Your Guide to AAVE and How Not to Use it

AAVE stands for African-American Vernacular English, or Ebonics. In simple terms, it is the way Black/African-Americans speak to each other on a regular basis. It has recently been recognized as a language of it’s own. Often times Black and African descendants were forced to code-switch from our day-to-day speech to “proper English”. AAVE is often demonized and used to mock my people, causing many of us to derive from the language. I want to share the importance of this language, the validity of it, and why as a non-black person you shouldn’t be able to speak it.

Sense of Community

Growing up, I would often speak fluently in AAVE. It was a way I could connect with other kids in my community. It was a way of life for me, I would speak it and think nothing of it. However, when I got older, my teachers and family members would often subtly correct my way of speaking. They would say, “No one is going to take you serious if you talk like that.” “You need to correct your speech before you go into that school”. They would even go as far criminalizing me just for the way I spoke.

So, I listened to them. I began to talk “proper” and “correct” the way I pronounced different words. In doing that, I lost my connection with my friends and classmates. I would be teased for being the “whitest” black girl they know. I felt as though I couldn’t talk to my friends in the same way I did before. Though I was being teased and neglected by my classmates, I would often be praised by adults and teachers. I had very mixed feelings about it, but I learned a technique that let me have the best of both worlds.

I learned to code-switch around the 5th Grade. I would speak regularly around my friends, then act like a totally different person in class. Even now, I still catch myself code-switching in the middle of conversations with people. I feel more comfortable speaking it around people like me and I immediately go in to code-switching mode when I’m around my white-counterparts. Though I am still working on it, I still feel as though I am going to be invalidated for speaking AAVE and incorporating it into my work.

AAVE/EBONICS IS VALID

It took me so long to accept the statement above. I would hear so many authority figures demonizing my language that I lost all sense of self. But after reading so many articles and hearing other Black people speak on it, I learned that it is something that should be more prominent in my life.

Talking down on this language is a form of systemic racism. Racists use any tactic they can to strip black people of their culture and use it against them. Something I think is worse, is when non-black people use Ebonics in a form of mockery and/or out-of-context of the situation or person. What I mean by that is, I find it very harmful when someone non-black uses it without knowing the meaning behind it and incorporating it in their speech when they simply don’t talk like that. That shows that you don’t care about the people, the language, or the meaning behind it. This is a form of cultural appropriation. When I see it used out of context my automatic thought is that this person is racially insensitive, and when I establish that, it very hard for me to see that person in a different way.

You’re Not Entitled to the Language

Though that line may come off harsh, there is so much truth to it. If you are a non-black person and you use Ebonics, why do you feel you can? One of the things that comes with uplifting this language is dismantling that entitlement. It is a language that derives from slavery. It was a horrific point in time were Black people were not allowed to speak to each other out of fear of rebellion. It is a mixture of broken English and our original language. The history and significance of it isn’t one that you can just take out of context. You’ve read my story and saw the lost sense of community I had to experience just because I spoke it. So I encourage you to remove AAVE terms and manners from your speech, if you’re non-black, and educate yourself on the matter. Be an ally and the change you want to see.

One thought on “Your Guide to AAVE and How Not to Use it”

  1. Jordan, I’m very glad that you made this post. It really shows the valid and potent emotion behind the subject, and that conveys the severity of the topic. Thank you for this, and I will definitely be doing my best to correct myself on appropriating mannerisms.

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