To Raise Successful Black Kids, You Have to Teach Them Black English

By NICK CHILES

If you stumble into my home on many a night, you might come across an unusual sight: me trying vainly to teach my daughters how to speak English wrong.

Well, perhaps “wrong” is the wrong word. I’ve read and written enough about black English over the years to refrain from calling it “wrong”—but that’s certainly the way my 13-year-old daughter looks at it.

A typical exchange in my home:

Me: Mari, repeat after me, ‘Why you ain’t goin’?’

Mari: Why aren’t you going?

Me: No, you’re saying it wrong.

Mari: But Daddy, I don’t understand why I need to learn to say it wrong!

My wife Denene and I giggle and shake our heads as I search for an explanation that will make sense to her.

This is a tableau that I’m sure is repeated in middle-class households throughout the black community. As we endeavor to raise fabulous, well-rounded, well-educated black children, many of us have moved into communities that we deem safe and secure, with great schools and plenty of enrichment opportunities. I don’t think I’d be shocking you by saying that most of these communities tend not to contain large African-American populations. As a result, we find our children growing up in communities where they don’t hear much of the language and vernacular that many of us grew up hearing.

In other words, they don’t know nuthin’ ’bout black English.

And though some may disagree, in my mind this is not a good thing.

The usefulness of black English is a subject that has been studied for years by academia. In fact, I did my senior essay at Yale—the senior essay was a requirement for my bachelor’s in psychology—on the contextual utility of black English. The black community has long used language as a method of establishing membership, familiarity—a way of excluding those who can’t use it the way we use it. Educated blacks become adept at code switching—using the language in one way to talk to friends, family, casual acquaintances in the black community, and another way to talk to co-workers and in professional settings. In other words, to talk to white people. During my college studies, I learned how much of the words and language usage in black English can be traced directly to the languages of West Africa that our ancestors brought over during the slave trade and incorporated into the English they had to learn to communicate with each other.

When other blacks are unable to code switch, don’t have any comfort with black English, it doesn’t mean that they are bad people—but it does tell us they likely didn’t grow up around many African Americans. We may bristle at the ignorance that we believe is rampant when black kids accuse each other of sounding “white,” but we can’t deny that this thinking is still very much alive in our community—and most of us have to admit that we’ve thought negatively on occasion when we came across an African American who stiffly seemed unable to code switch.

Barack Obama used black English very subtly and effectively during the 2008 campaign and in the years since to tell black people that he is one of us. Some people have called it patronizing, but it is something that everyone does, particularly politicians. Latinos speak differently to other Latinos than they do to non-Latinos—as do Italians and Jews and Chinese. There are words, gestures, idioms, slang, that instantly signal you are an insider, not an outsider. Anyone who has traveled the world knows that in some places, this may even get you a lower price on retail goods or a better deal for a piece of real estate.

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. (Incidentally, for some reason the 10-year-old takes to the lessons more naturally, the black English flowing smoothly from her lips like she spent her prior life strutting around the housing projects of East New York or the South Side of Chicago. We do not know how to explain this.)

I know they’re not likely to get these lessons at school, since they are both surrounded by mostly white and upper middle class black kids. I don’t expect that Denene and I will be bringing them into the hood much over the next seven years for them to develop a comfort with black English by osmosis. So that means the task, if it’s going to happen, falls to their parents.

Raising successful black kids in the new millennium puts you in some weird, amusing positions. This is not the kind of stuff you are likely to find in a child development textbook. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. After all, that’s why MyBrownBaby is here, to deal with all of that stuff outside of the textbooks.

(I’m tempted here to close with some cute, pithy bit of black English, but I will resist.)

How have you handled this issue in your own home? We’d love to hear your stories.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

94 Comments

  1. We live in Minneapolis but my 10 year old daughter spends her summers in Milwaukee and Jackson, MS to get yearly immersion in this and other black cultural touch points she just doesn’t get at home. She can understand black English but I don’t plan to go as far as teaching her to speak that way. This just seems like too much.

    • I don’t give a bleep about black, white, yellow, or brown culture and preserving any of it. Get used to the thought that your kids or grandchildren race and culture mixing. Your culture will vanish like all others. My race will win. My dad was a race mixer and so am I. My son is not taught how to talk like Mayans, native Americans, Germans, Irish, Gypsie (India), and what ever else we are. Maybe your child doesn’t want to hangout with blacks. Maybe they want to hang with Nerds, athletes, or musicians. Sounds like their minds are prepared for what you are not. A raceless world. Does that scare you? Are you going to argue that their friends are not black enough. Face it. Your race is being bred out, because love and attraction are stronger than racist ideals. Peace!

  2. While I can appreciate what you’re saying on some level, I think this is a ridiculous article. Saying that “code-switching” is something that a successful, well-rounded black kid needs to function in the world is pretty ridiculous. As a black person who grew up in a severely white, non-diverse environment…the only black people I was around were my own family members. They could “code-switch” and I could not. I still don’t think I can effectively. And the fact that other blacks don’t feel comfortable with me because of that is ludicrous. It’s just another thing that separates us from each other. I prefer to not be ignorant and that’s what we should teach our children. Using language that is grammatically incorrect is not cute, cool, awesome…or even something we should be aspiring to do effectively. {And don’t get me wrong, I’m grammatically incorrect ALL. OF. THE. TIME. but never on purpose in hopes to make someone trust me or know that I’m “down”.}. It’s things like this that make me really pretty sick of black culture. Let’s teach our kids to be productive members of society and not focus on how to make those who “are not” {productive} our friends.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      So, there are a whole lot of assumptions you’re making here about people who do not speak “proper” English. I’m particularly taken aback by your suggestion that somehow a black person who uses improper grammar is “not productive.” I beg to differ. My father, a southern black man with limited education, is most certainly productive—one of the hardest working men I know, even at age 78. He did not go to Yale and his grammar is not perfect, but he is FAR from “ignorant.” I’d venture to say that he’s definitely smart enough not to pass judgement on others because they do not fit neatly into the boxes society ascribes them to, and pretty effing brilliant to have raised a child who is successful, has a firm command of the English language and can code-switch with the best of them.

      • Congratulations for your father. And congratulations for everyone else who doesn’t fit under the general assumption about stereotypes. The problem is that IN THIS DAY AND AGE, trying to fit in and be cool with people who can’t speak properly {think 40’s and below} only perpetuates all of the stereotypes that other people label us with. I work my ass off to not be judged based on people who don’t reflect me, but it’s people who teach their kids that it’s okay to be this way that make the struggle THAT much harder. And we wonder why we have so many criminals, unwed parents, and people unwilling to change their circumstances to make their futures a bit brighter. I’m not saying that you or your kids are those people…I’m saying that the people that you’re trying to hobnob with by dumbing yourself down {for the most part…in this day and age…with this lazy mentality} are not people we should even be trying to surround ourselves with. Let’s raise some standards here. Matter of fact, let’s GET some standards for our children. And yes, I’m making a lot of assumptions and generalizations…because for the most part, they are true.

        • Denene@MyBrownBaby

          Well, I thought for sure that perhaps you would have understood how elitist and insulting you were being in that first comment. Alas, your second comment clarifies that you do not. I’m happy to let your ugly words, stereotypes and deep misunderstanding of the subject stand, though. You have the right to your surface thinking. I guess. But it’s probably best you watch the way you speak of my father.

          • Elistist? okay. Insulting? sure. But I didn’t say anything ill of your father.

            kthx

          • Denene@MyBrownBaby

            kerANDuh,

            I neglected to mention that in addition to AAVE, I’m fluent in snob. I know that “congratulations”—replete with the silent slow clap—is right at the line of insult. I’m not going to turn this into a stupid e-fight on semantics, though. You’ve got your position. Clearly, I have mine. So as the owner of this here website, consider this conversation deaded. (That’s AAVE for, “Over.” Just in case you didn’t know.)

  3. I love this. I like to see other Black people have an appreciation of Black vernacular English. Typically, people write it off as “ebonics” and ignorance without considering the history behind it. Like many of our cultural qualities, it is an African retention. People need to study and learn their history. *takes off African American studies cap and walks out*

    • I am African – Nigerian to be precise, grew up in Lagos till I was in my mid-20s, and I can assure you that “ebonics” has nothing to do with African culture. It was based on folks not learning European English properly. Most Africans learn British English and those who don’t learn it properly speak ‘Pidgin’ or broken English – we all strive to speak proper English (even if we have accents) as a sign of good education, while maintaining our culture in many ways, including speaking our local languages. Noone is taught broken English/ebonics on purpose to mingle with whoever. I think this article displays how far African-Americans have to go to get the identities ripped away from them when they were taken away from Africa. *takes off African headgear and walks out*

      • Denene@MyBrownBaby

        So wait: let me get this straight. You are proudly trumpeting the fact that what you consider “proper” is the language of a country that raped your land, your women, your culture, your language—leaving you with next to nothing? And yet, you throw this in our face as a sign of your “proper” education? For real? The language and culture that Africans—yes, AFRICANS—created when we were brought here was something that we were forced to create in order to communicate with each other, and of course, there would be remnants of our native tongue in that which we forged in this new land. Your argument about “proper English” is something that “educated” African Americans adjudicated about 30 or 40 years ago. So who has some catching up to do? Seriously, pick up a linguistics book, then get back at us.

      • “It was based on folks not learning European English properly.”
        French is a result of people not learning Latin properly. Shall we dispense with “pidgin” Latin?

      • That was cute.

        Look up African American Vernacular English and then come talk to me before you ride in on your “blacker than thou” high horse, mkay?

  4. While I appreciate your intentions, “teaching” African-American Language (AAL) to enable your daughter to code switch misses the point. It would be a different animal entirely if she were born to a household where it was a natural way of communicating and you were teaching her to code-switch between her AAL and Mainstream American English (MAE) worlds. But to actually go out of your way to TEACH her instead of perhaps, EXPOSE ( as in sending her to her country cousins in the summer time), seems forced, unnecessary and reaching. Culture, in whatever form, should never be forced. Culture by its very nature is the opposite.

    My sister and I spent many a summer in Henderson County, Texas and the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff with cousins who loved to hear the “Valley Girls” talk. We loved to hear our “KUNTRY” cousins speak also. Inevitably, by the end of those summers, we all learned something in the linguistic department. We were neither more “down” for the experience, and they weren’t anymore sophisticated. We were just us. Who by the way are now ALL college graduates with degrees from a B.A, to a J.D., to a Ph.D.

    *Denene and Nick…do ya thang, but just know that two weeks traveling Italy awaits the two of you if you send the little one to Aunt Lily or Auntie Pat in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana!! :)

    One more thing, to those who are “sick” of Black culture. Black culture is not “ignorant.” AAL is not “ignorant.” What’s ignorant? People who spout off about Black culture and AAL without researching first.

  5. I am on the fence with this one. We currently live in an area that is only 10% black and we usually do not even hang out with those 10%. However, my children get the benefit of hearing code switching by simply hearing my husband and I speak to one another, their grandparents, and our black friends that come and visit us that live in other places. They also here “proper” English at home as well as at school and their non-minority peers. I think that it will be innate with them as it is with me. I also think that the poster who thinks that “black vernacular” is synonymous with ignorant it’s not. Here’s a quick primer on it http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/black_vernacular.html ; note that a lot of words and phrases used in contemporary culture have originated in “black speech”.

    I think that more black youth who do not have access to “proper English” need code switching lessons to be able to communicate in the larger/dominant culture more than those inside the dominant culture need the reverse, though. And that’s just a function of being in the minority culture. Not being able to code switch into “black English” isn’t going to hamper you from getting a job, but the reverse just might.

  6. I understand where you are coming from and I too want my daughter to be comfortable in the black community. However, I am able to take a different approach to making that happen. We are able to go to church in the central city which exposes her to directly to more black culture and more social-economic diversity than we get in our neighborhood. We also use summer experiences to broaden her horizons beyond our sanitized suburban community – which don’t get me wrong, we all enjoy. I will throw out a bigger concern for me. I realized that the music that she is gravitating to is not the music of black America. TV, school, her friends all showcase white artists. I realized that because I don’t care for much of today’s popular black music she isn’t hearing it all at. What music you like is another one of our “codes” for being one of us and I am not quite sure how I am going to help fix that one!

  7. I hadn’t ever heard the term “code-switching”, but it was enlightening to me to read about this. My husband (Latino) and I (white) both went to a Houston high school with a very diverse population in terms of race and wealth, and absolutely, you spoke a certain way to Latinos, a different way when you were hanging out with your black friends, and an entirely different way when you were hanging out in your AP English class (which included mostly whites, but some Asians, Latinos, and black kids). The same code-switching has served me well as a civil rights attorney who has to deal with people from all walks of life and populations. If you can talk the talk, you are immediately “on their side” as opposed to just some white attorney. And I use it with my own family members. My father was raised poor and Southern…if I don’t infuse my language with enough Southern inflections, I’m deemed uppity. I’ve found that using a very Southern folksy speech pattern seems to garner more agreement from older white male attorneys (the old honey and flies adage) in the smallish Texas city where I now practice. I never encountered this while working in Houston. I don’t know that I would go so far as to actively try to teach my children certain speech patterns (I barely have time for kindergarten homework), but I definitely think it is important to expose them to different populations so they can learn that people speak differently and hopefully use that to their advantage in the future.

  8. Great article. I intentionally speak in vernacular at home, even though my husband does not so that my daughter can be familiar with the speech patterns. (He can code switch though. His calls to get a spot at the barbershop have earned him the nickname, Street Talk Ken.) We were having a similar conversation with our daughter this weekend about the football games on the other side of town. We feel like we have to supervise (and not drop her off) because she doesn’t know how to navigate social situations that cross race and class. We were trying to explain this to her, but we don’t think she totally understood. This is an ongoing conversation that we hope will be resolved by the time she leaves our house. And I completely understand Nancy’s comment about the music. My daughter has One Direction posters all over her wall, and while it bothers me to see all those white images looking back at me on her wall, I would rather that than the hypersexualized images in most popular Black music. It ain’t easy being a black parent, I tell ya.

  9. I’m usually on board with a lot of MyBrownBaby articles, but this one is asinine. I’m 31 years old and I have not ever felt the need to ‘code-switch’.
    This is not a necessary skill that African American people need to have.
    I was raised with an appreciation and respect for the English language, as my Mother was an English teacher. Speaking English incorrectly was a ‘Don’t’ in my home. I don’t know a myriad of slang or colloquialisms and it hasn’t hindered me in any way, professionally or personally.

    • Wow, “asinine,” really AddieNYC? I think from the tenor of the other comments here, you see that this topic is hardly “asinine.” You may disagree with the concept, but I think you should at least be able to understand that many well-educated black folks who want to raise successful, well-rounded children believe this is an important issue. And let me just say to you that because you can’t code-switch and believe the idea is “asinine,” you would never be aware of the benefits that would flow to you if you could. The better rate from the black plumber because he enjoyed talking to you. The extra hookup from the black mechanic who loved that you kept it real with him. This kind of stuff happens to black people all the time. But you probably don’t know anything about that, because you are not seen as an insider. Grown folks won’t necessarily attack you or say you are “acting white” like the kiddies might do, but there are many experiences and relationships you will likely miss out on—I believe experiences and relationships that make you a better person. But that’s just me.

      • Yes, and that is my opinion.

        I think it is extremely silly to think that to be successful you must teach a child to speak incorrectly or even that as an adult you have to ‘code-switch’ to be successful or that you will suffer from a lack of real experiences or relationships. It is certainly something that I will not be teaching my own daughter, and honestly I’ve never heard anyone consider the lack of ability to ‘code-switch’ an impediment to anything.

        And isn’t ‘keeping it real’ about being true to yourself? Why would I artificially have to change the way I speak to do that? I’ve had many opportunities afforded to be because of who I am, not how I speak.
        I am also not aware of any experiences I missed out on because of the way I speak. I’ve never had a problem fitting in with anyone based on such a superficial aspect as type of speech.

        However, for those that have, wouldn’t it be a more valuable lesson to teach tolerance and acceptance of others? There are much better lessons to be taught than to ‘un-learn’ English.

        • Denene@MyBrownBaby

          Addienyc,

          You have the right to your opinion, and of course to raise your child as you see fit. But I would really appreciate it if you understood that Nick and I have the right to do the same—without being called “assinine” and “silly” for the way we view this particular topic. There is a way to make your point—as evidenced throughout this comment thread—without insulting us. That’s all I’m asking. Be respectful.

          • I am in no way insulting anyone!
            I NEVER said that either Nick or yourself were asinine or silly.
            I stated that I thought the idea was. There IS a difference. I believe everyone has the right to raise their children the way the see fit. I was simply stating my opinion of the article.
            Like I said, I enjoy MyBrownBaby and all its contributors, I’m not about to go insulting the authors because I disagree with their topics. I was discussing the article contents and the general idea of it.

      • This is HILARIOUS. The thought that you get benefits because you can “code-switch”? HONESTLY?

        I get hooked up ALL. THE. TIME. simply because I’m a nice person who is appreciative of whomever is working on whatever problem I have at the moment. Humility, gratitude, and a little grace get you a lot in this world. Race and being able to code-switch? NAHSOMUCH, friend. It has NOT A THING to do with being black. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE understand the things you say before you write them. You are coming off a LOT more ignorant than I’m sure you intended to in this comment.

  10. Interesting article and one that I have had in my head to write for a long time. Although we don’t give lessons at my house, I do agree that our kids need to be able to code switch – and mine do not. I grew up in an environment similar to my children have now (predominately white and/or middle – upper class black), but I was also also my extended family often and their neighbors and friends, so that exposed me to all kinds of people. For various reasons my kids do not have the same exposure. I do “worry” that they will be uncomfortable in certain black environments and I do need to make more of an effort to put them in those situations, if just shopping and eating in places that are more diverse.

  11. No, I can’t go along with this approach. My little one might pick it up along the way but we are not going to teach “black English”. I myself grew up in a very elite private grammar school and high school. However I lived in a African American community south side of Chicago. There was no need for me to adjust my communication style to fit in with “my people”. In fact, I look at it as an opportunity for kids who don’t speak English well to learn from peers that do. Not the other way around. Now I’m sure my husband and I unknowingly expose our child to black English from time to time, and I know she hears it within in our church and other group settings, but not going down the formalized lesson route within the home.

  12. I hear you, but code-switching is about more than simply the words, it’s about the experience. My husband and I typically speak proper English, but sometimes we speak Black English… when we’re joking around or listening to old school hip-hop or sometimes when my kids are getting on my last nerve, black english comes out. Also, my kids hear it when they are around their grandparents and cousins. I mean, I get that ya’ll have moved on up, but ya’ll don’t have no Black English speaking folks in your family?? Having ‘lessons’ is a little much, but if that’s what you have to do, I guess. My two cents…if you are having to resort to lessons your kids MIGHT not be having the most well-rounded experience. No disrespect, just something to think about. Maybe some volunteer opportunities or an in the hood church or something? Jus’ sayin’…..

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Sapphire,

      Please don’t worry: these children are getting more diverse experiences than Nick and I ever dreamed possible for our kids. They are brilliant black children being raised by two brilliant African American parents who attend black Baptist churches, have them on diverse athletic teams, surround them with the music and culture of our people and work hard to make sure they are PROUD of who they are—the rich stock from which they are born. We got this.

  13. Very interesting. I hope you’ll respond to this. Denene knows me (I’ve written three articles for this website); I’m an adoptive mom of two girls. I’m white, my girls are black. In our case, what do you suggest on the topic of black English? They will perhaps hear/learn some black English from other blacks they are around; however, the majority of the time, like your kids, they are hearing “standard” English. I agree that code-switching is one way black kids assimilate into black culture (speaking the language of their peers), but if their peers are people in their same boat (middle-class, educated), is it necessary to make others feel “safe” (others who use black English) by using black English? I’d really love to get some input on this! (We do, before anyone comments, work very hard to incorporate both black AND white culture, plus our class culture, spiritual culture, etc., into our lives. We live/work in a diverse area, my girls have two black female mentors, we do their hair well, we go to cultural festivals, read books about black heroes, etc. I’m questioning if teaching my kids black English (as if I really even know it…..) is going too far). Thanks!

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Rachel,

      I implore you to look at this article, by Kat Robertson, a blog friend of mine who wrote a response post to Nick’s piece. It is absolutely brilliant—and so full of insight and wisdom from a white mother raising bi-racial children. I encourage you to take a look; she answers a lot of the questions you have in a very meaningful, poignant, emotional mom way.

      http://iheart7.com/2012/10/what-do-you-mean-talk-black-lets-discuss-black-english/comment-page-1/#comment-68398

      • Thanks for the recommendation. It was a fab read.

        Something that just came to mind….when White people try to sound Black in order to assimilate into Black culture (with Black friends, for example). Like when a White person says, “Girl,…….” or “Oh no you didn’t.” (Which I’m guilty of doing with my own daughters, not necessarily with Black adults or other Black children).

        Here’s a personal example, I took my daughter to a birthday party a few weeks ago. I was the only White person at the party (besides one other—a little girl whose parents dropped her off). Some of the party girl’s family members were asking me, “Where you stay?” Since we have other Black friends who speak AAVE, I knew that the question was asking me where I live. In this case, being somewhat familiar with AAVE helped me in this social situation. I didn’t have to blink at them (clueless) or ask what “Where you stay?” meant. So now, I can see how teaching our children AAVE can benefit them.

        I am very aware that my children will always have a slight disadvantage in life because there were adopted (ding number one) and because there were adopted transracially (ding number two). Anything I can do to help them fit in with either race, White or Black, will benefit them. We are no longer a White family now that we have the girls. We are this White/Black or Black/White family who has to figure out how to navigate life being somewhat stuck between races, part of two races, and not really part of either race. It’s quite interesting.

        Thank you for writing this article! I love thinking about these things and becoming a better mommy to my girls. <3

  14. I’m also sad that “white” is an insult used among blacks to insult “intelligent” blacks. I had one black student write a paper on how she’s called “Oreo” by her black neighbors for going to college and enjoying reading. :( Why is being white a synonym for being smart? Why isn’t it ok in some black neighborhoods/areas for fellow blacks to enjoy reading, do well in school, etc? I felt terrible for my student, who clearly had such promise, because she was being bullied for furthering her education. Am I dumbing my kids down somehow by teaching them to speak in a manner that we truly don’t feel is appropriate for THEM (after all, I’m an English teacher! and most people in our area do not speak black English, even blacks).

  15. I read through a few of the comments. Not sure if anyone touched on this subject, but in Sweden they do not have their own language. They had to take an old broken German language in order to inherit their own. I say this to make a point that it is funny how a country like Sweden, with some of the smartest people in the world can use a broken language and it appears perfectly OK. While here in America, Black American’s and even some Black Caribbeans can use broken English and it appears to be an insult to the race or the culture. It is a culture, a way to relate, not a negation on the people. Even families have their own dialect. Thanks for the topic Nick.

    • Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, a member of the Germanic language family. AAVE is a pidgin and an impediment to Black progress. The sooner we all speak the same language, the sooner Blacks will make economic progress.

  16. From what I know of linguistics, which is not a lot but is also not nothing, I don’t think you can really teach this dialect. You have to model it, and the children will learn from the context. So you and your wife would have to consistently speak this way, and your children would pick it up. And it would help if they were around other people, maybe some other kids, who spoke this way more naturally- naturally, meaning, kids whose entire families and the majority of their peer groups speak using African American Vernacular English (AAVE). But I wholly appreciate that you value AAVE- there is alot of scholarship to support its value.

    • Thanks for saying this; it sort of answered what I was asking above. And I agree. I’m not sure I could put some AAVE on flashcards and “teach” it to my girls. Unless they are immersed in an environment which the people consistently use AAVE, I’m pretty sure as a white woman, I’m out of luck on this issue. But, we do plenty of other things to help our children assimilate into black culture (as much as we can)—-and I’m not going to stress over AAVE. I think the language HAS value and I also think that using it doesn’t indicate one’s intelligence (or lack of)—-so I don’t have anything against AAVE. But I’m not going to try to be an AAVE speaking-black girl-wanna be—because that would just be weird. ;)

      • Rachel, I think I agree with your perspective! I think the most important thing as a parent you can do is give your kids who YOU are, while being open and affirming of the other aspects of their identity. If they stumble upon experiences where they pick up AAVE, that will be great; if they grow up unable to code-switch in AAVE, they will still be awesome. Like me: I grew up thickly ensconced in an African American family and community, but cannot code-switch to AAVE. Reasons are a combination of my mom (AA but not an AAVE speaker), and going to school outside of my community. I’m still successful and able to relate to my family and AA friends!

        • I also wonder who my children will befriend and date in the future. Right now my girls are young (almost 4 and almost 2) and could care less how people look (though they DO notice color, they don’t seem to make choices based upon someone’s skin color). If they live in this community their whole childhood, where there is some racial diversity, but almost everyone is middle class and AAVE is not common (though it may be more common in private conversations, such as those among family members, but less common in places such as work or school), will they encounter many if any struggles with not speaking AAVE? There are also many adoptive families in our area (mostly Black and Asian adoptions)—-so I think many families will be in the same boat we are as far as language, code-switching, etc. This is fine for now, but what about when they go off to college or get a job elsewhere? Will they befriend only those who speak like them (Black, White, or both) because they can’t fit in with some Blacks who use AAVE? What about dating? I never want to limit my children’s opportunities in life. I don’t want them to be seen as OREO or weird or whatever because they can’t speak like some of their future peers. This is me thinking as a type, so def not organized. :) Again, as I talked about in response to D’s post, my kids will always have some disadvantage because their parents are White. There’s no way around it, even when we do everything we can to give them what they need in life to fit in with other Blacks.

          • I’ve seen people go through this from all angles, including biracial family members. Believe me, your kids will work it out. The only thing that causes pain is having one’s identity experiences ignored or treated negatively, which happens ALOT, actually. Being taught to value all aspects of self, and others cultures as well, is the best foundation. They will work out the inevitable anxieties that will occur. But keep in mind our world is changing- the context that people my age (38 and ish) experienced with biraciality/transracial adoption will be way different than people growing up today, when there are way more people with “mixed” backgrounds. People are more vocal about these experiences too, so those of us who are not in mixed families are going to be exposed and hopefully, more considerate of people with more fluid identities.

  17. I agree with you Nick. Not only for exposing them, but also for teaching that one way of speaking is not better than the other.

    Also, President Obama greeted Yolanda Adams Morning show the other day with “I’m blessed and highly favored”. You won’t hear him say that on national news, but for most of Black media this means…’he’s in’!

  18. This is indeed an intersting topic. My hubby and I debated this in our household when I refused to have our girls (4 and 8) learn anything besides “proper” standard English. Hubby pointed out that the American English language is a broken language as well as it’s origins are European based and so many of the words we use are adapted as language evolves. We reached a happy medium when we agreed to teach them standard American English and introduced them to slang with a special quote from one Special Ed: “I speak slang, but it’s just the dialect that I select when I hang.” Now our girls are fully immersed in the Jamaican patois of their mom’s side, southern vernacular of dad’s side and the slang spoken on the streets of BK and the BX where mom/dad grew up on the block. It’s hilarious to hear their attempts, but I’m glad we reached a happy medium.

  19. I’ve already responded once, but wanted to add the point that I don’t look at it as an insult to the race if someone is speaking Black English. But I don’t think it has to be taught to raise successful Black children as the title suggests. My goal for my child is with the approach and understanding that we are still a minority is the country and to be successful in many arenas as an adult we have to adjust to settings such as corporate America, higher education, etc where Black English will not fly. So, for my little one, I know she’ll receive the influence of Black English naturally, but I’m trying to prepare her for school and leadership sucesss at every possible level in her future no matter what her goals may be. To me that means emphasizing what is considered “proper English” because unfortunately we still have to conform to the majority standard to be accepted in so many ways. Doesn’t mean it right but it’s the reality.

  20. BTW I wonder if this article was prompted by the new book out, “Articulate While Black”, by H. Samy Alim. This book focuses on Obama but more as an example of Nick’s broad point- the value of code-switching. In a recent appearance on MSNBC’s The Cycle, Alim made the point that the ability to diversify how you speak and to which audiences is going to have increasing significance as US demographics shift- not just AAVE, but being culturally and linguistically flexible is going to start to be essential to being a more successful American. The book is a great read, I got it off of Amazon.

  21. I spent the better part of the day thinking long and hard about how this applies to our kids… and then writing about my perspective on my own blog. I just want to say that I have always held it as one of the highest priorities in parenting my children to preserve their culture, even as unique complicated as their family situation may be, crossing the racial divide.

    It’s often difficult for multicultural children to figure out how to identify, but I believe it to be a parent’s responsibility to keep all aspects of the child’s cultural “makeup” intact while also exposing them to as much information, background, and diversity as possible so that they have all the tools they need to find themselves.

    I was initially going to say, Nick, that I don’t believe any of this can be taught without personal experience so it’s not a table-top lesson, but after reviewing the comments I see that you and Denene both have already acknowledged this addressed the fact that your family has this covered :) So all in all, I completely agree and I just wanted to comment and say THANKS for giving me something to think about.

    Even if I ended up disagreeing (which I didn’t), I always enjoy any article that forces me to consider the way things affect my children socially and/or culturally and how I can continue to improve on their life experience as it relates to how WE do or do not expose them to various things :)

  22. Hilarious!! My friend Jemal has taken it upon himself to school my daughter. For example, he taught her that if she loses something, like say a pencil, she should scowl her face and say “Where my pencil at? Oh, dere it go” . She actually practices, and it is hysterical. She still comes off sounding like Carlton from “Fresh Prince”. In all seriousness though, I absolutely agree with you, and think being able to code switch is an invaluable tool. If my daughter can’t speak it, I at least want her to be able to understand it.

  23. I would love to read your thesis. I never thought of teaching my son to code-switch because I thought he would pick it up from being in the room with us during casual conversations, but further teaching would help. I just commented to my husband the other day that we (Black Americans) don’t seem to be proud of ourselves. We need to be proud of our color, our culture, and most definitely the way we speak. Code-switching is something that we as a people have done to survive and to find comfort in a often cold world. I want my son to embrace all of Black culture and to love it. Thanks for your words here. If no one else benefited, then I did. Much love.

  24. This was difficult for me not to call it outright racist, and accuse the author of furthering negative stereotypes in her own children, but i read on. On one hand, I personally understand what she was saying in relation to the “code switching” I grew up near the housing projects in a little town in North East, Ohio. All of my friends were pretty evenly mixed racially, and most them spoke what i guess is now being called “Black English” I was required to learn how to speak this way in order to fit in. I made a lot of very good friends, and remember the housing projects as the safest place in the city. On the other hand, i do not believe that “Black English” is something that can really be taught. I believe that it is something that is lived and earned in gatherings of family and friends. This is not the world of 20 years ago. Information and understanding of one another is spreading at an incredible rate. Racial and religious lines are blurring as acceptance of all people as a whole broadens with the fact that all races and religions are in every home, constantly. A black child who was TAUGHT black english would sound like the nerdy white guy calling someone a jive turkey. Language of this sort is lived, and in my opinion, can not be taught.

  25. Too tired to write a lengthy reply but I love this. I am a Black woman from Chicago raising a kid in Maine of all places, so this is something I think about often. I am sorry, but unlike many commenters here, I think there is a huge value in being able to code switch. The examples given of President Obama are a perfect example.

  26. I grew up on the South side of Chicago, in a Black family and I attended private school in a diverse but predominantly white environment. I speak and write grammatically correct English pretty much 100% of the time and I find your premise to be amusingly absurd. I’ve had other Black people say to me, “You don’t have to use your professional voice with me.” Well, please don’t make assumptions – that’s not my “professional” voice, per se, that’s just my voice and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way I speak. I understand the “code switching” and for those who either need or want to do this, whatever their reasons, that’s fine. But furthering the notion that Black people who don’t speak “Black English” (I despise this term, by the way) aren’t “down” or are somehow having a less authentic Black experience is ridiculous. The fact that you present it to your children in this fashion only perpetuates the problem. I’ve had other Black people say that I sound “white”. When I was younger, it bothered me somewhat. Now, I take it for what it is – foolishness. I’m Black and this is the way I speak – so the way I speak is clearly representational of how Black people speak. (I’m 47, by the way.) What it’s not is reflective of the stereotype that’s come to represent how Black people are perceived. That issue is yours and I refuse to embrace it – not now, not ever. Moreover, the last thing I will ever do is feel like an outsider to my cultural experience as a Black woman. My Black experience – how I speak, the music I listen to, the activities I enjoy (yup, I’m also one of those Black people who skis, swims and plays golf!) – is as authentically Black as anyone else’s and how dare you try to characterize it otherwise.

    • Wow, Camilla Hudson, a bit defensive are we? You took this post to a whole other place. Where did you read anyone saying that black people who ski and swim and play golf are less black? In fact, I think my point in this post was QUITE THE OPPOSITE! I was implying that because my children—who I have brought out on the golf course with me, and who are not only strong swimmers but have swum competitively—are being raised in a predominantly white school and neighborhood, we have to be purposeful about trying to make sure they are steeped in black culture, language and vernacular as much as possible. And we want this for them because we believe in the value of code switching for them to feel comfortable around all different kinds of black people, and for those people to feel comfortable around them. We think this comfort and sense of ease around their people will contribute to their professional and personal “success” when they get older. (And guess what—I golf and swim AND code-switch! Amazing, isn’t it?) But if you choose not to code-switch, that is certainly your right. Doesn’t mean you are any less black—but it does mean you may not be viewed as a kindred spirit by other black folks. They may think you are the most talented, witty, competent black person they’ve ever met—but wouldn’t necessarily want to invite you over to their house for a game of Spades or a weekend barbecue because they might feel (rightly or wrongly) your presence will change the nature of the gathering. It sounds to me from your sensitivity on this issue that you might have already been passed over for that game of Spades and you’re still bitter about it.
      I am too old (I am also 47) and too evolved as a Negro in America to presume that there is only one authentic form of blackness. Even writing that last sentence felt a bit old and tired to me. But you are truly tilting at windmills if you’re going to rage at black folks for using language and vernacular as a way of showing group membership. It’s never going to change. Nor should it. As many others have expressed here, it’s something that’s done in every culture around the world. Why should African Americans be any different? If you don’t want to sign up for this particular program, you are certainly entitled to live the life you so desire. But just understand that there will always be a group of black folks who may not feel entirely comfortable around you. And it has nothing to do with skiing.

    • Unfortunately, you will be seen as non-relatable and an outsider, someone who needs White validation; it surfaces throughout your entire post. I tend to find that comments such as yours reflect internalized racism and are usually ignorant on how Black English came about. There is no correct way to speak English; it’s spoken differently everywhere.

  27. As a biracial (Latina/white) adoptive parent of an amazing, strong, smart and beautiful young black boy nearly three years old. I think about this often. I know what it’s like to look a certain way but not be able to fully fit in one spot or another. I want this for my son. I have friends that easily flow in black English and white accepted English and I envy this gift. I know that one day, hopefully many years from now when he is equipped to handle the ridicule, it will come. I can only hope that the work we do as parents will bring him confidence and ease to fit in wherever he desires.

  28. It’s so disheartening to read that folks do not value AAVE, and the place it has in the lives of black people. Being black is not just about the color of your skin; blackness is a culture. Culture requires that many people agree on certain norms and behaviors, and AAVE is a part of black culture. If you do not speak it, you are missing out on an important cultural tie that binds our community together. It is also completely incorrect to state that AAVE is somehow not “correct” English. AAVE is more grammatically sane than Standard English. And Standard English is just that – standard, placed on a pedestal above other dialects due to those in positions of power saying so. Being able to code-switch is a highly documented skill that researchers have time and time again proven the value of.

    I am intrigued by the thought of teaching it to our children if they are not already exposed and learning. I don’t really know if I can do it; AAVE comes naturally to me, because I grew up in a predominantly black urban neighborhood on the East Coast, very unlike what my kids are exposed to where we live where less than 2% of the population is black. I personally will be moving somewhere else much more diverse for these exact reasons – I want black culture to be natural to my children, not something that has to be taught. (I’m in grad school right now, so it’s not possible.) But my kids are still young, so I think I have some time. They also spend every summer in Philadelphia where I grew up. I also speak AAVE at home constantly – but it’s not conscious, just what I slip into when I’m confortable. No matter how much I speak it though, it’s not natural to them unless they are immersed in it with folks other than me. Because you can’t really teach culture; it will come across as stilted and inauthentic. Right now, I’m focused on creating people who can relate to many experiences and are good people, and hope that when we move to a place where black people are more prevalent, the culture will be transmitted how it was meant to be – through oral tradition.

    • You are right, I blogged about this piece and the fact that everyone code switches to some degree. But the cultural piece is huge, AAVE is a part of Black American culture, I sometimes feel people are ashamed of that culture hence some of the push back from this piece.

  29. I will teach my kids to appreciate AAVE not neccesarily to speak it fluently. I don’t want them to look down on folks who do speak it and I don’t want them to think they are better than someone who does not speak ‘standard’ English. I am from New Orleans which has a language of it’s own. I was fluent in New Orleanese because my friends were, my parents did not speak as if they had been born and raised in New Orleans, even though they were. My husband is a college-educated man from Ghana. He speaks ‘broken’ English to his “mates” he went to school with and it does sound a lot like AAVE. The funny thing is that they only speak this broken English among people who went to primary school and college. My kids growing up in the suburbs of ATL do not speak New Orleanese or broken English from Ghana but they appreciate the sound of both. It is certainly a complicated world we live in now and raising kids in it is no joke!

  30. I am a black man who was adopted by a white family and grew up in Detroit surrounded by black children and there is so much truth to this conversation on language. I am thankful I grew up around kids that looked like me and taught me so many “trade secrets” about black culture that my white family couldn’t teach me, language being one of them. The ability to code switch was and still is empowering to me. The feeling of family and inclusion I receive from being able to “talk the talk” is comforting. I will be honest, since my white family didn’t talk this way it meant really studying and being purposeful but the dividends that I have gained from this unique skill have paid off. The last thing I wanted was to be rejected from the kids who looked like me and I learned early, “when in Rome…” Language is such a rich part of our culture we shouldn’t down play that and the history and amazing way we created this wonderful way to communicate shouldn’t be ignored.

  31. I think there should definitely be some type of cultural education at the home. Not only will children be alienated from many of their peers but also from their parents. They won’t be able to relate to their experiences or even communicate in the same way. My parents are Nigerian but I was born and raised here in America. I had to pick up on “black American” cultural elements on my own and it has definitely help me because now that I’m here it’s part of my identity. My lineage is Igbo but everything about my existence (outside of my name) is shaped by Black American life. There are things I can’t discuss with my parents because the language is not there. No matter how I communicate, some things will be lost in translation. Learning two “languages” has been proven to be more beneficial than just learning one, whether the language is French or Black American English. Thanks for sharing

  32. I’m a black man who grew up poor, in a crime-ridden neighborhood where poor english was spoken. Now I am no longer poor, I live in a suburban neighborhood with a low crime rate and I speak proper english. And I am no less of a black man for it.
    Just as being poor and living in poverty is not the richness of black culture; neither is speaking poor english. Black culture to me is about the closeness of family and sticking together in good and bad times, helping your neighbor, not being afraid of hard work, art, music and dance.

    I am teaching my children to be themselves and not to live their lives trying to fit in. There are people in the black community that I “connect” with and some that I don’t. It’s the same in white and latino communities. But it has nothing to do with whether I say “yo” or “ain’t”. I don’t want my children to act a certain way around black folks and another way around white folks. I want them to shine as the unique individuals that they are.

    While I do not agree with your assertions, if you really want to “teach” your children this way of speaking, the best way is to emulate it. They will naturally speak the way Mom and Dad speak at home.

  33. I always find it telling when people base there worth on those that colonized and enslaved us. Your view of what is proper is based on a skewed assumption. They are not better or more proper, they are different. They hand the money and power, so they set the standards. When we no longer look at ourselves through the lens of the Other that suppressed and oppressed, we will have obtained a true dignity — that is what I call proper. Yes, I code switch. It is inherent. I am rooted to Gullah-geechee, which stems from my ancestors, who were slaves that retained some of their former African language. I consider myself bilingual knowing which tongue to use — sometimes I mixed them, because I have it like that — I am privileged to speak in all worlds. Yes, sometimes I use ain’t. I know when and how to break the grammatical rules and make it art. I am also cognizant my ancestors did not have the choice to study the King’s or Queen’s english, yet they spun metaphors more adept than the masters. Sometimes when I hear my people speak I understand this freshness is still alive and full of soul. Language created off the dome and on the spot. I have these weavers of imaginative language act as chameleons, because we live in more than one world I choose not to demean my ancestors, or others, but embrace the beauty of my African-American walk. If this is not your walk, don’t judge. If you listen like my grandma says, it’ll learn you. I believe obtaining a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry has allowed be to embrace more of the All. Please go back and read or reread W.E.B. Dubois’s “Souls of Black Folk.”

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      ^^THIS RIGHT HERE. ALL. DAY.^^

    • I will never accept this self-destructive attitude. Every ethnic group on earth was colonized or enslaved at some point, but clinging to a painful past only keeps us from a better future.

    • YES! Well spoken with vision clear

    • I agree with much of what you say above, but “Souls of Black Folk” is the wrong reference. W.E.B. was a verbal heavyweight, and ultra-intellectual. I don’t think hw would agree with the author’s perspective, esp. intentionally teaching “black English” to preserve “blackness”. I feel like instead you meant to refer to “The Miseducation of the Negro” – Carter G Woodson. That book is more in alignment with what you point out above.

  34. Dis be duh stupidest articull I is ever read.

  35. Black English! what utter rubbish. It is English that is it!!!!!! if you want your children to be educated in african/black talk why not live in a country that will adhere to this. Black English indeed!

  36. I didn’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if I’m the only white person here or not, but why is it so important for African Americans to speak this so-called “AAL?” I live in the south and have sprinkled my conversations with “ain’t,” “git” and “yonder” (that one even made me shudder) and other bits of southern slang but I would never intentionally teach my children to talk that way no matter who it offended or who thought they weren’t “true southerners.” The whole concept is ridiculous. No matter how well educated a person is or how good they are at their job their speech and appearance can destroy any good impression they might make. One of my African-American coworkers has a college degree but he speaks and writes as if he barely went to school at all. When he speaks it’s always “fount” instead of “found,” “wit” instead of “with,” “dere” instead of “there” and his emails contain mistakes that shouldn’t be tolerated from second graders. He’s a great guy but instead of conveying a professional image he sounds like the janitor.
    Why don’t African Americans expect better of themselves and hold themselves and their children up to higher standards instead of falling into the very stereotypes that racists believe? I may be a southerner but I’m darn well not a redneck and I would bristle at the comparison. You should feel the same about your own negative image and not lower yourselves to it.
    When a white southerner says “I ain’t got no” it’s not a language and only makes the speaker look poorly educated and foolish, so why do you think the color of your skin makes you look any better when you say it?

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Don:

      I KNOW you didn’t just stomp onto this site and, based on a single post that you do not agree with, declare that African Americans do not “expect better of themselves and hold their children up to higher standards” and that we all willingly fall “into the very stereotypes that racists believe.” Generalizations much? Let me be VERY clear: the man who wrote this post, who is my husband, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with a degree from Yale. He has a very firm command of the English language, thank you, but can relax easily with his friends and, in the process, relax said English when he wants to. Many of us can—our daughters included. To even begin to suggest that because your one co-worker uses improper grammar at work means that ALL black people do this and are comfortable with it is to misunderstand every word of the conversation here. Please, don’t let your biases get the best of you in this space; this is NOT the audience for that. I invite you to go back and read the post as well as the comment thread; clearly, what we’re talking about is way over your head.

    • You sound highly ignorant. Many West African languages do not have the *th or nd* cluster or final consonant clusters so it gets replaced with the *t* or *d* sound. What you’ll find is that many Black immigrants (Jamaicans, Africans etc) have these same patterns because there is a difference in language where it concerns English

      Your post in its entirety = PTSS (post traumatic slave syndrome) and you don’t even know it. Too many Blacks are hell bent on getting White approval that they dismiss their own cultural roots.

      Your friend hasn’t mastered WHEN to use code-switching.

      Broken English = AAVE, in addition to other Black immigrants who speak broken English.

      Our dialect/language is only an issue because so many Blacks want White validation, but Latinos (White Latinos specifically), Chinese etc can speak in their own right?

  37. Hello Denene,

    No, I didn’t simply wander onto this web site, I did a Google search of (I believe) “why don’t some African Americans speak correct English?” because of my experience with this coworker and some others. Far from being over my head I understand the issue quite well. It’s not as if I’ve lived in a bubble all my life and this gentleman is the first African American I’ve met; I work with many African Americans now, at my last job I was the only white person, I’ve gone to school with black people all my life, I dated two black women and my best friend (deceased) was black. He was a fantastic person who always spoke correct English and woe to the person who would’ve suggested that he somehow wasn’t “black enough.” I know all that sounds like “Some of my best friends are…” but you seem to imply that it’s racist to ask an obvious question – why would intelligent people use poor grammar and then try to dignify it by calling it a language? Of course all African Americans don’t speak one way any more than white people do and of course there is a difference between speaking one way among friends and another among strangers or in a professional setting but my point is still the same – no one should have to dumb-down their language just to be accepted. My congratulations to your husband for winning the Pulitzer Prize and for graduating from Yale – wonderful and difficult achievements, both, but if he were having an AAL conversation with one of his dumbest friends how would a stranger know which was which? Doesn’t that bother you, him or other African Americans? It should.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Don,

      You’re right: this does sound a lot like, “Some of my best friends are… .” I am not implying that you’re racist for asking a question. I’m implying that you walked into this entire conversation with a clear bias. You work with a man who does not speak, in your opinion, “proper” English. But you didn’t Google, “Why don’t some people speak correct English.” You asked a machine “why don’t some African Americans speak correct English.” (I’ll be my bottom dollar you didn’t include the word “some” in your question, BTW.)

      We live in the deep South, and I’m surrounded by white Americans who butcher the English language like you would not believe. It is not my instinct to assume that because I hear some white people speak improper English—yes, in business settings as well as social—that ALL white people are incapable of speaking in anything other than colloquialism and fractured language. And I certainly wouldn’t assume that they’re dumb because they say, “y’all,” “ain’t,” “git,” and “yonder” in every other sentence. That assessment would come only if the person I was talking to displayed himself to be an idiot. A couple of “ain’ts” and “gits” isn’t enough information for me to make that assumption about one person, let alone an entire race. But that’s me. You may feel differently.

      As for dumbing down the language to be accepted: again, I ask you to go back through the comments section and actually read it. I’ve no interest in rehashing what’s already been said. You’ll find the answers to all of your questions there. And thank you for not telling me and other African Americans what “should” bother us. Clearly, this African American, and many more who expressed their thoughtful opinions on the subject not only here but in college classrooms, books, research and many media outlets, including MyBrownBaby, feel differently than you. Thanks for commenting and asking the questions, though from this side of the screen, they don’t feel as much like questions as they do pronouncements and assumptions.

  38. Ok, you win, I give up. This is like trying to explain the benefits of brushing one’s teeth to an adult who has never seen the need to – both sides think theirs is the obvious position. You can take that from either side you like.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Thanks so much, Don, for your permission to think my own thoughts about your comments. You’re totally awesome for that.

  39. Sean Muhammad

    SO WHAT YOUR SAYING IS MISEDUCATE OUR CHILDREN. Why not educate those around. We did not even speak English when we were stolen from Africa to be used as livestock. This article is what’s wrong. People donot teach your children to use broken English. Even if we construct our own form of communication within our community it sould not be broken English. We already have a form of communication within our community by words having different meanings. Such as that’s dope. Or man , my bag.

  40. Karen Crisalli Winter

    Okay, I’m a white mama chiming in here.

    It is an absolutely vital skill for all children and adults to learn how to code-switch among the various groups of people they are likely to be interacting with. Those who cannot do so are at a significant disadvantage. It’s a form of multi-lingualism, and it goes way beyond AAVE. It also goes beyond verbal language and includes things like body language, personal space, touch, manners, etc.

    I can linguistically move pretty easily among many social classes, as well as through the technical jargon of several professions and a few other micro-cultures. I will always feel most comfortable and natural with educated working-class people, because that is my social background. But I can fake it pretty well in most situations. This means I can function just about anywhere and has been a tremendous advantage in my life.

    Aside from expanding my personal options, I can also serve as translator for people who can’t code-switch. They may be technically speaking the same language, but they certainly can’t understand each other!

    If your ONLY language is upper-class educated english, you are at a social disadvantage. It limits your choices, your movement, and your life in ways that are not obvious to the casual observer. And this is not simply an issue for children of color. This is true for everyone.

    I have, regrettably, not had much opportunity to learn AAVE. I can, for the most part, understand it and I love the music of the language (dialect?). Good luck on teaching it to your kids!

  41. Recently I became interested in the subject of grammar in African American culture, and here’s my two cents:

    To start off, it’s readily apparent that race is a meaningful idea in the general context we live in, of course, but not because it has any intrinsic value in and of itself. To make a simple analogy, race is like paper money. Paper money has no great value in and of itself, but we believe it does because in general it represents an actual material standard value in the form of wealth, like gold or silver or any good. The value in this case, would be Culture.

    With this perspective, I hold the belief that culture is much more important than race, and in an ideal world infinitely so. Here’s an example:

    A Brazilian tourist of the black race visits the US. The simple and understandable reality is that he would be readily identified as a person who possesses an African American culture because of the flawed concept of race as a social identifier, and the setting he is in, though to him having grown up in a Brazilian culture means that he holds different concepts and values about who he is and with whom he identifies. It’s perfectly understandable for that to happen, but I think it is time we should move away from such older concepts, and start improving facets of our cultures so that we can go forward confidently into the future. I come from a Central American country, and out there the concept of racism functions in a different manner, frankly it was a shock for me when I moved to the States and was confronted with the kind of racism that exists here.

    My personal context back there was that growing up, in my school there were kids of all races, some were African American (of Caribbean descent), some were Native American, some showed strong Iberian and Celtic ancestry, some were Asian, and the vast majority was all different manners of mixed races. It didn’t matter to us, and when I go visit and hang out with my friends with Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, Mayan, etc. last names, it still doesn’t matter. What brought us together was our culture, our set of societal values.

    However, at no point do I deny that discrimination exists out there. What I wanted to clarify is that discrimination in that country is not based on race, but on culture. Dark Hispanics as myself are very well integrated into the mainstream, urban culture. However, a person identical to me, but of a lower economic class in general grows up in a different environment with a different culture, and he might face discrimination that has nothing to do with his race. A more notable example, now that I think of it, is any uni-racial caste based system, which would have been easier to use but I’m quite proud of my wall of text now.

    in any case, differences in cultural ideas can lead to (non-violent) conflict which is essential to progress, and for this to happen correctly, in a respectful and efficient manner, the cultures involved need to stay competitive with each other. This makes me think that holding incorrect grammar in the official language of a multi-racial country to be preferable weakens the position of African American culture in the national scope. I understand that it’s part of a very real past though, and have no criticisms of keeping it alive as long as it doesn’t damage that position. The problem, as I see it, were examples as I saw in my high school here in the States where there was no code switching; In those cases AAL ,as has been termed here, was the only language in use by some people and in those cases they were generally given less opportunities as they were (incorrectly in many cases) perceived to have a lower intelligence because of obviously flawed ideas about what intelligence is in the first place.

    I say some people because I think it’s curious to see non-African Americans that emulate the culture, it speaks volumes as to its high value, if only people of other cultures could appreciate the strong and highly valuable principles that African American culture has to offer, and not just the strange grammar and eccentric lifestyles that are shown in mainstream media.

    Well, to be perfectly frank, I just commented because I felt the need to express myself on here. I’m not trying to criticize your advice, just offering my personal perspective on the subject which is that some people do not learn to code switch the other way around in environments like school and it hurts their possibilities in the future.

  42. I just wanted to say, I don’t think it is good to teach children to speak incorrectly; “Black” or otherwise. I won’t make much of an argument other than to say formal Aristotelian logic requires that sentences (and words in sentences) be defined and structured correctly. Both the major and minor premises must be worded correctly to derive a conclusion that is valid. By teaching your children to speak (and think) in sentences that are not structured correctly you may inadvertently cause them to think logically.

    Logic was invented in a dead Greek language. No one is arguing “English” spoken in a certain manner is ‘better’, only that proper grammar is built to purposely derive logical conclusions. If you want your children to think logically – and wonderful skill for this and the next century, please do not teach them to think and speak incorrect grammar. Also, I’d suggest some on-line lessons in formal logic. It’s one of the pillars of human civilization itself.

  43. Blacks should learn to code-switch, if you can’t you may end up being an outsider. So, if you can’t code-switch, you had better show some massive connection to Blacks in other ways. Code-switiching is cultural and it’s a bonding element.

    I’ve seen many many ignorant responses regarding code-switching and Black English.

  44. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I completely agree that this would be a wonderful tool for a young black child. My children go and visit my family in our old neighborhood frequently. The first time they left my mom’s house and walked to the corner store for treats, one of the neighbors saw them, and asked if they were my kids. They replied yes and continued on their way, but before they could return to my mom’s house, they were stopped about twenty times by different people who wanted to “see” them, talk to them, or tell them how much they look or act like me. They don’t call my children by name, they call them, “Dawn’s babies” and though it confuses my kids, it makes me happy because I know that just that little title means that my kids are safe, at home and accepted in my childhood community.
    Our comfort foods, our traditions, and our language are all aspects of communities that we created out of nothing. We developed dishes from leftovers, scraps and wild plants that are now being served in five star restaurants, we created genres of music that is celebrated and listened to around the world, and we created a way to communicate when our language was stolen.Our recreation of the “English” language is not wrong, it just IS. It may not be appropriate everywhere but it is a very effective and valid form of communication and kinship.

  45. This is REALLY interesting! I never thought much about WHY being able to code switch and slip into black English would be so valuable and important, but what you say makes perfect sense. My husband is very adept at code-switching and I love watching him in different contexts. My guess is that it will be important that our boys spend more time around his family where there is a lot of black English used – that is where they are most likely to learn. So in our family I imagine it will be less about “teaching” it to them and more about ensuring they are in social situaitons where they pick it up naturally.

  46. This is a sad and pathetic article. I am white and live in NYC. Constantly on the subway, I encounter black youth who are so ignorant of how to actually speak proper sentences that I’m shocked. And then, many of them listen to their rap music and start singing things like “bitch…suck my #@%&”….or rapping about guns, sex, violence, drugs, etc. The problem is that black youth need to speak like NORMAL educated members of society, not hooligans. As an employer, I have had various black applicants come interview for jobs that would involve phone work. And in speaking with them, I can tell that they only speak your coveted “black english.” So guess what? Do you think I’m going to hire them? Of course not. You might think I”m being discriminatory, but I’m only NOT hiring them because they sound DUMB. I’ve hired plenty of black people over the years that can actually carry a normal conversation without sounding like they live in the ghetto. And I have some wonderful black friends who are all educated and can carry on a normal conversation.

    Instead of spending your time trying to teach your kids how to speak broken and incorrect english, why not spend your time trying to help black youth speak proper english? Not white english, but PROPER english. Do you think any black person that sounds like a gangster is going to get a job at a bank, on wall street or in any highly skilled field? How about setting a great example for black people.

    Why in the world would speaking normal complete sentences mean that someone is speaking like a white person. How about they are speaking like an educated person?

    Really, I’m shocked by your article. Language is what connects us. And language is what separates us as well. For white people, listening to “black english” makes us feel black people are dumb and uneducated. And that, of course, breeds discrimination. My goal is to eliminate this and bring people closer together. I encourage you to focus your energy bridging the race gap, not making it larger.

    If you think I don’t know what I”m taking about, or if you think I”m some kind of horrible racist, then I implore you to come to New York City and ride around in the subway for awhile when the high schools get out. You’ll be shocked as well…

  47. Just want to say according to the English (British) everyone in America speaks bad and improper English no matter your race,color, or creed. Well unless your originally from England. Love who you wanna love, be who you wanna be, and leave all the small things by the way and live your life…life is to short to worry about the color of someone’s skin or how they speak.

  48. In some regard I can agree with the author, in that teaching black children about black culture is beneficial.
    Yet, on a broader scale and based on history I have to disagree with her conclusion that teaching “black English” leads to success. I’m not sure how one could quantitatively reach such an assertion, but I respect her opinion.
    I am well versed in black history, especially from an autobiographical sense. I obviously can’t speak for others, but my sense of people like Angelou, Giovanni, Belefonte, Abernathy, King, I could go on and on would beg to differ, that successful “blackness” in a cultural context or community is partly due to one’s ability to code switch. My guess is that the author may be unaware of the history behind her school of thought. Most attribute the concept of blackness via venacular to the 70’s generation who grew up in a generation where blaxploitation and the accompanying language was a subcultural adaptation of black culture. Representing a small subset of the black diaspora.

    Dominate black though of those circa 1040’s was one of the likes of heroes past. Booker T, W.E.B., Douglass, Sojourner, Carver…. and so on. All taking pride in their academic success and promoting the like for their communities collective uplifting. Indeed, many of my friends parents from that generation echo the same. Proper English – meaning English spoken according to it’s intended use, not “white slang English”, was demanded in the home. Why? Because, they were keenly aware of a past history where slaves, freedmen, where denied the right to education, to books, to equal opportunity. Douglass, being self taught (for the most part). Washington, walking miles upon miles before landing at Hampton, desperate for the opportunity to learn.
    THIS IS BLACK HISTORY!

    For those offended by the post, ignore the title (which sounds overtly definitive) and read it simply as an opinion piece. I’m my opinion it’s nothing more that just that. And, in conclusion a poor thesis, based on the opposite historical narrative of black folks in America.

    In reality, the writer is most likely writing from the generational bubble of black pop-culture history which has become normative amongst many in younger generations. The only way to overcome this shortsightedness is to continue to educate many from the younger generation who have not been exposed to a more full version of black history, but a truncated version of civil rights to the present. It’s a real problem.

    To clarify my position, I’m speaking of language itself here. Not food, social mannerisms, clothings, music, and all other things that represent beautiful black culture in America. All of those things are wonderful and should be celebrated with pride. Broken English, however, based on uneducated slave sub-culture should not be celebrated nor exhalted, and most certainly not from a historic perspective. What I do think is fair game, when it comes to “black English”, is most often a particular vocal cadence associated with black English. There are articular vocal inflections and what not that are dinstinctive to black people in America. There’s nothing wrong with that! ;-) There’s a long legacy of great orators like MLK, Malcolm, Huey, Angelou, Giovanni and so on who still sound “black”, but if judged on proper English alone could be perceived as “white”. None of the above are white.

    I write none of the above to offend the author. I only write this for the many here who complain of the author’s conclusion (which is historically false), and sensed it was incorrect, but couldn’t place historic feet to it.

  49. I really appreciate this article. I’ve lived in a Deep South city for a long time where African Americans are rude to me (without getting to know me or having spoken one civil word) because I am white. I moved there from California where there’s much less resentment between races and after years of being treated badly because I am white it honestly sometimes takes a conscious effort for me to make sure I develop an opinion based on how each person acts rather than how others have acted but I have to simply because if how much it annoys me when people are rude to me for being white. Until now I have always judged African Americans that spoke to me with black vernacular more harshly. I always took it as being less educated, trying to force black vernacular as proper English or as an attitude of impoliteness. Let me also point out that I don’t use proper English all the time, but my language becomes more formal when I am say, interviewing for a job. I see black vernacular now as kind of a second language, would I judge someone so harshly for speaking Spanish? Of course not! I do think that, as with those who speak Spanish, there is a place for proper English and that should be respected (if I used slang in formal settings people would think less of me, if I spoke to someone who could only speak Spanish in a formal setting it would be clear to me that they needed to learn proper English to fully function in America, just as I would need to learn Spanish to fully function in Mexico, etc.) but I see now that black vernacular is a part of culture as with any other language and culture and it’s use in appropriate settings is no different than any other language. I am certain my family and friends have never even thought of black vernacular in the way that it is presented here and I wonder if taught to African Americans in the context it is discussed here would be helpful (maybe it already is, I don’t assume to know). I think if the topic were introduced to mainstream American culture in the frame used here it could be extremely useful. Thanks for the great article!!

  50. Great video on the issue from a sister from South Africa who went to school in the states.
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0nT-u_OXSH0

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