Black peoples and culture have played a large role in shaping America. They have given of themselves through a continued diaspora, through music, literature, art, activism, and all manner of things. When privileged people, like white people, find a piece of Black culture, and then utilize it for their own purposes without understanding the origins and appreciating the rich tapestry from which it springs, they are taking, they are appropriating, they are continuing the centuries-long tradition of cultural otherizing and subjugation. Usurping the voice of a self-determining and self-empowering people means they (as individuals and collectively) pay a high price, with high interest rates. When white people appropriate a piece of Black culture, like music or hair styles, and then launch their own version, often the original form is seen negatively, and the appropriated form is elevated without cause.
Below, Jamila Lyiscott discusses African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and the value of voice in her TED talk, “Three Ways to Speak English”. As you watch Lyiscott’s talk, ask: what is the sound of “smart”, and who decides what value a voice has?