Saturday, March 10, 2012

Puttin On The Black - Giving A "Side Eye"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part III of a three part series on using African American English on purpose in YouTube videos viewer comment threads.

Part I of this series provides an overview of what I call "puttin on the Black". Click for Part 1 of this series.

Part II of this series focuses on the use of Black (African American) vernacular in selected viewer comments from a Patti Labelle video. Click for Part II of this post.

Disclaimer: I'm not a linguist. I'm an African American who is interested in the use of language. Comments about this topic from linguists and others are very welcome.

Part III of this series presents a definition of "puttin on the Black" and a definition of the Black originated body gesture called "side eye" ("cut eye"). This post also features two videos about "side eye" and selected comments from those videos' viewer comment thread that I believe are examples of "puttin on the Black".

"Puttin on the Black" is a term that I coined for the conscious use of Black venacular in certain settings. My definition of "puttin on the Black" is "to purposely use Black vernacular to signal to others (including other Black people who may be present) that you are Black, and/or to show off your Blackness". The correct use of Black vernacular is one way online that people can indicate that they are Black without directly identifying themselves by the use of racial terms.

"Puttin on the Black" is the conscious, often prideful, and usually fun use of Black vernacular. Among African Americans, "puttin on the Black" means to code switch from either Standard American English or a milder form of conversational African American English to a more pronounced form of African American vernacular English. To do so is in stark contrast to purposely hiding one's identification as an African American culture by consciously refraining from using any Black slang, or Black sayings, or Black grammatical constructs, unless that African American originated vernacular has been widely accepted by the mainstream American culture.

Side eye
"A facial expression expressing one's criticism, disapproval, animosity, or scorn of varying levels of intensity towards another person. Defined by one person looking at the other out of the corner of their eye(s) with a scowl, as their head is turned in a different direction. Often an invitation for a fight or confrontation of some sort. Synonymous expression: "cuttin' your eyes" (at someone). Popular expression (and common occurrence) among urban American populations.

"Girl, you see that heffa over there givin' me the side eye? She MUST be tryin' to start somethin'."
by B.T. Dec 6, 2007

Warning: Some comments on that website contain profanity and/or sexually explicit references and therefore may be inappropriate for children.

Growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s and having lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since 1969, I'm much more familiar with the term "rolling your eyes" at someone than either "side eye" or "cut eye". Actually, I had to look up the meanings of both those latter terms in order to be sure that I understood what they meant.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that "rolling your eyes at someone" is exactly like "side eye" and "cut eye", but it's very similar. cites this definition of "eye rolling":
"Eye-rolling, performed by rotating the eyes upward and back down, can indicate incredulity, contempt, boredom, frustration, or exasperation. The gesture can be unconscious or can be performed consciously. The gesture occurs in many countries of the world, and is especially common among adolescents".

"Don't roll your eyes at me!" is a common saying that is associated with Black (African American) parents, and it may also be commonly said by other American parents.

Here's an example from a political blog where the meaning of "eye roll" is something like "Sure. Right." (said in sacrasm):
"Sorry guys, its a done deal- Romney picked up 9 convention delegates from Guam...its a shoo in from here on out (holy eye roll)"
-blueblooded; March 11, 2012

I also believe that for African Americans, "eye rolling" carries negative connotations because of the minstrel, vaudeville, and later caricatures of Black people as "coons". That's particularly the case when eye rolling is combined with the wide eyed (bug eyed) look. Examples of that side eye/bug eye look can be found in the African Americans dancing in a scene from the 1937 yAmerican movie Day At The Races (at 5:11 and 5:35).

The acronym "SMH" (shaking my head" or "shake my head") is often used with "side eye" (or "cut eye"). SMH means that the person doesn't believe that something so stupid was said or done.

Video #1: 56-whoissugar's side-eye Saturday Volume 2...3 days early

Uploaded by whoissugar on Mar 8, 2011

[Editor: This video is one of several "Side Eye Saturday" videos that whoissugar uploaded on YouTube.]

Selected comments from

A male co worker called me "afrocentric," "neo soul," and "black panther" all BECAUSE I AM NATURAL!! SMH He gets the side eye every time I see him.
Target was sold out of Kinky Curly Curling Custard or at least that's what the sales worker told me. I believe they had some stocked in the back and he didn't feel like looking... *side eye*
Gas is entirely too high!! *side eye*
The weekend went by super fast... It's Sunday already? Dang!

Sug! I don't recall u mentioning u had a new job - but congrats on that! Let's see...side eye...side eye - oh - I got one! How bout my 12 year old son spends all his time either with his dad, his friends, on the computer, etc. He finally has a free minute that he decides to spend with me, but he can't cause I'm headed off to the gym for my daily hour. And what does my son have the nerve to say! "Mama! U spend more time at the gym than u do with your family. I want u to stop going!" Side eye!!!

Editor: "Sug" is an abbreviation for the nickname "Sugar".

You act like me huney child lol gurl u r to funny sweets

@TheDawnmirage Lawd chile, I'm not alone in my craziness?

Sugar, YOU get the side-eye for letting your youngest son iron your clothes! Kids + iron=disaster everytime! LOLOL

Video #2: 28-whoissugar's side-eye saturday's! Volume 1

whoissugar, Uploaded on Jan 14, 2011

But, I thought you was a hair channel...

headwrap how to:

chile, where you get them earrings?:
I love whoissugar's videos, including her side eye video, because of her personality, her presentation, and also because of the African American cultural information that are covered in her videos. Click for this video's YouTube viewers comment thread.

Another video entitled "You gets the SIDE EYE!" video which was uploaded by NgoziLady on Aug 5, 2011 was previously featured as this post's Video #2. Unfortunately, that video no longer exist on YouTube.

I've decided to keep my comments and the selected comments from its also deleted YouTube viewer comment thread for the folkloric record of its use of African American Vernacular English.

"...This video is a response to 56-whoissugar's side-eye Saturday Volume 2...3 days early

Note: The title of this video is an example of African American English. The grammatical incorrect word (according to Standard American English) "gets" in that title may have been used on purpose.

Selected comments from the YouTube viewer comment thread of that video which has since been deleted:

"GUUUURRRRLLLL!!!!U had me WEAK!!!! U don't need a perm but he DO need to learn to speak CORRECT ENGLISH!!!Ooops I meant to say it!Next time tell 'em u r pregnant and when they ask when u due tell them when u decide to get pregnant or workout SMH!!!Some people have to many opinons"

"to you and yo mamma" "i guess i was caught off guard" bwahaha!

I love this sis!!!:-) The man said, you need a perm? He just dont know! if the side eye could kill! Honey! Love it sis...ur so sweet n funny! Thanxfor sharing!

Life! You gave me instant life with this video. Mmm hmm. Let us not talk about neighbours. Smh. They are gone now (they were put out because of taxes) and city had to board up their house. A mess.

"I am lovin this video! Thank you!"

My thanks to the video uploader whoissugar, and thanks also to the bloggers whose comments are featured in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment