56 pages • 1 hour readClaude Brown
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Throughout the novel, Claude directly addresses certain examples of slang popular in the Harlem community and discusses both its practical importance and its symbolic significance. The use of slang terms is central to urban life for the characters in Manchild, and it also provides them with a way to communicate outside the bounds of white supremacist social and cultural systems.
For example, Claude describes the popularization of the word “baby” among Black men: “I think everybody said it real loud because they liked the way it sounded. It was always, ‘Hey baby. How you doin’, baby?’ in every phrase of the Negro hip life” (154). Claude describes an occasion when a Black lawyer called him “baby,” which made him feel immediately at ease in the man’s presence. In this sense, it unites Black people of all backgrounds and professions:
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I imagine there were many people in Harlem who didn’t feel they had too much in common with the Negro professionals […] but to hear one of these people greet you with the street thing, the ‘Hey, baby’—and he knew how to say it—you felt as though you had something strong in common (154).
Thus, the characters’ use of slang is not merely a detail meant to create realistic dialogue: it represents the networks of exclusively Black communication and exchange that run throughout the novel.