What People Who Accused Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Of ‘Verbal Blackface’ Will Never Understand About Code-switching
On April 5, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at an event alongside Rev. Al Sharpton for his National Action Network convention, which was also the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It was there that she addressed a proximately black audience and talked about her Green New Deal and about visionary hard-working laborers like herself.
But when it came to her speech on the proposed stimulus program, Ocasio-Cortez’s critics opted to narrow in on her delivery rather than her message. In the days after her speech, critics accused Ocasio-Cortez of a range of offenses including verbal blackface, putting on a blackcent and pandering.
Here’s a clip of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez speaking to a black audience, which has conservatives in an uproar and claiming she is code-switching.
Their issue with her is that she is changing her way of speaking. Conservatives say that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez varies her dialect depending on who she is talking to, whether that audience is Latino, Black, or Jewish, she code switches to fit that group.
Before we go on, the definition of code-switching is “the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.”
Conservative talk show host John Cardillo, tweeted, “In case you’re wondering, this is what blackface sounds like.” Others also accused her behaving the same way as Hillary Clinton, who in 2007 addressed people in Selma, Alabama.
However, there’s a vast difference between what Clinton has done, and what Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is being accused of. For starters, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is from the Bronx, not from a wealthy white environment.
AOC took great offense to people accusing her of code-switching saying they can “step right off.”
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said that “Any kid who grew up in a distinct linguistic culture and had to learn to navigate class enviros at school/work knows what’s up.” She added that “As much as the right wants to distort and deflect, I am from the Bronx. I act and talk like it, *especially* when I’m fired up and especially when I’m home. It is so hurtful to see how every aspect of my life is weaponized against me, yet somehow asserted as false at the same time.”
John McWhorter, a Black contributing editor at The Atlantic and professor at Columbia University, agrees with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez saying that Latinos conform to their environment whether they grow up on the West or East Coast.
“Ocasio-Cortez’s critics seem to assume that since she is not black, her use of Black English must be some kind of act,” he writes. “This, however, is based on a major misreading of the linguistic reality of Latinos in America’s big cities. Since the 1950s, long-term and intense contact between black and Latino people in urban neighborhoods has created a large overlap between Black English and, for example, ‘Nuyorican’ English, the dialect of New York’s Puerto Rican community. To a considerable extent, Latinos now speak ‘Ebonics’ just as Black people do, using the same slang and constructions, code-switching between it and standard English (and Spanish!) in the same ways.”
AOC also took this time to educate people on code-switching and referenced last year’s release of the movie “Sorry To Bother You.”
“Next time you‘re told straight hair is ‘unprofessional’ and that speaking like your parents do is ‘uneducated,’ then you can complain about code-switching. Code-switching is a tool communities learn when they’re told their voice, appearance, & mannerisms are “unprofessional.'”
She went on to say that when white people tell young minorities to change who they are, this is ultimately shaming them and continuing a cycle of racism.
“We see the perceived ‘costs’ to not code-switching all the time. Can’t tell you how many young people in our community don’t have the confidence they should bc they didn’t grow up learning secondary speech. Their talents get stifled by ‘respectability,’ despite enormous gifts, she tweeted. “The good news is that we can improve this easily w/ honest reflection. For example, are certain hairstyles discouraged in your workplace? Why? Can you think of someone who didn’t advance bc of how they spoke? Why? Examine what’s deemed ‘unprofessional’ around you & adapt it to 2019.”