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“How Come You Don’t Speak Black?”

Asked as if it ‘Black’ were a language. The question got me thinking of answers; perhaps because of my primary and secondary socialisation, maybe the institutions I was educated at, possibly the countries I’ve visited, but then maybe also, the influences of the media, which in subtle ways informed the way I speak. Language plays a pivotal role in shaping us and defining our racial backgrounds, which is why people often ask me this. I am proudly black, but do not possess black names, neither do I sound black. Many a time, at job interviews, for example, having only spoken with someone, but now physically meeting them, they look positively taken-aback as if I was a fraud.

Then, because racial talk is almost taboo here, they’ll ask me twice or thrice if I am actually the name on my resume (as if I don’t know who I am). The media are relevant because for example, comedians, are often guilty of fertilizing  the seeds of racial profiling with, I must confess, absolutely hilarious skits about different races. As we passively watch and drink in, and remember, how American Comedian Katt Williams jokes using a prissy ‘proper’ accent when referring to how white people are helpful if one misdials a number late at night. He then switches to a black ‘Ebonics’ ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ebonics ) accent when referencing how a black individual would behave when high on Marijuana. If he did the same skit using ‘normal’ English and without changing his accent, it wouldn’t have the rib-clutchingly funny, rolling-on-floor-laughing effect it has. Follow the link and note the nuances therein. .

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Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Cultural

 

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