Black History Month Alphabet

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  • Text D1A Staff
  • Design Aodan Reddy

To celebrate and honor the Black community this month and every month, Day One Agency has robust programming focused on the representation (and misrepresentation) of Black people. We examine the various cultures within the Black diaspora and create spaces to understand the diversity within the communities, provide tools to support progress, spotlight cultural pioneers who rarely receive recognition and show how D1A can support and make a meaningful impact.

Black History Month Alphabet

Let's dive into our Black History Month Alphabet. Each word spotlights important people, phrases, historical moments, events, symbols and organizations within the Black community and culture. The goal is to focus on words that may be lesser known outside of the Black Community or appropriated by non-Black people without acknowledgment of its origin, intention and/or cultural significance.

African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

AAVE (“Standard Black English” or “Black English”) specifically refers to the form of Black speech that distinguishes itself from what’s considered “standard” English with its unique grammatical structure, pronunciation and vocabulary. Some theories consider AAVE to be a surviving form of 18th-century English due to its similarity to accents of the American South where white indentured servants and enslaved Africans worked on plantations. Others propose that AAVE matches the grammatical structure and pronunciation of West African languages and Creole English varieties. Regardless of origin, AAVE is usually negatively perceived and regarded as a sign of lower socioeconomic status and a lack of formal education until a term is popularized in (often, white) culture like: woke, cancel and spill the tea. In recent years AAVE has been incorrectly denoted as Gen-Z language.

BLACCENT (Blak-sent)

A blend of black and accent, is the imitation of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or an adoption of a certain intonation or rhythm with speaking to sound “Black" by non-Black people. Early evidence for the term blaccent comes in 2003 on internet forums to refer to Black speech in general. It was used again in 2009 to talk about the way President Obama was perceived to switch into AAVE (vs. Standard English) when speaking to Black audiences. By 2010, however, blaccent began to more specifically refer to when non-Black people tried to speak AAVE. This continues to be a topic presently since many non-Black entertainers have used a blaccent to gain fame and do not acknowledge its a form of cultural appropriation and can be viewed as disrespectful to Black culture and history.


The process of shifting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service and employment opportunities. This was originally studied in the U.S. in the context of second-language acquisition as the process whereby native speakers of Spanish shifted from Spanish to English and vice versa. Code-switching was also studied among Black people who shifted between “standard” English and African American Vernacular English (AAVE). For the last several decades, it’s been a strategy for Black people to successfully navigate interracial interactions and has large implications for their well-being, economic advancement and even physical survival. Code-switching is one of the key dilemmas that Black employees face around race at work. While it is frequently seen as crucial for professional advancement, code-switching often comes at a great psychological cost as they are burdened with feeling accepted and respected in addition to their actual work.


A Harlem based fashion designer who rose to prominence in the 1980s for his logo and textile design printing that connected luxury European fashion houses with Black culture. His business was originally shut down due to his use of said luxury brand logos on his garments. However, in 2017, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele “designed” a jacket that was virtually identical to Dapper Dan’s design for Olympic gold medalist, Diane Dixon in 1989. The public outcry for recognition for this design led to Gucci partnering with him on a Menswear line, including him in their diversity council, and the rebirth of his business—establishing him as one of the leading voices representing Black fashion.

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The essence of dark skin that is enriched and plentiful with melanin. Dark skin has been historically regarded as unattractive and less desirable, fueled by colorism resulting from the slave owners’ slightly ‘better’ treatment of African slaves based on having a lighter skin tone and and/or more “European” features. Over the last several decades, Black people sought to reclaim this word and use it to celebrate the beauty and greatness of dark skin. One of the original ways was through Ebony magazine—founded in 1945 by John H. Johnson of Chicago—which became the first Black-oriented magazine in the United States to attain national circulation.


Putting up a façade or fake appearance to impress or in some way deceive to maintain a particular status. Within the Black culture, it is often used as a defense mechanism to either make themselves appear wealthier than they are to gain respect or ensure proper treatment, or to feel better in compromising situations. The latter definition became a cross culture phenomenon due to the 2003 mega hit song by Pharrell Williams featuring Jay-Z.

GULLAH (/ˈɡʌlə/)

Black people who live in the low country region of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The Gullah make up the majority of Black natives today. During slavery, where they were isolated from white people, these Central and West African ethnic groups developed a creole culture that has preserved much of their African linguistic and cultural heritage and is seen present day. The Gullah people speak an English-based creole language containing many African loanwords and influenced by African languages in grammar and sentence structure. Gullah crafts, farming and fishing traditions, folk beliefs, music, rice-based cuisine and storytelling traditions all exhibit strong influences from Central and West African cultures.


Deriving from “hyper”, the abbreviation has been used by the Black community to express excitement for decades. However, over the last decade, , this word has been leveraged by media and social media from Hypebeast to “hype culture” to TikTok’s Hype House, arguably the most famous content house turned Netflix show with no Black TikTok creators all leading to a general use of the word and loss of the original meaning and intention.


Coined in 1989 by Black professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how race, class, gender and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap. “Intersectionality” has become popularized over the past five years, but rarely credits its origin to Crenshaw. People have begun to understand that people from different backgrounds encounter the world differently. The lived experiences—and experiences of discrimination—of a Black woman will be different from those of a white woman, or a Black man, for example.


Philadelphia slang for any object. It can be a person, place, thing or event. Jawn is a context-dependent substitute noun, meaning it is a noun that substitutes for any other noun. Jawn can be singular or plural. Jawn is believed to be derived from the word "joint". The significance of this word is based on its ability to have Black people across Philadelphia and its metropolitan area instantly connect and understand each other even if no actual noun in Standard English is used. ​​


Common Greek name used in the most prominent Black sororities and fraternities. The most popular being Kappa Alpha Psi. These Black organizations were founded in the early 1900s and were based on existing fraternities and sororities but cultural additions were made including calls, open hand signs and step shows. These organizations gained prominence when the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) was founded in 1930 at Howard University to support Black college students who were searching for a voice, community and shared identity as they pursued their education. This organization played a vital role in uniting Black college students as they fought for equal rights and fair treatment under the law, and today the NPHC continues to bring young people together as they honor the history, traditions and values of their Greek organizations.


Lincoln University is the nation's first degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU) after receiving its charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on April 29, 1854. Although it’s rarely mentioned as a top HBCU, it paved the way for other HBCUs to form and thrive and shone a light on the need for these separate educational institutions based on the lack of access to other colleges and universities for Black people.



An American cultural theorist, poet, and scholar whose work explores critical theory, Black studies and performance studies. He received degrees from Harvard and UC Berkeley and currently teaches at NYU. One of his most well-known works is a series of essays he published with Stefano Harney in a book called The Undercommons. Throughout these works he criticizes academia's drive to professionalize the student, logistical capitalism, debt–credit hierarchies, and state-based institutions. He offers a theory of hapticality and to stay in debt to one another as a means of understanding one's own relationship to the world and to others. Although he received some notoriety for said book and has been featured on panels and serves on many educational boards, he does not get as much recognition for his contributions to critical race theory and the impact it has on his students and society at large.


Means “no lie” or “for real” and is meant to convey authenticity and truth. The expression “capper” is a slang meaning for “liar” or “faker”. The phrase originated in reference to decorative gold teeth, which can be divided into two distinct varieties: permanent gold teeth (aka "perms") or caps (aka "pullouts"). Whereas caps can be pulled out with ease, perms, as their name suggests, are permanent. They cannot be taken out for any occasion and are an honest and lasting expression of the owners' realness and hence the reason for the term. This expression has become greatly appropriated in culture without an understanding of the origin as gold teeth have long been a symbol of wealth and success within the hip hop community.


When someone or something is “exactly right” or “perfect”, or often describes someone as “on their game” or “looking sharp.” Although the inspiration for this saying is unknown—could be military from the 1880s, ballet from the early 1900s, or the law from the 1930s—it rose to popularity in Black culture in the 1990s, when on point was used for “ready to go” in hip-hop lyrics, which expanded to “being on one’s game” or “right on.” Then in the 2000s, on point centered around a stylish outfit. And in more recent years, on point expanded to something that’s “excellent,” especially when looking good or in its best form (i.e. body is on point). Overall, this phrase was used to help the Black community with celebrating their own and other’s achievements.


The practice of words, posts and gestures that do more to promote an individual's own virtuous moral compass, typically on social media, than actually helping the causes that they're intending to showcase. Black people have long felt the responsibility of educating people on key issues facing the community and strive for genuine understanding, empathy and action. People who are performative allies diminish all of this hard work and make real social and racial issues plaguing underrepresented communities about themselves and their feelings versus the people actually impacted. Following the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests in 2020, performative allyship was particularly pervasive as several participated in the conversation while it was highly publicized but did not have any follow-through or take any action to improve inequalities. Being a true ally is being empathetic, willing to learn and taking action regardless of what’s publicized.


Term used to describe a Black woman (cis and trans) who’s achieved excellence while displaying dignity and strength, even in the face of adversity. The adoption of the word queen (and King for men - cis and trans) is an effort to overwrite the negative connotations that, historically, have often been associated with Black people. It’s all done to contrast the way that Black history and people have been portrayed in school curriculums, books and the media. This term is also widely used within the Black transgender community to acknowledge the strength of beauty of pioneers such as Marsha P Johnson. However, in more recent years, there has been a movement to apply this to ALL Black women (cis and trans) not just high-achievers in order to allow room for vulnerability in the struggle to successfully navigate spaces that have historically been constructed to keep Black people out and highlight the unnecessary pressure to outperform in order to prove equal to non-Black people.


American political scientist, diplomat and leading figure in the mid-20th-century decolonization process and US civil rights movement. In 1950, Ralph became the first African-American and first person of African descent to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This accomplishment helped pave the way for others to follow. Since his award, there have been 11 more Black recipients and hopefully, many more to come.



”The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” was a test conducted in Macon County, Alabama between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a group of nearly 400 Black men with syphilis. These Black men were recruited with the promise of free medical care but were intentionally given false information and weren’t properly treated even after a cure was discovered. To track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis. The story was finally leaked to the press in 1972 prompting public outrage and forcing the study to finally shut down. By that time, 28 had died from syphilis, 100 more died from related complications, and at least 40 spouses had been diagnosed with it and the disease had been passed to 19 children at birth. This egregious and unlawful study raised a host of ethical issues such as informed consent, racism, paternalism, unfair subject selection in research, maleficence, truth-telling and justice, among others. And has led to more stringent rules and regulations governing tests/studies and experiments.


The practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to an underrepresented group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly. To combat this, ensure there are no boxes to check and only percentages or numbers to gain. Look for ways to make a more inclusive environment—not just diverse—where members of underrepresented groups thrive and remain.


These are groups who have been denied access and/or suffered past institutional discrimination in the United States and other parts of the world. This is revealed by an imbalance in the representation of different groups in common pursuits such as education, jobs and housing, resulting in marginalization for some groups and individuals and not for others, relative to the number of individuals who are members of the population involved. Other groups in the United States have been marginalized and are currently underrepresented. Underserved can be used interchangeably, but is often used more commonly to refer to ones that are disadvantaged in relation to other groups because of structural/societal obstacles and disparities and is often used from an educational perspective. Much more socially accepted word within the Black community than "minorities" as it speaks to the fact that the lack of representation has impacted these groups not that they are inferior, which minority often implies.


Rights given to citizens in the U.S. to vote in elections. For Black Americans, gaining the full rights of citizenship—and especially the right to vote—was central to securing true freedom and self-determination. “Slavery is not abolished until the Black man has the ballot,” Frederick Douglass famously said in May 1865. It wasn't until 100 years later that Black people were actually afforded this right without requirements or with limitation. In many years since and including in the 2008 presidential election, several Black people experience voter discrimination and was turned away at polls and many of their ballots were left uncounted. In 2012, turnout of Black voters exceeded that of white voters for the first time in history, as 66.6 percent of eligible Black voters turned out to help reelect President Barack Obama.


Ethel was an Oscar-nominated queer Black female singer and actress who paved the way for other Black performers in society by becoming the first Black woman to play a lead on Broadway (1938), the first to star in her own television show (1939), and the first Black woman nominated for a primetime Emmy Award (1962). While she was never public about her sexuality, it was common knowledge; she lived with her partner and fellow performer Ethel Williams in the ‘20s and was well known in Harlem lesbian circles.


Xtra is a stylized spelling of extra and meansdramatic” in an unnecessary or empowered way. In spoken and social-media slang contexts, xtra most often appears in the phrase “being/is xtra” or “being/is so xtra.Xtra often carries with it a negative connotation. Someone being xtra is not just being excessive or dramatic—but unnecessarily so. However, in LGBTQIA2S+ spaces, particularly for Black members, Xtra carries a slightly different connotation. Though it still means “dramatic” or “over the top,” many members of this community have evolved the term and view the ability to be over the top with their sexuality as liberating considering the adversity they’ve faced.


Often used in the phrase “high yellow/hi yella,” the term is used to describe a light-skinned/passing (someone who can “pass” for white) Black person, commenting on the "yellow" tones of their skin. Stemming from interracial relationships, high yellow people were often seen as being more attractive and “better” than those with darker skin based on their preferential treatment by slave owners and society at large. Although the diverse range of complexions and skin tones are celebrated within the Black community, there is still a lasting effect of colorism, standards of beauty, and its psychological effect on self-confidence and identity which you can see through films like High Yellow (1965) and Passing (2020) and books like The Vanishing Half and Surviving the White Gaze.


An oversized men's suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders that became popular in the 1940s. Historically seen as an homage to when the first free men wore bold and often bright suits as a means of distinction—styles not available to them when they were enslaved. Stylistically, the zoot suit became a symbol of rebellion and was reclaimed within the community as a symbol of wealth and popularized by jazz singers in the 1930s and 40s, inspiring Latino and Mexican-American individuals fighting racism and the status quo in the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots. While no longer popular today, the zoot suit style has evolved into dandyism, which has seen a rise in popularity globally.


And, there’s more Black History Month programming in store! See the three additional initiatives coming this month, below:

  1. Black Podcast Playlist: Educational tool covering a wide range of topics with application to our business, mental health and wellness, etc.. Spotlighting Black stories from Black voices.

  2. Modern Representation Speakers Series: Panel featuring speakers in the Shape, Share and Fuel categories, focused on representation and providing a greater understanding of working with Black creators.

  3. Black Food Anthology: Expands upon Dining with Day One with a workshop and ebook educating on the history and impact of food from the African Diaspora.

We hope that our programming will help you learn and unlearn about common misconceptions of the Black community and celebrate and honor the achievements of Black people to shape culture in the past, present and future.

IMAGE CREDIT: Two Girls in Front of Lady D’s c. 1976 Artist: Dawoud Bey. Illustration by Aodan Reddy.