“You’re the whitest black girl I’ve ever met.” “You are such an Oreo.” “You dress so white!” I have gotten comments like these from many of my friends and acquaintances, ranging from some of my best friends to almost strangers. Most of the time, I don’t think these comments are meant to be malicious—at least I hope not. When black people say these things to me, I feel like they are saying I’m not black enough, as if the way I speak is some indication of how black I am, and not how much education I’ve had or my upbringing. When white people say it, I think it’s an observation based on stereotypes, or in their minds it could even be considered a compliment. In other words, they are saying that I sound like them. So what’s my problem?
If you haven’t already figured this out, I am a black girl. I went to a predominantly white school for 13 years. My mother graduated from that school as well. I speak like her and she speaks like my grandmother. I’m sure my mother received similar comments during her formative years. But whenever someone makes a comment such as “ You talk so white,” I begin to ponder: What does it mean to sound white, and what does it mean to sound black?
From what I’ve inferred, sounding white is speaking “proper English,” not having an “accent” or a “dialect,” and using little or no “slang.” Sounding black is, well, the opposite. And there lies the problem. Race doesn’t have a sound. Speaking with proper grammar doesn’t make me any less black; it makes me educated. Speaking with improper grammar doesn’t make a person “more black.” There are people from all different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities that speak with proper grammar and vice versa. I have attended Princeton Day School for my entire school career, so I’m not going speak with improper grammar or use lots of slang, which is the stereotypical “Black” speech. That’s not what I’ve grown up around. The only way to distinguish what race a person belongs to is to know their background.
We have been brainwashed to believe that white equals educated and black equals uneducated (also dangerous, loud, and “ghetto,” but that is a story for another article). So when I open my mouth, people are surprised that I sound the way I sound, even though everyone in my household sounds exactly the same as I do and we are all black.
So I leave you with this: If you are black, brown, purple, white, a human being, or anyone who has implied a person cannot speak properly if they are black, stop and think about why. Think about what this says about your own prejudices. Think about the connotations it has. Think about the preconceived notions you have about other races and the generalizations you have made about them. And stop. If you can do that, we can begin to change at least one offensive stereotype that implies being black means being uneducated.