiting the South, and I’m in my thirties.

Hangover of our culture and history. Segregation and rejection bred bitterness and seperatist feeling. Our race relations history has been pretty ugly until recently. But unlike a lot of places, we’ve more or less owned up to it, and fought to make things better. That’s good for all society, and will be better in the future.

I’ve heard this, but the weird thing is that lots of things in “black” speech are in fact southern dialectical variations which until recently were shared with many whites. It’s all about setting up identitities and some people in the black american community are deeply invested in bitterness and division. Now they’ve got some good reasons to be, but you don’t progress with that kind of thinking.

I think he’s absolutely right, although the phrase broken English is unfortunate. Non-standard English. What these guys are calling Ebonics is just a particular variation of a small subset of English dialects, non-standard dialects but dialects none the less. But, as he noted, too many blacks take the ideological position that this English is somehow racially theirs. Wierd but what the hell. Now if they were a rich minority, they could probably set up their dialect as an alternate, but they’re not.

I work with plenty of black Africans in various capacities in my work (overseas). I don’t think you can say there is any particular tone for Africans, but talking aggressively is definately frowned upon in all African cultures I’ve encountered.

I very much doubt that but what are “made up words?” slang or dialectal variants. I’ve only read a few linguistic articles about this, but your comparision is flawed since you compared recent immigrant minorities (for the most part) with native English speaking blacks. As far as I have read Ebonics is essentially a southern English based dialect with some variations and some possible African influences. Probably most of what you hear is either new slang or old dialectal differences which were shared until recently with whites.

Well, take a look at American history and the long history of segregationist ideology. It’s hard for native born Americans to throw off a good two hundred years of such thinking in only a few generations.

Class and ethnicity mixed together. Tensions between ethnic identity and economic identity. I’ve lived in DC and NYC and you can find new black middle classes. I had plenty of friends and coworkers from such. It seemed to me that they are striving to form new standards for blacks to identify with. It’s a process and they’re fighting the gangsta shit. I suppose if us non-blacks want to help out, we should try to positively reinforce the non-gangsta.

I’d say identity crisis combined with some seperatist feeling among some folks. And of course some white folks want the same. Chowderheads.

I think if you put things in historical context it’s not hard to understand, although a bit frustrating that racists still abound all around. But progress is occuring and I hope my kids will see a much more open USA.

Oops forgot something.

The push to “buy black”, is nothing more than the usurping of a succesful practice employed by other succesful minority communities (think Chinatown, Japantown, Germantown etc.). I’ve always liked that concept to some degree, especially in larger black communities like Oakland, Detroit etc. Where there are a significant number of black owned businesses. Keeping money in your community expands growth.

Reboot42: *Unfortunately, it seems that, unless very careful, the original poster has to censor his/her comments to avoid being called a racist *

Personally, I have no problem with requiring people to be careful not to make racist comments. If you’re saying that people here frequently get called racist for saying things that are not racist, could we see some evidence?

*and many observations are scoffed at, with links to written proof demanded. *

Scoffing at unsupported observations and demanding written proof is what we’re here for! Allow me now to do a little scoffing at your bizarre coinage of “blacklish”, which other respondents have called “poor” or “fractured” English, with a couple of comments from Ebonics: A Linguist Looks at the Ebonics Debate:

So AAVE, whether or not you personally enjoy hearing it spoken, is in fact a dialect (in the linquistically respectable sense of the word) of American English, and it is inaccurate to equate it with “uneducated” or “broken” attempts to speak “standard” English. When, where, and how blacks speak AAVE or “standard” American English, and the social implications of the language choices they make, are all interesting questions that stuffinb and Ptahlis, for example, have started to address. The question of whether the very existence of AAVE is a deliberate attempt on the part of African-Americans to promote racial apartheid is, IMHO, too silly for words.

As an amusing counterpart to previous postings:

How’s that for “Broken English?”

Lousy spelling, too.

…I must disagree here, AAVE (African American Vernacular English, aka “ebonics”) arose long before the impementation of the Jim Crow laws in the south. If you read the oral histories taken from former slaves , many of them written in a phonetic aproximation of the spoken word, the language used is quite close to what is spoken today. It is a legitimate dialect of American English

…nor is it “fractured english” for fractured english, like slang ,does not have a grammar or rules of pronunciation,which AAVE clearly has.

 AAVE is an English dialect. Most of its components in the dimensions of grammar, lexicon, and pronunciation are widely shared with English - either with standard American English, or with Southern White English.

AAVE does have its own distinctive features and functions. It can be spoken badly, or imitated inaccurately, by whites (or blacks) unfamiliar with its rules; and it symbolizes community and cultural values for its speakers that no other dialect of English in the world can convey.

We know very well that there are African Americans who cannot speak this dialect with native fluency; that there are some non-African Americans who can (though very few); and that almost all African Americans have some command of other forms of English, including Standard American English. A very large number of African American adults are perfectly at home with both AAVE and Standard American English, and are skilled at using each in the appropriate circumstances.

                               --tip o' the hat to
                                Dr. Peter Patrick for                                                                                                                much of this info!
                                   Thanx pete! :) (used w/ permission)

That phenomenon is hardly limited to the black community. I come from an area where the southern accents are as thick as sorghum syrup, and the use of poor grammar in casual conversation, even by those who know better, is the norm.

Now if I were to go back home and make a point of using “isn’t” instead of “ain’t” in casual conversation, I would very quickly become the target of good-natured ridicule. We all know that “ain’t” isn’t proper, but we use it in casual conversation as a cultural badge. Those who change those speech patterns or try to lose their southern accents would be accused (jokingly, or not-so-jokingly) of “putting on airs,” or as the old-timers used to say, “getting above your raisings.”

Same phenomenon.

I’ll also reiterate what other posters have said. It would be a mistake to underestimate someone’s intellect based on the dialect they happen to use in casual conversation.

When you say that someone who speaks in dialect will not be accepted in the business world, what you are really saying is that people in the business world harbor stereotypes and are otherwise prejudiced, and the rest of us must therefore conform our behavior to accomodate those prejudices.

writefetus wrote:

Amen. I see this all the time with black lawyers I know. Encounter them in the courtroom, and they’ll deliver a compelling legal argument in standard English. Encounter them on the basketball court or over a beer after work, and they’ll relax and let the more casual dialect take over.

I do the same thing with my backwoods southern dialect for that matter.

writefetus I have no problem adjusting my view for your responses (mine was a rather simplistic overview), though Im not in total agreement with some of what is posited. That’s not to say I’m right in that belief only that I aven’t studied as much as you appear to have done.

Spoke I agree with your last response also, it’s a practice I engage in also.

Could that “clinging to the roots” be errouneously racist?
To me, we all live in one country.People with different skin (hair, etc.) happen to livehere. We are all Americans. Upper class Blacks are no different from upper class Whites. Ecxept skin color.
They know that they always be different (till we all become one color). So, perhaps unconsciously, they try to create something else which will keep them different? In other words, they assume that skin color makes them different and want to keep this difference, over the phone, for instance, and in other instances when skin can not be seen?

Could that “clinging to the roots” be errouneously racist?
To me, we all live in one country.People with different skin (hair, etc.) happen to livehere. We are all Americans. Upper class Blacks are no different from upper class Whites. Ecxept skin color.
They know that they always be different (till we all become one color). So, perhaps unconsciously, they try to create something else which will keep them different? In other words, they assume that skin color makes them different and want to keep this difference, over the phone, for instance, and in other instances when skin can not be seen?

my ID: mixed Chinese/white man, raised in LA in predominantly Black schools, now living in Oakland.

i just wanted to say that calling Black English “broken” or “poor” to me is a great disservice. if you want to say that it doesn’t always conform to a concept of “correct” or “white” English, that’s fine–it most definitely doesn’t. but let’s step back for a second.

what’s the purpose of a language? is it to communicate effectively? does it have to be exacting or can there be poetic license? is it static, or can it change? this is what the debate is really about, as far as i can tell.

i think Black folks in America have a wonderful relationship (almost love affair) with English. i have always been amazed at their creativity, their ability to bend language to their will, to create something new that is resonant. i can’t tell you how much laughter i’ve shared because Black folks didn’t want to speak “proper” English. language is used to communicate–what the hell are rules? if you’re writing a research paper, fine. if you’re talking with a group of friends–i advocate absolute freedom with the language.

on the other hand, i’ve always been amazed at how dead English is to most “educated” white folks. moronic teachers who harp on pointless grammar concepts (“i don’t know, CAN you go to the bathroom?”), stupid people that can’t understand a poem because i chose to make up a word to express some feeling (for once, don’t think, feel!); these people see language as this lifeless, bloated mess that they can’t have a relationship with. creating new words like “smog” (get it? it’s smoke plus fog!) isn’t creative. rules can help us understand a common tongue–they can also serve as severe limits.

i’m having a hard time expressing this. but i think the other thing to mention is that Black English serves a real social/political function, often known in the past as the “ghetto pass.” Black folks have been treated like shit for so long and betrayed so many times that they need some device to establish membership. if you can speak Black English, you’ve probably spent time in Black communities (or you watch a lot of TV talk shows), you can probably be trusted a little more than someone not from the community.

and this is most definitely not limited to Black Americans. in Hawai’i, they have Pidgin English, which is often debated on the same grounds as Black English. it helps to separate the natives from the newcomers by the use of an accent quite different from “Standard English” (sound familiar?) and a vocabulary peppered with constantly-changing slang words. i know that Black Jamaicans speak a dialect of English that is almost unintelligible to non-Jamaicans. any other examples?

language helps to define communities. when people have their language taken away from them, they utilize English for the same purpose.

i can’t think of any group behavior that can’t be understood with some effort. and i can definitely say that being a white American is not something many of us aspire to be.

I had a black guy for a roomie. When he and his buddies got together they were incomprehesable. Sounded like Whooping. Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! When I moved to this state, I went to a job interview and the interviewer(white) was incomprehensable. Sounded like he had a mouth full of marbles. Awow oroo gawa.

~Through my own knowlege, I know of no other ethnic group which has wanted general equality and lack of racism who has done so much to delay the progress. This action I just do not understand.~
As a Black female, I hope I can shed some light on your observations/inquiries.

>Black English (Blacklish)
First, I have to admit I’ve never heard this term, but I digress. Have you been to the Deep South lately? If you were to talk to someone on the telephone there, you’d have a hard time distinguishing between a White person and a Black. So why is it that when a Black person is speaking this way it’s wrong but when it’s a White Southerner it’s ‘charming’ or a ‘twang’? No matter what the race, there will always be a group of people that are looked down upon by their peers. Upwardly mobile Whites turn their noses up at ‘trailer trash or PWT’. Upwardly mobile Blacks turn their noses up at 'ghetto people or ‘hood rats’. These lesser privileged (read: poorer) people (in both cases) often mispronounce words and use grammar incorrectly. As far as radio stations with Black Radio Personalities perpetuating this broken way of speaking, they want to identify with their core market. This is typically inner city Black people ages 12 - 30. I listen to a wide range of music which includes Hip Hop, classical, jazz, alternative, rock, rap, R & B, opera, etc. When I listen to a Hip Hop station, I usually turn it when the DJ starts talking. It makes me cringe to hear they way they often speak. Now I’m not generalizing all Hip Hop stations, but where I live, it makes me cringe when I hear the DJs talk!

>Black Neighborhoods
You mentioned that there is a ‘Black neighborhood’ that is ‘real dump.’ Once again, the same can be said for poorer White neighborhoods. There are some where I live and in states all across the countries. I see broken down GM cars on cinder blocks in the yard. Beer cans littered about grass that hasn’t been cut for weeks, barefoot kids running around with red stains around their mouths and so forth. Some White people worked hard to rise above that situation and moved out. The same can be said for Blacks. Are some Blacks snubbed because of this? Yes. Why? I don’t know. But are some White folks snubbed for the same reason? Yes.

>Black Separatism
I’m with you on this one. I often talk to my husband about how unfair it is that a Black person can wear a T-shirt touting that he/she is ‘Proud to be Black’ but if a White person were to do wear a T-shirt that reads ‘Proud to be White’ he/she would automatically be labeled a racist. I don’t understand what we gain from things like the Stars BET Movies cable station, either.

Now you also have to understand that, as a people, we’re still healing from slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, etc. Just because I personally didn’t directly experience any of these things, doesn’t mean they don’t impact my life. I think things like Kwanzaa, FuBu, and so forth were a mis-guided attempt to help generate unity among Black people. What some people (both Black and White) don’t seem to get is that the goal should be unity amongst all races. But I guess one can argue how can Black people unite with other races when we can’t unite with our own, but that’s another post.