“STOP PANDERING TO BLACKS, @AOC! WE SPEAK ENGLISH TOO.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., defended herself against accusations she changed her accent while speaking Friday at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network by arguing that there are “costs” associated with failing to “code-switch.”
Black conservatives and right-leaning publications called out the freshman congresswoman over the weekend, accusing her of pandering to the mostly black crowd.
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“I’m proud to be a bartender, ain’t nothing wrong with that,” Ocasio-Cortez told the audience, during a speech in which she also touted her working class experience, expressed support for reparations and promised bold solutions for the black community.
“STOP PANDERING TO BLACKS, @AOC! WE SPEAK ENGLISH TOO,” Turning Point USA Director of Communications Candace Owens admonished in response. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is speaking in front of a predominately Black audience, and she is using this weird “Ebonics” accent in her voice,” tweeted conservative commentator Tariq Nasheed. “She damn near sounds like Diamond & Silk#lol I’m surprised she didn’t end her speech with ‘can you jive turkeys dig it.'”
Ocasio-Cortez, who is an active participant in the politics of identity, reacted by lecturing her critics on the complex nature of racial linguistics by referencing code-switching: the phenomenon of varying one’s speech patterns or language based on environment.
“Next time you‘re told straight hair is ‘unprofessional’ and that speaking like your parents do is ‘uneducated,’ then you can complain about code-switching,” she tweeted, insinuating that the practice is a survival mechanism used by marginalized individuals. “Code-switching is a tool communities learn when they’re told their voice, appearance and mannerisms are ‘unprofessional.'”
Next time you‘re told straight hair is “unprofessional” & that speaking like your parents do is “uneducated,” then you can complain about code-switching.
Code switching is a tool communities learn when they’re told their voice, appearance, & mannerisms are “unprofessional.” https://t.co/tKPTneEncO
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 7, 2019
In a subsequent tweet, the 29-year-old progressive said that marginalized individuals paid a price for failing to code-switch.
“We see the perceived ‘costs’ to not code-switching all the time. Can’t tell you how many young people in our community don’t have the confidence they should bc they didn’t grow up learning secondary speech,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Their talents get stifled by ‘respectability,’ despite enormous gifts.”
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“The good news is that we can improve this easily w/ honest reflection,” she added in a followup. “For ex, are certain hairstyles discouraged in your workplace? Why? Can you think of someone who didn’t advance bc of how they spoke? Why? Examine what’s deemed ‘unprofessional’ around you & adapt it to 2019.”
The good news is that we can improve this easily w/ honest reflection.
For ex, are certain hairstyles discouraged in your workplace?Why?
Can you think of someone who didn’t advance bc of how they spoke? Why?
Examine what’s deemed “unprofessional” around you & adapt it to 2019.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 7, 2019
Navy veteran Derek Schwartz, whose initial tweet sparked Ocasio-Cortez’s rant, pushed back on her defense. “Code switching is talking one way around one group of people and another way around a different group,” he tweeted. “It’s a tool people use to fit in. It isn’t always a bad thing but in can come off as pandering or insincere in certain situations.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of bigotry and “white supremacy” has been emphatic. Last month, she tweeted that “Racism and bigotry of all forms is inextricably linked” and that failing to address them systematically leads to “white supremacy + classism.”
In early march, Ocasio-Cortez made the case that her Green New Deal would address wealth inequalities caused by systemic racism.
Speaking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, the freshman Democrat sought to portray her sweeping proposal for environmental and social justice as more race-conscious than the original New Deal.
“When people are not educated about the tools and the systems that created racial wealth gap disparities or other wealth gap disparities … you create this gaping maw in which someone can tell a racist story that kind of tells people why a certain community is poor,” she said.
That she now faces accusations of racial insensitivity is likely an irony that is not lost on her critics.
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