Jhi like stop mocking DC slang


Graphic by Lexi Brown

Ayomi Wolff

As I walk down the halls, I can hear the loud hollers and yells from kids making their way to their classrooms. While passing a group of white kids I can’t help but listen to their conversation, their laughter littered with slang like “jhi like” or “stamp moe.” I walk away thinking, “Jhi like white people need to stop mocking DC slang and learn that some slang is just not meant for them.”

I have no quarrels with DC slang itself. I think it is an integral part of DC culture, but I find it too often appropriated by white people. The problem with white people using DC slang is that when they do, it’s used in a way that sounds like mockery. An example of this is when white people use slang like “jaunt,” exaggerating the “t” so it sticks out, or phrasing “fool” as “foo’,” crudely replicating an accent. This is a source of anger and distress for me and others in the Black community.

This is a problem because not only is it mockery, but it’s cultural appropriation, the act of stealing, unknowingly or not, the culture of an ethnic group. It’s a palatable kind of racism because it’s less blatant and it normalizes other forms of oppression. It makes those grand acts of racism easier to swallow because the very culture that racism is mutilating has no meaning to many people anyway. Cultural appropriation’s inconspicuousness is what makes it almost impossible for some to see how using something as common and colloquial as slang could be so horrible.

A perhaps more obvious example is when white people wear box braids or cornrows. To them, our culture is just fashion. White people experience all the benefits of Blackness without the oppression. But when Black girls wear their hair like that, they are turned away from jobs, their hair considered “unprofessional.”

A common counterargument is that “I’m not making fun of black people, I’m making fun of DC and the way WE talk.” That’s the problem. WE doesn’t mean ALL. One cannot assume that words like “jhi” and “moe” are for, or from, ALL of DC. They aren’t. They are from Southeast and Southwest, parts of DC populated mostly by Black people. These aren’t words heard around white neighborhoods, meaning that the only place one could really hear them is at school, where others can interact with people from different geographical locations.

You cannot deny that there is both geographical and racial disparity in how those words are used. For some, it’s vernacular. For others, it’s a set of phrases for ridicule, as though those words are themselves are the joke.

You aren’t “making fun of DC slang” because not all of DC uses it as profusely. Slang is not supposed to be a joke, it’s supposed to a natural part of language, used unironically as an abbreviation or a replacement. Words like “hip” and “tuff” are used commonly because they are considered real parts of language, but to lots of white people, words like “jaunt” and “jhi” aren’t held to that same standard.

I’m certainly not saying that all white people need to eliminate every word of DC slang from their vocabulary—that would be outrageous and detrimental to hopes of integration. Words like “hip,” “tuff,” “facts,” and “stamp” are perfectly fine. My hope is that white people will stop using some slang as jokes and stop forcing them into places they don’t belong.

White people: phrases like “jhi like” and “stamp moe” are not phrases you grew up with, and when you shove them into your sentences, they come off as awkward, unnecessary, and mocking. Just like white people would not say the n-word (hopefully), white people need to refrain from shoehorning in words like “fool” and “mova.”

They aren’t your words, and they have no business being made fun of when real people talk that way. If it’s not natural, if it sounds forced, it probably doesn’t belong there. Stamp.