I Don't "Speak White"
Throughout my life, the phrase “speaking white” has been used to describe the way I talk. I am an African-American, but they say I “speak white.”
Since elementary school I have been teased for the way I talk. It used to hurt to know that I wasn't accepted by my race. I didn't understand what they meant by “talking white.” Worse yet, I was light-skinned. I was not accepted because of these things. I just did not fit in. I found myself hating my voice and the complexion of my skin.
Because of those two key components that say “I just can't be black,” I was constantly asked if one of my parents was white. I never had anything against Caucasians at all. But if anyone asked if I was mixed I would quickly say “no” and get a really bad attitude. The reality is I am mixed. Somewhere down the line I do have white in me. A lot of people can trace some white in them if they look deep enough. But to them my complexion and my voice were flags stating “I‘m clearly not black”.
I was not accepted as black among my friends. The language I used was just “too proper” to be “black”. That's just sad. It's just hurtful to think that my generation does not believe that using proper English is the way black people should be speaking. What is strange about speaking English correctly? If I am educated, why should I speak as though I am not?
My mother is an English teacher and improper grammar was not tolerated. It didn't matter if I was in the privacy of my own home. I had to talk correctly or I couldn't talk at all. Even if I accidentally said something incorrectly, I had to quickly fix it before my mother had a chance to scold me. I am thankful for my mother. I hear kids my age, younger or older, saying things that are just grammatically incorrect. It's sad that some people cannot or will not use the language correctly and accept that this is the way it is and should be.
I am Black, and the way I speak is neither black nor white. The way I speak is intelligent. I finally accept the way I talk. All people, no matter what race they are, have the capability to speak their language correctly. When my generation realizes that it is not wise to look upon intelligent speech as a shortcoming, then maybe the practice of using poor speech will end. Here's what my African-American generation does not realize: When they say I talk white, they're stating that they themselves don't have the ability to talk proper.
[Taylor Tramell is part of the "TIME 11", a group of Detroit area high-school students working with Assignment Detroit. She is a senior at Mumford High School. For a related story by Joshua Jamerson, click here.]