nature's prime in black & white

Speaking “White” AAVE & Black Hair Politics

Hello, I’m writing a web series based on the Sherlock Holmes series, but the main character is a black teen girl called Shirley Holmes. Her older sister Malin is also an important character, and as a white person, I just wonder if I’m overstepping the line when it comes to certain things. Her character doesn’t revolve around her race (she has goals, hobbies, a past, a family, strengths, weakness, etc. that are unrelated) but I might be commenting on her blackness and how she sees it?

Shirley wears her hair natural & uses some AAVE grammar and words. But Malin works in government – she’s working towards becoming prime minister someday – and straightens her hair and speaks like a very white Canadian. Even though none of the scripts directly comment on this, it’s mainly just a costume/dialogue choice, I feel like I might be inadvertently saying that if you’re black and working in government, you have to conform to these racist ideals, or I’m judging her for conforming to them despite the fact that my people are the ones who created anti-black standards in the first place?

I don’t know, I’m thinking of cutting these details out, but do you think I should take a different approach and directly comment on some double standards?

There is no such thing as “speaking white.” Whiteness is unfairly attributed as the neutral dialect with prescriptive grammar. Just because she speaks in the dialect of her population’s majority doesn’t mean she is speaking in a “white” way.

“Why do you speak/sound so white?” is a way White and non-white people alike have tried to scrub away at PoC’s identities, discrediting them as x race for not conforming to what they assume we should all sound like. At the same time, it applies they’re not really American, Canadian, or whatever it may be since this way of speaking is owed by White Westerners, apparently. You perpetuate this micro-aggression in the language of your ask, so I felt the need to address it.

Personally, as a Black American, I speak in the majority dialect of my Midwestern area, but I also speak AAVE at times when i’m with sisters, and fellow Black friends and family. This is called code-switching and it’s natural for everyone. You don’t speak the same way you do with your boss as you do with your mother, best friend, or crush. Depending on the relationship or environment, the language changes.

Malin isn’t necessarily conforming when she speaks the major Canadian dialect at work. Most people’s language would switch from casual to professional in a work setting anyhow. It could potentially be a more drastic change depending on how often she speaks AAVE in personal settings, but I don’t see these changes as being self-denying. Sadly, It’s called keeping a job in so many cases. Prescriptive grammar and language is expected in certain work settings, especially public, government and political ones. But hey, this may not be far off from how she speaks outside of work anyhow.

Like for me, majority of the time I speak the major dialect. That’s just how I was raised and the language I was taught and surrounded by at school in the suburbs, and in my father’s home. However, majority of elementary school was spent in the city where AAVE was spoken more, and appeared in my mother’s side of the family, in her home, and so on. My language is not a constant stream of AAVE in this X setting nor a constant stream of the Queen’s English in that setting. It’s a mix of both as I’ve grown up using both. And that’s just who I am, and many other Black people in America!

As for Malin’s straightened hair; does she feel the need to straighten her hair for work? Sometimes people just prefer to keep their hair straight. It isn’t always that deep. But if she does have a reason for it, such as feeling her natural hair is going to hold her back from reaching prime minister, address that. This is a legitimate concern that doesn’t make her a bad person; look at how much afro hair is demonized in society. Sometimes straightening one’s hair is about survival, back then and now. Black people have gotten fired, suspended and expelled for having locs and afros, or for refusing to straighten or cut said hair. I’d just read somewhere how Michelle Obama would not be nearly as successful or respected if she wore her hair naturally curly. That can’t be too far from the truth from the way even her children were called “unfit to represent America” when they had twists in. Children! Source + a useful article: Black Hair, Still Tangled in Politics. 

You need to do more base research on writing Black characters to avoid harmful portrayals and language against us. I’d pursue our “Black” tags, research and resources pages.

And now for Lesya, who can give a Canadian perspective!

~Mod Colette

With how the Canadian government basically requires a university degree unless you’re working in the advertising department, and even then I’m not 100% sure a university degree isn’t required, her speaking like anything other than university attending individual would be eyebrow raising. There’s natural code switching, as Colette said, and so many people have a “work voice” that it would make sense from that perspective. 

Honestly I’m not sure the percentage of AAVE in Canada, so I would be careful about just throwing it in the story under the assumption all Black people in North America speak AAVE in their communities. While I’m sure you know Canada is different from the US, I would very very very specifically look at black Canadian history to find out what the culture is like up here. From a quick wikipedia, a decent chunk of our Black individuals have Caribbean origins, so take that into account. 

I would strongly suggest looking at the paths people like Michaëlle Jean, Rosemary Brown, and Leona Aglukkaq, who all reached very high levels of government. While Leona Aglukkaq is Inuit, there would be a certain amount of overlap in the general principle. I would also take a look at Viola Desmond, whose story highlights Canada’s relationship with segregation. We’ve done a very good job sweeping that under the rug.

Honestly, this looks very… American based. Which I get, because most social justice is from an American perspective therefore most knowledge of racial issues will be from that perspective, but something about it doesn’t jive with me. Part of this is because I am Native, not Black. But from the study of Canadian racism I’ve found, it tends to take on different forms here. 

Canada’s racial history is much different from American racial history, so the relationships Black individuals have with their Blackness is likely going to be similarly different. We have our segregation rules, and we have our unofficial methods, but between the heritage differences and how there was less physical violence, there’s going to be some dynamic changes.

Just something to keep in mind as you research. Most Black issues that get publicized are American issues, and they are very important to cover, but I wouldn’t transplant the racial environment of one country to a different one. Look up Black Canadian issues specifically, and tell their story instead of a Black American story.

~ Mod Lesya 


“Man attempts to define phenomena in such a way that they reflect the interests of his own class or group. He gives titles or values to phenomena according to what he sees as beneficial; if it is to his advantage, something is called good, and if it is not beneficial, then it is defined as evil. 

We have seen the same thing in the united states, where, over a period of time, the adjective “black” became a potent word in the American language, pejorative in every sense. We were made to feel ashamed and guilty because of our biological characteristics, while our oppressors, through their whiteness, felt noble and uplifted. In the past few years however…and it has only been a few years…the rising level of consciousness within our black communities has led us to redefine ourselves. People once ashamed to be called black now gladly accept the label, and our biological characteristics are a sources of pride. Today we call ourselves Black people and wear natural hair styles because we have changed the definition of the word “black”. This is a an example of Nietzsche’s theory that beyond good and evil is the will to power.

In the early days of the Black Panthers we tried to find ways to make this theory work in the best interest of black people. Words could be used not only to make Blacks more proud but to make whites question and even reject concepts they had always unthinkingly accepted. One of our prime needs was a new definition for “policeman”. A good descriptive word, one the community would accept and use, would not only advance Black consciousness, but in effect control the police by making them see themselves in a new light.

We thought up new terms for them. At first I Figured that the reverse of god-dog..would be a good epithet, but it did not catch on. We tried beast, brute, and animal, but none of them captured the essential quality we were trying to convey. One day, while working on the paper, Eldridge showed us a post card from Berkeley Axelrod. On the front was the slogan “Support Your local Police”; there was a sheriff’s star above the phrase, and in the center of the star a grinning, slobbering pig. It was just what we were looking for. We began to show the policemen as pigs in our cartoons, and from time to time used the word.

 “Pig” caught on; it entered the language.”

- Huey Newton, Revolutionary Suicide

From Beowulf to Tolkien, to countless formulaic fantasy movies at a multiplex near you, the genre generates two-dimensional Manichaean struggles between Good and Evil, in which morality’s shades of grey are reduced to one black and one white. The real world, as most of us know (if not all presidents and prime ministers), is rarely so monochromatic, and neither is Earthsea. Ged’s quest is not to take down a Lord of Darkness but to learn the nature of the shadow that his vanity, anger and hatred set loose – to master it, by learning its nature and its name. “All my acts have their echo in it,” says Ged of his shadow; “it is my creature.” The climax of A Wizard of Earthsea is not the magical shootout that lesser novels would have ended with, but the high-risk enactment of a process Jung called “individuation”, in which the warring parts of the psyche integrate into a wiser, stronger whole. To quote Le Guin again: “In serious fantasy, the real battle is moral or internal … To do good, heroes must know or learn that the ‘axis of evil’ is within them.”

David Mitchell on Earthsea has been linked all over the place, and rightfully so. Read the rest here.

I’ve said it before, but you take Tombs of Atuan away from me as a child, and you have a very different writer.

Kim has done a lot worse shit to black women than Taylor Swift has done to anyone. Kim pretended to be friends with Amber Rose just to get closer to Kanye, and I’m not blaming the other woman but it’s obvious Kim and her family are opportunists and used black women to climb the latter. They use black men for success because they know white men aren’t going to “accept” them as much. They see black male success as easy access and they can still be pedestaled without the burden of the misogyny black women face. Kim has profited off of features she knows damn well black women have been shamed for, she even did a segment on it on a show called H8ters. 

 And honestly, I thought it was nice of Kim to call that woman beautiful and try to explain to her how her features are common in a lot of Armenian women but what really made me dislike her was how she talked about North West. For her to assume North will come out beige shows she’s a colorist and wanted a child to fit her “pretty mixed kid” aesthetic. And whether other women can have big butts and big lips or not doesn’t negate the fact those are common in women of African descent and the prime characteristics that get us ridiculed. It’s so funny people say black women aren’t the only ones with those features but they only say that because they see those features as beautiful and refuse to give women they hate credit. Because god forbid we wear straight hair and black men bitch about us not being natural and complain that we’re trying to look white/non-black. Anyway, Kim has always used black women to get ahead and to be appealing to black men while shitting on the very black women who saw her as a friend. I believe Kylie Jenner does the same thing but some of her friends can help themselves because they dragged black girls and their hair just for pointing it out that they have problematic white female friends. So they’re on their own with that one. But anyway, Taylor may be a snake, but Kim Kardashian is a dangerous type of white woman too because she pretends to be nice and accepting while simultaneously using black women’s features and culture to be famous while we continue to lose credit and get compared to “Kylie Jenner” or a “Kim butt.”

Hi everyone,

My name is Tom, and I currently live in Manchester, England. Photography has been a passion of mine ever since I was given my first point and shoot film camera quite a few years ago and ever since then I have been teaching myself. I have currently started shooting with micro four thirds gear, an Olympus OMD E-M10 and Olympus PEN E-PM1 with the Panasonic 20mm, Olympus 25mm and 45mm prime lenses.

I love travel and street photography (in colour and black and white) and I am trying to take more landscape photos as I go. But at the moment, I am just exploring and discovering my style of photography. Mostly though, I am trying to capture those fleeting moments that I don’t want to forget.

I hope you enjoy my work.