The Black Language Podcast

Often Imitated, but Never Duplicated

August 08, 2020
The Black Language Podcast
Often Imitated, but Never Duplicated
Chapters
The Black Language Podcast
Often Imitated, but Never Duplicated
Aug 08, 2020

On the episode of The Black Language Podcast, the host Anansa dives into language appropriation through the comparison of Rachel Jeantel and Bhad Bhabie and speaks about the false claim that African American Language is stan/twitter/internet language.

Rachel Jeantel was the 19 year old Black, Haitian star witness in the trial of George Zimmerman in 2013. She was under much scrutiny for her use of African American Language. Danielle Bregoli, also known as Bhad Bhabie, went viral after her catch phrase "cash me ousside, how bout dat" went viral during her appearance on Dr. Phil as a 13 year old white girl who exhibited violent behavior towards her mother, Dr. Phil, and the audience. Bhad Bhabie's use of African American Language landed her a record deal with Atlantic records and placements on the Billboard Hot 100. This is a very different outcome from Rachel Jeantel's. Again, we are shown that mainstream American culture loves Black culture, but not Black people.

Language appropriation of Black people is not simply language borrowing, unfortunately, it comes with the erasure of Black people. Again, the push to promote stan/twitter/internet language, instead of recognizing that the language used on social media comes from Black people is an example of that erasure.


Twitter: @blacklangpod
Instagram: @blacklangpod
Email: [email protected]

Language and Linguistics on Trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel (and other vernacular speakers) in the Courtroom and Beyond by John Rickford and Sharese King

CNN Video: Does Rachel Jeantel's body language speak volumes?

Dr. Phil Segment featuring Danielle Bregoli

Linguistic Profiling 



Show Notes Transcript

On the episode of The Black Language Podcast, the host Anansa dives into language appropriation through the comparison of Rachel Jeantel and Bhad Bhabie and speaks about the false claim that African American Language is stan/twitter/internet language.

Rachel Jeantel was the 19 year old Black, Haitian star witness in the trial of George Zimmerman in 2013. She was under much scrutiny for her use of African American Language. Danielle Bregoli, also known as Bhad Bhabie, went viral after her catch phrase "cash me ousside, how bout dat" went viral during her appearance on Dr. Phil as a 13 year old white girl who exhibited violent behavior towards her mother, Dr. Phil, and the audience. Bhad Bhabie's use of African American Language landed her a record deal with Atlantic records and placements on the Billboard Hot 100. This is a very different outcome from Rachel Jeantel's. Again, we are shown that mainstream American culture loves Black culture, but not Black people.

Language appropriation of Black people is not simply language borrowing, unfortunately, it comes with the erasure of Black people. Again, the push to promote stan/twitter/internet language, instead of recognizing that the language used on social media comes from Black people is an example of that erasure.


Twitter: @blacklangpod
Instagram: @blacklangpod
Email: [email protected]

Language and Linguistics on Trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel (and other vernacular speakers) in the Courtroom and Beyond by John Rickford and Sharese King

CNN Video: Does Rachel Jeantel's body language speak volumes?

Dr. Phil Segment featuring Danielle Bregoli

Linguistic Profiling 



Anansa: Welcome to The Black Language Podcast where we talk about our people and our language, and where talking Black is anything said by a Black person. I am your host, Anansa.

And a highlight from these past two weeks has been everyone who has texted me or DM’d me letting me know that they say “aight so boom”. It reminds me of when I was studying in school and the more I studied, the less I felt like I could participate in conversations because I would be paying attention to everything else but the conversation. So if that week in class we talked about how people end conversations, all of a sudden I’m testing out conversation closers to see which is more effective, or if one of my friends describes the quantity of something by saying “a few”, the next thing I’m doing is asking them what they think the difference is between “a few” and “some”. It got to the point where I would sometimes apologize to people because I would randomly mention something that they did linguistically that stood out to me and so I figured I should probably stop doing that and just have those conversations here. 

So let’s get into it. Rachel Jeantel, at the age of 19,  served as a witness in the trial of George Zimmerman in 2013. George Zimmerman was on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, a young beautiful Black seventeen year old high school student. George Zimmerman was eventually acquitted. Rachel Jeantel was a friend of Trayvon’s and was on the phone with him as the incident occurred; this made her a star witness in the trial. So, I bring up Rachel Jeantel because as a 19 yr old, young Black, Hatian girl from Florida, her English was scrutinized and completely disrespected by those in the courtroom, the media, and society. Her personhood was picked apart on national television and we saw yet again how America reminds young Black girls that we are disposable and invisible. At the time, there were thinkpieces written on her testimony, but two linguists, Sharese King and John Rickford, would eventually publish a dope paper in 2016 entitled “Language and Linguistics on Trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel and Other Vernacular Speakers in the Courtroom and Beyond” 

Rachel Jeantel had to deal with people calling her dumb, ignorant, inarticulate, saying that she can’t form sentences. I mean, there were just some really really nasty comments alluding to her socioeconomic status and questioning her intellect. She was seen as not credible and hard to understand by jurors and this isn’t the first time this has happened. In the paper, Rickford and King discuss other instances where people who speak marginalized variations of English, or in other words, people who don’t speak standardized English, are misunderstood and face prejudice in courtrooms. Also, in this paper, Rickford and King discuss how she was actually speaking ebonics with no problem and also had some influence from varieties of Caribbean English. They outlined the various rules in the syntax, phonetics and phonology, and lexicon that Rachel uses and how the implicit biases of the jurors and their unfamiliarity with her way of speaking clouded their judgement of Rachel’s testimony, such that her testimony was disregarded even though she said that Trayvon Martin was running away from George Zimmerman when the dominant narrative was that Trayvon was the aggressor. 

There’s a CNN video on their official youtube account from June 27 2013 entitled, “Does Rachel Jeantel’s body language speak volumes” where the reporters criticize her body posture and say that Rachel mumbled and grumbled. They even talked about her neck rolls. Honestly it just makes me sick. The whole video just feels racist. What infuriates me most is that when I watch the clips from the testimony, I can understand her fine, you feel me, so it’s like who was up in that courtroom if not racist white people. There wasn’t no Black people on the jury and I know all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk but I just feel like the chances of her being understood or shown empathy and grace might be higher with a Black person. But still, there was a group of white jurors who misunderstood her and still made a decision, like that sounds illegal to me. Can we sue the jurors who came out and said that they couldn’t understand her?

It’s important to note that what people say is important and how they say it is important, and I would argue that who they are is just as important. I don’t believe that you can seperate what is said from the speaker. So basically, the United States is just racist because you telling me that in 2013, after all this research that we have about Ebonics, which is the most studied variation of American English, that no one thought to be like, “yo prosecution, you might wanna bring in a linguist or look at some research because they’re gonna try to discredit your witness because of how she speaks.” No, instead everyone left Rachel Jeantel out to dry. 

Next, I would like to talk about Danielle Bregoli who went on Dr. Phil in 2016 at the age of 13 because of violent domestic disputes with her mother. Danielle was made famous during this segment with memes and clips going viral of her saying, “catch me outside, how bout dat.” I’d also like to note that the name of the Dr. Phil segment that she was on was called, “I Want To Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried To Frame Me For A Crime.” During her segment, Danielle utilizes various features of African American Language and at one point Dr. Phil repeats back to her what she said and asks if she went to the 5th grade. Also during this segment, she talks about stealing cars, she threatens her mother, and describes their previous violent interactions. And there’s video footage of their previous violent interactions. Now Danielle spent some time as a viral sensation with a viral catchphrase, and fast forward a year and her name is now Bhad Bhabie and she’s a rapper. Bhad Babie became the youngest female rapper to appear on the Billboard Hot 100. Then she was signed to a multi-album contract with Atlantic Records. She recorded another single that appeared in the Billboard Hot 100. She received a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. She also has a reality show that premiered in 2019 on Snapchat and received over 10 million unique viewers. She was set to go on tour in 2020, but it was delayed because of covid-19. And according to TMZ, her representatives say that she was slated to make over 10 million $ in 2019. 

Y’all, this white girl went on tv and used features from African American Language, and cursed out the audience and got famous and rich. I just find it funny how Rachel Jeantel is punished for her use of African American Language, while Bhad Bhabie is celebrated and rewarded for it. It begs the question of who in the United States is given grace and empathy. And for me, their stories are added to the longstanding history of the US coming to the rescue of white women and girls and villainizing Black women and girls. I’d be curious to know how many white women saw the treatment of Rachel Jeantel as a feminist issue. I wanted to start this conversation by recalling the story of these two girls because I think it says a lot about who gets to use African American language. I think highlighting the contrast between the stories of these two girls is exactly what we mean when we say that America loves Black culture, but don’t love Black people. It feels like the biggest contradiction that mainstream American English constantly takes from Ebonics, and yet Black people are still criticized for our use of ebonics, among other things.  

For me and I’m sure others, this is why the erasure of Black people from African American is such an issue. We create culture, we add to the evolution of language and this is not something that just started happening when the internet became available. As a Black woman, I know white America has taken our musics, foods, and fashions and then lied about it afterwards. And now that I say this, I’m reminded of those random food videos I’ve seen within the past couple years of millennial white kids moving into Black and Brown communities and “discovering” different foods. It was so real, I had to correct my teacher when I studied abroad in Brazil. So in undergrad, I went and studied in Rio de Janeiro and opted to take the music class. So we were at the section of the course talking about Bossa Nova music and when my instructor described this music as being of the white middle and upper class I questioned that. And I will not forget what I said, I said, “You know how society will take something from Black people and claim it as their own, is that what happened to bossa nova music or was it always a part of the white middle/upper class?” And the teacher was confused. But for me, we had just finished talking about Samba music and how it was taken from Black people and used to paint Brazil as some racial harmony, which it’s not. So boom, my teacher said that this is music more associated with white Brazil, similar to how Rock ‘n Roll and Country is associated with white Americans. When he said that I was like what. So of course though, names like Rosetta Thorpe, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard all slipped my mind so I responded saying how Rock ‘n Roll and Country was stolen from Black people and how our Blues music and Gospel led to those genres and that Elvis and the Rolling Stones and them would just take songs from Black people and re-record them. So my teacher gave me some pushback saying that he studied in the US  aht aht aht and so I’m out here on this limb by myself because everyone is just looking at me, so thankfully this white kid in the class was into rock and supported everything I said and dropped names and we moved on. 

All of these things that I’ve shared so far came up for me because Twitter was in shambles over the past 2 weeks. And I know that the world exists outside of Twitter and Tik Tok, but y’all from what I’ve seen from this past week, people have really been on 10 on these platforms talking about Ebonics and Black language appropriation. I always knew I was gonna do various episodes about language justice, language discrimination, and language appropriation, but I didn’t think it would happen like this. 

Did y’all know that everyday members of Kpop Twitter will go on Twitter and ask if certain terms are a part of African American Vernacular English, AAVE? If you search “AAVE” on Twitter you’ll see these threads, it’s mind blowing really. It’s not just Kpop Twitter, though Kpop Twitter does receive a fair amount of attention for language appropriation. It’s so real that as of July there is an account on Twitter called “Kpop AAVE Struggle Tweets”. On this page, the owner posts screenshots of members of Kpop Twitter misusing ebonics. Now there’s two google docs that I’ve seen floating around. One is actually pretty constructive and talks about alternatives to language appropriation and harmful language and the other is a list of AAVE that someone monitors and adds terms to and I’ve also seen multiple lists that circulate. And so while you’re searching through the “AAVE” feed on twitter you’ll see people saying that they checked “the list” when talking about if certain terms are AAVE or not. Additionally on Tik Tok, the youth have taken to creating educational videos about what AAVE is. For me, it actually feels a lil creepy to know that there’s people out there dissecting what you do and watching your every move to replicate it. 

Again, I’m just baffled at how commonly used AAVE is among non-Black people and how people can pay such close attention to non-Black usage of AAVE and yet, Black people’s social conditions have not improved. This tells me again that mainstream America is obsessed with Black culture and doesn’t actually care about Black people.

And for me, I feel like part of the issue is that white America is so used to coming across different things and completely acting like they discovered it or they created it. So aside from general or more quieter conversations about African American language on Twitter and Tik Tok, what actually sparked the past few weeks of Twitter and Tik Tok being bombarded with content about Ebonics was the fact that back at the end of July, someone tweeted claiming that AAVE is stan language. Stans are basically obsessive fans of celebrities. And Stan Twitter is definitely a thing and it’s composed of people of different races obsessing about their favorite celebrities. Now this isn’t the first time that someone has called Ebonics something that it’s not. Previously, people had said that Ebonics is internet language, social media language, and Twitter language. And it’s none of those things, but Black people innovate culture and cultural innovation takes place on the internet, on social media. And so when people think they are speaking internet language or stan language, more often than not, they’re using features of AAVE. What is cool to see is that there is some awareness where outsiders are wanting to show some level of appreciation for Black culture, and where Black people are reclaiming our language practices. 

My issue with some of these conversations though is that they simplify what AAVE is. Many people try to box AAVE in and you just can’t do it, because the minute you do, it’s gonna change on you. Also, these conversations tend to place an emphasis on vocabulary, more specifically, slang and AAVE is more than slang. Now slang is a necessary part of any language as a subset of vocabulary that is often associated with informal settings and it changes constantly, and it is of course a beautiful aspect of any language. And slang is just a piece of AAVE. And this is why I think non-Black people just can’t use it right, they underestimate the complexity of AAVE. And I’m not saying that to say that AAVE is only valid because it’s complex. But I have heard people use features of African American Language from different regions of the United States. So they’ll use Chicago slang, with vowels from DC and I’m just like, you sound weird. But of course, racism in the US doesn’t allow them to see variation among Black english in the states, or the fact that you can’t just string together a bunch of slang terminology that you heard a Black person say. 

You know when I was in elementary school, I didn’t know what a part of speech was. And if you still don’t know, part of speech basically tells you if the word is a noun, verb, adjective, and so on. And since I didn’t know what it was, I would never write the part of speech down when I was copying my vocabulary words because I felt like it was a waste of time space. It wasn’t until 11th grade that I realized that the part of speech is helpful because if you don’t know a word, it tells you how you can use a word. Mainstream America does NOT know how part of speech operates in AAVE  and we surely will not write the dictionary for them. I done seen people put adjectives in front of verbs and just completely butcher prepositional phrases making themselves look silly. Right now, people are really misusing “chile” and I’m not about to explain it here, if you know, you know. And on the lists that I mentioned of AAVE terminology, I’ve seen the wrong definitions be used. So the word “thirsty” is on there and it’s defined as when a woman goes natural and it says that the word is a loaded term for Black women, but I ain’t gonna tell em. 

The time we’re in really reminds me of a second Harlem Renaissance or Black Arts Movement where there was so much innovation happening in all aspects of the lives of Black people. And so, I’m not surprised to see Black people reclaiming our language, I would argue that reclaiming our language has been something that we’ve been doing since the time of enslavement. This, our language, is a part of our culture, this has meaning, it makes up who we are and it’s a part of our resistance. When we get protective of our language, we will be told that we’re overreacting, making a big deal out of nothing, and that this is how language change happens, and that languages borrow from each other. But it’s like a white person borrows my language, while I get persecuted for my language. Something isn’t adding up here, this isn’t a harmless exchange. Oblivious non-Black people can’t even begin to list the rough history that our language has. From being born out of great tragedy and resilience to prejudice in the courtroom, to linguistic profiling that we face when we are denied jobs and loans and apartments because we sound Black on the phone. We take our ways of speaking with us and time and time again our lives, our fates, end up in the hands of our oppressor. 

I want to end by saying that if you are nervous that mainstream America keeps taking parts of our language and you think we might run out of things to say, rest assured that we will continue to evolve the language. Please don’t forget to rate, comment, subscribe to the podcast. And for comments, inquiries, suggestions and allat, email me at [email protected]. Thanks for rocking out with me, I’ll talk to yall soon, one.