The history of Blaccent

Originally published at: The history of Blaccent | Boing Boing


I definitely grew up being taught to code switch and as a result my default is “sounding white” but I can slip into AAVE when it suits the situation. The podcast You’re Wrong About has a fascinating and well researched episode about AAVE and Ebonics. I’m just so glad young people today may not be stigmatized for using their natural speech in school and the public sphere.


Of course for many women, it’s a lot of pressure about accents AND appearance.


I wonder about this in other regions, like in the UK. Since those with African appearance are either from Jamaica or from one of the Africa nations, do they have a common “blaccent” outside of the experience of the USA?

For that matter, how many other cultures have language as a form of identification? I know the Bavarians do, proudly preserving their dialect in the face of German homogenization, but even an Immigrant from the USA like I am can eventually pull it off. Or people who look Turkish.

For what it’s worth, I think I get what Devin is trying to say, and he does make his feelings palpable for this Happy Mutant. Don’t think I’m being a know-it-all, though: I know nothing, really, and am not ashamed to admit it. Heck, I don’t even know how privileged I really am, though I suspect a lot.


Same, but the more I watch these videos or hear examples of appropriation it makes me consider that there are degrees to everything. Even with my family there’s a blend in our speech. There are certain things we’d say with friends that we never would around older family members. OTOH, there are expressions learned from older family members that are still closely held and not used with folks outside the culture.

I mostly worked in corporate settings, and that stigma is still alive in my experience. Those remarks about people being considered less educated or less serious and how that can limit upward mobility are things I’ve seen. I remember a receptionist at one office who was fired because she slipped into AAVE when she got overwhelmed. Managers complained that she “sounded unprofessional.” There were people of color purposely left out of meetings with business teams, management, or external clients because of it.

I attended schools with mostly White classmates. At K-12 levels, using AAVE in front of a teacher would lead to a student being corrected. Once at college, a group of students complained they were going to transfer to an HBCU during a BSU meeting, because they were tired of dealing with microaggressions. The response to that was, “OK, and after that good luck avoiding it wherever you work and live.”

Maybe it’s changing for the better, but those video examples in the media from the early 20th century reminded me of The Klumps and Madea. They’re entertaining caricatures for some, and fodder for mockery to others. I used to watch Black-ish and cringe at Dre’s attempts to educate his colleagues or How to Get Away with Murder and feel sorry for Annalise and Michaela who were working so hard to fit in. :woman_shrugging:t4:


I would imagine so, if at least regionally.

The thing about AAVE is that to the extent that it’s consistent nationally in the US, it’s down to shit like segregation and The Great Northern Migration, and continued connections between influential Black communities in major urban centers. So it’s effectively a regional dialect, or group of them, that’s bound by race not geography.

I don’t know how much that ports outside of similar context, or if anyone’s looking. Cause one of the other things about AAVE is no one was looking. The bulk of the original research here was done by a single linguist, primarily in Philadelphia.

So it’s not consistent, and not exactly synonymous with “blaccent”. You got regional variations, it’s not exclusively about pronunciation or even grammar. The particular dialect some one is speaking can nest in both AAVE and another regional dialect. Or some one can “talk white” but the particular dialect they speak can still be rooted to one extent or another in AAVE.

Oddly enough, or maybe not. “Jawn” as a bit of Philly vernacular has become a bit of a poster child for this sort of thing. It’s regionally specific, from AAVE but not limited to it, rooted in the same history. But shot off multiple streams that entered American English in general.

This being America though. The whole subject is hopelessly wrapped up in the sort of judgements and identity weird Devon is dealing with. And there’s still a bunch of stink on it from a media panic about “Ebonics” in the 90’s.


Yes, different groups have their own argot or patois, depending on the country where they live (or from which they emigrated). My SIL is from the Caribbean and what is spoken by her family is distinctive among a group of islands that formerly known as the British West Indies. However, there are groups in conflict with each other among those islands, and sometimes words with different indigenous roots, which makes the vocabulary unique.

A dialect can also be a reflection of a group’s degree of assimilation, which is part of the cultural and class controversies surrounding AAVE.

I may have skin in the game in the literal sense, but not in the metaphorical equivalent.

My personal dealings with AAVE only make its continued usage by other races even more confusing. I’m viewed as a heretic if I abstain from using AAVE because it doesn’t feel congruent with my lexicon and sensibilities.

The main thing that’s helped me with this is having an ear for languages. I might not be able to respond in kind, but can understand what was said. That can be a double-edged sword if folks make the mistake of talking about me, though! Having “skin in the game” can be an advantage when folks can’t easily determine where you’re from (or where you’re coming from) unless or until you speak. Still, it does suck to be “othered,” especially in spaces where you would expect to feel free of the stress of that (if only for a while). At times like that, I reflect on this:


I attended a party in Philadelphia once, where I was one of the first arrivals, and for about half an hour I was the only white person in the room

I found myself speaking “Black” a little bit because that was the language being spoken there

I didn’t think about it, it didn’t seem to be a problem

… until a second white person showed up—then suddenly I was on the wrong side of a line :confused:


For most people it is instinctive to “blend in” with those around them.


“… I “talk white.” My voice has been a source of great pain throughout my life since the simple act of speaking earns me the ire, even if unintentionally, of a large swath of Black Americans.”

Can’t escape people who have a problem with what others do with their own bodies.


I imagine Elvis’ accent is particularly complicated because he grew up in Mississippi and Tennessee, where everybody’s accent was already a lot closer to “Blaccent” than if he was raised in, say, New York City. Is there anything about the way he sings that is an obvious “tell” that he’s putting on an affectation?


And of course, as a visitor, I was also encountering “white Philadelphian” as a different foreign accent

Over the weeks I was there I must have “gone native” enough that I perceived people I talked to over the phone back home as distinctively Californian, with a kind of sing-songy tone-based dialect that I probably still speak—but living on the West Coast again I never notice it


I thank the sweet baby Jesus i never picked up any Philly accent.

Phone pronounced as “foo-ne”, or maybe it’s more line “foe-n” alone makes my brains hurt. There’s a very, very nails on chalkboard combo of clipped everything with exaggerated vowels thing going on.

It is interesting how limited that is. It’s very particular parts of the city, and specific communities. Old south Philly Italian families. Fishtown Irish kids. Bits of the suburbs. Everyone else just sounds like the rest of the North East.

Still give me shit about how NY I sound tho.


Thanks to you and @Ryuthrowsstuff, you both gave me food for thought. It’s smart people like you who keep me in this BBS as my main social app.

I personally have a bad habit of not so much trying to blend in, but to affect an accent that makes me different. When I speak German, I work hard to not sound American but Franconian, except when I am in Franconia itself. Then I aim for more of a Munich dialect. When speaking to fellow Anglophones, I aim for a “mid-Atlantic” accent that is neither American nor Canadian nor Irish nor British, just enough of all to put me in the uncanny valley I feel at home in, for some reason. At least that’s my conceit.


This video was fine, as usual way too surface level, wish they would share some rabbit holes (especially books) which more deeply cover the topic.

I think the use of vernacular or jargon to fit in, stand out, include, exclude, etc. is about 100 times more important now in the 21st century in the age of social media where there is a surface level “equal playing field” than it was in the 1920s / “Amos and Andy” era when people just blatantly used skin color to do so.

That being said I would much rather have had a 10 minute video from Devin on what they wrote in the blog, which just sounds much more interesting and educational to this privileged white outsider.

It’s funny you say this …

As someone from a large rural Southern White family tree, I have relatives who speak with more of a stereotypical “white trash” East Texas accent (think Hank Williams or Hank Hill), some with the classic “Southern British” accent (think Scarlett O’Hara or Blanche DuBois), and some with a stereotypical accent I can only describe as the “Elvis” accent, which would definitely sonically be closer to a “Black Southern” accent like James Brown or Martin Luther King, Jr.

So yes Southern folks would definitely have recognized Elvis was from a poorer family and an area that had a large Black population just by his accent.

They wouldn’t have thought he was appropriating his accent, just everything else.


I do that in my language studies, too. That’s partly to avoid immediately being identified as an American, though. After the effort of adjusting clothing and gestures, my accent is the finishing touch. A few times, people refused to believe me when I told them my real nationality, because of the languages I speak. Not sure how much of that came from stereotypes about Americans in general or Black people in particular.

That’s a lot to cover, especially in terms of respectability politics. There have been some Daily Show pieces that covered these topics. Here is Trevor Noah’s very interesting video on accents:

Also, Roy Woods Jr. did a great Behind the Scenes on Black journalists that highlighted challenges faced in the workplace:


Thanks for these I had gone hunting for something similar I found these as well

Still not at that rarer intersection of Devin’s position

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I give @dnealy a lot of credit for sharing his personal experience here, but I’m not going to ask for more. You do you, though. Also, the experience he described isn’t rare, but again, it’s personal. A discussion of the topic of Blaccent doesn’t really require it.



No one is obligated to share all personal aspects of their particular struggle.

Word. Seek trauma porn elsewhere…