Black People “Talking White”

Ebonics is a form of slang and a dialect of the English language that is also referred to as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) according to

Ellen Fleurival | Photo credit: Ellen Fleurival 

With the use of slang sometimes comes stereotypes, especially concerning black people.

Code-switching is the practice of people changing the pitch or tone of their voice, using different word choice and slang, or articulating more to fit into different social settings. This allows people to escape judgment based on the way they talk or sound.

People have linked code-switching to white privilege, such as Savanna Tomlinson with her high school quote that went viral on Twitter, “anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone.”

Ellen Fleurival, a freshman physical therapy student, feels as though other races do not look down on those that speak ebonics, but instead it is our own African American counterparts that continue to measure their ties to their race, community, or heritage by how they speak.

“I do think they [African Americans] are not okay when other black people speak proper because it is considered ‘talking white.’ When you do this, you are stripping away your African American identity in their eyes,” said Fleurival.

“Talking white” is a common accusation made particularly by other African Americans in certain settings, especially school. “Why you talkin’ so white?” or “Why you so proper?” are the usual responses when a black person articulates their words a certain way, or uses certain diction or vocabulary.

The ability to speak properly should not be restricted to a certain race, and what does it say about our community if we feel that speaking intelligently is something “white”?

“I can honestly say I’ve been questioned no less than twice a year about ‘why I speak so white.’ Unfortunately, it has always been the African Americans who approach me in such way,” said Fleurival.

Tarik Siddeeq, a third year business administration student, feels that it is not commonplace in the African American community to speak properly.

“Speaking properly makes you become the odd one out. In my personal experience, many black people do not phrase it as speaking proper, but as ‘talking white’, as if speaking proper english makes me more similar to a white person or pushes me further from African American people,” said Siddeeq.

Tarik Siddeeq | Photo credit: Tarik Powell 

Maurice Johnson, a visiting assistant professor at FAMU had similar views to Siddeeq. In terms of  African Americans pushing away their own for talking too white, Johnson says that this stigma began in slavery, because no one wants to equate to being white.

“I don’t feel that way, but there is a percentage that feels like ‘sounding black’ is being less,” said Johnson.

In terms of speaking properly, or code-switching in the workplace, many people have admitted to doing so to secure certain opportunities or positions. Like Johnson said, we switch it up for survival.

“When it comes to getting money or getting a job, you want to put yourself in the best position to get the job, and if you know that articulating your speech will work better than speaking in your normal everyday slang, then you’re going to do that,” Johnson stated.

Siddeeq is also in agreeance with needing to speak properly in the workplace because of the color of his skin.

“We sort of have to fool the potential employer into the version of us that they want to see. The same reason why we put on our best suit, study the company, perm our hair, shave our beards, and develop a passion for whatever industry they are in is the same reason why we have to change up our way of speaking,” said Siddeeq.

“To put it simply, our way of speaking conveys certain unspoken messages about who we are. As historically disenfranchised people we already walk into the interview with a huge disadvantage, we have to gain as many advantages as possible.”