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Why White People Talk to Black People in Slang

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?

Answer:
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. 

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20 Comments

  • Anonymous

    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…

  • Anonymous

    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.

    Thanks,
    Charles

  • 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!!!

  • Anonymous

    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—

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Anonymous

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

  • Anonymous

    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…

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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!..

  • Anonymous

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

  • Anonymous

    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)

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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.

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