Chapter 5: African American English and the communities it influences
English 102, November 2020
My research paper will be addressing Black people. There are quite a number of ways that this can be addressed, but I intend on addressing Black people through the lens of the language a lot of us know as African American Vernacular English (will also be referred to as Black English, African American English, and Ebonics). While this essay will be talking about Black English, that does not mean that this is only intended for a Black audience. In fact, this essay is intended for everyone, especially those who live in America, no matter what the race is. My research paper will provide insight on what the language is, a little bit about its origin, the effect is has had on the Black population, how the White population views the language (and the people who use the language), and the influence it has today. By providing a series of scholarly articles, book references, podcasts, poems, and television series, I hope to not only educate readers on this language, but to also defer judgement that people may have toward individuals who use this language, whether it is the individual’s primary or secondary discourse. Another goal of my final essay is to spark an element of self-reflection in the reader and make them question if they are helping or hurting the negative association of Black English.
My thesis statement might be presented in the form of a question. I want to ask the rhetorical question “Why is African American Vernacular English so widely recognized, but nationally discredited?” I use the term “nationally” because I want to only address this language and the impact it has in America and not the entire world. I do not intend to answer this question directly, but I do plan on the question being answered by through the education provided from the research paper. This means that one reader might walk away with a different answer than another reader. I do not believe any answer will be a wrong answer, especially when something like this is deeply intertwined with a plethora of other subjects. In other words, to tug on the metaphorical yarn string that represents African American Vernacular English, one may quickly realize that they have picked up large ball of yarn that has been tangled and knotted up by a bunch of other types of yarn. The challenge about this thesis statement and the essay is that I want the question mentioned above to be something the readers are constantly asking themselves throughout the essay. I also want the thesis statement to be bold, perhaps leading with the notion that Black English is being consistently used, while consistently being stepped on.
I will start by first defining what African American English is, is not, and a little bit about its origin. I will do this by providing a couple of definitions of words around language, such as “discourse,” “African American Vernacular English, “Standard English,” and “slang.” By defining these terms, it will give readers insight and the ability to give their opinion on a debate that has been going on for decades: If African American Vernacular English is a real language or not.
After defining what the language is and is not, I will move on to discussing how the language is viewed by itself and, consequently, the speaker of the language. Some of this information will come from a survey that has both Blacks and Whites participating in said survey, while some of the other information will come from life experiences. I will then begin to move onto the impact that this language has on Black people, but I feel as if this cannot be done without providing more historical context as well as context to things that are still happening in present day. I hope to accomplish this in multiple ways, such as the white man’s burden (which has shifted to white savior complex and/or white hope), double consciousness, education, and redlining, while also briefly touching on slavery and the Jim Crow era. Since I believe that some of the negative connotations associated with Black English are not exclusive to just the language itself, I feel that it is important to also talk about how we might be able to connect the dot that is Black English to some of the other dots that are history, racism, and more.
After this, I plan on shifting into how this directly affects the black community. It is impossible to ignore that the ideals and stereotypes that has been put on the black community are some of the same ideals and stereotypes that the black community puts on itself. Diving further into W.E.B. Dubois’ ideal of double consciousness, I will dive more into the world of this and how it often feels that, for some members of the black community, that if the term African American is hyphenated (African-American) then a lot of us live our lives on that hyphen. In other words, too black to be American and too white to be African. For example, Bill Cosby has been known to demean black culture, while you have others such as Michelle Obama who constantly reminded herself during her husband’s presidency that she had to wake up every day in a house created by slaves. I will dive further into this split of culture by talking about code switching and personal stories about this experience, as well as references from the articles and a television series that briefly touches on this subject through a comedic lens.
In my next point, I will be addressing the influence that Black English has had on America. While there is still a large debate surrounding the legitimacy of Black English, it would be foolish of us to pretend as if it did not influence American culture. The same way that new dances are being generated (by Black people) and circulated throughout America is the same way that Black English is getting incorporated into Standard English (some may try to address this as slang, but I hope to counter that opinion when I give the definition of slang).
I intend to conclude this essay by stating my thesis statement again, which may be given in the form of a question or with the bold statement that I am thinking about using. However, the thesis statement will not be the only question I present to the reader. There will be multiple questions presented, all of which will require some level of critical thinking. The credibility of Black English cannot be proven by answering one question. If this were the case, this essay would not need to exist because Black English would be recognized as a legitimate language. As mentioned earlier, this is not a subject that only has one string of yarn. This is something that has multiple strands intertwined with it, and I hope that with each question being asked/answered, that the yarn will become less tangled. With all the information provided in the body of this essay, I hope it will allow the readers to think critically about the legitimacy of Black English and why there is still so much distaste surrounding the language. Again, the readers may not come to a clear-cut answer to the question, but I hope that it will at least cause a spark of curiosity and self-reflection as to why Black English struggles to be credited and if they are supporting or not supporting the language that is Black English.
Billings, Andrew C. “Beyond the Ebonics debate: Attitudes about black and standard American
English.” Journal of Black Studies 36.1 (2005): 68-81.
This article discusses how Black English compares to Standard English via a study with 261 Black and White participants. It dives into the methods and findings that were associated with determining how Black English compares to Standard English, while also addressing that Black English is something that has permeated/influenced Standard English and white communities. I plan on using this article to answer the question of if Black English is a language that is still being stepped on or viewed as “lesser than.”
DiAngelo, Robin. “Anti-Blackness.” White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism,
Beacon Press, 2018, 89—99.
This book breaks down in a plethora of ways how America, specifically White people, are still racist to this day. The specific chapter “Anti-Blackness” that I am addressing in this book discusses white hope/savior and what that looks like where we can find it today. I will be using this chapter to highlight mainly how the White community views the Black community and how that has played an influence on the Black community as well.
“Episode 3: The Birth of American Music.” 1619 from The New York Times. 6 Sept. 2019,
This podcast episode gives insight to the root of American music. I will be using this podcast for
a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is to show the influence that Black people (and Black English) has had on America. The other reason, which is slightly intertwined with the first, is to provide a history lesson, diving specifically into the Jim Crow era, where one could argue that this era is what changed American music.
Fullilove, Mindy. “Redlining Trauma.” Race, Poverty & the Environment 21.2 (2017): 84-86.
This article provides a brief definition and history of redlining. It also discusses the impact
redlining has had on Black communities as well as Latino communities. I will be using this article
to show the mistreatment America gives to Black communities as well as highlighting the impact
the treatment has had on the black community and how redlining is one of the many methods
used to create and reinforce negative connotations associated with Black people and Black
Gee, James Paul. “What is literacy.” Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across
languages and cultures (1998): 51-59.
This article gives definition of the terms primary discourse and secondary discourse. It also
provides knowledge on how discourses are influenced by communities, social status, superiority,
and inferiority. I will be using this article to provide the definitions of primary discourse and
secondary discourse as well as a connector to other articles that share a similar insight but
expresses it with different wording. This article will act more as a supporting article for other
articles, rather than a standalone article.
“justakidfromcompton.” Black-ish, written by Kenya Barris and Lisa Muse Bryant (Teleplay) and Robb
Chavis (Story), directed by Millicent Shelton Anthony Anderson, Wilmore Films, Artists First, and Cinema Gypsy Productions, 2019.
This episode focuses on the cousin of the lead character, Andre Johnson. The cousin, Kyra, is an outstanding student when it comes to science and they want to send her to a better school, Valley Glen Prep. She is accepted into the school, but she is treated as a charity case. I will be using this episode to address code switching and some of the stigmas that are put on Black people from White and Black people.
Markham, Lynda R. “” De Dog and De Cat”: Assisting Speakers of Black English as They Begin to
Write.” Young Children (1984): 15-24.
This article discusses the conversion of primarily Black English speakers to writing in Standard
English. It defines what Black English is as well as discussing the difficulties of children’s
acquisition of communication skills if there are any. This essay also includes some of the key
features that make up Black English. I will be using this article to explain some of the differences
between Standard English and Black English as well as addressing how one could possibly go
about teaching Standard English to someone with Black English as their primary discourse.
Morgan, Marcyliena, and Dionne Bennett. “Hip-hop & the global imprint of a black cultural
form.” Daedalus 140.2 (2011): 176-196.
This article discusses the impact that hip-hop has had not just on American culture, but also
globally. As it discusses the origins of hip-hop, it also drills into how hip-hop has influenced each
area of this globe. I will not be using this article to explain the impact hip-hop and Black English
has influenced the world, but I will use this article to explore the impact it has had on America to
support the claim that Black English is used and sometimes appreciated, but the appreciation of the individuals falls short.
Myers, Taryn Kiana. “Can you hear me now? An autoethnographic analysis of code-switching.” Cultural
Studies↔ Critical Methodologies 20.2 (2020): 113-123.
This article not only defines what code-switching is, but it also talks about the impact that code-switching has on Black people. This is done through the lens of ethnography and revolves around the concept of identity. It highlights the struggles of navigating between both languages and, consequently, the world of the white community and the world of the black community. I will be using this article to discuss the impact code-switching can have in both communities, as well as the double-consciousness that can happen within the individual.
Ndemanu, Michael Takafor. “Ebonics, to be or not to be? A legacy of trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Journal
of Black Studies46.1 (2015): 23-43.
This article discusses the origins of AAVE/Ebonics by tracing it back to Niger-Congo languages. This article also showcases the evolution of Black English by comparing it to where it originated from and how it has morphed into what we know it to be today. I intend to use this article to explain the roots of Black English and defend the opinion that it is indeed a language while also providing some in-depth details on how the language works in hopes to counter the opinion that the language is deficient.
Pittman, John P., “Double Consciousness.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N.
Zalta, Center for the Study of Language and Information, 2020.
This article not only provides the origin and definition of the term double consciousness, but it
also is an article that analyzes what this phrase means as it relates to the Black community and as it relates to the medical and psychological condition. For my essay, I will not be using this essay to dive into the analysis of double consciousness, but I do intend to use it to provide the definition of double consciousness.
Reves, Haviland Ferguson. “What is Slang?: A Survey of Opinion.” American Speech 1.4 (1926): 216-220.
This article defines what slang is. Not only does it define what this word is, but it provides information on how the definition has evolved over time and the type of people associated with slang. I intend to use this article to not only compare the similarities and differences of slang and Black English, but to also give a more concrete answer as to if Black English is slang, a dialect, or a language within itself.
Smitherman, Geneva. “African American Language: So Good It’s Bad.” Talkin’ that talk: Language,
Culture and education in African America, Routledge, 1999, 1—19. Smitherman.
This specific chapter in this book not only defines what Black English is, but it also highlights some of the differences between Black English and Standard English. It also discusses the push-pull that happens in the Black community and the sense of belonging that the language provides within the community, as well as addressing whether it is a language or dialect. In addition, this chapter addresses some of the resistance that is met with this language through the eyes of other cultures. I will be using this to discuss the pros and cons of this language within the community and outside the community.
Whitney, Jessica. “Five easy pieces: Steps toward integrating AAVE into the classroom.” English
Journal (2005): 64-69.
This article discusses how and why AAVE should become a part of classroom education. It involves a five-step process, that puts the majority of the work on the teachers instead of the students. I will be using this article to answer my question on if AAVE will ever become a part of core classroom curriculum and potential benefits of including it as a core subject, as well as acknowledging that if AAVE is valued, then teachers will do the work to make it happen.