It’s Okay to be BLACK! (Response to MyBrownBaby’s Black English Post)

The folks at MyBrownBaby posted a doozy of a post on Monday. In the post, the writer (who happens to be one of my editors, shhh…) explained why they gave their daughter lessons in Black English. Ya know, what white folk and bougie negroes commonly refer to as “ebonics” or what Africana Studies peeps like to call “African American Vernacular English.”

From MyBrownBaby:

On a personal level, I have seen over the years how important it has been to my relations with other African Americans that I am able to effectively code switch. It puts other blacks at ease, lets them know who is “down” and who is not. To be honest, it becomes even more important the more educated and successful you become—because often the expectation by those within the community is that you won’t be able to do it. Or that you wouldn’t want to. When you can, it conveys a great deal of information to them about your upbringing, your familiarity and comfort with all different types of black folks—in other words, that you don’t believe your education and income make you better than other black people.

This is important stuff. I want my daughters to be as adept at code switching as I am, so that they will feel comfortable in a variety of situations, and be able to make other black people feel comfortable with them. I think this is an essential part of their education and development.

So the black English lessons will continue over the next seven years, until both of them are off to college.

Personally, I was happy to see this post because it is rare to see people view AAVE in this manner. Usually, AAVE is called ignorant and those that speak it are told they need to learn how to speak “proper” English. Well, some of the commenters didn’t see it that way. The blog post have 50 comments and counting. Some called my editor’s efforts “asinine” and even I had a little shade thrown my way by some random African commenter with a hefty “blacker than thou” attitude. Some of the commenters seemed to be under the impression that these parents were setting their children up for failure. Others balked at the idea of having to “code-switch.” As I read the discussion, a quote came to mind.

“Nobody in history has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

–Assata Shakur

Black people (and other people of color) are constantly spoon-fed this idea that if we cater to the standards set in place by our oppressors, we will see liberation.

We try to change everything from our hair to our speech to our culture to fit these ideals. We have our schools banning locs and braids to teach students how they should look when they go to work for other people. AAVE is seen as “ignorant” and “ghetto” and people to speak proper English but conveniently ignore the fact that English is a bastardized language. Black people have to worry about job applications when naming their kids while you have white kids walking around that are named after food and auto parts and they don’t have a care in the world. We’re taught to stamp out everything that make us who we are so we can win the rat race that we’re taught is success. That poster on MBB told me that African American had their identities stripped when we were taken from African but blasted those that didn’t speak “proper English” in the same damn post.

It isn’t just done to us either. LGBT folks are told to tone down their queerness to be accepted by heteros. Women are put in a position to have to choose between family and professional development, a choice a man rarely has to make. Marginalized people are given a laundry list of stuff to do that will appeal to the privileged folk and a lot of them eagerly follow that list hoping they can be privileged too. They strive to assimilate without realizing those in power aren’t trying to give you their piece of the pie.

We need to set our own standards. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do what we have to do to keep food on our tables and clothes on our backs but this policing within our own communities has to stop. For now, we have to code-switch to get these jobs but if we’re looking to have own entities, we have to retain our uniqueness and we need to fight to have it recognized.

Y’all better listen to Assata.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Speak!


7 thoughts on “It’s Okay to be BLACK! (Response to MyBrownBaby’s Black English Post)

  1. Keya says:

    I think at times, we are in denial of the beauty of Black people. Our language (AAVE) is one of the most developed and distinct forms of speech (ask a cultural anthropologist). The ability to be able to successfully code switch should be praised, how many people can effectively do that without offending someone? Blacks in America have always had to live through what Du Bois calls double consciousness, but he never insisted we disown our Black brothers and sisters based on their economic status and level of education. When we claim that our history and our culture is ignorant, we are denying a piece of ourselves and continue a vicious cycle of supporting the hierarchy between Whites and Blacks.

    All in all, Black people rock! And I have no intention to give up on my brothers and sisters because society deems them and their vernacular to be social junk. I agree with MyBrownBaby, and will do the same when I have children.

    • Ashleigh L.A. says:

      I completely agree! I love that you brought up DuBois and double consciousness. Thanks for reading!

  2. Denene Millner says:

    *Stands on chair* YOU BETTA SPEAK IT, SIS! Thank you for this post, and especially for your beautiful voice all up and through that raucous thread over on MyBrownBaby. Through all the crazy, it meant the world to Nick and I that there were a few of us who think much more deeply about this subject and our place in it. We are not perfect parents. But we parent thoughtfully. And we appreciate those who understand and support our mission to mold children who are young, gifted and authentically, beautifully, proudly black.

    • Ashleigh L.A. says:

      Denene, don’t stand on chairs! You’ll scare da white folk! lol. I kid. Thanks for reading and inspiring this post.

  3. Aaliyah1963 says:

    Preach Sista!

    I speak 8 languages. I think communication in *all* forms is important. Being able to communicate with our own people on a visceral level is important. The *code* is vital to our identity as a people with a common heritage. Now…having said that… I do believe there is a time and place for everything.

    I understand that many of us, anyone who is not a white male, is expected to live by a false set of rules; however, to survive, or do better than just survive, we must be able to communicate effectively in the tongue of those who control the flow of finances and be educated with skill sets that we can use to create financial freedom. Speaking “proper” English is a necessity. My children have been taught many forms of communication and know when the proper time to use any one of them is. Just as I would not spew profanities in a holy place, I would not use AAVE in a job interview no matter the race of the person interviewing me.

    Just a last thought. When I was young, I was criticized and told I sound “white” because of they way I speak. I would like to say that is untrue. I speak with intelligence. I do not have to be white to be intelligent. Being able to communicate intelligently in any language is not being subservient to “the man” just as using AAVE does not make me *more* black.


    • Ashleigh L.A. says:

      8 languages??! I’m scared of you! I agree that “proper English” is needed in certain situations but my point is that AAVE should be looked upon with scorn, especially if it isn’t being used in a professional setting. And please don’t get me started on that “talking white” crap. I got stories of my own for that one! lol

      Thanks for reading!


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