I recently started reading Me and White Supremacy, and it has me thinking about content strategy and AAVE (African-American Vernacular English). As a white woman and UX professional, I want to be aware of my bias. I want to prevent my bias from harming BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). I also want to learn and improve my actions and my thoughts. As a content strategist, I see an opportunity to focus that on language.
With that in mind, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how dialects such as AAVE impact hiring processes. Would I hire someone who came to an interview and spoke AAVE?
First, Acknowledging Bias
One wonderful thing about Me and White Supremacy is how the author, Layla F Saad, encourages the reader to acknowledge when they feel defensive. And then, she encourages the reader to (essentially) get over it, move forward, and do the real work.
Here are a few ways I’ve felt defensive:
- Mad*Pow (where I work) has been changing our policies over the past year, to become a more diverse organization. We know it’s the only way to create an inclusive team. But we are not diverse at the moment. When people point that out, I want to defend the company. I’m trying to listen and learn instead.
- Content strategy is a very white group. I suspect this comes in part because it’s hard to jump into an unknown field without financial support and a liberal arts degree – two things that are much harder for BIPOC content strategists to get access to.
- I personally work almost entirely with white tech teams in healthcare. My defensive instinct pipes up “this is a problem with the system”, but there is more I can personally do to shift this.
I acknowledge my bias and my defensive initial reaction. Now I need to get over it. Which brings me back to this: as a manager, working in content strategy specifically, what can I do to hire more BIPOC content strategists?
The Case for Content Strategy Across Dialects
As a content strategist, when I hire people I look for specific things. I have a rubric, which helps me stay unbiased… but I’ve now come to realize that my rubric itself may be biased.
For example, one thing I evaluate is how a prospect communicates. That means I judge how they speak, how they write, and how they present. I hire people who can get their ideas across smoothly and concisely. I don’t bother with cover letters that show grammatical errors in SAE (Standard American English).
But as I’ve read more about AAVE, I find myself rethinking. For instance, I was taught that “ain’t” isn’t a word. But I was also taught to say “Do you have” rather than the British “Have you got” – and I wouldn’t judge someone for speaking British English. In other words, my thoughts on “ain’t” come from white supremacy.
What’s more, I wouldn’t hire a content strategist because they spoke or wrote the way a specific client does. I hire people who show me they can be a chameleon, writing to follow a variety of companies’ voice & tone guidelines. I would still hire a British content strategist, as long as they could write in both casual and formal SAE. So I need to check my own bias. Any content strategist who speaks AAVE in an interview should still be judged on their written content, and their ability to create content in a variety of voices.
Content Strategy and AAVE
It seems obvious, once I write it out. AAVE is a dialect, and like any other accent or dialect it shouldn’t be denigrated. But it is. Today, AAVE is judged as a lack of education or “laziness”. There’s a stigma attached.
I would also love to hear from content strategists who speak AAVE. Do you hide it in your professional life? How can I – and other white content strategists – do more to recognize AAVE as a professional-sounding dialect?