Talking “white”

“There are many anecdotes and stories of black teenagers disparaging one another for using Standard English or ‘talking white,’ which also tends to come with accusations of ‘acting white.'”

Two-people-talking-logoThere’s an interview with Larry Wilmore, former Daily Show with Jon Stewart “senior black correspondent,” who is now hosting “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore,” on Comedy Central, taking the slot vacated by The Colbert Show when Steve Colbert agreed to replace David Letterman on CBS later this year.

The bits that jumped out at me were these:

Growing up mainly in a white environment, I knew I was always different, too…

One of my early stand-up bits was called “Black Away.” A friend of mine was on the phone trying to rent an apartment. If you hear him talking, you know he’s a brother, and all he got was, “No, no, no.” Then I called the same place, using my nonbrother voice, and suddenly there were vacancies. So I wrote a bit called “Black Away,” where if you buy this product that takes the black out of your voice, you can do all these things. I wrote that in 1984.

One of the things I had to deal with A LOT when growing up was the notion that I didn’t sound “black enough,” whatever that meant. In the First Ward in Binghamton, NY, which was predominately Slavic, my sister Leslie and I knew every black kid in K-6, mostly because there were only about a half dozen of us: Connie and Lauren, and their cousin Walter; Philip; Bonnie; Robert; maybe one or two others who came and went.

The grief I got was mostly from young black people, most from the parts of town with a greater African-American concentration. Though occasionally, I’d run into a white dude who wanted to show how cool he was, at my expense. (These were sometimes the same guys who wanted to show me how much darker their skin was than mine when they had a tan.)

I’m hardly the only one. In the article ‘Talking white’ at home vs. ‘talking white’ at the office, a pertinent section: “There are many anecdotes and stories of black teenagers disparaging one another for using Standard English or ‘talking white,’ which also tends to come with accusations of ‘acting white.'”

For the first six years in my current job, we dealt with business advisers from all over the country, taking their questions on the phone. Then many of us would go to the annual conference. I could quickly tell when people saw me and realized that their mental picture of me was, let’s say, faulty.

In general, white people struggled to act cool, trying badly to stifle their shock, as though it were no big deal. Black people were surprised too, but in general, in a pleased way: “Hey, Roger’s a BROTHER. Who knew?”

Sometimes, I wonder if my lack of ebonic lingo made some white people of my acquaintance feel more…comfortable. “He’s black, but he doesn’t ‘talk’ black.” Trust me, this was, and occasionally still is a double-edged sword.

I came across this listing for a book, Talking “White”, which “is a collection of lyric poetry that takes a hard look at the intra-cultural bullying that takes place within the African American community. With poems like ‘Ostracized’ ‘Keeping it Real’ and ‘The Post-Black Manifesto’ Maria James-Thiaw skillfully brings cultural identity politics to light.”

Sounds like a book I would definitely relate to.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “Talking “white””

  1. I remember my high school days in the 70s…we were in an “affluent” area and the black students who attended were treated very badly by black students from an inner city school when it came to sporting events. The racial slurs they launched at them were very caustic. Very sad.

  2. I saw this sort of thing occasionally, too, but in the first couple years of university, not high school or earlier, because there were no black students in my primary schools and only two in my high school (one of which was in my class). By the middle years of university, most seemed to stop it.

    There was actually something similar in the gay male community, only it cut both ways: A gay guy could be ostracised for sounding “too gay” as well as “not gay enough”. I don’t know if it’s still like that, though I suspect it probably is. After all, there seems to be some weird need we humans have to divide ourselves against ourselves…

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