More than 10 years ago, a woman uttered the famous line, “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” after escaping a fire in her apartment complex.
The video of Oklahoma resident Kimberly Wilkins received millions of hits on YouTube. However, what was initially seen as comical by many was her use of African American English, or AAE.
R. Danielle Scott, speech language pathologist and assistant professor at Minnesota State, educated students and faculty about African American English in a lecture titled “It’s the AAE for Me: Resisting Anti-Black Racism,” in the CSU Tuesday.
“To understand black language is to understand American history,” Scott said.
African American English developed from slave resistance and African dialects. Although the language comes from a time period of strength and struggle, the use of African American English is often seen as informal in the eyes of the educational system.
Despite the derision it receives, African American English embodies resilience for Scott.
“It is a language that started because of something tragic, like transatlantic slave trade,” Scott said. “We still use it today, but we’ve kind of taken it back and made it more complex and I think it should be celebrated.”
During her training for speech therapy at graduate school, Scott recalls being ridiculed by her fellow graduate cohort for her use of African American English.
“They would laugh, they would snicker, and I’m like ‘Why are they doing that?’” Scott said.
Scott had not learned what African American English was until she read an article that validated her language, and gave examples of the words and phrases she was using in class.
“I literally started crying,” Scott said. “I knew it was wrong that they were making fun of me, but I didn’t know why. Ever since then I wanted to learn as much as I can so that I can empower myself, but I knew that I was going to be working with black children in schools so I wanted to empower them.”
Within the media that circulates today, what is thought to be slang spoken by Generation Z is oftentimes appropriation of African American English. Although the two are not interchangeable, those who use this language in this way do so inappropriately and with syntactic error. The backlash that this dialect undergoes from this is considered anti-black linguistic racism, a form of racism intended to de-legitimize black culture.
“We can’t move past that until we actually acknowledge that,” Scott said.
One of Scott’s many speech language pathology students at MSU, Julia McCabe, attended the presentation in support of her professor.
“I thought it was very enlightening and refreshing to hear that she is educating everyone on what we just are learning about in this world. She is starting somewhere, which is a start,” McCabe said. “She’s very approachable and makes you feel comfortable asking the uncomfortable questions.”
Scott has every intention of using African American English in her classroom, and encourages every classroom, as early as kindergarten, to do the same.
“It’s my language so I intentionally use it with my students because it is who I am and I want to be my authentic self,” Scott said. “I’m comfortable in who I am and I’m not gonna make them uncomfortable by showing who they are. I want everyone to be comfortable, but it starts with me modeling that.”
Scott brought light to this issue while celebrating the anniversary of her Ph.D. at the event.
“I have a Ph.D. and I also say, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that.’ Period,” Scott said.
With the intention of further educating the world on validating African American English, the Oxford University Press plans to release a dictionary of African American English terms in two years.
Header Photo: Dr. R. Danielle Scott, pictured above, hosted a discussion breaking down AAE, African American English, its roots and how it’s affected culture today. (Dylan Engel / The Reporter)
Write to Mercedes Kauphusman at email@example.com