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Black Santa and “Ebonics Humor”

December 23, 2013

Guest post by Melissa Duvelsdorf and Mawutor Agbaku


Can Santa Claus be a black man? This holiday season, Indiana University – Bloomington’s CommUNITY Education Program posed the question to its student body on a residence hall bulletin board. A black Santa Claus poses next to the typical stockings, presents, and Christmas tree. A joyful “Yo yo yo” emerges from the saxophone that black Santa plays enthusiastically. The purpose of the bulletin board was to address racial stereotypes about African American men using a light-hearted Christmas theme. Read more…

Linguistic prejudice is a real prejudice (and has real consequences)

October 30, 2013


There’s been a lot of talk in the media and public discourse about racial discrimination and justice lately. Despite killing Trayvon Martin—an unarmed black teenager—George Zimmerman (who is white and hispanic) walked away a free man due to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. But what flew under the radar for most was the treatment of Rachel Jeantel, the prosecution’s star witness. We’ve written a bit about Jeantel before, but we’d like it further discuss some of the issues raised by the reactions to her testimony. As soon as Jeantel’s testimony began, so did the criticism, and much of it was because of her language. She was called uneducated, unsophisticated, and difficult to understand. Defense lawyers even asked her if she was indeed a native speaker of English. But what linguists knew and tried to argue was that Jeantel was a native English speaker—it just wasn’t the variety of English that is seen as mainstream or standard, and Jeantel was being subjected to an intense form of linguistic discrimination which may have affected the degree to which she was seen as a credible witness.

Read more…

When it comes to Rachel Jeantel, who’s really on trial here?

July 10, 2013


When Rachel Jeantel stepped up to to testify at the trial for the shooting death of her childhood friend, Trayvon Martin, lawyers and later the American public had more to say about her language, mannerisms and appearance than her critical testimony. Ms. Jeantel is of Haitian American descent, and to our knowledge, speaks Haitian Creole, Spanish and African American English. Read more…

Dew as you dew: Baltimore Accent and The Wire

August 15, 2012

Even though HBO’s television show The Wire ran from 2002-2008, today it still remains hugely popular with television audiences around the country. This show continues to captivate viewers with its frank and realistic portrayal of life in the city of Baltimore. Each of its five seasons focused on characters in different urban domains including the drug trade, the seaport, local government, the education system and the print media, all as they interacted with Baltimore’s police department. The Wire has been praised by viewers for its anti-network stance and its devotion to presenting life in an American city in a way that is both authentic and thought-provoking. For linguists, perhaps of one of the show’s greatest achievements is its portrayal of local Baltimore accents.

Read more…

Holla Back: What Can We Say Other Than Whack?

July 9, 2012

Welcome to “Holla Back”, where we respond to reader questions and comments. We love receiving feedback from readers and we encourage you to keep it coming!

Darren, from Canada, sent us the following question via email: Read more…

Music Monday: The N-Word and How We Talk About Hip Hop

July 2, 2012

Rapper Jay-Z and Gwyneth Paltrow

Awkward experiences with the N-word occur frequently, especially in the realm of hip-hop. Imagine this: you’re singing “Forget You” by Cee-Lo Green at karaoke with your friends, and you come to this part:

“Oh sh** she’s a gold digger, just thought you should know ni**a”.

The N-Word has the power to stop anyone’s karaoke jam in its tracks. What’s a music lover to do? Mumble something else? Forget the word entirely? Laugh it off? Read more…

Happy Juneteenth!

June 18, 2012

Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in Texas in 1865. Nowadays, it is observed as a celebration of African-American heritage and traditions across the United States.

Though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, many slaves were not immediately freed due to resistance by slave owners in the Confederate states. Read more…


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