After her appearance on Dr. Phil last September, Danielle Bregoli became an instant meme; catapulting her to internet celebrity status and, along with that, bringing her a flood of verbal abuse and cyberbullying.
While the 13-year-old appeared on the show in an effort to change her behavior, shows like Dr. Phil don’t actually seek to solve guests’ problems. In fact, they specifically aim to do the complete opposite, exploiting guests—particularly women, children, and minorities—and profiting on the media spectacle they become.
Never watched this before but man, the Dr. Phil show seems to exploit more than actually help.
— Jïmm¥†ð†hêð (@JimmytotheO) November 23, 2016
Humiliation as Entertainment
Dr. Phil and shows like it belong to a specific sub-set of reality TV, fittingly referred to as shame TV, because their main selling point is providing the audience with schadenfreude, or pleasure taken from the humiliation of others.
Our obsession with the “cash me ousside” girl comes from how funny we think she speaks, that is, her use of Ebonics. Seen in the way “Dr.” Phil himself, with all the faux-compassion and saccharine condensation he can muster, questions whether she even passed the fifth grade on account of her “poor” speaking skills.
On cue, the screen cuts to the audience laughing, and we laugh as they laugh while he continues to make fun of her, deliberately provoking a 13-year-old child in the hopes of better ratings and therefore profit.
But the joke here is that her way of speaking is so wrong she simply must be uneducated. The same argument racists used as “evidence” to discriminate against Black people, claiming their use of Ebonics was surely a sign of lesser intelligence.
Yes, they can intersect but black culture -/- ghetto culture. To say "cashmeousside" is trying to act black is a bit :/
— mighty mike (@Michael_MTA) February 17, 2017
maury, steve wilkos, dr. phil & jerry springer all exploit black and queer people. i'm bored of it.
— yung deepthroat™ (@thekidmoon) January 20, 2017
The History of Ebonics
Ebonics, formally known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), is a dialect of English with roots that trace back to the regional dialects of Great Britain.
It’s a combination of the words “ebony” and “phonics,” coined in 1973 by social psychologist Dr. Robert Williams.
Due to historical racial bias we’ve learned to discredit AAVE as a valid dialect, despite the fact it comes with its own history and distinct grammar patterns. This can be seen in the way we don’t take Bregoli seriously from the way she speaks.
But not only is discrediting Ebonics as a valid dialect ignorant, it’s dangerous. Exemplified in the way Rachel Jeantel’s testimony in the highly publicized Trayvon Martin trial wasn’t taken seriously.
“Proper English” is a Myth
In white-dominant institutions, when someone doesn’t speak “proper English,” that is, the Eurocentric, Standard American English we often associate with white people, they’re singled out for not following the standard and become a target for racist bullying.
My own accent was undoubtedly influenced by the social pressure to sound more “white,” afraid of becoming the latest victim to the daily and ongoing acts of “casual racism” I witnessed.
Similarly, Bregoli has become the newest victim in a culture that both demeans yet values people like her as entertainment.
While white girls like Bregoli are receiving reality show offers, from production companies seeking to take advantage of the fascination surrounding her “ghetto” accent, many Black people face discrimination for speaking the same way.
But in a society that glamorizes and encourages children, people of color, and women to exploit themselves for money, can we really say that anyone is truly winning?
Challenging and Changing the Status Quo
Standard American English is only considered the standard because it’s a reflection of the current racial power dynamics in this country.
As Everyday Feminism notes, “Whether someone’s speaking in a regional US accent, an accent from another language, or a cultural dialect, we’ve all been taught that there’s a “right” way to say things.”
In order to end linguistic discrimination, one of the most overlooked but nonetheless harmful forms of racism, we must first admit there’s a bias against people who don’t speak Standard English.
Only after accepting it’s a problem and getting through the initial denial, can we begin to work effectively towards getting rid of it and, in its place, start embracing the linguistic diversity of a country which prides itself on being a melting pot. While it likely won’t happen overnight, we can gradually learn to reject our internal biases through self-reflection, patience, discussion, and, maybe most importantly, allowing ourselves the room to make mistakes.