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Teacher Viral For Anti-Black Tones in "Forbidden Words" List

On approximately January 11th, 2024, a teacher’s list of “prohibited words” went viral.(Figure 1) Prohibited words include “Bruh,” “On God,” and even the word “rizz,” (which was named “Word of the Year" by Oxford university press, a reputable organization known for capturing and documenting the way language changes and evolves).


Only a few of these words are inappropriate or could be used in inappropriate ways - such as “gyat,” which is usually a sensually-themed compliment. Other words on the list are simply expressing agreement, such as “bet!” 


Figure 1: Full List Of Prohibited Words

Many common words and sayings are on this list.


Internet users were quick to call out that a lot of these words are rooted in African American Vernacular English (AAVE). For example, X user @GolongV commented “Made this for srictly [Black] ppl,” and another user @RickyG305 commented “racism and discrimination.” 

AAVE is a part of many Black Americans’ identities. Khadar Bashir-Ali (Ph. D) - an activist, author, and educator - wrote an article for Dubai Women’s College about language and its relation to various aspects of identity


As put by Dr. Bashir-Ali, “AAVE is also the linguistic and cultural identity marker for African American students who use language as a way to define their common histories and establish a social, cultural, and linguistic allegiance to their group in and outside the school context.” 


This is reflected in @OfficialZRM’s comment that states “this is disrespectful to me in a way that’s telling me not to be myself.”


AAVE varies by region, as highlighted in @trillestdro’s comment “so all of Atlanta banned” 


When a particular dialect of English is required, there are ways to communicate that without banning specific words or diminishing the validity of AAVE. For example, the SAT states “Use Standard English Conventions.” 


Other users expressed support for the teacher. @danny.gee.818 claims that this teacher’s initiatives “might help some youth…get and keep professional jobs,” @jacobsons4141 claims that “working in a professional setting you will never hear anyone talk like this,” and @autotraderzatl using an example and stating “imagine your doctor…[says] your blood pressure standing on business.”


All of these stances regard professionalism and how to talk in a workplace. However, the idea of what type of language is welcome in the workplace is changing. There have been emerging discussions about AAVE in conversations about workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. One example is Dr. Nika White, a key contributor to the Entrepreneur Leadership Network, who states, “language or dialect should not invalidate a person's ability to contribute, add value or participate in work life.”

While @jacobsons4141 states that “people are making this racial,” another user @mr.wred adds, “I see they didn’t ban “Gee golly” or ‘Newsflash buddy,’” implying that this teacher is not policing commonly white or non-black slang.


From the teacher’s perspective, it appears that she wants her students to develop proficiency in language skills in Standard American English. When it comes to AAVE’s place in the classroom, Melanie Hines Knapp, a professor at the University of Mississippi, wrote her Ph. D. dissertation on how educators can use Culturally Relevant Instruction [CRI] to welcome AAVE into the classroom while also teaching proficiency in Standard American English. 


Long before this teacher resorted to banning words, Hines and many other Black people learned how to code-switch. Hines states, “I wasn’t taught how to code-switch; however, my parents modeled it for me (unconsciously) on a daily basis. They never said, this is how you code-switch. I just observed and noticed the difference in word choice, syntax, inflections, phrasing, and word placement.” This shows that code switching is a skill acquired without having their language and/or dialect banned by a teacher. 


Participants in Hines’ study showed varying perspectives on how to combine the practice of teaching standard American English while also allowing AAVE to be present. Hines states, “There was an underlying fear of allowing AAVE in the classroom. I believe this was due to the lack of knowledge about AAVE and CRI. I also believe the fear stems from the inability to use CRI to teach student how and when to codeswitch between formal and informal language patterns.” 


Hines’ results and discussion showed that CRI can be a relevant tool to developing proficiency in Standard American English, and cites previous studies that show that when students are more comfortable being themselves by embracing opportunities to use their home dialect, they are then more willing to practice their skills in Standard American English. In light of these findings, banning words would not be the way to accomplish the goal of Standard American English proficiency. 


It is currently unknown what school the teacher teaches at, and therefore there are currently no statements from the school, the teacher, or parents about this sensitive issue. 


Edited By: Matsoarelo Makuke 

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