Tap on TikTok and you’ll fall into a rabbit hole filled with slang and “Alice in Wonderland” dancing.
A word of advice: don’t repeat everything you hear during your stay. Especially if you are white.
Whites – on social media and in real life – routinely appropriate African American Vernacular English (AAVE) as “slay” and “sis” without thinking, and some of these phrases come straight from the black LGBTQ community. . Experts say it perpetuates racism, erases black contributions and fuels cultural misunderstandings. Simply put: it’s black linguistic appropriation.
“Divorce black people from the way we speak is really just another way of loving what black people do, but disliking black people,” said Nikki Lane, assistant professor at Spelman College . “It’s very Elvis to me. You’ll take our music, but you don’t give us credit for it.”
Take terms like “read” (skillfully insulting someone) or “shading” (a subtle insult). People gobbled up those words after watching the famous ballroom documentary “Paris is Burning”, but the movie didn’t create them.
E. Patrick Johnson, dean of Northwestern’s School of Communication, argues that the appropriation and commodification of black culture, from black hairstyles to queer language, is nothing new and that in today’s society, it is inevitable that this will happen.
“But what’s so wonderful is that these cultures keep inventing new languages based on their experiences,” says Johnson. “So while it is true that things are ‘stolen’, it is also true that language continues to be invented anew.”
The history of AAVE
The AAVE was in part born out of blacks’ need to communicate and dates back to slavery, according to April Baker-Bell, author of “Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy”.
“When they enslaved Africans (they used) language planning to make sure that two Africans who spoke the same language couldn’t get together because they didn’t want it to lead to a revolt … and the language black developed despite this, ”says Baker-Bell.
Baker-Bell says the black language is a legitimate language with syntax, grammatical features, phonology, and semantics. But when black people speak AAVE, it is considered unprofessional, and they can be seen as “intellectually inferior” to speak it.
“It’s anti-black linguistic racism. It’s really anti-black running through our language the way we are told we have to change the code,” says Baker-Bell describing how black people often have to change their way. to speak in order to fit into what is considered a cultural norm.
Lane scoffs at the idea of a room full of whites saying “let’s spill the tea” without black people present.
“You care about what we say, you care about the way we speak, you care about taking things from us because language is a cultural production,” she says. “It’s something black people create together. So you’ll take this but you won’t take us.”
What’s even more problematic is that “whites are stepping out of our tongue,” says Baker-Bell, as TikTokers attain influencer status for videos that make these phrases their own and businesses using black language in. their marketing.
How does the language move across racial lines?
The expansion of social media has opened the floodgates for language practices or terms originating in the black community to spread exponentially among whites, Lane says. TikTok in particular “is literally based on mimicry,” she says.
Johnson says appropriation is inevitable and it is common for the black language to be misallocated and while this is “disheartening” when culture is “commodified without any recognition of remuneration” he hopes this can be rectified by social media.
“In some ways, social media has provided a level playing field, so these communities can create their own platforms to capitalize on their cultural forms, sometimes before they are appropriated by the mainstream culture,” Johnson said. .
Non-black people who speak this way are not only likely to appropriate themselves, but also to use certain languages incorrectly. Like walking with shoes that don’t fit.
Last month, “Saturday Night Live” aired a skit written by Michael Che called “Gen Z Hospital” where the premise was to poke fun at words like “bestie”, “sis” and “bruh” and attribute the terms to the language of Generation Z.
For the black language to be portrayed as the language of Generation Z, it is erasing black people and continuing to despise black contribution to mainstream white culture. Especially when often black designers do not profit from their work.
When and under what circumstances non-blacks can use the black language is a conversation that doesn’t matter at the moment, says Baker-Bell.
“When we see black people not being killed, black people not being discriminated against, black children able to learn and thrive in their own language, we can have that conversation,” said Baker-Bell.
Where black homosexuals fit in
Separating the language between black homosexuals and the rest of the black community would be like picking up individual grains of sand on a beach.
“The majority of black homosexuals live in and among heterosexuals,” Lane says. “We don’t live separate lives, other than the African Americans in our family who may be heterosexual. We don’t live in small silos, and the language takes place in community.”
While you might hear queer black people use the word “kill,” for example, Lane attributes the term to black women.
Separately, black homosexuals have developed turns of phrase to communicate with each other in potentially dangerous and homophobic contexts.
For example, “a word like family, which you don’t speak of, like a family relationship, necessarily, but you could speak of other homosexuals”.
Jeffrey McCune, director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies at the University of Rochester, wonders why so much of queer black cultural production is sneaking into society.
“It says a lot about the company itself and the paucity of creativity,” says McCune. “But it also says that out of the sea of a lot of trauma and joy, black people are producing ways to interpret, explain and read the world we live in.”
The most marginalized community is the queer black community, even “within our own community,” says Baker-Bell, adding that when black trans people or LGBTQ members are murdered by the police, there is less outrage. collective and attention to these cases.
“These terms sound funny to everyone, but you don’t understand what this has come about among black homosexuals and how they use it to communicate within their own groups or how these words are used to fight oppression they endure, “says Baker-Bell. “It’s not for everyone to get involved and play.”
What is the answer?
In short: study the origin of sentences and pause before repeating a new word or phrase. And if you choose to use these terms, make sure you don’t contribute to the marginalization of black communities.
Lane wonders why anyone outside of the black community would need to use AAVE in the first place. Is the reason you are saying something because you have heard everyone say it? Did you ask them where they heard it from?
Also remember that what black people post on social media is not all fun and games, but the product of work.
“So many of these expressions are opportunities for black people to break free from the trauma of white supremacy and anti-blackness,” McCune said. “The occasional use of queer black phrases or phrases from the black community is another slap in the face or a rejection of the idea that these things emerge from trauma and anti-darkness.”
There is no way to significantly control people’s language – so it’s up to white people not to “spill the tea” to the point of making it feel like their own. “We need a white audience that isn’t interested in using terms that they know aren’t part of the vernacular for their dining room table,” McCune said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Slang Comes from Black and LGBTQ Communities. Not to honor is racist