Yesterday, NPR officially launched its new ‘Code Switch’ blog, a team of folks dedicated to the evolving relationship between race and culture as it plays out in the headlines. And while they’ve been posting for a few days already — listen to their conversation about Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s ‘Accidental Racist’ debacle — things got serious this morning with lead blogger Gene Demby’s inaugural multimedia longread for the site, the must-read 4,000-word “When Our Kids Own America.”
Demby, who also runs the indispensable PostBourgie.com, lays out reporting from across the nation and the Internet, from communities where appropriation and gentrification can no longer be thought of as black-and-white. In talking with linguists and teenagers alike about everything from Macklemore on the Billboard charts to Egyptian protesters getting arrested for doing the Harlem Shake, the story is complicated at minimum.
[…] H. Samy Alim, a linguist at Stanford, says that something pretty significant is happening in the town on the other side of the tracks from Palo Alto. East Palo Alto is a working-class town and much browner; over the past two decades, the once mostly black city has become predominantly Latino, with a large population of immigrants from Tonga, the Philippines, and Fiji.
“You can hear the new America in this community,” said Alim.
There’s a macedoine of languages spoken in East Palo Alto. But when the young people from all these different groups are speaking to each other, Alim said, they’re conversing in hip-hop-inflected African American Vernacular English.
In other words, they’re talking like black folks.
So once some piece of black American culture slips outside that culture, when does it stop being black and just become this new thing?
[…] My generation started writing our chapters on race during the Crack Era — the time of of Rodney King, The Cosby Show, and Menace II Society. But that was 20-something years ago, and we’re still applying the templates that we created in 1992 and 1963 to the chapters that are being scripted now. Those old stories reflect a starkly different demographic reality than the one we now inhabit. It’s not that those stories are wrong, it’s that they’re incomplete.
Demby and his team aren’t trying to be post-racial; as he writes, “If you’re in Maricopa County, Ariz., and brown, the sheriff’s deputies won’t care whether you’re bumping Little Dragon in your ride when they pull you over.” But there’s a narrative of language and ownership unfolding that can’t be ignored safely.