Sunday, September 6, 2009

Funny, you don't sound like the others.

today's topic is presented by our guest speaker: the nerd. the nerd is a good friend of mine. i highly value his opinion. his government name is the stuff of legends.....if i needed a sniper, i just might call him. ladies and gents, please enjoy the article presented by the nerd.

“Oh he is so well spoken!”
“You talk like a white person”
“Funny, you don’t sound black”

How do you respond to statements such as these? Do you take their quasi compliment and simply move on with your day? Do you act offended at the comment and then inquire, what does black sound like? Or do you simply do your best to ignore the statement all together? I personally have done all three to mixed results. Let’s get some facts about me out of the way. I have attended private schools since day one; however I feel that my schooling has only had a marginal effect on the way I speak. I think the biggest effects were my parents and the friends I grew up with. In fact I am willing to say the biggest factor were the people I grew up with. I grew up in the white suburbs, with white suburban children so I spoke as they did, and honestly I still do. However I am not writing to explain or defend how I talk, I want to discuss the three statements at the top of this page.

1. “Oh he is so well spoken!”
This phrase was one I got quite a bit and still get it today although in different variations.

Here is my interpretation: “I am ignorant and I expected you to talk like either a sambo speaking slave or like the ones I see on the BET.”

That may be a small exaggeration but I know they are thinking something close to that. This is because the only interactions they have had with black people have come from 106 and park or whatever show they happened upon while channel surfing. They look at the way we talk on television, on the news and even in person and simply assume that is the norm.
I have many black friends and just about all of them are more than capable of assembling a complete and understandable sentence when they need to. Maybe if everyone had that luxury, being well spoken would not be such a surprise.

2. “You talk like a white person.”
This one pisses me off. It pisses me off mainly because it just invalidates everything I just typed above, which took me a long time to type. I used to hear this when I was younger, from other black children, and looking back I wish I was smart enough to shout What The Fuck!?!? This statement is insulting all around. It insults me by saying I am somehow not black or black enough, which is one of my biggest pet peeves. It is also an insult to the person who just said I sound like a white person.

Allow me to break down what this statement means: Proper Grammar + Decent Vocabulary= White Broken Grammar + Poor Vocabulary= Black

If I am reading these equations correctly, which I am, speaking like a white person really means that all white people are eloquent and all black people are not. This sort of outlook is very self deprecating and only helps to give validity to the assumptions people may have about the way we talk. Perhaps if more black people would abandon the concept of talking ‘white’ or ‘black’, I would have sounded a lot less well spoken in comparison to my peers. Honestly think about where the concept of talking ‘black’ came from. To me talking ‘black’ is rooted in slavery, when we could not get an education so we picked up the language as well as we could. Thoughts of white people in black face mocking the way black people speak also come to mind. In fact for a bit of fun, any time a white character on TV or film talks or acts ‘black’, try to imagine them in black face. I tried this with Malibu’s most wanted, and found it easy to see that it is a toned down minstrel show without the face paint. Clearly talking ‘black’ is still being mocked. Then again sounding ‘black’ is apparently cool and sounding ‘white’ isn’t, so maybe I have it all wrong?

3. “Funny, you don’t sound black."

This one I just find perplexing, and offensive. When I hear this I am often left dumbfounded as deep down I know they are somewhat right. Even when speaking a grammatically correct sentence some people still sound ‘black’. This puzzles and amazes me. How has ‘black’ become an accent? The odd thing about this accent is I simply don’t understand how it works or what makes a black persons voice sound black.

The best example I can think of how black truly is an accent comes from my Jonny Casanova and The Pied Piper. During our sophomore year at College they had begun to work as a telephone fundraiser, raising money for the school by calling parents. Jonny noticed that he was not pulling in as many donations as The Pied Piper was. The Pied Piper then told him a little secret: If you change your tone and speaking voice to sound less ‘black’ you will raise more money. Jonny gave this a go and found that it did work, which he found troubling on a personal level. What is wrong about sounding ‘black’?

If you found any of what I said confusing or contradictory, then I have succeeded. Understanding how race and language tie together still confuses and bewilders me and I hope you will give some though as well.

1 comment:

Lonica said...

agreed. you know in the predominately white establishment I work in, I get it about every week. But a few days ago, a black man said to me, "man, you sound so proper, so educated. Makes me feel like I'm workin towards my GED and you're workin on your PhD. I feel like I need to go learn something." I didn't know what to say to him, all i did was smile and walk away...