It was funny the first few times. Going to a rural high school I heard that so many times. Nicknames like “Carlton” began to follow me around like my shadow. After a while, I just began to ignore them and chalked it up to kids being dumb kids. There is one instance where I did start to take offense to “talking white” and that was junior year. I remember a classmate of mine, whom I was familiar with, made the comment “You just don’t talk black enough.” Truth be told I don’t remember the context of the conversation but I know that comment really struck a nerve with me. Was this really such a huge problem to people that I didn’t have a specific dialect or slang in my speech? Was this really a huge hangup that I didn’t have the deepest of voices compared to my peers? Was it intimidating that I used words like “Go antagonize someone else?” when I could have easily said bother? Why was the way I talked such a issue?
This was only more magnified more when I started teaching. My second year teaching full time (my 4th year out of college) I taught at an urban school here in Milwaukee. The student population was 98% black. From the start, students seemed to be entertained by the way my voice sounded and the way I spoke overall. I would get more comments on my speech and even go as far to mock the way I sound, to my face. “Why do you sound like a 40 year old white man?” one 8th grader said to me was one of my favorites.
To this day I have no idea how to talk white or talk black. Does the way I talk suggest I’m better than you? I certainly hope not, because I only talk as I have been trained. While we’re on the subject of training, let me tell you some of the accolades I hold that may explain why I sound the way I do:
- I’ve been singing since I was in second grade. While I do not receive private lessons any more, dictation and pronunciation are key components of singing.
- In high school I was a 4x state medalist in forensics (competitive public speaking). Silver, bronze, silver and finally gold my senior year with a perfect score. The only reason I got a bronze medal sophomore year was because I had a bronchitis infection that caused me trouble with my volume.
- I’m trained in musical theatre which I have been doing most of my life.
- I am a college graduated teacher for the last 6 years professionally. Throughout college I participated in speeches for student congress, SAAC, as well as numerous speech classes.
My advice to you is this: before you tell me or someone else that they “talk white” or sound funny, why don’t you think how do you sound with those foolish words coming out your mouth? It may change your day and outlook on people.
Your first black friend