Uptown Bourgeois is an arts, news, and culture blog created by New York-based freelance writer Jefferey Spivey. UB explores universal themes through a black, queer lens. 

Podcast: We Need To Stop Telling Black People They 'Speak White'

Podcast: We Need To Stop Telling Black People They 'Speak White'

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F1: You're listening to the Uptown Bourgeois podcast. I'm your host, Jefferey Spivey. Let's be weird, snobby, and intellectual together.

00:00:16;18 - 00:00:26;24

M3: This week, I'm adopting a one-act podcast format to talk about an issue near and dear to my heart. What does it mean when black people are told they talk white?

00:00:26;24 - 00:00:41;04

F2: Jordan and I are biracial. Yes half black, half white. And because of that we find ourselves particularly adept at lying. Because on a daily basis we have to adjust our blackness. I mean.

00:00:42;23 - 00:01:18;21

M1: I know there's many reasons we do that too. To terrify white people yes that's one of the main reasons, one of the main reasons. I mean you know, with the way that we sound, the way that we actually talk, we're not intimidating anybody. Oh no no. No. No we sound very white. We sound whiter than the black dude in the college acappella group. Oh yes. We sound whiter than Mitt Romney in a snowstorm. That's the reason when we're around other brothers and sisters, you will see us you know, you got to kind of, just have to dial it up guys. Well.

00:01:19;11 - 00:01:30;23

M2: You know what I'm talking about. No no no no I know what you're talking about. You know I know you know I know what you know I know what you're talking about. No no no no no no no no no no no no. NO. NO. NO. NO NO.

00:01:31;04 - 00:01:43;26

F2: NO NO. Because you never you, never want to be the whitest sounding black guy in a room. You put five white-sounding black guys in the same room. You come back an hour later. It's gonna be like Lady Smith Black Mambazo or….

00:01:52;05 - 00:03:20;17

M3: That hilarious clip was from Key & Peele, two biracial comedians who people would probably say talk white. They acknowledge a profound issue in that routine. There's an intense pressure to sound black when you're around other black people and if you don't sound black enough there's a fear that people will see you as a traitor. By speaking proper English, you've essentially turned your back on the community. I wrote an essay about this very issue this week titled, “I've Been Told I ‘Speak White My ENTIRE Life”. I can relate to what Key and Peele are talking about in their monologue. I'm not biracial but I've always had to navigate blackness cautiously. I grew up in the suburbs, mostly in Ohio and the Florida Panhandle.

These are majority white places meaning most of my friends were white. My teachers were white. I learned English from white people and spent the bulk of my time around white people. I bring this up, not to insinuate that there's anything wrong with spending time around a lot of white people, but to share that we are often the product of our environment. If you grew up around a lot of white people, odds are that's going to influence the way you speak. My parents too ‘spoke white’. My mom has shared that people mistook her for a white woman over the phone. My dad still has a bit of a southern twang in his voice but he's worked pretty hard to cover it up. Throughout my life, I always heard the criticism that I spoke white. Sometimes the comment came from a white person who commended me for it and seemed somewhat surprised that I spoke the way that I did. But most of the time the feedback has come from other black people. Nine times out of ten it has not come from a positive place.

00:03:20;17 - 00:04:44;23

F3: They say I'm not the average black girl because I'm so well-spoken, poised full of etiquette, a white man's token. You know, I remember my ex's mother telling me I didn't know how I was going to react when he brought home a black girl. But I like you because you talk so white. Well when did me talking right equate to me talking white. They say I'm not the average black girl. No no no not the average black girl because the pigment of my skin is just a shade lighter than that black girl over there. You know the black girl over there, the black girl with the nappy hair, the black girls whose elbows can't skip a day without lotion, whose hearts and heads are filled up with self-hate and bottled up emotion. The Cocoa Brown girls who have to face society every day and be tough because no matter how good they straighten their hair, their good is still not good enough. Luckily for me, see, I don't fall in that category so they say I'm not the average black girl because I speak with so much class and I don’t have too much but just enough ass, not too much but just enough pizazz, you know just a little bit of attitude because you don't want to come off as one of those average black girls and come off as rude. You know popping their gum or shaking their neck. Yeah because those black girls get like no respect. See luckily for me I get a pass because the melanin in my skin is like that brown paper bag and my father, brother, and men that I date pants don't sag and when I speak, my tongue pronounces every syllable and the combed part in the middle of my hair is naturally visible. Oh it must be a weave, she must be mixed because we all know the average black ain’t got that good sh-t.

00:04:44;26 - 00:06:33;19

M3: That was Ernestine Johnson. During an appearance on the Arsenio show. She so eloquently describes this plight. This feeling of being stuck in the middle where you don't sound like the average black person and thus, neither white nor black people know how to categorize you. They use the way you speak to either compliment you or cut you down. I take neither personally. I worry that when people say this, that I speak white, that they only attribute fluent speaking and education with white people. That white people believe this about black people. That black people believe this about themselves. I worry that people are so caught up in trivial labels and designations. We should all aim to speak fluently and speak the language the way it was meant to be spoken and we shouldn't be praised for meeting the bare minimum. Nor should we be looked down upon. I worry that people don't understand where it comes from, it being the way I speak. Some black people insinuate that I'm not proud of being black or that I speak the way I do to appease my white counterparts. But intelligence shouldn't be equated with abandoning the community. I can speak intelligently and still be black and believe me, just because I'm well-spoken and intelligent doesn't mean that a racist sees me any differently than the next black person. What I do-the way I write, the way I speak, how I present myself-comes from a place of wanting to succeed, to excel by displaying my talent not by suppressing any part of my identity. I know that I'm black. I never try to cover it up or reduce it. I'm proud of being black but my blackness isn't tied to the way I speak. Never has been, never will be. And that shouldn't be imposed upon me by other black people. As a community, if we want to continue to progress, we have to let go of these silly labels. Pointing out that someone speaks white serves no purpose. Each and every one of us speaks a certain way and has certain idiosyncrasies. Those are the things that make us unique and there's no reason we should conform to fit an ideal of what blackness is. I don't speak white, I speak fluently. I speak like me.

00:06:38;09 - 00:06:52;06

F1: Thanks so much for listening to the Uptown Bourgeois podcast. Check back for new episodes every week and subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud so you never miss out. If you love it share it with your friends. If not, shoot me an email and let me know what you'd like me to talk about. Until next week.

00:06:53;19 - 00:07:03;25

M4: The Uptown Bourgeois podcast is written, produced, and edited by Jefferey Spivey and is an official property of Uptown Bourgeois, LLC. All original music is provided courtesy of RMVD.

This podcast was transcribed using Simon Says.

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