“I try to warp and destroy the English language at every turn. When I’m speaking, I want people to hear the flavors of my upbringing and experiences becauaaaaase my upbringing is nothing to be ashamed of […] As for [people making the argument that] “middle-[aged] white guys” [won’t be able to ] understan[d] my vocabulary, tell that to the folks jacking urban slang on mainstream tv shows. Every week there’s some ol played out slang on tv shows and commercials. When John Madden uses words like “swag” and mainstream news sites ask “What does bae mean,” my vernacular is understood. [Media like this Hefty commercial]…
It’s mocking us, but secretly wanting to be down.
—Ferrari Shepard via several tweets on his account: @stopbeingfamous
I begin with these tweets from Ferrari Shepard because they resonated with my so deeply that I had to write this blog post. It’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. In case you’re new to this blog, here’s some background info :
I go to a small liberal arts college in Iowa. 75% of our student body is white. I am not part of this percentage.
I’m a Latina from the Southside of Chicago.
49% of the student body graduates with a double major or a major/minor. I am part of this percentage.
I am double majoring in English and Secondary Education.
Sometimes when I talk in class a few people laugh or look at me strangely because sometimes I use urban slang and/or African American Vernacular English (AAVE). I do this because I love language. I do this because, like Ferrari Shepard, I am proud of my upbringing; I refuse to be shamed into using White America’s middle/upper class dialect exclusively. I do this because I am aware that there is no such thing as “proper English.” But this is not a defense of my language; this is an brief examination of people’s reactions to it.
The reason people are amused by the way I speak in class isn’t just because I’m using terminology/a dialect that aren’t considered professional, they are surprised because they see it as a joke. “No one seriously speaks like that and if they do, they’re not to be taken seriously.” So they look at me like I’m the only one who showed up to the party in a costume. But my language is not a costume, to be taken on and off for laughs. This is my identity.
I watch slang communities have been using for years get picked up by the mainstream, used by the mainstream until “everyone” is sick of it, and then denounced by that same mainstream entity (ex. Time Magazine’s “Which word should be banned in 2015?). I watch Katy Perry play with black stereotypes and Taylor Swift crawl under women’s shaking asses and call it hiphop. And I watch the faces of my classmates become perplexed as they try to reconcile what they consider to be oppositions: seriousness and slang; academia and urban culture. So I call this what it is: racist and classist.
I’m a Latina from the Southside of Chicago. I say words like salty and shade god. I’m not afraid to raise my hand in class and say a poem is “dope.” Do not be surprised when I proceed to qualify my argument of “dopeness” with an analysis of its formal elements. I’m an A student who says ain’t. A ghetto girl in blazer working towards a bachelor of arts. A woman of color ready to run the world.
I am here to fuck up the schemas you built from stereotypes.
Don’t ever call me a contradiction.