Is It Racist to Write Characters Who Speak Ebonics?

In the new Transformers movie, two of the robots — Skids and Mudflap — bicker in a “rap-inspired street slang” and it’s ruffling racism feathers. People are referring to these characters as the robotic Skip and Fetch.

I’ve not seen the movie, but I’ve certainly wrestled with this issue as a write. An editor once told me my depiction of two characters deep in the heart of Oakland (aka Oaktown) was racist because I had the two young thugs busting out Snoop Dawg slang. Frankly, I thought the editor — who taught at a private university — was suffering excessive PC-ism. I knew people talked like this. I’d heard it. I still hear it. I’d depicted other black characters who didn’t speak like that at all — just the two little wannabe gangstas. She’d not mentioned the other black characters at all. Perhaps she’d assumed they were white?

Is it ever okay to write a character like this? I wanted to show the range of people who populate the Bay Area. From the financially literate to the economically hopeless, from the upwardly educated to the desperate and violent. But are writers doomed to be censured for depicting people outside of their immediate cultural cadre?

Smilin’ is cheesin’, bleedin’ is leakin’
Beggin is bummin, if you nuttin you comin
Takin’ orders is sunnin’, an ounce of coke is a onion
A hotel’s a telly, a cell phone’s a celly
Jealous is jelly, your food box is your belly
To guerrilla mean to use physical force
You took a L, you took a loss
To show off mean floss, uh
I know you like the way I’m freakin’ it
I talk with slang and I’ma never stop speakin’ it…

From EBONICS LYRICS by BIGL

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