HASSAN GHANNY

AAVE: Some Afro-Caribbean Perspectives

AAVE: Some Afro-Caribbean Perspectives

Two camps of people were posted up on Twitter on Friday afternoon: folks debating the usage of AAVE by white people and non-black people of color, and folks asking "AAVE? What's that?" After an Asian-American Twitter user by the name of Claudia was accused of "talking black" by some of her followers, she posted a series of Tweets (some now removed) defending her usage of African-American Vernacular English, known to some as Ebonics. Claudia seemed to say that racial stereotypes against Asians were not fully realized in the debate over whether Asian-Americans like herself could use AAVE.

AAVE as a concept is still in development, but has been defined over the past few decades in several ways by academics, linguists, and social critics both Black and otherwise. Its history has many political undertones, as the definition and recognition of AAVE as legitimate has been tied into providing better education to Black Americans among other causes. One resource, The Online Journal of African-American English, sums up the definition in the most nuanced way:

Classifying AA[V]E concretely as a language or dialect is also a tough question, because there’s no real concrete answer. It’s safe to simply refer to AA[V]E as a complete variety of English, and one that is systematic and rule-based. AA[V]E is a not just a collection of words or β€˜slang,’ and it’s not quite the same thing as Ebonics.* It has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and social rules for usage.
— https://africanamericanenglish.com/about/

While many Twitter users of various racial identities chimed in on the matter, one bloc of voices was conspicuously absent or at least unorganized: that of Afro-Caribbeans, particularly Americans of Afro-Caribbean heritage. In many areas of the United States, Afro-Caribbeans and African Americans coexist, intermarry, and participate in larger Black communities in tandem; many second-generation Afro-Caribbeans may choose to identify as African American out of ease of understanding by white people who are unfamiliar with the Caribbean, save perhaps as a budget vacation destination. If Afro-Caribbeans are not just using AAVE but in many cases creating it, what weight do they hold in this debate?

One such user, blogger of Afro-Trinidadian descent @PutinistaJonez, caused some controversy by extending the usage of AAVE to non-black people so long as they grew up in "the hood" as a broad category of places.

Another Afro-Caribbean user, @kailathecrucian of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, seemed to share this sentiment:

Some other users were not as willing to extend such a courtesy, especially given the generally anti-black attitudes of many non-black users of AAVE. The tweets below were from Black users of various ethnic identities:

Also missing from the disccusion is the experience of Caribbean Afro-Latinx people. We found a few comments from bloggers posted before Friday's discussion that seem to call for a shared participation of AAVE among Black Latinx.

It's safe to say that no culture, race, or ethnic identity is a monolith, and the debate over AAVE does not begin or end here on Twitter. The dialect used by a Black person in Atlanta, Houston, and Chicago respectively will invariably not be exactly the same, much like a Guyanese person would hardly be expected to understand even the general gist of Jamaican patois. As the conversation continues to shape itself, we give power to Black Caribbean people in America to define their experience on their terms.

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