By Jordan Gaines
For those in the know, sayings like “Can I live?” and “The Only Thing I Have 2 Do Is Stay Black and Die” sums up a lot about the black experience, one that is often overlooked in the words and images that describe the American lived experience.
That’s why Chicago entrepreneur Dianna Ada Harris watched YouTube videos to learn how to turn an idea she got from Tumblr post into a lucrative business reclaiming African-American colloquialisms. Launched in 2014, BLK PROVERBS aims to keep African-American vernacular English close to the communities that created it.
“You see black language everywhere,” Harris said. “You have our language getting to the mainstream and being significantly watered down and misused.”
Harris started her apparel business s after starting a blog that discussed the meanings and importance of preserving black language. BLK PROVERBS offers hoodies, shirts, and mugs that can be found on the website with phrases like “Bruh” and “Not Today Satan,” a phrase that has both deep comical and sacred meaning for those coming from a black church tradition.
Harris is like the 11.5 million black millennials who, according to an October 2016 Nielsen report, are “leading a viral vanguard that is driving African-Americans’ innovative use of mobile technology and closing the digital divide.”
She is among a core group of black trendsetters who decide what is cool through the use of social media like Black Twitter, which has helped make black slang increasingly popular in public conversation and advertising. For example, a tweeted Burger King ad combining a line from Future’s and Drake’s “Jumpman” with a popularized dance, “the dab” or a Denny’s tweet that read “hashbrowns on fleek, a word completely made up by a young black Vine user.
The power of the black dollar has been on the rise in the past 10 years as the number of black households with annual incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 has increased 18 percent from 2004-2014, according to Nielsen. The overall spending power for black Americans is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020.
A 2015 Census Bureau report showed the number of black-owned business increased from 1.9 million in 2007 to 2.6 million in 2012, with Cook County having the most of any other county in the country.
Harris benefits from heightened interest in the black consumer.
She began selling “Black Lives Matter” apparel after being reluctant to do so out of fear of capitalizing on black trauma and death.
“I feel like a lot of people could trust that I wasn’t trying to exploit them,” said Harris, who donated a portion of the proceeds she made from the clothing to Black Lives Matter and food banks.
A concern for exploitation is valid since even Hillary Clinton has been accused of using black language to pander to the black community for their votes in the 2016 presidential election.
“It’s become a punchline in their conversations as opposed to the way they have conversation” Harris said. “When they are done with it, this is still the way we communicate with each other.”