Mock Ebonics (1800s- ) is vernacular Black American English (Ebonics) produced by non-native speakers – from Internet trolls to Hollywood screenwriters to the old blackface performers of the minstrel shows.
In most cases it is verbal blackface, making blacks look like they lack intelligence, excusing the racism against them.
On this blog it is almost always the most racist whites who use it.
- Overuse of the word “be”. Ebonics uses “be” to show that an action is regularly repeated or a matter of habit. Mock Ebonics likes to use it in place of “is”, “am”, “are”, etc – as pictured above.
- The speaker is white: extremely few whites speak Black English natively or have a non-racist motive for using it.
- Use of racial slurs for whites: whitey, honky, cracka. Since the 1970s this has become almost a requirement.
- Overuse of slang and offensive words. Like motherfucker, shit, ho, bitch, nigga.
- Use of stereotypes: The speaker shows a narrow, stereotyped view of blacks.
- Lack of code-switching: Used where most blacks would not use Ebonics. Like in blog comments.
- Heavy use of eye dialect: dis, dat, fo’, yo’, mo’, given’, troof, axe, raciss. Even when it does not change it from how whites say it: wuz, skillz, n’.
To most whites Ebonics sounds like slang and bad grammar, so that is what Mock Ebonics becomes. But, as it turns out, Ebonics has a grammar, one that cannot be guessed by non-native speakers.
When whites try to write in Ebonics, like for a minstrel show or a Hollywood film, they mostly get it wrong. That means blacks who take those parts have to learn a white person’s idea of how to talk like a black person! Something Robert Townsend made fun of in “Hollywood Shuffle” (1987).
Zora Neale Hurston, who heard the Mock Ebonics of minstrel shows, said it was “a weird thing, full of ‘ams’ and ‘Ises.’”.
Mock Ebonics gives Ebonics a bad name, which affects black writers. Some avoid Black English and pretty much stick to Standard English, like James Baldwin or “The Cosby Show”. Some use it anyway, like Langston Hughes or “The Color Purple”. Some use a Standard English informed by Black English, like Malcolm X (Chinua Achebe did the same in relation to Igbo).
The trouble with using Ebonics in front of whites is that it sounds just like Mock Ebonics to them. Which only confirms everything they believe about blacks lacking intelligence, about how blacks are holding themselves back and only imagining that whites are racist – overlooking the fact that most blacks have no trouble speaking Standard English.
And yet, strangely, whites use Mock Ebonics to make themselves sound cool. So tons of words and phrases have crossed over from Ebonics to Standard American English, like put-down, wing it, check it out, blow your mind, laid-back, dude – and the word cool itself.
- Standard English
- minstrel show
- stereotypes: black people according to white people
- Langston Hughes: The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain
- Chinua Achebe: The Politics And Politicians Of Language in African Literature
- Ngugi wa Thiong’o: The Language of African Literature
- Zora Neale Hurston: What White Publishers Won’t Print
- Why do whites hate, demonize, fear and look down on blacks?