My Racial Journey

Week 9

Racial Beliefs
Part II

Our racial beliefs are affected by many different factors, including language. African American Vernacular English, or AAVE, is just one of those factors. To standard or academic English speakers, hearing the sentence ‘Can’t nobody tink de way he do’ instead of ‘Nobody can think the way he does’ may sound like incorrect grammar. But speaking AAVE is a deft skill that follows strict grammatical rules. As Stanford linguist John Rickford puts it, ‘The single biggest mistake people make about AAVE is dismissing it as careless, or lazy speech, where anything goes.’


The Power of Language

How might you come to everyday moments involving language differently?

Watch ‘Broken English’ by Jamila Lyiscott below and think about what it means to be ‘articulate.’

It's important to keep in mind how our racial beliefs can be tied to language.

If we hear someone telling a child that their way of speaking is not correct, it is our role to understand the harm caused by the statement and be ready to speak up and counter it.

The following passages are from picture books featuring AAVE. In groups, ideally of three, take turns reading one passage each. As you read, take note of how you feel while reading.

From Flossie and the Fox
‘On a hot August day in Tennessee, Flossie was set on a mission to deliver a basket of eggs to Miz Viola. But Big Mama warned here about a sly fox that’s been taking Miz Viola’s chickens’ eggs. “How does a fox look?” thought Flossie. “Oh well, a fox be just a fox. That aine so scary”‘ (Link to book)

From Honey Baby Sugar Child
‘You make me laugh. We jump and twil. We run in the green, green grass. And when clouds rush in on a rainy day, yo smile is my sunshine. Sweet Honey Baby, you drive me wild, every time I see yo face. I see them cheeks, them eyes, that grin. My heart skips uh bop for you. Sugar Child, Sweet Puddin’ ‘n’ Pie, Lord knows it’s true what I say.’ (
Link to book)

From Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood
‘TJ bounce his ball against the sidewalk as hard as he can, sending it as high in the sky as he can, and rising to catch it. Sometimes he misses it and has to roll into the street. A couple of time a car almost run him over. That ain’t nothing. He going to be a bigger star than Hank Aaron on of these days. Soon as he get a little bit older, he going to jump the roofs.’ (
Link to book)

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My Racial Journey was developed at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development and with the Office’s Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education (P.R.I.D.E.) Program. This work was funded by a 2019 Open Education Resource Grant from the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of the Provost.

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My Racial Journey was created by the University of Pittsburgh
Office of Child Development and the Office’s P.R.I.D.E. Program.

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