One common form of expression among African-Americans is “signifying,” which she described as making an indirect, often sarcastic comment that seems to have a different surface meaning.
Among black teens, she said, “someone may say, ‘I really like those shoes you have on. Where’d you get ’em?’ and everyone will start laughing because they may know they came from Kmart or Wal-Mart.”
This kind of indirect speech might have developed when slaves wanted to convey one meaning to each other and different one to their owners, she said. “I believe it was [African-American novelist] Richard Wright who said ‘We speak our tongue in front of the lords of the land, yet they don’t understand exactly what we are saying.’
One of the things this white middle class teacher needs to do is incorporate forms of literacy like the interspersed subjective and objective narratives of African-American story-telling.
photo courtesy of WILL, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois