For marginalized groups, language is used for more than transmitting thoughts and ideas. Language functions as a powerful tool to define and express for ourselves who we are; rather than our existence being contingent on the thoughts and assumptions of the majority or "default" group. For Black Americans in particular, our native tongue and heritage were lost during the transatlantic slave trade. And Post-Reconstruction, through systematic oppression, disinvestment in our communities, unequal access to public infrastructure, as well as unjust and unfair laws that disproportionately effect people of color, we have been pushed to live in the margins. Yet amid all this, we have been able to create a distinct culture that has influenced the world. One of those cultural distinctions is our language.
America is highly segregated, and there are swathes of people uneducated to vernacular not like theirs. People with this lack of exposure to anything considered different, are quick to proclaim another person's speech improper or incorrect. I challenge these people to ask themselves, who exactly owns language and who has the power to assign normative ideals to other forms of expression. Language evolves, grows and is malleable depending on the space one occupies. And in many cases, being able to fluidly change language is a form of survival.
Tri-tongued orator, Jamila Lyiscott gives a powerful 4 minute spoken word TED Talk on what it means to be "articulate". As she says, "even articulate Americans sound foolish to the British".
So before reading these ten very black phrases and thinking "this isn't proper language", learn to respect the different spaces that exist in this country and understand that culture, heritage, and humor are ever-changing; and for many people language is a way to celebrate their unique identity in a country that has ostracized them for being different.
1) Do I look like Boo-Boo The Fool?
You know when someone makes a mistake and then lies to you about it, but the lie is so bad that you're actually more offended by the terrible lie than the actual misdeed itself? That's where the phrase "Do I look like Boo-Boo The Fool?" comes from.
The brilliance of black parents is that they can make you feel stupid with a few words and a glare. Forget corporal punishment, although they are good at that too. Black parents will read you to the heavens and make you reevaluate your entire life. For example, let's say a kid comes home past their curfew and the parent asks the child why they are late. Instead of accepting the repercussions or come up with a believable excuse, the kid answers with, "See, what had happened was my phone restarted and changed my clock so I thought it was 10 p.m., instead of midnight. I called the house phone, but it rang busy and I forgot your cell phone number. So I then tried to email you, but the message didn't send". The parent will promptly respond with "Do I look like Boo-Boo The Fool?". Meaning, do I like like a simpleton? Do I look that dumb? Oh, so you think I am stupid? At this point, the adolescent in question is thinking to themselves 1) "Who the heck is boo-boo the fool?" and 2) "I don't know? Maybe you do look like boo-boo the fool". But saying, "no, you do not look like Boo-Boo The Fool" is worse than a wrong answer, because duh, the question is rhetorical. And if you don't understand that the question is rhetorical, you will piss your parent off even more because they will further question your processing skills.
2) I'm not one of you little friends.
Another staple for black parents. This statement will be affirmed to you with a swiftness when you seem to forget who exactly you are speaking to. Scenario: your parent storms into your room unannounced, without knocking, because why would they knock in their own house? They then give you an order such as, "take out the trash", without a single care for what you're currently doing, because why would they adhere to your schedule? You respond in a way that's logical to you, "Okay I'll do it when I'm done...". Before you finish the last word, you already know you messed up and wish you could start that sentence over. At this point, your mom is slowly turning her neck around like that scene in the exorcist. "Excuse me?", she asks. You are too scared to repeat yourself. After a mouthful of expletives and reminders that you live in her house and are lucky to be there, she will finish it off with "I don't know who you think you are taking to, because I am not one of your little friends".
I'm not one of your little friends is one of the most dismissive phrases someone can use. It draws a line saying "no matter how much I love you, this relationship ain't equal". Your parent couldn't care less how you and your friends converse with one another. When you're speaking to them, you speak with respect. Also, your parent calling your friends "little" is not in regard to stature, they could all be over six feet tall. In this case, "little" means your friends are not on your parent's level, caliber, importance; which is why you will not speak to them any type of way. Again, black parents are masters at humbling you.
3) Whose mans is this?
These are words you do not want to hear If you're out at a function enjoying yourself. As soon as this phrase is said, you immediately stop what you're doing and head over to see what happened. And on the way you are praying that the person in question is not a friend or acquaintance of yours. Why? Because "Whose Mans Is This" is only said when someone did something so wild and outlandish, the rest of the party needs to know where this person came from and who brought them, because it is time for them to go.
"Whose Mans" is the first thing asked on Black Twitter when one of our own celebrities is "doing too much". Although we may not know these celebrities personally, we feel a kinship seeing that they represent the culture at large. So it really hurts when a celebrity does something that embarrasses us. As much as I love Kanye, I've unfortunately had to use "Whose mans is this?" in reference to him way too many times over the past few years. One of the most recent times is when he dyed his hair several colors trying to look like a rainbow sherbet push-pop. I was so appalled and hurt that I had to ask this dreadful question, because at the moment he definitely was not my mans.
4) One monkey don't stop no show.
"One monkey don't stop no show" is pretty straight forward. It's the black version of "the show must go on". In the middle of your hustle and striving, no person or circumstance will impede your progress or keep you from keepin' on (bonus black phrase).
5) Just tryna make a dollar out of fifteen cents.
An ode to the black entrepreneurship spirit over the years. Black people built this country for free and were the backbone of the economy during slavery. America has flourished on the backs of black people; our labor, services, and ingenuity. And when slavery ended, we didn't even receive the 40 acres or mule we were promised. I have yet to see a reparation check for the work my ancestors did. Today, our communities and schools are severely under-resourced, widening the achievement gap and hindering many Black Americans chances at getting a good job. Furthermore, America is a "good ole' boys club", so even if a black person has the same education level and experience as a white man, they will be grossly underpaid. So, no matter what rung of the socioeconomic ladder you fall under, this mentality of trying to make whatever you get stretch to something much more, remains.
6) Let me call you back when I get in this house and get settled.
9 out of every 10 black women has weekly phone calls so long that it takes up your drive from Santa Monica to Pasadena. For non, Los Angeles residents, that's the same time it would take you to commute from New York City to Philadelphia on the train.
Once they've talked to the point of physical exhaustion, this is how the phone call ends, “Alright girl, well I just got home. Let me call you back when I get in this house and get settled”. The person on the other line usually says “Okay girl that’s fine, call me back”. Both parties know that there won't be another phone call. That was their farewell. I don’t know why Black people just can’t say "I have to go, good talking to you, bye". I guess we don’t want to make the other person feel like we're no longer interested in their conversation. I've heard every nonsensical reason to get off the phone, many I have used: "Girl, I just opened this grape juice, let me call you right back. “Girl, this wind is blowing at my door too hard, I’m gonna have to call you right back. “Hold on the microwave is on in the kitchen and I’m in the bathroom, I’ll call you back
7) God knows my heart.
God knows my heart is code for “Yes, I know my actions are wrong but God knows that deep down inside I want to do good; just way way deep”. Once someone has said “God knows my heart”, just know they’ve already made up in their mind that they are A) Currently sinning B) About to sin C) Premeditating a future sin D) Justifying a past sin or E) All of the above.
I know God is tired of us co-signing his name on our mess. But that is exactly what grace and mercy are for. Yes, lawd.
8) I know my car.
Friend: “You should probably pull over and get gas, you’re on E”
Me: "I know my car"
Black people wait until the last possible moment to fill up their gas tank. Two of my favorite early 2000s rap songs document this refusal to keep ones gas tank full no matter how much money you have.
Constantly filling up your gas tank feels like a waste of an expense. If I spend $40 plus dollars, I want something to show for it. So out of defiance, I wait until that little fuel gauge is right below the empty line, and then I’m going use the 15 miles of gas in the reserve tank. And if worse comes to worse and I run out of gas(which I have, right where the I-10W & 405 meet in West LA, aka Hell on Earth), I have roadside assistance.
The other reason black people love saying this phrase is out of pure pettiness. There are few things more annoying than a passenger peering at my dashboard giving me unsolicited advice. Because that same person riding in your car typically offers zero to marginally small contributions towards the gas tank they're commenting on. You can’t tell me how to live my life if you aren’t going to contribute to my success.
This is a perfect time to mention another black phrase, “I got five on it”. Putting five dollars on gas was suitable in the 90’s when goods and services cost less, the economy was booming, and our wages weren’t stagnant. But this is 2017, five dollars can’t get you a bottle of water at a sporting event. So if you offer me five dollars as if that’s going to entice me to drive you a far distance, I’m going to look at you just like this:
Five dollars isn’t even worth me turning my car on and off, let alone driving more than 2 miles. What I will do in that moment is text you a link to your local bus schedule, suggest you invest in a bike, or if I’m feeling really generous, send you a Lyft PromoCode.
9) See, this right here is what we not finna do/ You've got the wrong one.
"See, this right here is what we not finna do" means just what it sounds like it means, "this conversation, this situation, is not going to happen". This occurs when someone feels too comfortable with you and has taken your demeanor as an indicator that anything can be said or done. Perhaps they are used to conversing with people who allow this type of behavior. Whatever the case may be, at this point you are left with no other option but to let them know you are not that same person; that you are in fact the wrong one.
Flashback to summer 2017 at the BET Awards, when Joe Budden, who the internet has deemed as the hater of all things fun, interviewed Atlanta's young, fly, and flashy trio, The Migos. The Migos, make catchy club records like "Bad and Boujee". They even teamed up with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots to turn their hit song into into a jingle using only office supplies. Joe Budden finds this type of hip-hop trivial and juvenile. Mid-interview he clearly has had enough. He proceeds to stand and proclaim "we gotta wrap this up" while tossing his microphone and walking off set (bad pun). The Migos quickly follow suit, echo some expletives reminding Mr. Budden where they come from and that their background is a lot tougher than the red carpets they now walk on. These series of gifs are the epitome of "See, this right here is what we not finna do":
10) You ain't neva lied.
Black people are great "hype-men" for one another. We believe in call and response, highly interactive communication styles. Just like we do in church service, we verbally affirm what the other is saying when pure truth is being handed out. For example, when I speak to a friend and say "Man, 2017 was one of the most disrespectful years of all time", they will prompltly respond with, "You ain't neva lied".
Beyoncé of black phrases) Do you have McDonald's money?
Do you have McDonald's money is the first-ballot Hall of Fame, Stephen Curry unanimous MVP, GOAT, Michael Jordan of black phrases. Where do I even start with this one? This phrase deserves a whole post alone. Black parents rarely acquiesce to the non-life sustaining requests of their children. Every time we ask for something, we’re putting ourselves at risk. Growing up in a black household, nothing is really “yours”; your parents are simply kind enough to let you temporarily and carefully use something. Anything that is not required shelter, food, clothes, or school supplies is extra and they remind you of it at every moment.
So when asking for a childhood luxury such as McDonalds, knowing good and well your parents went out of their way to buy weekly groceries to cook for your ungrateful self, they are going to ask you one simple question to determine if you can in fact have McDonalds: “Do you have McDonalds money?” From the tone in their voice to the look on their face, the question is extremely condescending.
Of course you don't have McDonald's money, you could be as young as young as five or six years old. You don't have a job and you probably don’t have an allowance because why would your parents pay you to do what you’re supposed to do while living their household. Yet, this is exactly why you cleaned the whole house, massaged your moms back, told her you loved her and put a smile on your face before quietly entering her room to ask for a Happy Meal.
After she swats your shot like Dikembe Mutombo, you're left looking like Eddie Murphy in "Raw".
The legacy of "Do you have McDonalds money?" is so strong that it has now become the go-to response for any requests that requires your money. For example, us millennials aren't having enough kids to keep the Unites States population at its "replacement level". And the tone in this question is without regard to our egregious student loans, deflated wages, high rent, as if it's purely by choice. So next time millennials are asked why we aren't having kids, we are going to respond with this simple question, "Do you have 'population replacement level' money?".