Sunday, January 25, 2009

When Coloquialisms Run Amuck

I was having a conversation with a passerby while in a customer service line yesterday. We briefly spoke about the Inauguration and the weather in SF compared to DC. We separated and went about our business. As the woman left she turned back to say goodbye to me but what she said stopped me cold, "See ya later gurlfiend." Or it was some variation of that because honestly my mind went blank for a moment as I felt as I'd been punched in the gut. I swear if she had used a a racial epithet I wouldn't have felt worse. 

So why did it bother me that she addressed me in such a 'familiar' manner? I immediately told myself I was overreacting and she didn't mean anything by it. So why did I want to go after her and tell her that wasn't a friendly exchange? She was a white woman in her 40's. I'm younger and am Black. I felt she insulted me and though it was partially race-based I feel much more strongly that it was a class issue and a way of keeping me in my place. Or the place where she sees Black people - not where I see myself belonging. 

If you know anything about me you will know two things: one is that I despise beer and cold tomatoes; the second is that I do NOT speak Ebonics!!!! I could walk out the door and onto the set of any news station and deliver the reports with aplomb, okay. I have a writing style that uses a certain stylistic flourish but I am edumacated. I don't sashay down the street, do a neck roll, snap my fingers, pop gum, speak at an ear-splitting decibel or wear clothes that expose my body to the public. I have Black female friends and we do not refer to ourselves or each other in this manner. 

Of course this woman wouldn't consider herself racist because I'm sure she knows some Black people. She may even live near some or work with them, too. To be clear I don't have unlimited disdain for white women (or men) though I do bring up the systematic privileges white people automatically get to enjoy and how the majority don't (want to) realize it. I also talk about how whites who think they're more liberal or (non-racist) because they're not members of the KKK but don't acknowledge such privilege are deluding themselves. It's easy to be benevolent when you're holding all the cards. When the time comes for sharing and giving up some of those cards is when we shall see how invested in equality white people truly are. There are certain individuals who are aware of this and are willing to do so - but as to the collective - the jury is still out.  

I'm not even going to get into the racialized sexism particular to Black women as perpetrated by Black men and the Black community as a whole. It exists though and the sooner we stop trying to conform to ridiculous standards of 'acceptable' Blackness and putting ourselves last, Black women will continue to be the mules and overlooked. We will still internalize our suffering to our detriment. That's for another conversation though.

Now I know this woman somehow thought it was okay to speak to me the way she did because no one has told her otherwise AND in part due to the crap on tv and in the media.  I also know that she does not refer to herself or her white friends that way. I have noticed lately a lot of non-Black people using what I'd refer to as some form of "Black-speak" with each other, which is definitely based on the class status as the source of those that use it but is almost always attributed to race exclusively. The larger problem is that this is the majority image being shown of Blacks around the world. It's distinctly American and patently absurd. 

Quick: name a tv show with a majority Black cast that contains Black professionals who just happen to be Black. {Crickets}. Well, wait there's the ABC Family show Lincoln Heights which is about a family that returns to the hood so the father can make it a better neighborhood. If you don't have cable you can watch previous episodes at ABC Family online. Now what do I say about this other than this is the vision that someone has about Black people instead of it being envisioned by Blacks. What man in is right mind who understands his role of father and husband as a provider and protector would intentionally move his family into a bad neighborhood because he wants to 'save the world'? That is the most arrogant display of ego or extreme foolishness as the character works in law enforcement. So if you can get past that giant roadblock I recall the show being advertised on the basis of the oldest teen daughter and her budding interracial romance. It's not a bad show and is currently in it's 3rd season - but that premise is very very flawed.

It's a goldmine compared to the other 2 shows that come from the (feeble and Black woman hating mind) of Tyler Perry. House of Payne and now Meet the Browns. If someone asks me if I've actually seen any episodes I will admit that I haven't. Why? The commercials show me all I need to see. Dumbier and Dumbiest. Laughing with their mouths open, dancing, jolly, rotund, loud and using made up words to convey a point. All they'd need is Blackface and throw in a few phrases using the word "massa" and that would complete the coonery. If I see another Madea movie advertisement....grrr!

The Game - if it's still on the CW. A show about professional (foot)ballers and the women who may come in and out of their lives. Of course certain criminal elements refer to the "game" as dodging the law and trying not to get caught. Some guy decided to use that as his rapper moniker as well. Somehow I keep thinking the people that got beat up or killed during the Civil Right's movement wouldn't be pleased right now. 

Can I just state for the record how disappointed I was when WB & CW merged and Half & Half got cut! We never found out who Mona chose. I loved that show!  The Game is based on an excellent book, Interceptions and the real-life story of Staci Robinson. She pitched the idea and in true Hollywood fashion had her idea stolen and used without her permission or compensation. She sued and settled for an undisclosed sum. These situations are rarely exposed publicly.

Remember how the network cancelled Girlfriends (see where people get these ideas?!) after the writer's strike ended without giving the audience a finale episode. It really pisses me off that shows like Gossip Girl are considered successful and those actors get the celeb weekly covers and the subsequent paparazzi interest when they have similar ratings - but I get it - different demographic. 2M+ viewers but one audience has less melanin is therefore more valued.  

I'm not even going to mention that joke of a show on CNN by DL Idiot and no, Chocolate News does not hold a candle to its counterparts on Comedy Central. So there you have it. It's either reality tv with Black people foolishness or cable tv with it, but all I see is foolishness. So it's no wonder some random stranger initially thinks despite the manner by which I carry myself I must be like the only images she sees on television. After all, other Black people watch these shows, will defend them as well as participate in the foolishness. 

One image of a Black family in the White House and one television show from 20 years ago is not going to undo all the damage that's being inflicted by people who know better but don't care because they're cashing a check. Hurrah for progress! I guess I'll brace myself in the future.

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Renee said...

I understand why you are upset. Many times we are viewed as caricatures rather than real people; however, I find that your argument is incredibly classist. While we may not want to identify with certain behaviors because they are ultimately limiting, I believe the greater point is that blackness cannot be subsumed under one identity. Denigrating one to promote another is problematic. Certain behaviors are ultimately functional in the environments in which they flourish and therefore serve a function. For example, while ebonics may not be considered "grammatically correct", it serves the purposes of all language, which is communication. If a message is sent and then understood, does it matter how it is transmitted? I believe we look down upon this because we have been taught to. There are many variations of the spoken English language and not one is more "correct" than another. We only privilege a certain form to maintain a race and class hierarchy.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...


I think you need to read my post again. Since I was discussing class it really makes no sense for you to state my argument is classist. I have standards for behavior and rules for engagement. I never said Black people are a monolith. I am specifically addressing the behaviors and actions of a segment of the African-American community. I am not aware of Caribbeans or Continental Africans using Ebonics or trying to excuse it as acceptable language. Now what people do amongst their social groups/friends in their private interactions is their choice, but when engaging in "mixed" company and in business-related dealings our choices are absolutely crucial for setting a tone. There is a standard for spoken English and to pretend otherwise is foolish if one wants to be taken seriously. I don't accept the concept of mediocrity in speech either - that is a definite class issue. If one wants to move beyond $7/hr jobs and being marginalized then stepping up one's game is absolutely necessary. Brung is not a word: exchanging "acts" for "ask" is not cute either. The problem lies with people who don't know the difference or don't want to. Are you saying that people are incapable of noticing the difference and are unable to adhere to certain basic tenets of the greater society? Sure there's always been a segment of the population that speaks broken English: in the 70's it was "jive" now it's Ebonics. Either way it's a huge disservice to make excuses for its use. When people were enslaved and murdered for trying to read, speech patterns would have reflected a certain deficiency. There is simply NO EXCUSE for it to be that way TODAY. If you want to make excuses and lower the set of standards for Blacks that's on you, but I won't!

Khadija said...

Hello there, Faith!

You said, "There is a standard for spoken English and to pretend otherwise is foolish if one wants to be taken seriously.

...If one wants to move beyond $7/hr jobs and being marginalized then stepping up one's game is absolutely necessary."


Our often knee-jerk response of defending and lifting up inferior things is killing us. Broken English, Ebonics, "jive," or whatever one wants to call it, is NOT cute. It's life-damaging when used in inappropriate settings. It's life-damaging when the speaker does not know, and cannot switch to, Standard English.

If people want to feel like they are defending and lifting up "Blackness," then they should promote the study of REAL African, ancestral languages. NOT slavery-derived dialects.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.