My parents worked hard to give me everything that they possibly could in life. We were never rich, or particularly “well off”, but they both had good jobs and pumped most of their income into the private school system, so that I could have what they assumed would be the best education possible. As a result of this, I grew up in a majority white environment, and thought absolutely nothing of it; we were all children with the same beginning, learning and growing. However, it wasn’t until I was 14 and moved from private to state education that the colour of my skin was used as a yardstick to measure my actions.
“Are you sure you’re black?”
“Your hair’s so straight!”
“You talk like you’re white!”
Phrases were thrown at me from every direction and every culture, and though none of them were intended to be an insult, they stuck with me. Since when did the colour of my skin determine how I ought to speak, behave, dress and style myself? I can’t count the number of times I’ve been considered “not black enough” by members of my own race, because of the music I like or what I do/don’t do. It doesn’t matter how it’s intended. Whether it’s an insult or a compliment, using traits to measure “blackness” is contributing to a much larger problem.
Every time someone tells me that I “talk white”, they are reinforcing many black stereotypes that we have worked hard to disprove. I speak eloquently, I sound my T’s (most of the time), and I round out my vowels… everything is pronounced “properly”, and I suppose that I sound quite educated. Referring to that as “white speak” insinuates that only those who are Caucasian are allowed to speak with a level of eloquence, and that that level of education is out of my league due to the colour of my skin. What I find most heart-breaking is that I am told this by people of my own race more than anybody else; it is as if we don’t believe in ourselves enough, despite our ancestors fighting for every right that we have today.
I speak as I was taught to speak; it is not a reflection of my culture, but rather a reflection of me. Trying to use that to undermine my ethnicity is its own subtle variation of racism, whether you are aware of it or not. My whole life I have spent time trying to justify my “blackness”, but ultimately, the only thing I need to prove my culture is the colour of my skin. The longer we root ourselves in stereotypes, the longer we take to change the agendas of those around us. Our culture is mixed, we absorb traits of all those around us, regardless of our skin colour, and I refuse to attempt to earn my place in mine.