“Ay yo, but for real though, what I’m saying is x da same as negative b, you know, plus or minus the square root of b squared. Subtract four ac and you done homie. That’s that quadratic shit right there”
Didn’t sound smart, did I? I didn’t think so. That’s because we have a tendency to view speech, especially vernacular or accent, as a character trait. If you hear ebonics, you think ignorance, even if it’s something as complicated as, say, the quadratic formula. In fact, while I’m writing this article, I’ll probably have to struggle to gain your respect back after my initial slang start. Well my argument is that plenty of people who speak like this are hella smart. You just have to get past the way they say things to what they’re saying.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This goes way further than black or white. Americans have trouble with accents in general. Every accent has a personality, right? British people are smart. Russians are mean, Middle Eastern people are untrustworthy, Asians hardworking, Hispanic passionate, Southern stupid, Northern jaded, French sexy and on and on and on. In media especially, these accents are often vilified or looked on negatively. If you have an accent, you’re usually an automatic side-kick or villain. A passionate Spanish sidekick, a mean Russian villain. Like this commercial about British villains I saw recently.
Let’s take another simple example. Aladdin. In the middle of these Arabian Nights, somehow the only dude with an accent (and a terrible British one I might add) is the villain Jafar. Wait, I take that back. His evil parrot sidekick also has a pronounced character voice. Meanwhile, the street urchin Aladdin has the voice of a Midwestern schoolboy. Pure of heart, pure of voice.
Here’s my proposal. Why don’t we start viewing speech as a language instead of a character trait. Accent and vernacular are just the different parts that make up the language. When you learn, say, French for example, you learn a set of vocabulary and a way of pronunciation. So why can’t we view accent or ebonics in the same way?
“Bonjour. Je m’appelle Amber Lee”
“Yo what up. It’s ya girl Amber Lee”
The content is the same. And if we could shift our perspective from assuming that the first is a croissant eating sex kitten and the second is a gun wielding gum popping hoe, maybe we’d notice that they both said hello. Those are my thoughts on the issue. How about you? Let’s talk about it.