The video above is a part of a series on NBC’s Today morning show called “Teens Tell All.” In this episode of the series, teens reveal popular “slang” terms that today’s (no pun intended) parents are unaware of.
While celebrities such as Beyonce and Drake were credited with their roles in creating some of these terms, the actual population of people who have popularized these terms were nowhere to be found in the segment. Excluding the black girl shown at 1:22 in the picture among a group of white students (and Orange Is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba among the sea of patriotic white women at 1:46), there was no representation of the African-American youth who spur much of the coolness of these terms. Instead it was “Sarah” and “Becky” lamentably describing the meaning of terms like “woke” and “lit.”
Was this intentional? I doubt it.
Was the Today show staff apprehensive of searching for and traveling to an “inner-city” high school to produce this series from a more source-based perspective? Possibly.
Regardless of the reasoning, the fact is that all of the terms referenced originate from or have been popularized by African-American youth and hip-hop culture – yet both were heavily underrepresented in the segment.
During the segment, NBC’s Stephanie Gosk made several interesting claims ― in particular, the following two:
- “Teens use coded language as an expression of independence - a way to create identity separate from parents.”
- “Because of social media, slang these days gets hot fast and burns out faster.”
The irony lies in the fact that while these statements might be true, they also speak to the adverse origins and enduring creativity of a population of people who were excluded from the segment.
In a 1979 essay by James Baldwin entitled “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?”, he references the origins of “Black English” (which tends to be contemporarily referred to as “slang” or “ebonics”) to the African diaspora:
I say that the present skirmish is rooted in American history, and it is. Black English is the creation of the black diaspora. Blacks came to the United States chained to each other, but from different tribes: Neither could speak the other’s language. If two black people, at that bitter hour of the world’s history, had been able to speak to each other, the institution of chattel slavery could never have lasted as long as it did. Subsequently, the slave was given, under the eye, and the gun, of his master, Congo Square, and the Bible―or in other words, and under these conditions, the slave began the formation of the black church, and it is within this unprecedented tabernacle that black English began to be formed. This was not, merely, as in the European example, the adoption of a foreign tongue, but an alchemy that transformed ancient elements into a new language.
Black people in America have been creating terms as a means of survival and community identity expression since they were unjustly brought here, and now this practice is yet another that has been columbused by the descendants of a deceitful discoverer. The white majority, who many of these terms were created to create separation from, have now made a trend of appropriating them – even to the point of using them incorrectly and reproaching themselves.
The segment ironically ends with a young white girl describing activities such as “liking Starbucks and wearing uggs and lululemon leggings” as being “basic” – activities that are traditionally associated with white women. And interestingly enough, her explanation of “basic” actually highlights the complexity of some of the deepest facets of America’s hypocrisy.
In addition to unintentionally berating her own culture, this young white girl provided a prime example of the “great” population of America’s fear of its own reflection. One can assume that Trump’s (and his supporter’s) idea of a new and “great America” does not involve white children fervently using Black colloquialisms to “create a separate identity from their parents.”
Unfortunately, this hypocrisy is not a new phenomenon, as black culture has been glorified and monopolized by whites in America since the country’s conception. And unsurprisingly, Black culture continues to be loved profusely while Black lives must simultaneously be petitioned for value.
What does America’s (and the world’s) extreme affinity for Black culture mean for the future, especially in a Trump America?
In a report from the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, Black buying power is projected to reach $1.2 trillion this year and $1.4 trillion by 2020. And according to the Selig Center, major brands must tailor their marketing to black consumers because “they’re younger on average” and are “trendsetters and tastemakers for young consumers of all races.”
I would challenge the Selig Center, or other entities like it, to analyze terms such as those referenced in NBC’s segment and the economic impact that could be seen if the communities that create and popularize them were somehow justly compensated.
Perhaps, while President-elect Trump is attempting to bolster our economy for “working” Americans, the more equitable leaders and economists in our country can figure out a way that disenfranchised Blacks can more adequately profit from their unwavering intellectual capital and creativity.
Sadly, this thought will most likely have to remain just that for the foreseeable future.
Can we honestly expect a country that still questions slavery’s role in its establishment as the world’s largest economy, despite its Federal bank financing the slave trade, to revolutionize a system so that Taco Bell and Peaches Monroee can profit financially from her creation of the phrase “on fleek?”
I unfortunately don’t think we can at this point and suppose we might just all have to keep living in a world of lululemon legging wearers.