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What People Who Accused Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Of ‘Verbal Blackface’ Will Never Understand About Code-switching

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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.”

READ: AOC Says Fox News Host Jeanine Pirro Is Responsible For Threats Against Rep. Ilhan Omar

Kamala Harris’ Decision To Pass On Death Penalty For Gang Member Who Killed A Latino Officer Casts Shadow On Her Campaign

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Kamala Harris’ Decision To Pass On Death Penalty For Gang Member Who Killed A Latino Officer Casts Shadow On Her Campaign

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

When Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced her candidacy for presidency in January, Democrats were conflicted. Some celebrated the possibility of our first female president of color. Others, however, were concerned about her complicated history around progressive issues in California, particularly on the death penalty.

Throughout Harris’ career, she has staunchly spoken out against capital punishment. In 2003, when she ran for San Francisco district attorney, she promised not to impose the death penalty. She won the seat, and the following year, then four months into the gig, she kept her promise in a case that has followed her into her bid for president.

A young Latino officer, Isaac Espinoza, was shot and killed by a gang member while on the job. As progressive as California is, it was unusual at the time to not seek the death penalty in cases where men in badges were the victims. But Harris held tight to her convictions, announcing in a press conference before Espinoza was buried that she would seek life without the possibility of parole, not the death penalty, for the suspect.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association was stunned, vocally lambasting Harris’ decision and never endorsing the candidate in any future election. Renata Espinoza, the widow of the late officer, was also upset.

“I felt like she had just taken something from us,” Espinoza told CNN in a recent interview. “She had just taken justice from us. From Isaac. She was only thinking of herself. I couldn’t understand why. I was in disbelief that she had gone on and already made her decision to not seek the death penalty for my husband.”

Losing the support of top Democrats in her state as well as most powerful law enforcement groups, Harris’ future in electoral politics seemed shaky at the time, but she insisted then, and today, that she “did what I believed was the right thing to do.”

That’s why it’s so confounding to Californians, both on the left and the right of the political aisle, that four years later, then state attorney general, Harris upheld the death penalty in Calfornia. In July 2014, a federal judge ruled that California’s death penalty system was unconstitutional because nearly half of the inmates on death row had been waiting for more than 19 years, uncertain of their future. The judge said the delay and confusion “violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” His ruling, however, was appealed, as some believed it would open petitions for other inmates across the state and country. Ultimately, it fell on Harris to decide to let the opinion stand or appeal it. In a surprise to everyone, she chose the latter, refuting the judge’s language that the system for capital punishment is “arbitrary or random.” Ultimately, a politician who had built a career, and had it threatened, by her stance against the death penalty had the power to ban it in California and, instead, chose to uphold it.

For Espinoza, the appeal was a slap in the face. “It feels like, why are you changing your mind now? Why couldn’t you change your mind back then and put your feelings aside,” she said, noting that she was speaking up today “for voters to have a full picture of the candidate and her humanity.”

Despite criticism and confusion from Democrats and Republicans alike, Harris has insisted that her take on the matter has never shifted.

“I’ve been [opposed] my entire life and still am, for very good reasons,” Harris recently told Rachel Maddow.

She added: “We are talking about a system that creates a final punishment without any requirement that there be DNA to prove it … It is a system where it has been fundamentally proven to be applied to African American and Latino men and poor men disproportionately for the same kind of crime.”

The issue, which has followed her career as a district attorney, attorney general and senator, will undoubtedly shadow her into her presidential bid as well.

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