‘Sucking Teeth’ Is A Centuries-Old Custom That Stretches Across The Diaspora

black woman scowling
Via Pixabaye
Briona Lamback
May 3, 2023

We’ve all heard it before. “Don’t suck your teeth at me!” or “Who you sucking your teeth at?’ Sucking teeth is so second nature to many of us that we likely don’t remember when we first learned it. 

Where does it come from?

Suck-teeth is the gesture of drawing air through the teeth and into the mouth to produce a loud sucking sound,” which is used to express “disgust, defiance, disapproval, disappointment, frustration or impatience,” according to researchers

Many of us grew up with the verbal gesture as it's been linguistically passed down for generations and possibly, centuries.

Sucking teeth is also called ‘stchoops’ in the Caribbean. ‘Cipptu’ in Senegal. ‘Suruntu’ in Mali and ‘tchip’ in France. It’s a global gesture found across the African diaspora and is considered one of the various Africanisms remaining despite enslavement and colonization.

In 2015, French schools moved to ban students from using the gesture. While sucking teeth is largely considered an insult across our cultures, there’s a long history of white institutions banning culturally significant things and it's nothing but anti-Blackness.

Despite our migrations worldwide, both by force and by choice, there are essential isms that we’ve kept close to, and they’re beautiful reminders of the expressive, creative, and innovative people we’ve always been.

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