AAE Humor Perpetuates Racist Misconceptions About AAE
African American English (AAE), sometimes referred to as “Ebonics,” has often been the source of racist humor. In his book Beyond Ebonics, John Baugh discusses Ebonics jokes that have arisen in the past. One website, “The Ebonics Translator,” allowed people to send in a body of text and receive an email with the text translated into Ebonics. In one instance, the translator provided an Ebonics version of the Lord’s Prayer, which was offensive to African Americans as well as Christians. Mad Magazine published an article, “Hooked on Ebonics,” a play on words on “Hooked on Phonics.” Ebonics jokes have also appeared in comics such as Non Sequitur, Mallard Filmore, and Doonesbury. In one comic, a child has written on the blackboard that 7 times 3 equals 16, and he is shown telling the teacher that it is “mathabonics.” John Baugh points out that stating that 7 X 3 = 16 is wrong, whereas a better way to represent it would have been 7 X 13 = √441. In this representation, “the answer would not be wrong but it would be nonstandard”. The point is that AAE is not wrong, it is just nonstandard.
Jokes about Ebonics have been used to perpetuate the idea that AAE is the “wrong” way to speak.
We can see this perpetuation today when we look up “Ebonics” on websites such as Urban Dictionary, a website where people can post their own definitions of words. Chances are that some people who use this site have also seen Ebonics jokes in some form. Though 98 definitions show up, the whole first page is full of racist misconceptions that Ebonics is “slang” spoken by “gangsters” and that adding “izzle” to any word makes it AAE. The ironic thing is that many of the words themselves that are defined on Urban Dictionary are slang. If you look further on in the definitions though, there are those who have written more accurate definitions of “Ebonics,” calling it a “dialect” of English, tying some of its features to Southern English, Creoles, and West African Languages. As stated before in this blog, AAE is not “slang,” it is a rule-governed non-standard dialect of English. AAE jokes have no doubt played a role in spreading the (untrue) notion to the public that AAE is “incorrect” or “broken” English.