Blam UK condemns the recent articles by a range of white-owned media companies that further entrench language discrimination and the erasure of Black British English speakers in British society. The British media has a long history in shaping racist, discriminatory and anti-Black racial discourse. The highlighted articles make repeated, unfounded statements about Black British English by referring to the language as, ‘talking like a ‘roadman’’ and claiming ‘grime music has helped cement the dialect’. These untrue statements misrepresent Black-British experiences and are not based on research to understand the history of Black British English and the people that speak it. Furthermore, this anti-Black and racist discourse is reminiscent of Historian David Starkey’s commentary on the London uprisings in 2011 against the killing of Mark Duggan by the Met Police, Starkey argued that the uprisings highlighted a ‘profound cultural change’ in that, the ‘whites had become black’ meaning that white people adopting Jamaican patois and BBE had made them partake in the uprisings. Here, the use of Jamaican patois and BBE as the cause of the London uprisings in 2011 and the changing English dialect today, are both examples of anti-Black rhetoric and illustrates the way Black culture and language continue to be criminalised in British society.
The articles follow the historical colonial practice of policing and inferiorising Black cultures and languages while centring White mainstreamed English as the norm. Black creole languages in and of themselves have been cultivated in response to imperialist dominance and racism. The articles ignore the fact that currently many Black people in the UK have been fluent in this language (BBE) and are currently being forced to code-switch due to standardised English being a requirement to thrive in many UK institutions. Furthermore, the articles also wrongly attributed Black linguistic creation to multi-culturalism as opposed to the continuing of linguistic heritages passed down from Black parents, which have now been further creolised to show a distinct identity of Black-Britishness. One of the articles mentions Black musicians and genres as the pioneers of this language being mainstreamed as opposed to recognising that this is a language spoken within our communities first and was used by Black musicians.
The anti-Black Linguistic racism shown in those articles :
The use of the term ‘roadman’ through the lens of whiteness is always loaded, problematic and inherently anti-Black. At some point, we must ask ourselves why? Terms like ‘roadman’ and ‘urban’ are often used as code words for Black, which then changes the tone of the article. The term ‘roadman’ usually alludes to criminality in BBE. Our founder, Ife Thompson, notes that calling a language created by Black-British people ‘roadman talk’ is an attempt at further pushing anti-Black linguistic racism. A rich language created and used by a range of Black people including roadmen is only being referred to as a language that belongs to them. This type of criminalisation of BBE allows for institutions like schools or courtrooms (via racist prosecutions ) to be a space where we are further punished for our expression in this language, as the language is policed as something that is inherently criminal in nature. When termings like these are used to confine BBE, it has an adverse effect on Black people, especially Black children. When the language they speak is demonised/ criminalised by mainstream media it leaves them susceptible to unfair policing and punishment. We have seen this take place at Ark All Saints Academy, where policies put in place banning Black British English and articles such as these give these anti-Black policies their credence.
How the term Multicultural London English erases Black British English :
The misidentification of Black British English as MLE minimises the cultural value and influence of Black heritage in modern-day Britain. BBE was formed exclusively and independently through the Black British experience. By stating words like “wagwarn” have multicultural roots, this discredits its Jamaican origins. The mere usage of words from other languages like Kettle- a Cockney word for watches, that has been further used and popularised by BBE Speakers does not justify the naming of BBE as multicultural London English or slang. Instead, this shows that BBE mirrors the established linguistic norms of borrowing terminology from other languages known as cognates, which be seen within White Mainstream English in words such as ‘café which is originally the French word.
Why We Campaign towards Language Justice for Black English Speakers
At Blam UK we push for a language education that is decolonial and celebrates Black cultural production. As this in turn allows Black British children who speak BBE further avenues to heighten their racial identity through a positive lens. The current deficit approach to socio-linguistic and racio-linguistics within UK schools and society as a whole, means we see anti-Black linguistic racism upheld in all facets of the UK. We believe Black-British English speakers must be recognised for their unique approach to language creation and their bilingualism honoured and protected. Support our ongoing campaigns to create a Black future that are linguistically justice for BBE Speakers.