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Why don’t we say “Ebonics” anymore?

Many of us still cringe when we hear the term “Ebonics” because white people pitched a fit in 1996 and we’re still dealing with it. So we say “AAVE” now. 

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Ebonics is trending on Twitter right now and I stuck my head in real quick to see what the fuss was about. I ended up writing a little thread about it because, when I was growing up, I remember “Ebonics” as a term, and then it just sort of disappeared. Now everybody says AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and Ebonics is almost a bad word. Black people don’t use it. Linguists don’t use it. But what happened to it?

Oakland happened.

If you have a negative reaction to the word “Ebonics,” you’re not alone. A lot of people, especially those who were paying attention to the news in the mid-1990s, have the same reaction, but let’s go back to the 70s.

Robert Williams, a Black psychologist, came up with the term “Ebonics” in 1973 as a combination of ebony and phonics to give a new name for the way many Black Americans speak. Before that, the most widely used term was “nonstandard Negro English” which sounds like Black people took English and messed it up. It’s nonstandard communication. It’s wrong because it’s not regular English. Ebonics, on the other hand, is its own word with no relation to “English” as a term.

Researchers and educators have put a lot of effort into studying the racial achievement gap for decades, but especially since the integration of schools. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this educational environment where Black kids don’t succeed at the same rate as white kids, and most of them are roadblocks stemming from racism in America — poverty, school funding, class size, over-disciplining, etc.  Ebonics was thought to be another factor. The language white children hear at home is the language they hear in schools and the language on standardized testing. Black children hear Ebonics at home, and when they come to school, they’re just told the way they speak is wrong, without any context for why or how to code-switch.

It’s like Black kids grow up learning to make waffles, but white kids grow up learning to make pancakes, and school is IHOP — they know exactly how to do it when they get there, but Black kids will have to make an adjustment. The theory was proven in experiments where white kids were given standardized tests sprinkled with Ebonics, but with the same subject matter as before. Suddenly, white kids did terribly and Black kids excelled — white kids didn’t know how to make waffles.

Perhaps more important, the teachers didn’t know how to make waffles either, and the American education system would rather punish than instruct. The research started to come to a head in the late 80s and early 90s when teachers started to realize (notice?) that there was a disproportionate number of Black kids in special ed classes and classes for “bad” kids, but they were no less intelligent than their white counterparts. Teachers saw Ebonics as incorrect or broken English, and Black kids were punished for it.

Now we take a detour to…Norway!

There are a lot of Norwegian dialects and there’s not necessarily a standard spoken version the way we have standard American English or standard British English. In school, you learn a standard written version, but when kids come in with their own dialect, they’re not told that it’s wrong and punished for it. They’re taught to relate their dialect to the standard. You make waffles at home, and this is how we will modify that to make pancakes.

Oakland decided to try out a Norwegian model when Black kids came to school speaking Ebonics. Instead of telling them they were wrong, they proposed  a more instructive approach where they can relate it to English. Instead of punishing Black kids for making waffles, Oakland wanted their teachers to know how to make waffles so they could help the kids turn their waffles into pancakes. Waffles aren’t bad, but you’ll have to know how to make pancakes. 

That’s an important point. Part of the reason Black kids would do poorly on certain tests is the fault of the teachers misunderstanding what the kids themselves were conveying, because the teachers didn’t know the rules of Ebonics.

This was the goal:

“At home, you might say she scared but here we don’t drop the verb “to be” so it’s She is scared.

This had been the standard before:

She scared…what? What did she scare? Nothing – we are talking about her being scared of something so She IS scared and you are wrong,” without any explanation why.

Oakland had a sound proposal backed by research, but White America lost their proverbial **** over it. Thousands and thousands of news articles were written about Oakland wanting to teach Ebonics to the kids, and Liberals and Conservatives alike agreed that was a terrible idea. Famous Black people weighed in and agreed it was a terrible idea. And you know what? It’s not a great idea. Why teach something in school that will put you at a disadvantage later in life?

But that wasn’t the idea! No one in Oakland was proposing that at all. Why would they need to teach kids Ebonics when the kids already know Ebonics? The goal was to use the language they know — the rules and syntax of language they’re fluent in — as a foundation to build upon.

Oakland is saying They already know how to make waffles, so we can alter that to help them make pancakes.

White America heard Everybody has to make waffles now and they were enraged. The issue made it all the way to Congress where they ended up passing legislation to strip federal funding for schools that tried to implement any recognition of Ebonics in the classroom. The “fear” of Ebonics was so great, The New York Times famously ran this ad (for free) from a head start organization:

ihas

Note: That’s not even correct Ebonics because that subject/verb doesn’t agree in any pattern of how we speak. This is clearly another instance of white people outside of their lane in a weak attempt to make a point.

Ebonics became a bad word, Oakland gave up on their very reasonable proposal, and no school district since has ever tried to implement recognition of Ebonics as a valid form of communication. As with so many things in the US, White America had a knee-jerk reaction to another perceived threat to white supremacy, this time in the form of Black people having our own language recognized and validated in an attempt to give our kids greater code-switching tools.

And now many of us still cringe when we hear the term “Ebonics” because white people pitched a fit in 1996 and we’re still dealing with it. So we say “AAVE” now.

 

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Race

Gen Z slang is all AAVE.

Are there any Black people working at Vanity Fair???

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Watch this video please. Some white child I have never heard of has been tasked by Vanity Fair to explain “Gen Z slang” and almost every word is just African American Vernacular English aka Ebonics aka How Most Black People In America Talk With Their Friends And Family. None of these words are new…because I’ve been saying them for twenty years with other Black people.

Bop – AAVE
This is the newest AAVE word on the list because we weren’t really saying bop when I was in elementary school. I think that came about in the early 00s.

Clown – AAVE
Clown/Clowning, at least 30 years in the game on that one.

Shook – Unclear
Shook is not a word I heard in real life until after I started seeing it on the internet. It quickly made its way from social media out into the real world, but I didn’t know that was a Gen Z thing. I thought it was Millennial Gays.

Stan – Millennials
To the best of my knowledge, Eminem did not take stan (a stalker fan) from us, because I didn’t hear it until his song came out. Still, this little boy has mentioned neither Eminem nor the song, because these children apparently think they made everything up?

Doin the Most – AAVE
You play too much, you do too much, she do so much, they always do the most, etc. We’ve had this since the 80s.

Facts – AAVE
Facts is so old it might even belong to Gen X. Definitely spread from the New York area throughout the country with hip-hop.

Hit Different – AAVE
Rule of thumb: if your slang phrase drops an S on the verb,  you can probably assume it was taken from us, because that’s a grammar rule in AAVE. Also, his example where he likes Taco Bell more than the Mexican restaurants on Sunset? Throw this child AWAY.

Deadass – AAVE
Another word from the NYC area that spread with hip-hop. Headass didn’t catch on because white kids weren’t smart enough or creative enough to actually understand how to use that one.

Highkey – AAVE
This one belongs to the Millennial Blacks born in the 90s. They drove the popularity of this one.

Snack – AAVE
Older than dirt. Gen X was definitely using this one. Baby Boomers might’ve even had it. Snack is SO OLD.

Slaps – AAVE
I don’t remember saying slaps until the mid 2000s, so I don’t know how old it is, but I know a white toddler didn’t teach it to me, which is what this child would have been at that time.

Put Someone On – AAVE
I honestly didn’t even know white people said this. I didn’t know this one had reached critical mass in popularity for the white kids to not only say it with regularity but say it so much they claimed it for themselves.

Rona – Internet Slang
It could be a product of who I follow on social media, but I thought the Millennial Gays were the ones that made Rona popular because they were calling it Miss Rona all the way last spring.

Say Less – AAVE
I want this child to say less. I know a 19-year-old white kid who actually says this a lot. I need to ask him where he thinks it comes from…

Extra – AAVE
Maya Wilkes on Girlfriends loved to say extra and that was 20 years ago. Please stop playing in my face.

Fire – AAVE
Old. My daddy damn is well over 70 and says fire.

Bet – AAVE
It’s just getting silly at this point. Bet is so versatile and so popular it’s not even slang anymore.

Lowkey – AAVE
Lowkey doesn’t mean you just want to do it a little bit. It means you want to do it but you shouldn’t, or you want to do it but don’t judge me, or you want to do it but you’re conflicted. I hate when nuance is taken out of our culture.

Receipts – AAVE/Gay AAVE
Every Black woman on reality television says receipts and they got it from their gay glam squads. I don’t know if that’s a fact. I’m just throwing it out there because it is so widely popular for that segment of the population and has been for at least 15 years.

Whole Meal – AAVE adjacent?
It’s obviously related to snack, which is ours, but I’ve never actually heard it.

Yikes – They can have that one. Nobody says yikes anymore.

Anyway.

Vanity Fair. Please hire some Black people. The way y’all just committed this unforced error on a pleasant Wednesday is just ridiculous and confusing. Nobody asked for this and nobody was having this conversation, but y’all bust through Youtube like the Kool Aid Man for absolutely no reason, and now y’all will be dragged for the rest of the week.

Also, Black people over 30 — if you have anything to add, let me know and I’ll add your clarifications in an edit. I mean, obviously I’m brilliant, but I don’t know every word in the world, so correct me where I’m wrong while we discuss this as a family.

This is just another example of how Black people drive culture in this country. What we do is hot and everybody else falls in line behind us. White kids on social media have picked up “slang” from Black Millennials on social media. Then they do their little tiktoks and talk to their friends who aren’t following us on social media, and suddenly a whole bunch of white kids are passing around slang to each other that originally came from us….because they haven’t created anything themselves. It’s the same reason white white kids in Montecito will randomly have a light Southern accent on some of their words.

If it’s hot and you can’t pinpoint where it came from? It’s probably Black people.

 

EDIT: Looks like the video is now private. I guess they did get dragged, just like I thought they would.

 

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I love Black people.

Why does that offend so many white people?

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I’ve randomly said “I love Black people!” on many social media platforms over the years and never really thought twice about it. Something will happen, I’ll post it, other Black people will comment in agreement, and that’s that. Some white people will even like the post because whatever I’m referring to is something they appreciated reading or seeing or experiencing with us.

There’s this white guy in my comments today asking why certain things are okay for Black people to say, but not for white people. For example, if we say “I love Black people!” it’s fine, but if white people say “I love white people!” there’s automatic blowback. He seemed genuine enough, though young and a little misguided, so I engaged. I used to engage all the time when I did that kind of thing to pay my rent, but now I rarely expend mental energy online trying to teach white people I don’t know (for free!). This got me thinking because it just hasn’t come up in conversation before.

First of all, Black people and white people move through society completely differently. Different rules apply in how we are allowed to communicate because different rules were created for how we are treated. If you are a white person who purports to be on the side of progress, be less concerned about why Black people can say things white people can’t, and be more concerned with creating an equitable society where we wouldn’t even want or need to.

Alongside that, I’m just so curious where that impulse comes from to even question it.

When I say “I love Black people!” it’s because I felt something that I knew a lot of other Black people were feeling at the exact same time. Some shared cultural experience across a wide swath of the community made me laugh, or I felt bonded by a hardship we can all relate to because we’re Black in America.

When I say “I love Black people!” I feel proud of us for overcoming and achieving something, or I’m in awe of us for finding joy in the face of everything this country has thrown at us.

When I say “I love Black people!” I’m not saying I don’t love other people. I’m having a moment within myself and with my community where I feel a kinship in struggle or excitement or some combination of emotions that I know a lot of other Black people are also feeling.

So when white people ask why they can’t say “I love white people!” it’s not that I mind that they love white people, I’m just curious about what particular instance made you want to say it? What happened that made you feel so connected in a shared experience with White America? I’m not white, so I don’t know for sure, (and if any white people have any comments that are especially insightful, I’ll edit them into the end of this post), but I don’t see a “white community” bonded together by anything in this country other than a shared history of oppressing everybody else. That’s not a read, that’s just me looking from the outside and observing how white people relate to the “white community” at large. When you are the dominant force in a society, everything is just yours in a way, so you don’t need to fight to hold on to anything. Black people have had to fight together against….well, the “white community” for the past four centuries. We are bonded by everything that fight has entailed and the legacy it has left us. What do white people have?

If you are a white person reading this and you have had the urge to say “I love white people!” I would like to know what happened and what the feeling was like. I’ll give you some examples.

When I saw Nia Dennis’s very Black floor routine for the UCLA gymnastics team, I said “I love Black people!”

When I saw this old video of a group of Black men watching Whitney Houston sing the National Anthem and how they were going so hard for her, I said “I love Black people!”

When I see Black Twitter laughing at Shay Moore’s videos of life in the South, I say “I love Black people!”

White people, if any of you have these moments where you feel so proud to be white that you want to exclaim “I love white people!” for other white people to read/hear and join in, let me know. That’s not a set-up. I’m just genuinely curious how people whose history isn’t defined by oppression relate to the rest of their skinfolk with a sense of pride, and how a need to affirm each other in a country that continually questions their worth would manifest itself in statements of love and appreciation.

(Okay…my question does sound like a set-up to get dragged now, but I just kept typing and the words kept coming.)

 

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Race

Hank Aaron’s Guinness World Record

His record isn’t for what you think it is.

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Baseball great Hank Aaron passed away today and I went into a quick dive into his life after reading this excellent write up by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

A Hall of Famer, Atlanta’s first professional sports star, and, in a soft-spoken way, an agent of change in the post-Jim Crow South, Aaron came to embody the city as he embodied the Braves.

Baseball’s all-time home run king died Friday at the age of 86, according to Channel 2 Action News and several reports. The Braves have not confirmed Aaron’s death.

“I don’t think too many people got a chance to know me through the years, and that was something that was my own doing, because I’m actually kind of a loner, a guy that has stayed to himself,” Aaron said in a 2006 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “A lot of people thought they knew me, but they really didn’t.

“They pretend that they know me, but I travel alone. I do just about everything alone. I have associates, but I don’t have many friends. I would just want to be remembered as somebody who just tried to be fair with people.”

(cont. AJC)

I grew up in a basketball and football household, but my dad kept up with baseball and I went to a handful of Braves games growing up. Hank Aaron was just kind of a vague figure in the back of my mind, someone I knew had a lot of home runs, but that’s about all I knew about the man. The AJC paints a vivid picture of a soft-spoken Black man in the Deep South navigating his way through baseball during the Civil Rights Era, and it’s an engaging read from top to bottom. This particular section jumped out at me:

Aaron had eight seasons with 40 or more home runs, the last coming in 1973, when he finished the year with 713 homers and an estimated 930,000 pieces of mail. Much of it was racist. There also were enough death threats for the FBI to get involved. Aaron received personal protection through the off-season.

That’s like 3,000 pieces of mail a day! I did a quick dive into it so let’s set the scene.

Babe Ruth played baseball from 1914 to 1935, and interestingly enough, while I most associate him with the NY Yankees, he started and ended his career in Boston. He set numerous baseball records (two of which still stand today) and in 1936, he was one of the inaugural five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s one of the greatest sports heroes of all time, Trump gave him a Medal of Freedom in 2018, and the official candy bar of Major League Baseball bears his name (even though it wasn’t created for him, it became inextricably associated with him during the height of his fame). He also hit 714 home runs in his career, a record which stood for almost four decades until Hank Aaron came along.

By the early 70s, Hank Aaron had been quietly chipping away at Babe Ruth’s home run record for twenty years, first with the Milwaukee Braves and then in Atlanta when the team moved to Georgia in 1965. At the end of the 1972 season, Hank had 673 home runs, and for a player who already had eight seasons where he hit 40 or more home runs, it was assumed he would indeed break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 in the very near future. Baseball fans follow the game, so baseball fans were aware of Hank’s hitting stats. Racist America follows notable Black people, and this Black man putting himself within striking distance of a white man’s achievement made the country take note. The amount of hate mail spiked once non fans became aware of Hank’s threat to a record they didn’t even really care about until it was in danger of being broken by a Black player.

On July 21st of 1973, Hank Aaron hit #700 and he was receiving about 3,000 pieces of mail a day. The Braves hired a secretary just to handle Hank’s mail, and team management forbid him from opening his own letters to shield him from the vitriol.

The volume was so great that the Braves assigned secretary Carla Koplin to handle Aaron’s mail. That freed up his time but also shielded the legendary slugger from some of the vile remarks and death threats aimed at him. There were also some congratulatory letters and words of encouragement, but the negative comments heavily outweighed the positive and the Braves gave Aaron his own security detail.

“I was forbidden to open mail for two and a half years. I had a secretary that had to open all my mail and when the games were over with, I had to go out of the back of the baseball parks.”

(cont. Sportscasting)

When the season ended in October, Hank had 713 home runs, one shy of the record. The next six months gave racist America ample time to seethe and write. Hate mail turned to death threats and anyone remotely supportive of Hank was a target.

Lewis Grizzard, then sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, reported receiving numerous phone calls calling journalists “nigger lovers” for covering Aaron’s chase. While preparing the massive coverage of the home run record, he quietly had an obituary written, afraid that Aaron might be murdered.

(cont. Hank Aaron)

Hank Aaron made it to the 1974 season and broke Babe Ruth’s record in Atlanta on April 8th. Between July 1973 and June 1974, Hank Aaron received over 930,000 pieces of mail, the most ever for a private citizen, and a record that still stands today. When I saw that Hank Aaron had a Guinness World Record, I assumed it was for home runs, but his record was broken by Barry Bonds in 2007. Hank has a world record not for baseball, but for racism — America’s other great pastime.

 

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