Looking for the Truth: Representations of Native Americans in Film

The Revenant (2015)

Ever since I was young, I was fascinated by the Native American culture. I enjoyed learning about the people’s history and their traditions, but the only part of Native American culture I actually saw was through film. Due to my age, I assumed that all I saw was true and I accepted the representations that movies portrayed. Now that I am older I understand that not everything we see is true, and I questioned what I had learned from films with Native American characters. In order to see the truth behind these films I watched The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and The Revenant (2015). Both films represent Native American people by the language the characters use and the stereotypes that the characters fulfill. Afterward, I looked at a few articles to examine Native American perspectives on the movies.

“Really? You don’t look like an Indian…”

Before I watched the movies I did a little research. I found that there are five major stereotypes of Native Americans portrayed in films and were reinforced by the films I watched. They include:

  • Beautiful Maidens– these are the beautiful Native American princesses that are very vulnerable, but this portrayal has real life consequences. Native American women suffer from high rates of sexual assault from both native and non-native men.
  • Stoic Indians– these are unsmiling Native Americans who speak very little, which apparently could not be further from the truth.
  • Magical Medicine men– these are wise men with magical powers. They serve very little purpose other than to guide the white characters to their glory.
  • Bloodthirsty Warriors– these are “tomahawk-wielding savages thirsty for white man’s blood” (5 Common Native American Stereotypes). The characters engage in barbaric practices including scalping and sexually violating white women. It is important to note that yes, conflict did exist between Native American tribes, but a majority were peaceful and only attacked in self-defense. The Anti-Defamation League believes that this stereotype is “shallow” as it “obscures family and community life, spirituality, and the intricacies inherent in every human society” (Native American Stereotypes).
  • In the Wild and on the Rez– In film, Native Americans are almost always seen living on the reservations. In reality, about 60% of the Native American population lives in cities, with the most populated being Los Angeles and Phoenix (5 Common Native American Stereotypes).

The next is a stereotype I found just between the two movies I watched. It may or may not be applicable to other films with Native American characters.

  • That white native guy– this is a white man who has assimilated into native culture, whether it be by marriage or by the death of family members. These men learn the language and their way of life, but will leave the culture once they “find their glory”.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

First on the chopping block: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

In this film, there are two different Native American tribes represented, the Mohican and the Huron. Technically the characters should have been speaking Mohican and Huron, but both languages are not natively spoken anymore (Languages in the Last of the Mohicans). Instead the Mohican characters are speaking Delaware/Lenape and the Huron characters are speaking two different languages, Cherokee and Mohawk. Why? Sources have indicated that actors for the Huron characters spoke Cherokee and some other were Mohawk, while Mohican and Delaware/Lenape are related. It was easier for the actors to speak fluently in the language that they knew (Languages in Last of the Mohicans).

In the film the native languages are only spoken between four native people, Hawkeye, Chingachgook, Uncas and Magua. Otherwise the white characters only speak English, with the exception of a white translator. All of the native characters can understand English, but have different degrees of speaking ability. The “good” Native Americans include Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas (the Mohicans). These three men can speak the English language very well; it is fluid and lacks grammatical errors. The “bad” Native Americans are the Hurons, with Mauga being the only character with speaking lines. He does not speak English well; instead he speaks something called Pidgin English in a very flat monotone. A Pidgin language is a grammatically simplified communication that develops between groups who do not share a common language (Mufwene). For example, Mauga says, “Magua said understand English very well” (The Last of the Mohicans).

I could not find an example of Magua speaking from the film, but this woman is speaking Hawaiian Pidgin. It is an actual language used in Hawaii to communicate. This language is not the same as the Pidgin English used in the movie, but you can hear the grammatical differences between Standard English and Hawaiian Pidgin.

Of the six stereotypes that I mentioned previously, three are seen in The Last of the Mohicans. Hawkeye is the white native guy. He was born to a white family, but after their death he was raised by Chingachgook, with Chingachgook’s son, Uncas. Hawkeye accepted and adopted the Native American language and traditions. Chingachgook, Uncas and Hawkeye are the stoic Indians. They show very little emotion and speak very little, but what I found interesting is that Hawkeye does most of the speaking for the other two men. The Huron Native Americans in this film are the bloodthirsty warriors, especially Magua. He thirsts for the white man’s blood and the death of the white men’s children so that no more white men can be created.  There are also a few massacres that occur in the film with scalping included, perpetrated by the Huron characters. These massacres appear to have no purpose other than to kill.


Huron characters from The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

After watching the film, I did some research and a found a few articles by Native Americans where they shared their perspectives on the film. Overall, the attitudes were not favorable. Hawkeye (the white native guy) predominates the screen. Often his face took up the screen, while Chingachgook and Uncas were far in the background. Chingachgook only has two primary scenes in the whole film where it is just his face in the picture; Uncas has none. In addition, I found that Hawkeye does most of the speaking for Chingachgook and Uncas when in a crowd of more than just the three men. An article suggested that this very little screen time treats natives as second rate citizens (Edgerton).  It also suggested that the love triangle intertwined in the plot suppresses the native presence. At the end of the movie, Hawkeye falls in love with a white women and this causes Chingachgook to face extinction (Spoiler alert: Uncas dies during the film) becoming the last of the Mohicans (Edgerton). The Pidgin language and the inability for the Native Americans to speak for themselves, reinforcing the impression that native people are slow-witted and unsophisticated. In effect, it dehumanizes the native people. Lastly, the movie does not expand into native life and culture as the following film does.

The Revenant (2015)

Up Next: The Revenant (2015)

In this film, there are two Native American languages used, Arikara and Pawnee (Lee). Similar to The Last of the Mohicans, the native languages are only spoken between native people. Otherwise all white characters speak English or French and use very negative speech toward the native people. Arikara is spoken between DiCaprio’s character, Glass, and his son, Hawk. Both of these characters understand and speak English, but Hawk only has three lines of very simple English. They include, “What should I do?”, “Pa” and “He passed out” (The Revenant). When Glass speaks English it is fluid and grammatically correct like a native English speaker. There are some other scenes of Pawnee being spoken between Glass and a medicine man, then a native girl. As I already mentioned some French is spoken between French fur traders and Pawnee Native Americans. A French translator is on hand to help communication between the two characters, but it becomes apparent in the scene that the Native American man has no need for a translator. He can understand and speak French quite well. This scene implies that the native people speak the languages that they come into contact with.

Of the six stereotypes I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, I only noticed two. Glass would be considered the white native guy. He married a native woman and had Hawk with her. Glass assimilated into the native culture and accepted their values and traditions, this becomes apparent with how he handles the concept of revenge. There is also a magical medicine man. Spoiler alert!! When Glass is suffering from the infected wounds and is starving, this medicine man comes to his rescue, but no more than a few minutes later the medicine man is killed. His only purpose in the film was to heal Glass so that Glass could seek revenge for the death of his son.

Hawk from The Revenant (2015)

Finally, I did some more research and found the articles to be in favor of the film. They thought that it accurately portrayed the events of colonization of the American west and the tense relationship between the English invaders and the native people (Native Perspectives Film Review). The film also captures how brutal people had to be in order to survive. Another article mentions that the film captures the beauty and power of nature that is important in Native American culture (Killsback). The Revenant (2015) goes against many stereotypes that we usually see in Native American film (Killsback). Instead of showing native women as dependent squaws, we see a woman defend herself from a sexual assault. We also see native tribes attacking fur traders for a purpose, rather than mindless killing. In effect, the film humanizes Native Americans. That being said, it is yet another movie where a white man is front and center and learns the native ways. It has become a norm that the native people provide lessons and are tragic figures. They rarely live to see the white man’s redemption, because they must die so that the white man can find his glory (Native Perspectives Film Review).

The Revenant (2015)

So here are some ideas to keep in mind when watching films with Native American characters, or any films that represent race:

  • Stereotypes are used to make generalizations about the culture of the characters.
  • Language is used to characterize characters within their racial groups.
  • Often stereotypes and the language are not an accurate portrayal of the culture. These inaccuracies can have negative impacts on the culture that are perpetuated by the production of inaccurate films.

Now this does not mean that Pocahontas will stop being one of my favorite Disney films, or when I want to watch a soppy, romantic, love story I will find something other than The Last of the Mohicans, but we must think critically about what we watch. Think about how it represents race and understand whether or not it is an accurate depiction. Then, hopefully, we will understand the implications that productions of inaccurate films can have on people in general.

“We must…challenge and protest films that inaccurately depict native culture and history” (Native Perspectives Film Review).

-Gretchen Suter

Works Cited:

“5 Common Native American Stereotypes in Film and Television.”                    About.com News & Issues. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Edgerton, Gary. “`A Breed Apart’: Hollywood, Racial Stereotyping, And The     Promise Of Revisionism In The Last Of..” Journal Of American                     Culture (01911813) 17.2 (1994): 1. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Apr.     2016.

Killsback, Leo. “The Revenant Is a Game-Changer.” Indian Country Today     Media Network.com. N.p., 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

“Languages in Last of the Mohicans.” Mailbag:. Native Languages of the         Americas, n.d. Web. 05 May 2016.

Lee, Stephen. “Arikara Man Was Adviser on DiCaprio’s “The Revenant”.”       Capital Journal. Capital Journal, n.d. Web. 05 May 2016.

Mufwene, Salikoko Sangol. “Pidgin.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online.             Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 05 May 2016.

“Native American Stereotypes.” Native American Stereotypes. Anti-               Defamation League, n.d. Web. 05 May 2016.

“Native Perspectives Film Review:.” Red Haircrow Review. N.p., 07 Jan.           2016. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

The Last of the Mohicans. Dir. Michael Mann. Prod. Michael Mann. By             Michael Mann and Christopher Crowe. Perf. Daniel Day-Lewis,                     Madeleine Stowe, and Jodhi May. 20th Century Fox, 1992.

The Revenant. Dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom     Hardy. Regency Enterprises, 2015. DVD.

Ross, Gyasi. “The Revenant Is Ultimately the Same Old White Savior Stuff       for Native People.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d.       Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Shade, Ballers, Tea, & Beef: The New Era of Black News



The Shaderoom and Balleralert are two popular news outlets who use social media as their main source of publication including blog style websites, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My focus was on how these sites specifically target black audiences through their use of language, slang, and material. I hypothesized that the site who used more African American Vernacular English and slang would be more successful in attracting black audiences because it would be seen as more relatable and exclusive. I used Instagram as a platform for my research because it made it easier to monitor the traffic of each site through follows, likes, comments, and hashtags.

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I chose The Shade Room and Baller Alert because they are both well known gossip sites amongst black and brown Instagram users and they report predominantly the same material but in different ways.

The Shade Room which was created by a recent Nigerian-American college graduate in March 2014 has a current following of about 4.5 million. Baller Alert which is an older concept was created by blogger who refers to herself as Robinski in 2013 and has a current following of about 1.8 million followers.

With both of these sites posting almost the exact same material and targeting the same audience, why is one twice as successful?

I believe that The Shade Room’s (TSR) success is largely due to it’s use of AAVE in its posts and its connections to its followers affectionately known as “roommates” in TSR. Roommates feel as if the news they are receiving is custom made for their consumption. Each follower must already have an understanding of AAVE and black culture in order to fully understand each post, which gives a sense of exclusivity. The shade room also relies heavily on slang in it’s posts. Throwing shade and reading are two examples of the type of slang being used; non-mainstream but common amongst black youth and young adults. The informal tone throughout also puts the followers on equal footing with the bloggers and encourages more dialogue on posts

Baller Alert on the other hand uses straight English in the majority of its posts with the exception of its advice posts which feature small pieces of forced slang and AAVE. While followers are getting the exact information that they would from TSR, the method of delivery is much more impersonal. Posts from Baller Alert could easily be understood by someone with no prior knowledge of AAVE or slang meaning that they rely more heavily on material rather than language to attract its target audiences.


imageimageLet’s test this out! Look for correlation between use of AAVE and the number of likes.

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Looks like we thought right!

I concluded that my original hypothesis was correct based on the large disparities in page traffic. The shade room’s success lies largely in their ability to connect with their followers. Baller Alert’s traditional reporting styles have had difficulties attracting the same numbers as TSR despite the fact that they share the same types of material. Both of these pages have massive followings amongst black millennials with some relying solely on these pages for their news consumption. By understanding what attracts followers to these type of pages we can better create news sites and pages that cater to the need of this generation.

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How this connects to what we’ve learned:
“Ramsey: Now, a lot of the interest around Black Twitter is focused on the hashtags and trending topics it creates. You’ve written that those tagged conversations can require a certain level of black cultural competency. What do you mean by that?
Clark: In order to understand the conversation, you have to have what one researcher, [James C.] Scott, has called “a hidden transcript.” You have to have the cultural background to understand the conversation as it’s playing out. There’s use of metaphor, there’s use of culturally resonant language. I told someone last night, “We don’t believe you, you need more people.” And it’s directly from the Jay Z song, but if you don’t know Jay Z and if you don’t know that that’s a rap lyric, you’re going to miss it. And the person I was talking to did. He didn’t get it at all.

So those hashtags in so many ways are indicators of a certain degree of cultural competency. To understand some of them, and I stress “some,” you have to understand African-American vernacular English. To understand others, you need to have historical perspective on the issue. And so a lot of that rises out of a common experience of living as a black person, and specifically to living as a black person in the United States.”
– The Atlantic (The Truth About Black Twitter
Complex, influential, and far more meaningful than the sum of its social justice-driven hashtags)

This quote from an interview of Meridith Clark done by Donovan X. Ramsey, Clark expounds on the use AAVE and background understanding in Black Twitter. The assumption that all readers have that Black Cultural competency as she describes it is what I argue draws in black audiences more to sites such as TSR. The idea that some people just won’t get it because it was not made for them gives black readers a sense of exclusivity along with the idea of being a “roommate”. TSR has created a relationship with its followers that Baller Alert has yet to figure out how to do. The combination of slang and AAVE use is beneficial to sites seeking to attract young black audiences and should be further examined in effort to cater to the information needs of that demographic.

image Thank you for the great semester y’all!!!

– Imani Kamel Parker

Rap, Language & Meaning!

Hi class! I hope you guys are all surviving this finals week. It is I, Emily Vega, ½ of the Latina Dynamic Duo and your rap enthusiast! If for some reason you weren’t in class last week or you just dozed off, here is a quick review of what my project is all about! 🙂

Hip-hop, specifically rap, has always been a huge part of my life. My two older brothers were growing up during the 90’s when rappers like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. were popular. Although I was really young at the time, my brother’s were my first exposure to rap culture. So kudos to them for giving me the basis of inspiration for this project.

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Something that I’ve realized is that many of the artists that I listen to on a daily basis write in ways that convey deep and profound meaning. My music taste really ranges over a long period of time, however, I never compared how these messages have changed or stayed the same. Therefore, I decided to study the following question: How do old school and new school rappers, specifically black men, use language and tone to convey messages to their audience? Before I decided to analyze lyrics, I predicted that through the use of African American Vernacular English, rappers from the 90’s and present day are both addressing similar problems about race however through different forms of performance.

As a part of my way to figuring out my methodology, I looked at many different research projects to see what others have studied. Below are a few of what I came across in my research:

  • Washington U St Louis – the movement of language across the world because of rap
  • Standford – the social significance of rap & hip – hop culture, specifically a dissection on the violence
  • The Alantic – rap lyrics and white racism
  • Marcyliena Morgan – author of many books on the sociolinguistics, power, and knowledge of hip hop

The first step in my project was choosing three well-known rappers; specifically three old school and three present day rappers. Here are mini profiles for each of the rappers I choose.

The New Generation (present day)

j_cole_st_johns_credit_nicole_fara_silver_4Jermaine Cole, the love of my life, also known as JCole is a rapper originally from Fayetteville, North Carolina. After moving to New York to go to college, his rap career really took off. Beginning with three classic mix tapes, Cole was able to find a large fan base (myself included) who loved his lyricism and personality. In 2014, Cole became one of six artists whose album was number one on the billboards without any features. If you can’t already tell, I love JCole and you should too.


Donald Glover, who now goes by his rap name Childish Gambino, was born and raised in South Mountain, Georgia. He first began his career as a writer and actor in a series called Community. Around the same time as Cole, he released his first album that received a lot of positive reception. Since then, both artists have been incredibly successful and respected. They can be considered the new faces of hip hop.

However, we must never forget the past rappers who were the foundation for this genre.

The Old School (early 90’s)

tupac-shakur-1Tupac Amaru Shakur, also known as 2Pac, was born in East Harlem, New York. Beginning as a backup dancer and MC, Shakur was first exposed to the hip-hop world. However, after the release of his first album he instantly received a lot of love for his expert skills at storytthe_notorious_bigelling.

Christopher Wallace, also known as Notorious B.I.G, was also born  in New York. From Brooklyn, Biggie gave visibility to East coast rapping. Despite their short careers, these two artists have been ranked as two of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time. At the age of 24/25, both the rappers were killed.

Old School vs New School


N*ggaz Wit Attitudes (NWA) was a rap group from Compton, California that was made up of Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy E, Yella, and Dr. Dre. Together, they made some of the most profound, thought provoking raps of all time. They were the forefront of discussing racial tensions of the late 80’s, early 90’s. Although their group received fame together, they eventually did fall apart due to financial reasons and ultimately because of the death of Eazy E from AIDS.


Kendrick Lamar, also known as KDot, is also a rapper from Compton. He is now one of the most lyrically conscious and well known rappers of our generation. So far, he’s won 7 grammys and his latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly, has been considered a classic.

After choosing my artists of study, I choose specific songs to focus on:

  • J.Cole/Childish are a reflection on the societal views of race and blackness.
    • J. Cole – Be Free
    • Childish Gambino – Hold You Down
  • Tupac/Notorious are reflecting on their personal struggles with their identity.
    • Tupac – Changes
    • Notorious B.I.G – Suicidal Thoughts
  • NWA/Kendrick both have a reflection on what it means to be black in America at the time.
    • NWA – Fuck the Police
    • Kendrick Lamar – Blacker the Berry

As I analyzed each song, as you’ll see below, I kept these three questions in mind:

  1. How do the black male artists use AAVE in their lyrics?
  2. What messages are they trying to convey? How have these messages changed between rappers from the 90’s and today?
  3. How are these messages interpreted by audiences of differing levels of hip-hop knowledge?

I conducted linguistic analysis of these songs by doing the following:

  1. Select sections of each song
  2. Analyze lyrics for AAE features such as verbal markers, deletion of letters, etc. that were present
  3. Highlighted slang words that were used
  4. Analyze the tone they rapper portrays

Here is a key to my linguistic analysis! Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 2.42.19 PM

JCole – Be Free

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Childish Gambino – Hold You Down

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Tupac – Changes

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Notorious BIG – Suicidal Thoughts

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NWA – Fuck the Police

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Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker The Berry

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(Please ignore green underlining, that was Microsoft Word, not me)

Overall there were many overlapping themes throughout:

  • Hopelessness and exhaustion VS faith and will to fight
  • Police brutality/death of young black men
  • Blackness/race/identity
  • Call for social change
  • The white perspective/how society views them

Tone, however, definitely has differed with time. In the work of all the artists from the 90’s, you can hear the anger and emotion in their words. They want you to hear them and they’ll make sure you feel what they are. However, in the present day pieces, I could only find that same emotion in some sections of each artist. Although their tone has changed, their messages are the same. They speak explicitily about police brutality in both generations and how blackness affects their lives.

Finally, to conclude, I interviewed members of the Gettysburg Community who all range in different hip hop knowledge. I mostly wanted to see how an audience interprets rap’s messages and specifically how those messages have changed from the 90’s till now. Below is the mini documentary I have made to conclude my project!

Thank you! #Yasssss

Rap and Race

Do I look the way I speak? Do I sound white or black? The focus of this project is to identify whether people identify race with how you sound, talk, or your language use. Language is typically associated with different languages such as English, Spanish or French but language falls on a larger spectrum than that. A variation of language is dialect, the main dialect that would be the topic of discussion is African American English(AAE). African American English is commonly associated with the black community even though not all speakers of  this dialect identify as black. Since the ideal or stereotypical rapper is thought to be black carry over with their phonological sound?

For my project I chose to study whether there was a racial bias when it comes to identifying the race of an Hip- Hop artist. I choose seven artists that varied in ethnicity such as black, white or biracial. The seven artists I chose to study were Kanye West, Jay- Z, Tupac, J Cole, Logic, and Eminem. My study group involved twenty one participants, three individuals of various ethnicities such as Latino/Latina, Black, Asian, and White. Since my project many focused on the correlation of an artist’s race and language use I made sure that I interviewed a diverse group of participants in order to avoid any racial bias.


Kanye West

Jay Z




J cole



Kanye West- New Slaves

Jay Z- Oceans  

Tupac- Changes  

Drake- Worst Behavior  

Logic- 5 am  

J cole- Lost Ones

Eminem- When Im Gone  

J Cole


Kanye West
Kanye West

The way I collected my data was through a survey in which consisted of eight questions a long with four descriptions for data purposes:





  1. Do you listen to rap?  ____________
  2. How often?   1    2    3    4     5
  3. Can you name three rappers?

4) What ethnicity do you think this rapper is ?

5) What makes you think they are _______(place ethnicity) ?

6) Can you point to any language use that makes you think he’s Black, White, Bi- Racial?

7) What do you think of the rappers use of the N word?

8) Do you think that only Black rappers can use the “N” word? Can white or biracial rappers use it as well?

Take a Listen

Kanye West- New Slaves

Jay- Z- Oceans

Tupac- Changes

Drake- Worst Behavior

J Cole- Lost Ones

Logic- 5 am

Eminem- When I’m Gone

Procedure and Reasoning

One advantage that you the viewer has compared to my participants is that you were presented images of each individual artists. By providing the image of each allows the audience to have a preconceived idea on what race the artist may be. The name of the artist and song title remained anonymous until the ending of the experiment. The overwhelming result from most of my participants believed that the rappers were black.

One advantage that you the viewer has compared to my participants is that you were presented images of each individual artists. By providing the image of each allows the audience to have a preconceived idea on what race the artist may be. The name of the artist and song title remained anonymous until the ending of the experiment. The overwhelming result from most of my participants identified each rapper as black except for one rapper which is Eminem who is white. This data is not completely accurate since rappers such as J Cole, Logic, and  Drake are biracial, which is a mixture of African American and White. In my data there is a clear separation of what it is like to sound black versus what it means to sound white. In my data there was a common thread of each participant specifically pointed to that served as evidence for why they thought each listener they specifically heard was black out of the options they were given which were black, white, and biracial.

What makes someone “sound” black?

Majority of my participants had little to none experience with the different terms and sounds that are apart of African American English. According to my participants there were two large categories that can signify that a rapper is black which was the annunciation of his words, the subject matter of the song, and the way it was delivered.

Subject Matter

  • Relatable to personal life
  • Refers to Race
  • Talks about the absence of Father
  • Historical issues that pertain to race such as slavery

The reference to historical events that pertain to discriminating the black community is often correlated with someone who identifies as black since it is said so angrily and it is being expressed through a form of art in order to express the pain their ancestors endured. This pain that is associated with the past still remains to present day.

Aggressive Tone  

  • Often delivered with passion that resembles yelling
  • Performed in a deep voice/octave
  • Excessive Cursing

This characteristic that was pointed out by my participants feeds into the stereotype that is associated with the stature and body language that black men are deemed to have. The stereotype that men of color are dangerous and violent can be demonstrated by the multiple police brutality incidents that has occurred in the last year. 

Language Use

  • Swangin’
  • M****a F***a
  • Suppose ↠ pose
  • This ↠ Tis
  • Those ↠ Dose  
  • Chu ↠ “you”
  • Door ↠ Doo’
  • The Use of the N word

A common pattern that occurred through my participants pointing out what made the rappers sound black is the deletion of letters such as the ending “g” or pronouncing the “th” sound as a “d”. These phonological items create the illusion that speakers of African American English are uneducated.  A major marker that was identified through all rappers was the use of the N word.

Who can use the “N” word?

The use of this derogatory term was used to diminish the black community and create the sense of otherness. This term was created by white people in order to demonstrate their superiority over people of color. Today this racial slur can be found being used amongst youth who come from urban areas and identified as black.

There is a debate that fights whether the changing of the “er” to an “a” which is a common phonological change throughout African American English has the ability to change the meaning behind the word. Does the changing of the “er” to an “a” allow the black community to reclaim this word as their own.

Well, according to the individuals that I interviewed it all resulted into their personal opinion. Across the boards the answer I received was “ Blacks can use it along with biracials since it is still apart of their identity, but whites are not allowed to use this word since it is deeply rooted in hatred and acceptance of openly discriminating this minority group. 


Drake – Worst Behavior


Nigga, I’m just flexin’

Nigga never loved us

Do it look like we stressin’?


Kanye West- New slaves

You niggas pussy, ain’t me

Y’all throwin’ contracts at me

You know that niggas can’t read

J Cole- Lost Ones

Handle biz by ourself? A nigga barely over 20

Where the hell we gon’ live? Where am I gon’ get that money?

As shown above all three rappers incorporate African American English into their style whether it is the deletion of “g”, slang such a biz, or the use of the N word but do these artists use AAE on a daily basis?

Does Drake perform linguistic blackface?


Drake’s language use in an interview

In this interview Drake is questioned on the tone that he uses in his song titled Tuscan Leather compared to his other songs where he is known for taking a more sensitive approach which he is often made fun of and being picked on for being “light-skin”. The term light-skin refers to the fairness of his skin color along with his behavior such as speaking about love or being single. This plays a major role in Drakes identity since he is a bi- racial rapper in an industry that it closely connected to the black community. In this song he delivers his lines in an aggressive manner as he brags about his newly found lifestyle and fame over a heavy beat that is mainly composed of a heavy bass. Throughout the interview there is little to none AAE used compared to the amount he incorporates in his music.

Does Drake try to prove his blackness through his heavy use of African American English in his work?

Old School Drake

Drake- Fear (2008)


Legend (2015)

If you carefully listen to the lyrics of both of these songs you can here the use of African American English such as the deletion of “t” sound at the ending of words such as honest which became hones’. He also uses the “N” word which is viewed as a common marker in the black community’s vocabulary.

What makes Drake different from any other black or biracial rapper?

At the ending of my interviews many of participants were curious on how the rapper they listened to appearances. When I showed pictures of both Drake and Logic their reaction was they wouldn’t assume that they were black due to their physical features or people who knew Drake but not the song I played for them was shocked that it was Drake and he was bi racial. I did not receive the same reaction when it came to J Cole since he phenotypically presents himself as a black man compared to Drake and Logic due to his darker complexion and texture of his hair. He fits the mold of what society views as a black man even though their is a wide range of skin color, hair textures, facial features, body types present in the black community whether they are mixed or not.

It is unclear of what are Drakes motives behind using African American English in his work. It can be apart of his rapping style, how he was raised talking, or uses it in order to confirm his identity.

Many people question Drakes ethnicity:

Can conspiracies such as the one above be put to rest by just listening to his music ?

Why is Hip-Hop speculated to be a major component of the black community? 

In the article Hip-Hop is for Everybody: Examining the Roots and Growth of Hip-Hop by Lucien J. Flores Hip-Hop music’s audience and consumers are 70% of the white community. This is strange because this genre is viewed to target members of the black community since they invented it and the content of the songs. The reasoning behind this is, “In Hurt’s documentary, a group of young white suburbanites were asked why rap and hip-hop are attractive, responding that by listening to rap, they felt that they were experiencing a different culture; a culture rooted in black American history. (Hurt, 2006)” (Flores). For consumers who are not of color or do not live in a diverse community Hip-Hop is one of the main outlets in which they receive information about black culture and have the ability to experience the culture themselves.  This is the source of where false information forms since they rely on simply what they hear in order to create the ideal image of what it is to be or sound black.

Black or White 

When it comes to representation in the media there is no gray area. People have their idea of what it is to sound black and what it is to sound white. There is no standard of what it is like to sound biracial. Lack of representation and knowledge created this idea that all rappers are of African American decent. The conclusion to my project is that there is a racial bias when it comes to identifying the race of a rapper since race is solely restricted to one or the other. For people who are biracial they are automatically viewed as black even though that is not their true race. There is pressure for artists to convey their race through their language use and represent the culture of Hip-Hop.

Try it for yourself ! 

What ethnicity is this rapper ???

                                                      Works Cited

Flores, Lucien J. “Hip-Hop Is for Everybody: Examining the Roots and Growth of Hip-Hop.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

-Angelique Acevedo

Language, Race, and Music

Socially Conscious Hip-Hop:

Hip-Hop began in the late 1970’s, and has been a significant presence in urban African American communities since the late 1980’s (Morgan, pg. 2). It has emerged as a cultural, social, and political force constituted  through language. As an entity its been used especially by the youth to mediate identity, speak on the black experience in the United States, and has “become the one cultural institution urban youth rely on for representation, honesty, keepin it real, and leadership”(Morgan, pg. 4). It has been instrumental in crafting a young, urban, African American identity. In many respects “the introduction of hip-hop’s cultural beliefs and values has resulted in a significant reclamation and restructuring of African American language practices”(Morgan, pg. 15). Considering that historically hip-hop’s language ideology is based on urban African-American norms, values, and popular culture it relies heavily on the knowledge of African American English. The genre is often being criticized for having a focus on aggressive raps, being misogynistic, and glorifying materialistic things. However, there are a variety of Hip-Hop styles that have different purposes. The choice of style depends on how artists construct themselves, and the typeof message in the rap.


What is Socially Conscious Rap?

Socially conscious rap is a sub-genre of hip-hop that focuses on creating awareness, calling for action, and imparting knowledge. Conscious rappers traditionally decry violence, discrimination, and other social ailments. It speaks to the dismantling of oppressive forces within society, and the empowerment of marginalized communities.


By analyzing socially conscious hip-hop much can be acquired in regard to how Black identity and sexuality is constructed. With socially conscious rap one can see how language is intentionally used in a manner that generates music that is both political, and provocative. Black identity is additionally constructed through the added visuals, and use of media. Granted, images of peoples of African descent have existed prior to music videos, and have been deeply engraved into the fabric of how the question of race has been constructed to reproduce racist ideologies via the media. This is why socially conscious rap is influential as a means to express black narratives, and speak on what it means to be Black in White America through music. The media is an important linguistic institution, because their output “reflects and shapes both language use and attitudes in speech communities” (Hall, pg. 40). Within socially conscious hip-hop there is a stark difference between how Black women artists, and Black men artists are received. Additionally, there are different standards to which they are held to, and a grand difference in the topics they speak on as a result of their contrasting intersectionalities. Overall, throughout the genre there seems to be a policing of Black women’s politics in the media. The differences between these artists display how they use their music, and language in a manner that celebrates the Black community while simultaneously confronting the regimes of White supremacy.


Some of the key artists that have produced socially conscious hip-hop include J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Lupe Fiasco. These Black men have attained different levels of success, but all have critically used their art to construct and mediate the Black identity while serving a political agenda. Unlike the mainstream Hip-Hop, socially conscious Hip-Hop overall tends to be praised less within White America. Their work in the past has tried to be silenced for being too explicit and radical, but they’ve nonetheless made a tremendous impact, and attained success. Jermaine L. Cole better known by his stage name J.Cole is a recording artist and producer. He is originally from Fayetteville, North Carolina. He has risen to fame within the last eight years, and tends to speak on the adversities Blacks face, the realities of being of a lower socio-economic class, and experiences that are unique to the Black experience. Kendrick Lamar is originally from Compton, California and has a very similar lyrical style to J.Cole. Out of the three Black men listed above, he has acquired the most success. Lupe Fiasco is originally an artist from Chicago, and is known for his work focusing on social justice issues. He is known for his strong views against censorship, and throughout the years has lost his platform as a big hip-hop artist. However, he is still credited as being among the few that in recent years have contributed greatly to the socially conscious music movement.


In regard to Black women that have contributed greatly to this genre  some of the greats include Eryka Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Beyoncé. Eryka is originally from Texas and is recognized for her use of music as a means to be an activist. Similarly, Lauryn Hill is known for her work that speaks on the intersectionalities and lived experiences of Black women. Beyoncé is debatably the biggest entertainer in modern times, and in the past couple of years has been scrutinized greatly for speaking so vocally on black issues through her music. All of these artists tend to also be thought of as R&B artists as well, but they undeniably have contributed greatly to socially conscious hip-hop.



Final Project:

Given the aforementioned, for my final project I decided to deconstruct all that has been previously stated, and conduct a small investigation placing an emphasis on analyzing how Women of Color that are and aren’t avid listeners of Hip-Hop interpret these works of socially conscious hip-hop. I decided to begin by analyzing the song lyrics and use of African American English in relation to topics that construct identity, and speak to the Black experience.  I began by asking demographic questions. I interviewed  eight women of color ranging from ages eighteen to twenty-two.  All of the women identified as African American. I decided to use the songs from the artists I have mentioned above. This includes J.Cole’s “Lost Ones”, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”, Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad”, Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage”, Eryka Badu’s “Tyrone”, and Beyoncé’s  “Formation”. I played each of the participants one minute snippets from each of the songs. Afterwards, I proceeded to ask questions exploring what their sentiments on these songs were, and if they think Black women were being condemned in a way that Black men were not. I further explored the topic of Black women’s politics being policed in music.

The specific questions all of the participants were asked after collecting their demographic information were:

– How often do you listen to Hip-Hop?
– Do you recognize all of these artists and know lyrics in depth?
-Do you think Hip-Hop is empowering/ critical?
-What topics do you see discussed by the men/women?
-How did the lyrics/snippets make you feel?
-How do you see these artist’s work received/ how do they speak to Black women?
-Did you see the Superbowl/ Grammy? How did you think both works were received by White America, and what were your sentiments towards it?

After collecting all of the data, both the avid and non-avid listeners admitted that Hip-Hop can be political and empowering. They all expressed that this kind of art allots a voice to marginalized peoples.  It was interesting to see that there seems to be a trend where the avid listeners still sing along to problematic lyrics that they find within these songs despite being aware of them while the non-avid listeners refuse to sing along to those specific lyrics.  Three of the non-avid listeners of Hip-Hop commented on how Hip-Hop ,even socially conscious hip-hop, doesn’t necessarily always empower Black women, because in the videos it portrays the policing of Black women’s bodies.  Additionally, all of the participants expressed feeling like the Black women artists have a greater sense of social consciousness than the men, because they are more inclusive of intersectionality. They concluded that Black women have a better overarching depiction of Black lives. Meanwhile even when Black Men are producing socially conscious hip-hop there still are the remnants present of men still trying to show how masculine they are, and there is still the use of women as props.

After scanning the use of language in each of the songs I used for my final project, it is evident that there is a difference in the way these artists have used language to construct identity, and bring about certain topics that matter specifically to the Black community.The topics covered in the songs crafted by Black men include abortion, the use of derogatory words towards women, the struggle of black folks, single mothers, money, and power.  African American English is cleverly used as a vehicle to speak on the topics previously mentioned. However, even within Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” there seems to be a greater blame placed on Black women for their status in society than on men. Below are some of the lyrics to the song,

Now imagine there’s a shorty, maybe five maybe four
Ridin’ ’round with his mama listening to the radio
And a song comes on and a not far off from being born
Doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong
Now I ain’t trying to make it too complex
But let’s just say shorty has an undeveloped context
About the perception of women these days
His mama sings along and this what she says
“Niggas, I’m a bad bitch, and I’m that bitch
Something that’s far above average”
And maybe other rhyming words like cabbage and savage
And baby carriage and other things that match it
Couple of things are happenin’ here
First he’s relatin’ the word “bitch” with his mama comma And because she’s relatin’ to herself, his most important source of help And mental health, he may skew respect for dishonour”

While Lupe is critical of people trying to reclaim the word bitch, he still seems to miss how women have internalized all of this, and  that it’s not that the women has an undeveloped context, but truly an extension of how the patriarchy works. Nonetheless, I think this song is a great example of meaningful work that asks listeners to think critically, and empower Black women/ men. In J.Cole’s “Lost Ones”, we see the single Black mother narrative being portrayed. While J.Cole is being critical of it, and being very honest it still isn’t as uplifting as other works. Below are some of the lyrics to the song,

“Baby girl, I can’t imagine what it’s like for you
I got you pregnant now inside there is a life in you
I know you wonderin’ if this gon’ make me think ’bout wifing you
Like if you had my first child would I spend my whole life with you
Now I ain’t tryna pick a fight with you, I’m tryna talk
Now I ain’t tryna spend the night with you
I’m kinda lost see
I’ve been giving it some thought lately and frankly
I’m feelin’ like we ain’t ready and it’s hold up now
Let me finish
Think about it baby me and you we still kids ourself
How we gon’ raise a kid by ourself?
Handle biz by ourself
A nigga barely over twenty, where the hell we gon’ live?
Where am I gon’ get that money?”

This isn’t your typical song about money, sex, and weed. However, there is a one dimensional narrative being portrayed essentially reaffirming that it is the Black woman’s duty to handle the situation. The song however is moving, because it’s reflective of how life happens, how sometimes one has to make hard decisions, and ultimately it is a call for accountability and instills hope that at the end you’ll be okay.

The works by the Black women artists mentioned above contrastingly speak on Black hair, relationships, rage due to White America’s oppressive ways, community, ancestry, abuse, resilience, the social expectations for Black men and women, and slavery. It seems as if these women are a lot more radical in their works, and indeed do provide a more holistic depiction of Black lives. Even in some of the more light hearted songs like Eryka Badu’s “Tyrone” there is a deep criticism of Black men. Below are some of the lyrics to the song,

“I’ma test this out right quick on y’all
Now keep in mind I’m an artist and I’m sensitivie about my shit
So y’all be nice about it, alright
Sisters how y’all feel, brothers y’all alright
Let me see how y’all groove to this

Alright, I’m gettin’ tired of your shit
You don’t never buy me nothin’

See every time you come around
You got to bring Jim, James, Paul, and Tyrone

See why can’t we be by ourselves, sometimes
See I’ve been having this on my mind for a long time
I just want it to be, you and me, like It used to be, Baby
But ya don’t know how to act

So matter of fact, I think ya better call Tyrone (call him)
And Tell him come on, help you get your shit (come on, come on, come on)
You need to call Tyrone (call him)
And tell him I said come on

Noweverytime I ask you for a little cash
You say no and turn right around and ask me for some ass
Oh, Well hold up, listen partna, I ain’t no cheap thrill
Cause Miss Badu is always comin’ for real you know the deal, nigga”

Eryka’s work calls for Black women everywhere to recognize their worth, and not let men take advantage of them. In this song we see the empowerment of women via Eryka’s call for sexual liberation, and independence. Works like these not only provide the commentary from the perspective of a Black person, but also provide feminist commentary.  Similarly, Beyoncé’s “Formation” pays homage to her ancestry,  and celebrates blackness while refuting White standards of beauty. Lastly, Lauryn Hill’s “Rage” symbolizes what socially conscious hip-hop truly entails.

“Black rage is founded who fed us self hatred
Lies and abuse while we waited and waited
Spiritual treason
This grid and it’s cages
Black rage was founded on these kinds of things

Black rage is founded on dreaming and draining
Threatening your freedom
To stop your complaining
Poisoning your water
While they say it’s raining
Then call you mad
For complaining, complaining
Old time bureaucracy
Drugging the youth
Black rage is founded on blocking the truth
Murder and crime
Compromise and distortion
Sacrifice, sacrifice
Who makes this fortune?
Greed, falsely called progress
Such human contortion
Black rage is founded on these kinds of things”

The lyrics above depict how as listeners we see the soul of Black folks being reflected within the song. This song was Lauryn’s response to all that was going on in Ferguson in regards to the systematic disregard of black lives. It is  a  deeply moving piece directed to White America, and a call for action.

Below are some of the music videos that accompany these works:




Why Kendrick Lamar didn’t face backlash like Beyoncé: 

When Beyoncé took to the Super Bowl stage and performed the “blackest” song of her career, “Formation,” she received an overwhelming amount of critiques.  Through the use of her lyrics, and the creation of the video that accompanied it she advocated against police brutality, and rejected the white beauty lens by celebrating her “negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” and Blue Ivy’s “baby hair and Afro.”  It’s a song celebrating Blackness, bringing Black issues to the forefront, and it’s empowering for Black women specifically. White America condemned her for employing her blackness in the video and during her half-time performance at the Superbowl.  Some police officers even refused to provide their services at her concerts, and other attempted to boycott her which speaks volumes.

A week or so later, Kendrick Lamar, took to the stage of the 58th Grammy Awards to perform “Alright.” Lamar delivered a performance lauded for its unapologetic blackness. His performance,  which included the visual symbolism of prison uniforms, chains and African drummers covered in body paint, was  speaking directly against White supremacy. Beyoncé’s  and Kendrick’s performances carried similar messages,  however he didn’t receive the backlash that she did. Black women and black men are clearly held to different and unequal standards.  The reception of both of these works, and the topics of sexual expression they cover depict that  Black men have the freedom of expressing both sexual pleasure and speaking up against White supremacy.

While Beyoncé risked losing fans when she condemned the state-sanctioned violence against black bodies, Kendrick Lamar’s  performance was applauded in a manner that her work wasn’t.  Her work was even more critical, because not only does it go against White supremacy, but it also goes against the patriarchy.Kendrick Lamar’s performance no doubt represents a powerful resistance as well. However, just as with other socially conscious rappers that are Black men their work often ignores the misogyny that keeps black women oppressed in both their blackness and womanhood.

Below are clips from both political performances:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMAISeUGcyY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz_H4ZlbVBs

White America’s Reaction to Socially Conscious Rap: 

Ultimately, we see time and time again how uncomfortable White America is made by these political works, and how there’s always a push to silence these artists. In the case of Beyoncé, many of her white fans began freaking out about her speaking so much about her blackness. The beauty about these kinds of critical bodies of work is that they confront white supremacy head on, and shed light on discourse that otherwise would get ignored. Saturday Night Live made a hilarious skit sarcastically displaying what happened when Beyoncé released her song/video, and how White America was forced to acknowledge that she is indeed Black. While the video is simply a parody, it nicely conveys how socially conscious music is necessary to remind people of the issues that plague the Black community, and reclaim spaces that are typically used to idolize white norms, and further oppress these marginalized communities.

Below is the SNL skit:



Hip-Hop as an art form is such a powerful institution, and it’s important to continue to critically examine the function of music in the media. In relation to activism it evidently is a powerful force, and platform. Additionally, considering that White Middle class men are the largest consumers of the genre it is especially important to note how blackness is conveyed, and how it is being consumed. The media is a powerful source of affirming the marginalization of Black/Brown folk, and truly is a reflection of our society. In regard to socially conscious music, we need more artist to be mindful of representing intersectionalities, and we absolutely need to be skeptical of the different constructs Black women and men work under. This will bring about awareness surrounding the power of language, and the consequences of how race is discussed in the media.


Morgan, Marcyliena H. Language, Discourse, and Power in African American Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2002. Print.

Greene, Jasmin S. Beyond Money, Cars and Women: Examining Black Masculinity in Hip Hop Culture. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2008. Print.

Bynoe, Yvonne. Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership, and Hip Hop Culture. Brooklyn: Soft Skull, 2004. Print.




The Black Best Friend

From Clueless: Dionne and Cher

In modern film media we see a conglomeration of all kinds of races, genders, and ethnicities. For example, the show Glee features a group of misfits that include, Asians, Whites, Blacks, males, females, there is even a student who is handicapped and confined to a wheelchair.

The show Glee includes all types of characters

The inclusion of all types of peoples in film media is a relatively new phenomenon. Before WWII many media shows and films were full of predominantly white characters holding major roles. If we think about the time period this makes sense. Pre WWII the U.S. was quite segregated socially and this was portrayed via the absence of non-white characters on screens. This does not mean there were no black or non-white productions, just that they were less popular with mainstream viewers who tended to be mostly white. We have learned about many black film makers from the early days of film around the beginning of the 20th century. Films like “The Birth of A Nation” and “Within Our Gates” were films that worked to describe the racial climate within in the country during this time (Squires).

Directed by D. W. Griffith
Directed by Oscar Micheaux













These films are still remembered as being excellent works describing what the U.S. was really like, in comparison to the white-wash films that ignored realities.

By correcting the absence of color in film during the years of early film entertainment, typical types of characters were often portrayed. Unfortunately many directors chose to take stereotypes they had seen before in minstrel shows, and repeat these images on screen. As we read in Catherine Squires book, images from minstrelsy were typically used to reinforce racial stereotypes. These included: blacks as servants to whites, black bodies as grotesque, black physical features as objects of ridicule, and blacks as having an exotic or uncontrollable sexuality (Squires 89). Because of these trends were so popular in the U.S and well as Europe they became integrated into daily life. These stereotypes were also seen in advertisements in attempts to provide the white mass with a servile form of blacks that could be seen as non-threatening.

Aunt Jemima from the late 1880s and 90s
Uncle Ben









Explicit character types were also taken directly from minstrelsy to provide the mainly white audiences with a familiar type of entertainment. The Mammy (female servant), the Savage (untamed black who endangers white society), the Uncle Tom (willing to betray blacks to help whites), the Black Wench (an immoral black woman), the Coon (male buffoon used for humor), and the pickanniny (a black child who provides comedic effect) were all types of characters seen in early film.

Example of a Mammy
An Uncle Tom figure
Advertisement for a Minstrel show. Showcases different types of characters.

Because of their predominance at the beginning of film these black roles persisted for decades and are still somewhat seen in modern times. Once blacks were in mainstream films they thought that these roles would change but this was not the case. Unfortunately, because audiences saw real blacks acting these roles they assumed that this was the way the acted all the time. And as we know, television plays an essential part in articulating and constructing racialized identities.

With this framework in mind I started my research on the black best friend. The purpose of this post is to identify how the black best friend is used in comedy television shows in order to portray a “post-race” society where everyone is the same and racism does not exist. To further frame my search I came up with a couple of questions: How does the media portray blacks in the best friend role by use of particular language and actions? And, How does the media use this role to create a post-race/colorblind production? I will answer these by analyzing literature on the subject as well as by analzying several clips from television shows and observing how characters are acting.

Literature Review

In order to fully explore how and why the black best friend exists on-screen I researched the history of different ideologies surrounding race and its portrayal in the media. The first source I found was a book titled, “The Colorblind Screen: Television in Post-Racial America” (edited by Sarah Turner and Sarah Nilsen). The discussion begins with the central beliefs that surround how racism is portrayed in modern media. The colorblind racial framework works to put race and racism in the past, implying that they do not influence current social and economic realities. Media supports this ideology by using racial differences to celebrate multicultural assimilation while denying inequalities that define race relations in reality. By doing this the entertainment industry reminds viewers of America’s segregated past and attempts to make whites comfortable with race and racial inequality. In this was the colorblind screen secures and encourages rather than challenge racial lack of interest. In other words, mainstream audiences to not want to be affronted with racism every time they turn on the TV so media portrays an alternative reality to keep ratings high and money flowing.

The Crosby Family

The Crosby show is one representation of a colorblind production. The show never explicitly discusses race and acts as if race does not affect day-to-day life at all. This is objectively false just based on the time period that the show was run during. The early 90s were a time of high racial tension in the U.S. The absence of such a well-known social issue in the show lead audiences to believe blacks and whites had the same social and economic opportunities and failure to achieve equality was individual not systematic. This further displays how this show and others portrayed a colorblind ideology.

The idea of a Sameness Mentality is also described in the work. This approach rejects the problem of race as an issue and depicts every character as the same (even if they are not, based on race or gender). Working to put whites and their black counterparts into the same role actually discredits the notion that their social lives may be different. The characters are the same therefore they experience the same kind of treatment within society on a day-to-day basis. This type of portrayal is false and can be proven as such just by looking at what is happening in the Republican party for the 2016 presidential election. Currently non-whites are under attack in the U.S. by the main candidate for the Republican party who is threatening to ban Muslims from the country and build a wall that blocks the U.S. from Mexico. Racial tensions have been increasing in recent years however, if you only watched television shows you would not be aware of the phenomenon.

Interracial Buddy Films

Narratives of interracial friendship work to communicate and sustain a post-race colorblind ideology. In the late 80s and early 90s the buddy film appeared. Films such as Trading Places,

Directed by John Landis












Showtime, Brewster’s Millions, The Defiant Ones,

Directed by Stanley Kramer

48 Hours, Money Talks, Clueless, Men in Black, and Shawshank Redemption are just a few examples.

These films created a character of the black best friend as non-threatening towards whites. In fact this character is often more willing to help the white protagonist that the white is to accept the aid. This legacy of interracial buddy film is relied on heavily when creating a supportive sidekick to a white lead. It has been found that the sidekick often has their needs sublimated in order to help the white protagonist (more on this later). The fiction that the buddy film creates simplifies race relations and attempts to confirm America’s continual goodness.

In an article by Davi Johnson Thornton, “Psych’s Comedic Tale of Black-White Friendship and the Lighthearted Affect of ‘Post-Race’ America” the television Show Psych is analyzed for characteristics that qualify it as a Post-Race interpretation of modern life.

Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster

This book claims that popular television media is operating in a Post-Race Era. Meaning that the world we currently live in, according to media, does not rely on race identities. We no longer congratulate ourselves for the amount of popular TV representations of race we consume, but instead we congratulate ourselves on our indifference to such images of race. This era in media requires safely contained images of visual diversity that work to confirm the irrelevance of race by verifying the successes of integration and our ability to alleviate guilt over past injustices. When we combine Post-Race with colorblindness we end up with the belief that race does not ultimately matter, politically or historically, we are beyond such a simple understanding of race now. As we know from everyday life this is untrue. The media is not portraying society accurately by ignoring race relations, they are only attempting to satisfy mass audiences that want to believe race does not matter. Race definitely matters. This can be proven true if you look at any of the police news within the last couple of years.

Thornton explains several theories that work within the show, Psych, to create humor and negate racial tensions. The assimilationist theory depicts blacks within white worlds. In Psych, Gus is portrayed as “whiter than white” (425) and he is able to fit into the predominantly white society of Santa Barbara. Gus is the sidekick of Shawn, the team works together to restore order to the community by solving crimes. By creating a white point of view the show communicates to audiences that racial humor enhances interracial intimacy. This framework distances white viewers from race and racism allowing them to joke without social or ethical risk. It also works to bond the interracial relationship through laughter. In this comedy Gus is seen as an “exceptional black” a character who accommodates diversity without threatening the privilege of whites. However, only certain blacks can preform this role due to exceptional talent of some kind. This can be seen in many assimilationist comedies.


Thornton explains three theories of humor that work in this show, as well as other with similar character relationships, to create a light-hearted attitude about race that invokes laughter (I will give examples of these in the upcoming sections). The first he discusses is the Incongruity theory which states that tension arises from a violation of an expectation and when it is resolved laughter ensues. The second theory is the Superiority theory which implies that humor always implicates relationships of power. In other words, the character in a ‘higher’ position is allowed to make fun of the ‘lower’ without repercussions from other characters. The final theory is the Relief theory. Relief works to create laughter as a release of nervous tension that is associated with the resolution of an uneasy situation. This theory and the Incongruity theory are often seen working in tandem to create humor and laughter for audiences.


The black best friend, or BBFF, is the loyal sidekick to the white protagonist. They are obedient and, as previously stated, willing to drop anything to come to the aid their best friend. At a glance TV shows may seem multicultural but upon further analysis it can be seen that diversity is presented in such a way that constructs position and privilege of white culture. TV shows that parallel the BBFF character include Scrubs and Psych. First, I will discuss the character of Turk in Scrubs and identify the ways in which he and the other characters create a colorblind world. Then I will analyze similar themes relating to the character Gus, from Psych. Through these clips I will show how the theories of humor described above play a role in creating light-humor about race and race relations.


Main cast of Scrubs

In this medical comedy we see a white protagonist, JD and his loyal best friend, Turk, go through many different kinds of situations most of which do not involve race at all. The setting of this show is a hospital but more than that it is a  assimilationist representation.



In this video clip (below) JD and Turk discuss race in a way that makes it seem like race is something unknown to them.

In this scene JD is called a cracker and takes it as a compliment. This demonstrates incongruity because most audiences know that ‘cracker’ is a pejorative term applied to whites. This is an example of using a special lexicon, in that ‘cracker’ or ‘cracka’ is a slang word used mostly by non-whites to describe whites. It is then up to Turk to explain to JD what it means and why it is bad to have people call you that. The clip then divulges into a discussion about family life growing up for Turk and brings race into the conversation. In this scene Turk is acting as an exceptional black by teaching JD a lesson about how good he had it compared to Turk. The conversation is tense at first but by the end of Turk’s story he has created humor and relieves the audience of any racial tension they were feeling throughout the discussion. The scene ends humorously when Turk calls JD a cracker jokingly and the audience is able to laugh off any mention of race.

In this next clip Turk is receiving a lesson from a ‘superior’ white character about what it actually means to be black. This involves superiority humor as well as relief humor at the end of the scene when a joke is made.

The topic of race is brought up humorously because it is thought to be mostly a non-issue in this show. Turk says that he is cool simply because he is a black man and Dr. Cox goes on a rant to disprove him and show him how little he knows about the NAACP and what it truly is to be black. Dr. Cox describes Turk as being more white than black which may not have been realized by the audience because Turk is not even seen as black. He is portrayed as the same as JD and therefore race is irrelevant in their friendship. What Dr. Cox says serves as a reminder that race exists but in a way that is humorous and causes tension to build which is then relieved when the dialogue ends with a joke.

In this scene JD and Turk are discussing a medical condition that JD is experiencing and a conversation ensues.

The language used by JD when he says “knows a teensy bit about adversity” stresses the ‘teensy’ word to exaggerate that he actually knows a lot about adversity. Tension is created here when JD says “and why is that Turk?” the audience assumes that race is going to be discussed next. However, when Turk answers and says “because I’m black” JD says “no because you have diabetes. What’s hard about being black?” Implying that JD has no idea about the history of our country and the race relations therein. When Turk says, “because I’m black” his tone makes it seem like this answer is obvious, and yet JD still does not understand why this is and he questions him. When JD says, “no because you have diabetes” relief from the subject of race occurs. This scene shows that JD and the other characters exist in a post-race world where race is not even considered as why Turk would experience adversity.

This clip shows two scenes where a racial stereotype is being discussed by JD and Turk.

The stereotype is joked about by both characters bringing humor into a discussion based around race. This stereotype portrays black as being overdramatic in response to something that is not real. In the first part of the clip Turk says “you didn’t go to the black family yelling at the movie screen stereotype did you?” in a sarcastic tone because he knows that it is exactly what JD was thinking. His tone implies that he is accepting that JD assumes this stereotype and that this is a real phenomenon. In the second scene tension is created when Turk says, “here we go” in response to JD’s question about Turk being black. Turk is willing to listen to what JD has to say even though it will probably be somewhat offensive towards himself. Turk sacrifices his dignity and lets JD have his moment of wishing to be black just so he can yell at a movie screen. What JD forgets is that being black is more than just this stereotype, but this is not discussed in the clip.


In all of these clips Turk is speaking in African American English. He uses slang, “cracker,” “y’all.” And other features of AAE such as phonological variation (changing –ing to –in). The relationship created between JD and Turk is meant to be based on the fact that they are the same. However, by analyzing the language, tone and action of the characters in these clips we can see how the theories and ideologies defined previously work within the interracial relationship and the show to create a non-racialized portrayal of the world.



This comedy television show is centered around a white-black duo that work together to solve crimes in an unusual manner. The white protagonist, Shawn, is very adept at noticing small details. He uses this talent to portray himself as psychic and Gus as his sidekick. This is the premise of the whole show. There is a relationship of power existing between Shawn and Gus because Shawn has his special ‘talent’ and Gus is just there to support him and make sure he does not get found out. From this position Shawn constantly jokes with Gus and mocks him, he is able to openly acknowledge Gus’s race because this only occurs within the context of friendship. Gus reluctantly accepts that he will be the butt of most jokes because he is loyal to Shawn.

In this first clip Shawn is seen patronizing Gus by telling what not to be. This is just a short compilation of this type of dialogue, it continues to happen throughout every season of the show.

The use of a patronizing tone by Shawn puts him in control of the relationship and as such he say basically say whatever he wants. This may seem like it wouldn’t be funny but the phrases Shawn tells Gus to not be like are impossible situations making the interaction humorous. Gus is kept in the position of sidekick throughout this scene due to Shawn’s tone and their body language. Gus does not actually speak in the scenes but you can see his expression of exasperation. He is defeated by these phrases Shawn makes but he accepts them because he loves Shawn and continually chooses to support him.

In this series of clips we see all of the names that Shawn makes up for Gus throughout their detective work.

(Don’t need to watch the whole thing to get the idea) We can see right away that Gus disapproves of Shawn making up names for him. His facial expression and his body language convey that he is annoyed with Shawn’s antics. He sometimes sucks his teeth to show his annoyance. By calling Gus nicknames Shawn puts Gus in awkward positions that Gus must then work his way out of. Even though we can see that Gus is annoyed we also see his loyalty and how quick he is to forgive Shawn for any wrongdoings that result in Gus being in an awkward position. Again Shawn is using a patronizing tone in many of the clips which reinforces the fact that Gus is his sidekick. In one of the clips Shawn even says, “this is my sidekick… Magic Head” (0.13). Typically Shawn refers to Gus as his partner when introducing him which makes it seem like they are equals even though Shawn is really the superior.

The last clip includes a section that I want to focus on in which Gus is portrayed as an exceptional black. (0.14 to 0.27). However the entire clip exemplifies more of Shawn’s use of patronizing tone that reinforces Gus’s position as sidekick.

In this section Shawn is saying that he pleads the third and in response Gus corrects him. Shawn then plays it off by saying “I’ve heard it both ways.” In this role Gus knows more than Shawn, Gus also has a real job at a pharmaceutical company. Throughout the show Gus is seen as the responsible one who actually has money, a job, and intelligence. These characteristics are what Shawn typically bases his jokes off of in an attempt to equalize the differences between the two. Because they are seen as being equals Gus is allowed to correct Shawn within the realm of their friendship and that is where Shawn makes the joke “I’ve heard it both ways.” When Gus corrects Shawn tension arises because the sidekick is acting superior. By responding with a joke Shawn discredits Gus as being smart because Shawn is seen as being clever with a quick retort.

Overall there are large differences between these two shows and the relationship of the white protagonist and the BBFF. In Scrubs the relationship is very equal, they are both doctors and on the same playing field. They both make jokes about one another fairly regularly and these balance out in number. The friends are both loyal to each other even though technically Turk is the sidekick he is not seen as such. The language used by Turk allows the audience to identify him as a speaker of AAE and accurately label him as a black character. JD sometimes uses AAE when speaking with slang terms but in these instances he is just attempting to copy Turk and make a joke about differences in race. These joke covers the actual reality of race and makes it seem like race is something that can be laughed off and disregarded in the context of the show.In Psych the Gus is seen as the sidekick and is treated as such. He is the butt of most of Shawn’s jokes but because of his loyalty he accepts his position and almost always agrees to do what Shawn wants to do. The show attempts to create a colorblind screen by having Shawn’s jokes based on topics other than race. However race is always a factor in power relationship dynamics even if not explicitly stated. By ignoring the reality that race does matter the show discredits the notion that racism exists between certain groups.



This research has allowed me to realize what kind of world the media portrays through interracial relationships. I would not have even noticed these power dynamics and the slight jokes at race realities if I had not done this project. By preforming this analysis I am now able to better understand how the media portrays race and recognize when race is being ignored on screen. Obviously our country has a history of racial tension that still affects how race is interpreted today in popular culture. Because media is such a powerful medium for discourse and race relations it is crucial that we are able to recognize the reality of a situation when the opposite is being portrayed via a movie or TV show. This recognition will allow viewers to understand that media does not always portray reality as it is and taking what the media says with some suspicion. Usually the media is trying to tell a certain message based off who is funding the particular source. Awareness of this will lead to understanding of actual race relations and enable a productive discussion on what can be done to create a society that recognizes differences in race and accepts them. By doing this we will be able to create an equality based system that does not put everyone in the same box, but understands that it is normal for everyone to not be the same. Differences are what make life interesting and meaningful, they do not need to be a bad thing!


Works Cited

Squires, C.R. (2009) African americans in the media. Section two: Film. Polity. 89-110

Squires, C.R (2014) Watching while black: Centering the television of black audiences. Cinema Journal, 53(4), 164-168

Thornton, D.J. (2011) Psych’s comedic tale of Black-White friendship and the lighthearted affect of “Post-race” america. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 28(5). 424-449.

Turner, S.E, & Neilsen, S. (2014) The colorblind screen: television in Post-racial america. New York: NYU Press.

Turner, S.E. (2014). BBFFs: interracial friendships in a post-racial world. NYU Press.

Written by Molly Flannagan

The Heavyweights of Comedy: Why Cosby got the Pudding and Pryor Got Black Hearts

Bill Cosby                       vs.                             Richard Pryor



Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor are two of the most influential Black comedians who have ever lived. Ask any Black comedian today who inspired them and I bet all of them will mention at least one of them. Why? Because these two men managed to leave on not only comedy but also the hearts are several Blacks who grew up on their vinlys, stand up and movies have allowed their legacies to live on. You’re probably thinking, “okay, Pryor is the man but after all this recent scandal with Cosby he will hardly be remembered for his comedy” and my friend, you may be right but that does not take a way from his contribution to Black entertainment during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth of Blaxploitation films. Now, Cosby has never been in any Blaxploitation films and neither has Pryor but they both were apart of this movement of bringing Black faces to the big screen and little screens at home. Despite their blossoming during the same time period, their earlier acts consisting of similar generalized, non-race based topics and commentary, and their high regard as Black comedians who “paved the way,” Pryor and Cosby are remembered in two totally different lights.

Before I get into how they developed as two different representation of Black comedy, Here’s a quick view at what made their starts in the comedy world so similar:

Both Cosby and Pryor entered the realm of comedy during the 60s after doing a tour in the U.S. Army. Cosby returns home to Philly with his high school diploma that he earned while in the U.S. Army and lands himself a full scholarship to Temple University for track and field. Further South, Pryor returns back to his home in Peoria, IL and starts doing comedy set in local clubs. After a year of touring, Pryor decides to take a leap of faith and head to New York to pursue his comedy career up north. By the time Pryor got to NY, Cosby had already had been leveraging the comedy experience he got working in comedy clubs in New York during the summer. After leaving Temple Cosby moved out to New York to pursue his comedy career and had made quite a name for himself by the time Pryor arrived.

Despite their blossoming during the same time period, their earlier acts consisting of similar generalized, non-race based topics and commentary, and their high regard as Black comedians who “paved the way,” Pryor and Cosby are remembered in two totally different lights. Bill Cosby (before the allegations) was pretty much characterized to be the angel on comedy’s shoulder appealing to all audience no matter their race with his general topics, use of code switching and kid friendly analogies for anything that was borderline risqué. And then there is Richard Pryor as the devil on comedy’s shoulder. Just like the devil Pryor was once an angel but on one glorious night while performing in Las Vegas Pryor decided to step into the dark side. Richard was on stage when he stopped, walked off, and vowed that he’d never perform his generalized Cosby-like act again. From that day on, everything that he performed was based in the Black experience. He used AAE heavily, was unapologetic, cursed a ton and crafted stories that spoke to working class Black audiences. Scholar, Evan Cooper discusses Pryor’s work and the way he is perceived by different audiences. In describing Pryor’s work he says, “Pryor compared Black and White folkways and satirized the institutions and cultural norms of White society, most notably in his stories about confrontations between Blacks and the police. His comedy was, however, singularly striking and groundbreaking for its revealing, occasionally stark glimpses into working-class Black life and the mixture of humor and pathos therein”(228). Coopers view of Pryor as a ruthless voice for the Black experience leads to Pryor’s image going from basic to controversial, in the most riveting way. Pryor’s transition made him the bad-body of comedy during the late 60s-70s and put him on the other side of the comedic spectrum far, far away from his buddy Cosby.

So now lets look at the equation for how to make a Cosby and the equation for how to make a Pryor in simpler terms:

General Topics + code switching from GAE to AAE= Cosby

Black Topics + AAE and Cursing = Pryor


Cosby and his “everyman” set “200 MPH”:

At this point in Cosby’s set he has gone from talking about being a husband, grandfathers, interactions in candy stores, the tensions between cats and dogs, and has just used the signal phrase “how many of you out there own a sports car?” Cosby was big on setting his signal phrases up as questions. In doing so, not only does he draw a connection between himself and his audience but also he practices a form of call and response, which is staple within Black linguistic techniques. In addition to call and response use, Cosby code switches for AAE to GAE in order to transition characters. The clip above is Cosby talking about the common experience people may have in a candy store as a child. Black, White, Puerto Rican or Asia, most of the audience Cosby is speaking to could imagine themselves in a candy store as a child. In transitioning from the storeowner to himself, he uses AAE. Being that Cosby is a speaker of AAE we see him using the –g deletion and frontal dropping of the “th” in words like them, making the pronunciation “’em.” However, in this scene the code switching is used to distinguish characters. The candy storeowner speaks AAE while Cosby speaks code switches between AAE and GAE. Signifiers of the owner being AAE speaker are the –th in “other” being replaced with a –d, the –th deletion and addition of –d in the words “this” and “there.”

Richard Pryor “Super Nigger”


This snippet of Pryor’s vinyl “Super Nigger” is a keen example of Pryor’s use of AAE to craft a character that is supposed to embody the black male. As Pryor uses code switches from the white narrator voice to super nigga to himself, Pryor uses distinct signifiers of intonation and dialect to navigate between his characters. When he is the white narrator, he speaks sharply, with a deep and assertive tone. From his tone you feel like you are hearing the voice of a white, serious reporter. Then you have super nigga who is using slag like “stash,” “you dig it” and “man” at the end of his sentences which is a clue at the time period his work came out in.

Besides the code switching this act is full of AAE. I mean, c’mon the character’s name is “Super Nigger” for goodness sakes! From the very beginning Pryor offers the audience a signifier in saying, “Faster than a bowl of chitlins, Its a crow, its a bat, super nigga.” From the very first line, the word “chitlins” is a phonological example of AAE because the word is “chitterlings” but in AAE the –ter is deleted and there is a dropping of the –g. The word “chiltin” acts as a signifier because it is calling upon a particular audience who is either A. Black or B. Southern. Richard also pronounces “chitlins” with a glottal stop, which is a linguistic trait of AAE speakers. The use of the words “crow” and “bat” and used as indicators of blackness. It ends with the use of the word “nigga” which seems to be Pryor’s favorite noun next to motherfucker. His use of the word “nigga” is a clear marker of AAE. Scholar, Jacquelyn Rahman speaks to the use of the word “nigga” when she is discussing how Black comedians align themselves with their audience. She argues, “projecting a working-class persona through the use of colloquial African American speech, aside from pointing to solidarity and participation in the culture of survival, creates an intimacy with the audience that invites them to connect emotionally and intellectually with the comedians”(78). In voicing “nigga” Pryor uses the schwa and in the word “Super” he uses –er deletion and replacement with –a making the pronunciation “Supa.” With the line, “With ex-ray vision that enables him to seem through anything but whitey” Pryor is making fun of the white man but is doing so in a way that does not attack his white audiences.


The two videos above show that both Cosby and Pryor are AAE speakers who can code switch in order to craft a character but lets see how big of a difference their use of AAE becomes when they are talking about the similar topics…


In the clips above both Comedians are sharing experiences they had with their father as a child. To spare you the long winded dissection of the linguistic findings here’s a little comparison chart that shows the main linguistic similarities and difference found in the texts!

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 2.56.25 PM

The clips above exemplify how the two Comedian’s topics and presentation of these topics put them further in opposition. Cosby was rooted in his universally relatable stories, while Pryor’s stories reflect the experiences of a Black working class child. Get it? …Cosby is reflecting on his childhood in a general non-radicalized way, while Pryor is using precise linguistic tools to embellish his language and stabilize his story within the Black experience. Pryor’s use of AAE is more of an indicator of race, and a connector to those in the audience who are black. No, this does not mean that he did not have White audience because he definitely did. However, his use of linguistic markers like cursing to build creditability with the audience and emphasize what he was saying shows the audience the particular audience he was targeting.


REWIND! For the wrap up…

After leaving Temple, Cosby moved out to New York to pursue his comedy career and had made quite a name for him by the time Pryor arrived. As mentioned, Pryor decides to make a huge shift in his performance and makes the decision to base his act in an exclusively Black experience that took a stance of very real topics from the view of a Black person navigating within the working class. The acts he produced were now a reflection of his reality, the interesting thing is Cosby’s acts were too. Although he did not do race based comedy he spoke of his own experience but not through the lens of race. Cosby’s middle classed, college grad experience helped position him to produce every-man comedy. Pryor’s upbringing within a lower, working class family in the South gave him a different framework. Pryor’s background gave him stories that spoke to working class Black folk and stuck with them because they were stories that reflected their realties. As Nelson (1998) writes:

“When I was coming of age in the late 1960s and ’70s, the release of a new Richard Pryor album was a major event. We ran to the record store to purchase a copy of “That Nigger’s Crazy” or “Bicentennial Nigger,” seduced by the brashness of the titles, the daring cover art, even before we even heard all that funny, cold-blooded, true shit Pryor was talking. He was an antidote to Richard Nixon, the Moral Majority, the decline of mass movements for social change. Richard Pryor kept it real, and then some”(245).

Pryor won over Black hearts through “Keeping it Real,” while Cosby was beloved by everyone, not just his Black audience. Cosby’s language was not too heavily saturated with AAE and he talked about experiences that were universally relatable. Besides their language use, there backgrounds attributed to their differing paths as well. Pryor was a part of the lower working class, had experienced the rise of drugs, (he was an abuser himself). Pryor told stories of Black people to Black people, about Black people and was unapologetic when he did so. Cosby on the other hand was college educated, grew up in Philly in a house with both of his parents, and did not have a pass that was rooted in struggle, or at least he did not portray it to be. It is almost like Cosby was the comedian you put on when your white friends are over and Pryor is the one you put on when you are alone or with your close friends of color who also enjoy laughing at a relatable reality.

But hey, despite Pryor’s success with crafting a name for himself and being #TopFive best Black comedians who ever graced a stage, Cosby is still viewed as the MVP by many because he transcended the boundaries. He didn’t just win Black hearts; he won over all races landing him his 1.5 million dollars endorsement courtesy of Pepsi and Jell-O, as well as legacy of one of the most successful Black shows, The Cosby Show. Yeah, he got the Jell-O and the mainstream audience but I can’t help but feel Pryor ruthless, Black-based comedy will resonate within the Black community forever.



Work Cited

Cooper, Evan. “Is It Something He Said: The Mass Consumption Of Richard Pryor’s Culturally Intimate Humor.” Communication Review 10.3 (2007): 223-247.Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 2 May 2016.

Nelson, J. (1998). Pryor Knowledge. WWW.salon.com/bc/1998/11/24bc2.html. Accessed October, 2006.

Rahman, Jacquelyn. “An Ay For An Ah: Language Of Survival In African American Narrative Comedy.” American Speech 82.1 (2007): 65-96. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Mon. 2 Apr. 2016.

Written by: Ja’Nai Harris

The Wrap Up!

Hello fellow linguist in the making! We have had an amazing time discussing how language and race plays out in media this semester. We’ve laughed at ridiculous representations of black southern voices, we’ve judged a News anchor for verbally bullying a young and optimistic college student and we even played a whole hour and 15 minutes worth of Grand Theft Auto! (Plays “it’s so hard, to say goodbye to YESTERDAY” in the background faintly) Although we don’t want all this fun to end, sadly it’s time to wrap it all up into a neat bow, so here’s 5 take aways from our semester of analyzing, transcribing and discussing race, language and the media!

1. Live by CDA a.k.a Cultural Discourse Analysis when approaching a text. CDA is a tool used by linguist to dissect diverse text, the audiences in which the text is appealing to and specific linguistic structures and tools in which both the speaker and interlocutor must obtain to understand the text.

For example:
In a world where our media, News outlets in particular is heavily radicalized, there are certain cues that we as audiences identify and associate to particular groups through speech markers that the Anchors and reporters use. In other words, we are pretty much trained to read between the lines!blog 1

Ignore the photos for a second and just look at the language here. One young man is described as a “Suspect” who although may or may not have shot up a Theater is a “brilliant science student” while the other is fully named and only story is that he “Struggled with Officers before [a] shooting.” Neither of these headlines right out state the race of these boys but the language works to give us a clear image of their race.

  1. Language is used intentionally to perpetuate stereotypes and tropes of different groups. Not convinced by the twitter posting to above?

Let’s look at Disney!

“Bad” characters are usually associated with darker attributes, speak with a foreign accent or use African American English. “Good” characters on the other hand, speak GAE and are usually associated with light, purity and let’s face it, WHITENESS! Hint to why the only Black Disney princess is a frog for most of the movie and even though Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas are technically of colored and are voiced by woman of color, they still use standard American English.

blog 2

Lost in the sauce right now? or Simply in Denial?

Hang on because maybe Disney’s subliminal perpetuation of race and use of stereotyping to teach children good from bad is not something you are willing to believe and I get it we were raised in the “Disney is life” era.

  1. BUT let’s be real! Minstrel Shows prove that media has been using linguistic tools toperform race far beyond the 80’s and 90’s. In the Jasmine x2 post of minstrel shows we got a bitter taste of how both Blacks and Whites mocked the Black experience, or what white writers perceived to be the Black experience through putting on musical numbers where both Black and White performers dressed up in Black face.

blog minstrel 1As stated in their post, “The primary black characters depicted in minstrel shows such as the Uncle Toms, care free Sambos, Mammies, Coons, Brutes, and Pickaninies were invented strategically by White people to reinforce white ideas about the inferior nature of blacks and the merits of continuing their degradation” (Taylor & Austen).

By listening to these Minstrel shows in class we got to experience first hand how these shows built an imagined image of Blackness, misused AAE and worked to further belittle Black bodies. It only continued as we dove into Blacks in films during the early 20th century. We learned that the roles produced in minstrel shows carried on into other forms of media as mainstream America continued to build upon the nostalgic view on American History.

Exhibit A:

Gone With The Wind, just about every Black trope from early Minstrel shows are brought to light and slaves are not only naïve but are shaped to seem completely happy with their position as second hand citizens.


Mini Side bar: Don’t forget how Black Comedians have used language to reshape the image of Black characters and use attributes of AAE (Habitual “Be”, Done, marking, cursing etc.) to talk about black topics and appeal to black audiences while still being able to speak to mainstream audiences.

  1. FUBU: For Us By Us…

If you’re feeling like I am ragging on Film’s portrayal of race, here’s a break as we reflect on the 1990-Present Black films. (My personal favorite topic that we touched upon) One thing that we should have all taken from this unit was that Black Films instilled a sense of Black pride in Black viewers and reimaged the tropes associated with Black Actors. No longer where the simply samboos, mammies and Jezebels, Black actor’s roles were expanded as Blaxploitation Films surfaced opening up the doors for more diverse views of the Black experience. Following these 70’s films were a bunch of Black movies that although were rooted in the “buppie,” “buddy” and “ghetto” storylines, still worked to produce films that are considered classics in Black America.

blog 4Finally, Blacks were beginning to be able to tell their own stories and have a say in how they were presented in mainstream America.

Sidebar: It was just a plus that these movies helped to publicize and promote Black rap music, which at the time was being heavily censored due to the truths woven into the lyrics.

  1. Last but Definitely Not Least… The Discourse never ends

Our Latino Dynamic Duo left their mark in discussing how Black Twitter has added to the way Blacks use language to advocate for and express blackness. They also discussed how social media has worked to put out information at a faster and much more accessible rate. In few characters we can stand in solidarity, pray for a country that is thousands of miles away and as Taylor Jones, taught us declare that we “write like we talk.”

blog 3

So here is the Real Rap Raw:

We have spent a whole semester analyzing language within multiple text, discussing different forms of media and pin pointing how race is utilized when these text. Where do we go from here you ask?

Well…we continue the discourse, of course. As social media continues to advance and we are prompted to rely on it as our source of expression, news and knowledge we should all hold on to these tools that we have gathered to read beyond the text. We should always identify what we bring as audiences and how that impacts how we are receiving the text. In sum, we AFS 250 should from this class on never look at a text and not notice who it’s appealing to, what it is saying on a larger scale and what we are bringing to the text.

Now fly on my fellow linguist and CDA the heck out of everrrthang! #ThatsAllFolks

written by: Ja’Nai Harris

Blacks in New Media

Hello, classmates, it is us. The infamous Latina dynamic duo. As we learned in past articles the black community has been marginalized and forced into playing demeaning and often controversial roles. These roles include stereotypical caricatures ranging from thugs to mammy figures. New media has been both a positive and a productive outlet that has heavily impacted the black community. Over time new media has evolved from segregating people of color to raising awareness on social issues that are occurring today, such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement through the creation of Black Twitter. Below we have dissected the articles for Tuesday’s class. Enjoy!

African Americans in New Media

In the article, African Americans and the New Media Environment: From Mass to Niche Media focuses on how corporate businesses target particular audiences in order to gain profit. This leads to poor representation of the black community in media. This is known as the digital divide. One argument that was presented in the article that causes this digital divide is socio-economic status of blacks, “‘ The simple assumption that the internet is a luxury is being disputed’” (Squires, 269). The advancement of technology enabled people to have full access to information 24/7 through the use of cellular devices and unlimited resources that can be utilized through internet connection. An issue that occurs in the digital divide is the disadvantage low-income families experience by not having connection to the internet at home. The black community not having this privilege results in the lack of representation in ads, commercials, tv and film since businesses focus on catering to the majority of the audience in order to make a reasonable profit.

Avoiding Stereotypes in Media

One major issue that is constantly presented in media when an effort is made in order to include the black community is avoiding stereotypes. Blacks and people of color are placed in a situation where they have to feed into the stereotypes that society has placed upon them and specific standards that they are held to. In 1995 Yahoo! Published a website titled “Afrocentric”. Yahoo’s attempt was focused on creating a community for Africans and African Americans to interact online. However, they were stuck in a constant conversation of, “‘ a sense of condescension, ghettoization, trivialization, and a general air of dismissiveness’”(269). Since then, this site has been removed.

How has technology benefited the black community?

As mentioned in the article individuals have easy access to the internet which can be used as a platform for artistic or educational purposes. One of the most popular forms of social media/website is known as YouTube. Viral videos and trending topics are at the click of a button. In 2007 a young songwriter/performer Tay Zonday became an overnight sensation with the release of his song titled “Chocolate Rain”. Tay skipped the tedious and strenuous process of going through a record label to acknowledge him as an artist in order to sign him. YouTube opened up the option for individuals to gain recognition regardless of their ethnicity.

Truth about Black Twitter

Another popular form of social media is Twitter. In 2013, #BlackLivesMatter, became a national phenomenon following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. This hashtag brought to light the injustices within the police and court system. This movement was one of the first to begin the influx of what is now called Black Twitter.

According to Meredith Clark, a professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, Black Twitter is defined as “a temporally linked group of connectors that share culture, language and interest in specific issues and talking about specific topics with a black frame of reference.” Through the use of new media, Black Twitter provides a space where conversation and community can be created among other black individuals. According to Clark, there are three levels of connection:

  1. Personal community includes the people who you are connected with outside of the social media realm. For instance, Angelique and I are both following each other on Twitter, but we are also friends in real life (best friends when she loves me back).
  2. The second level of connection is on the thematic sense. This is where people communicate on specific common topics that are important to the individual. For instance, I love spoken word. Therefore, you can often find me interacting with other poets and finding out about events through the use of social media and hashtags such as #spokenword or #slampoetry.
  3. The final level of connection that Clark explains is when these personal communities and thematic interests intersect. Using my examples from before, an example of this form of connection would be if a bunch of poets decided to make a movement in response to something. For instance, I went to an event that was advertised through Twitter where poets focused on education reform.


Although these three levels of connection can be used to discuss many different forms of interaction on new media, according to Clark, there is a specific process of communication for Black Twitter. She explains it through 5 steps:

Process of Communication

  1. Identity – You must identify as a black person, have an interest in the topic and have the language capable of being involved in the conversation. This would include, culturally resonant language, cultural competency, African American Vernacular English (at times), and an accurate historical perspective.
  2. Self-Selection – This is when you choose to actively participate in the conversation, whether it be through the use of a hashtag, retweeting or saving other’s tweets.
  3. Affirmation – When you let others know they are not alone and that you are paying attention and are willing to engage.
  4. Re-affirmation – When the content that was once just on Twitter becomes public knowledge. This can be seen in many ways. Whether it be a conversation with a friend or spoken about on the news by tv personalities.
  5. Vindication – When you look for change in the real world through what was brought to light by Twitter and social media.
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Credit: New York Daily News

This can be seen through almost all Black Twitter movements. From #BlackLivesMatter to #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, these movements have gone from small communities/individuals to reaching the vindication they seeked through media as seen above. Another benefit Clark speaks on includes the diversity that can be found within Black Twitter. Taylor Jones, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in Linguistics at University of Pennsylvania, also speaks on this when he explains that “there’s is not just one Black Twitter”. The intersectionality of many different identities are very prevalent on social media. Black Twitter has allowed there to be more perspectives present.

Big Data and Black Twitter

While Clark speaks generally about Black Twitter, Jones dives into the linguistic variations found in these online communities in different locations. Through the use of mapping, Jones has been able to find a correlation between the words used and the movement of people across America. While somebody from the West coast may say “been got”, a larger population in the south may write “been did”. This is because there is no general consensus on how to spell things. The formation of words and grammar vary regionally.

Credit: Taylor Jones

Jones is excited to learn more about this topic because not many linguists are riding the big data wave. Although this is his first attempt at defining dialect regions of AAVE, this research method is complementary to traditional methods. We look forward to learning more from his work tomorrow during class!

Best, Anige & Emily 🙂 #yay #afs250 #bloomquist #okbye


Black Film in the 1990s

The biggest moneymaking hits that ended up dominating the new wave of black studio productions were the “ghetto-centric”, action-crime-adventure vehicle (Guerrero).   This genre is loosely defined and includes numerous different components, such as New Jack City (1991), Juice (1992), and the powerful plot of Boyz N the Hood (1991). Boyz, as a low-budget film, became the most commercially successful black film ever. Despite the anti-violence message that the film emphasizes, using statistics to open the movie and the phrase “Increase the Peace”, violence broke out across the nation’s theaters with gang-related fights and shootings among youthful urban audiences. In reaction to theater’s wanting to pull the plug on the film, director John Singleton stated that the fact is that the violence surrounding the film is symptomatic of the deep injustices and inequalities festering in the society.




Singleton uses plenty of features to depict the problems young black men face within lower-class communities due to social inequalities. Boyz tells the life stories of three adolescents as they struggle to survive to adulthood and escape the ghetto. Instead of depicting their lives as dead from the beginning, Singleton explores three ideological paths for young black men. For example, Doughboy opts for a life in the gang and dealing drugs, while his brother Ricky chooses athletics as an escape route and Tre chooses to focus on academics as a way to avoid the violence of the ghetto.

The absence or presence of fathers has a tremendous effect on the characters in the film as well, which Singleton aimed to include in his work. Without the presence of Ricky and Doughboy’s father, they get into trouble, while the presence of Tre’s father helps him stay out of trouble. Singleton uses this as a means to show that the absence of a father troubles young black men when growing up in violent areas.

In this clip, Tre’s father stops him from getting into trouble and possibly killing someone out of pain and anger. The film’s diverse points of view as delivered by its characters and their aspirations while living in the ghetto, move the film beyond the incorrect illustration of the ghetto culture represented in earlier films such as Dennis Hopper’s Colours.


New Jack City (1991) surfaced as one of the first black gangster movies since the wane of Blaxploitation in the mid-1970s (Guerrero). While including the conventional features seen in black films such as the biracial buddy cops and the ghetto drug lords, the film comes off as a crude assemblage of entertainment clichés. In the film, the biracial buddy cops are depicted as the violent and institutionally sanctioned solution to the black community’s drug and crime issues. New Jack City’s most innovative contribution was the way it effectively integrates rap music into its mise-en-scene (Guerrero), which capitalized on the stimulated Hip Hop movement of the time. While Colours uses the buddy-cop in a shallow and exploitative manner, the ongoing rap mix provided by Ice-T provides New Jack City with a slightly differing edge that works against the conventional cop-buddy clichés of the film.

buddy cop

All of the black, ghetto-centered action films differ in subtle ways and are necessary in order to undermine Hollywood’s tendency to suppress opposing social perspectives in its films. “Whether neo-Blaxploitation action flick or ghetto centric gang epic, in some manner these films must inevitably historicize the cultural, political, and economic issues of the resistant communities they represent” (Guerrero). The character’s lives depicted in these films illustrate the results of society’s racial contradiction, injustices, and failed policies, and though the news is bad, the blame resides within the social order.

By: Shawn Moffitt


Guerrero, Ed. Black Film: Mo’ Better in the ‘90s. (Spring 1991)http://search.proquest.com/openview/c9d1b6b213302d6429f601cddd5f3c95/1?pq-origsite=gscholar

Guerrero. “Black Film in the 1990s