Why White People Talk to Black People in Slang

One reader questions why some white people speak to her (a Black woman) in slang. Read this article to see the White Guy's answer.

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
I am a well-educated, middle class black woman from upstate New York. Why do some white people speak to me in slang? It’s as though they think they need to talk “cool” (in their perception) to be understood by me. Also, why do some white people appear surprised when they first see me after having spoken to me on the phone? Why, why, why do some white people think black people don’t speak the king’s English?

Almost everyone has to deal with white people, but most white people live a highly segregated life–especially socially. This leads to discomfort in business and social interactions–that’s where you’ll hear dumb talk and stupid “accents.”

One of the highest “cringe factor” things a person can do is use an accent or lingo that does not belong to them.

Recommended Articles


  • i never knew i “talked black” until i dealt with a person who was mildly retarded and they called me white black lady. I am a college educated white perosn who has spent much of my time growing up and after college working with black people. i dont do it on purpose, i didnt even know i was doing it! i do associate with alot of black people because i am used to it and feel comfortable, but i have plenty of white friends…

    • Same. I speak the king’s English online, but usually when I talk to white people, I have to “whiten” up my accent or they will call me a wigger. In the same breath, a lot of black people think I’m being patronizing, when it really is just the way that I grew up speaking as a part of a predominantly black community. It’s just natural to me. Most of my friends are non-white.

  • Most black people believe caucasions have had more opportunities to succeed in life than Afro-Americans have had within the last 25-30 years.

    NAACP, Minority Scholarships, Minority Colleges, Brunson Edu Bill, Affirmitive Action, Ever Expanding EEOC Laws, the “Diversity” trend in big business, corporate forced over-sensitivity to embellished prejudice actions by caucasions, etc…. You get the drift.

    Example: Currently in the state of NC, the government is giving approx. $2,000.00 a year to minority women from 6th to 12th grade as a reward for not getting pregnant. They then can use this money for college tuition & expenses (which includes a car, clothes, food, and frat/soror fees).
    This is approx $14,000.00

    Why only minority women?
    Because they have more illegitimate children.

    Caucasions feel black people speak in EBONICS because the majority of you do. Just an observation. However, there are exceptions. Just like there are exceptions to the misperception caucasions have had more opportunities than blacks since the mid 1970’s.

    Nothing worth having comes for free.


    • Actually, the MAJORITY of us do NOT get pregnant from the 6th to 12th grade. THAT is a misconception. It’s actually 0.3% of the ENTIRE POPULATION, how is that the equivalent of 51%? That is an extremely racist remark by an extremely sheltered Caucasian. Just speak in your natural tongue and call it a day. You’d sound like an uneducated idiot when you’re speaking in what they termed “ebonics” whether the individual you’re speaking to uses the lingo or not when it’s not something you speak in or not. For those who use it usually use it in close circles anyways and also know how to speak in proper English when in professional or informal circles anyway. They would not use informal English on a job interview. It’s plain insulting. I don’t speak Ebonics and it’s embarrassing for me and them when anyone speaks to me using it because I can’t understand a word of it. Yes, I will put you on notice. “You’ll have to repeat every word because I have no idea what you just said.” Now everyone is red faced. How do you answer my next question without further embarrassing yourself (and do it without proving you’re a racist or an idiot): “What about me made you think I would understand that lingo?”

    • Where are you sourcing your statistics, friend?

      You sure sound like the collegiate scholar who’s never gotten below an A in his prep school life. I could write an essay on all of the negative misconceptions you seem to have…

      “there are exceptions to the misperception caucasians have had more opportunities than blacks since the mid 1970’s”

      But that statement right there? I could assuredly flesh out a book from that statement alone… If only I had such time haha. Now listen, when your entire race as a whole has faced brutal racism and, in my case, misogyny since America’s infantile years, you might understand and be more open to the simple fact that YES, our white brothers DO tend to get “more opportunities”.

      Not saying this is true for all whites, oh no. Everyones story is different…but to completely disregard the fact that this nation is still majority white and the majority of rich, well-to-do, high status families are white isn’t exactly a freakin mystery, Sherlock.

      Educate yourself before listing some wikipedia-esque statistics, or cite your sources…

      P.S. My father, a black man, is a Princeton graduate who, at the time had about 3-4 black classmates per class, and we know how large those classrooms are. He came from a sort of poor family, but my dad worked harder than anyone I know to get to where he is today…

      P.P.S. I don’t associate the use of ebonics with one’s intelligence, slang is slang k?

  • Charles … You purposely falsely perceive the majority of blacks in a negative light, to justify your “FALSE SUPERIORITY COMPLEX”. BTW the majority of illigetimate children born to mothers between the ages of 12 nd 18 are white girls. Geez Charlie don’t you watch Maury Povich??? OMG Becky!!!

  • Anyone that uses terms like majority and makes sweeping generalizations shows glaringly their lack of knowledge and refusal to move outside of what is comfortable. For some it simply is more comfortable to believe ridiculous stereotypes and perpetuate “all blacks ____” type generalizations. Anyone with any degree of intelligence knows the only absolute in life is death and even that is suspect.

    Knowing this, Charles “most of you do” statement is just that—an indication of bitterness surrounding everyone in his geographic region is utilizing government assistance and they all look alike—Charles has yet to realize if he were to move to Oklahoma, or Montana or regions that have high populations of Caucasions or individuals with white skin color—he might also find a high rate of government assistance users: *cough* farming subsidies.

    It is tiring having to constantly correct people that refuse to read. A very simple task: open a book or go to the government statistical websites—

  • charles got it exactly right everyone else can pull their panties out of a wad you soung just plain stupid, being half black and half white i feel that my opinion is more accurate and nuetral

  • I agree with what mostly Charles said. I see interact with black people everyday. hell I am black and even I speak in slang. I try not too but do it anyways. Most stereotypes against my people are true. the reason why is because so many of us do nothing to not make them true. it’s comments posted by the two after Charles that makes it impossible to beat these stereotypes because they refuse to believe our people really act like that. I’m not going to be biased just because i’m black I want to see my people move forward but only paying attention to the black people that are succeeding is not going to confiscate for the majority that don’t. no this isn’t a generalization this is a reality I see everyday.

  • I always wondered this my self. I’ve seen white people speak entirely different when they are conversing witgh a black person. I think it’s repusive. Like they can’t understand you if you don’t sound more “ghetto” I am not black, but if I was I might be amused, but most likely offended they aren’t comfortable around me to just be themselves. Just my 2 cents.

    • This is what most people think about me, but I talk differently because I grew up around, with the exception of my parents, black people who spoke very, very heavy slang. Just so happens my school was 99% black at the time, but I don’t think it would have been much different even if it wasn’t. It was just the way I grew up, talking the way we all did. I moved schools after several years of that to a majority white county school, and then people started making fun of me and calling me a wigger, said I was faking, that I wasn’t black so I shouldn’t talk like that, all sorts of epithets, etc., so I learned to talk “proper”. It’s just sort of a learned response for me. At home, I talk like I did before, and outside, I usually just talk the way a person is talking to me because I don’t like to offend people or get weird stares from teachers or other students.

  • i think because most of the people who are white have black family and friend try to fit whit them .

  • I am from Western New York and have lived in the Washington, DC Metro area for over 20 years. I am a professional and am offended that even though I speak the “King’s English,” I will have some White people and many younger first-generation immigrants (Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, etc) feel that they need to speak “Ebonics” or urban slang to me. I am not from the South and to make matters even more complicated, I am a first generation Jamaican-American.

    Growing up in NY in the 80s as a person of color, meant that you were racially conscious and aware of the effects of racism on society as a whole (…not enough time or room to explain here). I mention this because it was ingrained in my thinking that a large percentage of Americans think that because you are Black, you possess certain characteristics. These characteristics encompass: speech/dialect, propensity for crime/drugs, lack of identifying with what are considered to be “American morals/values,” charismatic worship style, etc. The sad reality of this is that since I have lived in the WDC area (in the “South” for me), these ideas are perpetuated more-so by Blacks than any other group. I often find in situations at work, that if I am speaking with African-Americans and do not speak in slang or Ebonics when whites are not around, I am looked at suspiciously as if somehow I am a sell-out or am less credible.

    Sometimes it feels like in this country, Blacks are not expected by others or themselves to be individuals. We are expected to live in the past or stay forty years behind the social development of the rest of society. Just a few thoughts…

  • The person from Western New York that now lives in Washington DC is absolutely correct.
    It does seem that there are negative/sub-standard pre-conceived expectations assigned to Black Americans. In my experience, what is ironic about this situation is that whenever we discuss race or ethnic interactions between black Americans and EVERYONE else, we most often hear all of the “stats” and stereotypes that Charles above tossed out; BUT, it appears that Blacks are as guily as others when it comes to painting themselves with the broad inferiority brush.

    I’m an American. I happen to be a black man. I can tell you that in my personal experience, I have been discriminated against by other blacks probably more than any other group of people. That’s saying something because I’ve had my moments with caucasians.
    I’m from a small, rural town in the southeastern U.S. I’ve never spoken ebonics or with a “bumpkin” accent. I speak and have always spoken clear, concise English. Why? That’s what I was taught by my parents, and in school.
    But, for some reason, I meet quite a lot of people that seem completely stunned when we have a conversation. This goes for conversations with whites,blacks, asians, hispanics, it doesn’t matter. It’s like people are just expecting something else from me. It’s also like they are just fascinated with how I speak.
    At work, I’ve even faced negative comments from black co-workers because of how I dress. One black co-worker asked me once, “why don’t you dress Urban?” I was like what??? I don’t wear Roccawear, and Encye’ or whatever, so , I’m not “tight”.
    I like Banana Republic. I like Gap. I like what ever makes me most comfortable. But, in some way, I’m less “Black” due to my taste in clothing. Yeah, ok…..

    I can go on and on about this, because it is that common in my experience. But, I will give one more example and end it there. This example by the way is a totally different discussion topic with respect to diversity. It has to do with the interaction between black Americans and black Africans.

    I dated a young lady in college from Nigeria. That relationship was without a doubt an odyssey through the world of misconceptions and racism towards black Americans. When we initially got together, I told her that I would like to learn about her culture, and that I would like to accept her culture as it was important to her.
    I asked her, if she would like to learn about and accept my culture because it was important to me. This was her response.

    “I do not believe that I will accept your culture because black Americans do not have a sense of family.”

    After meeting her parents and other siblings, I saw where her comments came from. Thankfully, that relationship was not a long one.

    Prejudice cuts in many directions. But, yes,most certainly white people(and many others) seem to EXPECT certain things from black people. Certain patterns of speech is just one of those things.

  • I think a lot of these comments are untrue. I talk to a lot of black folks and I never change the the way I talk to blend in or to be more understood. Most of the white people I know don’t do that either. White people that do change the way they talk are trying to make up for something or guilty thoughts. It makes me sick to see when white people do on TV like in the 80’s when Vanilla Ice talked black..Listen to him now..White as snow..What a weirdo!..

  • Its because its fun to talk a little different sometimes ya’lls ebonics is funny so why not

  • I’m white and I see the” suppose to talk” go both ways since I moved from native charleston were most were just geechee to charlotte and what I noticed is a kinda un official way of being politically correct like your suppose to change the way you talk for other races but I think it is stupid be happy with who you are and don’t try to be someone else cause they usually trying to be someone else (on a side the way people talk is more regional effected than anything cause I’ve always tried to be proper in the way I dork and I been told that I have bad grammar and sentence structure but being from charleston effect way I talk not being white so to stop rambling on I say that it us mainly people not comfterble with who they are)

  • I hate to say it but black as well as white you have to get a line on who your talking to .And all you want to do is get your point across,so you can’t talk to everybody the same.But what pisses me off about white people is you not only have to speak more slowly and seam so bubbly, because if you don’t they don’t even take the time to listen, they automatically assume your stupid or hostile.

  • Rather than ranting about being ignorant despite ‘education’, I’ll make a simple point. Society teaches generalizations to the young because they are easier to understand. Dialects change from region to region but last I checked speech is not visible… unless it is sign language and smoke signals. It is a pointless argument to make, but labels are there to describe, not define. If you dislike how a person is talking let them know (directly and peacefully). If you aren’t willing to help stop something you see as a problem, you shouldn’t complain about it.

    “Accents do not make you more or less intelligent, they simply invite fools to make assumptions.” ~ Wilson J. Scroggs

  • sometimes practically its true that white people treat in a frustrated manner because of thier colour but they forget to think that black people are elso a human being,god has everything to them also except colour.See only colour wont help a human being to survive.So white people should keep these things in mind and treat black people like others.

  • If more white people had black friends like me, it wouldn’t be such a problem. White people are scared to be friends with black people because they don’t know anything about them. A lot of blacks wouldn’t give me a chance in south GA until they hung around for a while. Get to know black people, besides skin color, many thing are exactly the same when you hang out.

  • I am white, and some of my best friends are African American. I watch Tyler Perry movies, and when my friends and I are together, I have a tendency to speak the same way that my friends do. I wondered about it at first when I was younger, but I realized something: when I’m with my friends, we are the most comfortable and the most vulnerable.
    I have a big of a booty, and because I happened to be interested in some of the same things and could fit in with my friend’s roommates, we all became friends and they started calling me black. We were really good friends, but unless they were making jokes and calling me black, the topic of race was never even brought up.
    While some people speak with slang when they speak to African Americans in a way to “blend in” or whatever you want to call it, others can’t help it – we get so comfortable with each other that we start to speak and act the same way. Shouldn’t that be a good thing, that we are able to combine our language and cultures?

    • Luke Visconti

      You sound very genuine. I’m sure your friends appreciate you—I can tell you appreciate them. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Anonymous Whiteboy

    It’s called “code switching.” Not all white people do this intentionally. If you spend enough time around a particular group, chances are you will end up talking like them, and that goes both ways. You put a person from the ghetto in the suburbs, they’ll probably start speaking like those around them eventually, and vice versa. This happens with accents as well as slang. It’s a human adaptive trait to conform yourself to the environment around you. And “culture” is more fluid than one might think.

    Sure, there are white people who awkwardly try to imitate black stereotypes. They are lame. That’s who this article would apply to. There are others who either grew up around or lived around black people who talk that way, and talk that way themselves naturally. Unless accent or speech is genetically determined (which I think most of us would agree is a racist idea), than accent and speech patterns happen as a result of exposure. White people don’t have a gene that makes them immune to the influence of their environment. Sure, there is more social pressure on them to “talk white”. They will get ridiculed if they don’t.

    One time I met a white guy from Oakland, and I remarked that he “sounded” like he was from Oakland. He admitted that he had to turn it off in the workplace. We were both white. He didn’t need to put on an act for me, and he wasn’t. The only act he put on was trying to sound more stereotypically “white” in a corporate setting.

    To be fair, I’m sorry for the black people who have to put up with white people changing their speech around them. As a white person who prefers to speaks in AAVE, all I can say is this:

    If you ever catch me talking that way, I’m not necessarily doing it to impress you. It could be that the sight of black skin triggers an unconscious reaction, signalling to my brain that you may be a kindred spirit, and that I can talk the way I feel comfortable talking. I could be wrong, but after enough exposure to black people who DO talk that way and white people who DON’T, it’s a strong possibility that the sensors in my subconscious could be a little bit off. Again, I apologize. I do try to talk a little stereotypically “whiter” around black people who do talk that way. If it makes you feel any better, white people, including my own grandmother have remarked on the way I speak. I’ve also been asked if I’m from the south. At this point, speaking this way is automatic for me. It’s not necessarily about you.

  • AfricanPride

    Its usually low class and suburban whites that speak to blacks using urban black lingo IN AMERICA because they are uncomfortable around blacks. I have not experienced this in Europe and in Canada.

    A well traveled, SECURE, and educated white person or european never feels the need to be pretentious around blacks.

    I’m a 27 yr old doctorates degree holder from Africa. I’m native East African. I’ve studied in london and l’ve lived in Chicago for about 4 years. I’ve experienced this pretentiousness from low class white Americans in chicago. They speak to me using urban black lingo. They immediately change the tone and their speech pattern when they hear me speak because i have a british-African accent. I speak clear and concisely. I find it hilarious and insulting at the same time when whites “code switch” with me.

    “whutz poppin ma dude?”…..that came from a caucasian male customer AT MY WORKPLACE in Chicago. I’ve dealt with european customers and they never code switch with me. I know white American guys don’t greet each other in that manner so the fact that I’m being greeted that way, only leads me to conclude that they do so because i am black.

    I speak to clients on the phone and they act surprised when they see me in person. I guess they were expecting to see a white or Asian in person.

    African Americans also act surprised when they here me speak for the first time…but they NEVER immediately change their tone or speech pattern around me….

    America is a very prejudiced country and as long as you are black, you will be spoken to and treated accordingly by the uneducated white majority. They will pre-judge you just by virtue of your skin color. Alot of them have preconcieved notions about blacks. To them, all blacks speak a certain way, act a certain way, and dress a certain way. They feel they have to imitate the stereotype to communicate with blacks…They feel they have to “talk black” in order for blacks to accept them….They feel they have to sneak in a fake southern drawl and infuse “urban ghetto” terminologies to communicate effectively with me because i’m black…lol…

    I havent experienced this from upper class whites or any other minority groups in America.

    I currently live in a upper class diverse neighborhood in DC/Maryland area. My workplace is in that same neighborhood. My coworkers all have degrees. The location of my workplace attracts an educated crowd. I dont deal with pretentiousness from low class uneducated whites in my current neighborhood because everyone i encounter speaks basic straight forward english AT ALL TIMES.

    With that being said, i firmly believe the “code switching” comes with the area in which you live….depends on the city, state, region….

    If you live and work in a diverse educated upper class neighborhood, you will deal with far less unwarranted racial prejudices.

  • I’m a 65 year-old African American. I’ve never heard Ebonics spoken. Everyone in my family speaks Standard English, whether they’re from Florida or New York, where I was born. I’ve heard about the Ebonics controversy, and I’ve attributed it possibly to hip hop or rap music.

  • EITHER they think black people, like all people from different countries, communicate in their own language and think they have to communicate with them in their appropriate language OR they wish they were black. Even though I don’t speak how they think I should speak, I still get white guys (and girls) greeting me with “Wat up, dog?” “Hows it hanging, bro?” (i get ‘bro’ a lot) “give me five” (thank god no one’s told me to give them ‘ten’–i’d flip). I don’t get mad, I think they just watch too much T.V. and movies. It’s probably the same reason why they think all asians know karate and act like Bruce Lee or think all latin people eat Taco Bell and speak like Mexicans. It’s all ignorance, but a lot of it’s is conscious ignorance. They know better, it’s just that they don’t want to know better. They like being able to recognize black people as ‘ghetto’, ‘hip’ and ‘cool’, asians as ‘book worms’ ‘nerdy’ ‘rich’, and latinos as ‘wetbacks’ ‘criminals’ and ‘poor’. Sadly, this is the white dominated thinking society we all live in.

  • Jerome,

    I feel ya dog! Just kidding, couldnt help it. I agree with the guy from west africa with the phd. It is all about education level, area of town you are in. You made a sweeping generalization about whites. Sorry you cant see it any other way.

  • Its sad but people dont communicate..instead they just accept however they have been treated instead of questioning who offended them in the first place. I say if a person of any color offended or bothered you…open your mouth..instead of going online. If you do want answers ask the source of your frustration..you may have an eye opening moments about race and stetotypes in America.

  • BarryButtboy

    I tell black people to speakenglish cause they sound so fuking stupid they way they talk. I tell them to change theri stupid names too. LOW IQ they are

« Previous Article     Next Article »