Introduction: When I was typing this I didn't know where I wanted to go with it, I had only knew that I wanted to speak about my experiences with how I spoke to other people and how they reacted to that. Eventually, I realized wanted to speak about the third and fourth grade specifically, and that's what got me here.
Back when I was a child I was always told that I speak white. My friends would tell me this and I wouldn’t understand what that meant, or some family members would be really impressed by how proper I spoke with them. I’d have only been speaking how my great-grandmother had taught me. Initially, I had never spoken using slang, I only knew how to decipher it. Every time I switched schools, I had to reintroduce myself to a new set of people. However, every time I reintroduced myself, I’ve always gotten the same reactions
“Hello, my name is Tylier.”
Everyone would be stunned by that first sentence, my teachers would look at me with their eyes eclipsed in excitement as to suggest that I would finally be the one who would make it. My classmates would stare at me in awe as I emphatically expressed my sentences. There was no slur in my speech to tie my words together, there were no conjoining words together to form something else, there was nothing to suggest that I was from here, the hood like all of my classmates. There was only that sentence, and it was so well articulated for someone of my age that it became one my most striking characteristics, I became Tylier, that dark-skin kid that speaks white, but for me, it really felt like I was Tylier, that black kid that doesn’t belong here, or Tylier, that dark-skinned kid that shouldn’t be.
I don’t think I’d ever met another person that spoke the way I did, and I feel like neither did those kids. The only language they knew was the slang from our poor neighborhoods, I think that their only real experiences with white people were from the smiling faces leaking out the tv. I mean, I wouldn’t blame them, Why should a dark-skin boy in the hood be able to articulate his speech so well?
I remember my first day in the third grade, this was my first time switching schools, and at lunch, all of my conversations were about the way I spoke.
“Yo, why you talk so weird?”
“Yeah, don’t he sound like he white?”
“Like, he rich and he got money.”
I gently shuffled my shoes while sitting at the lunch table, I felt them scrape across the dirty green tile floor. I was thinking about how I would respond to this, or if I was going to respond at all.
“I grew up like this, this is the way that my great-grandmother speaks”
“You adopted by white people or something?”
“No, it just sounds like it.”
“You a whole weirdo, forreal yo.”
When someone in Philly calls you a weirdo, it’s one of the most insulting things you can possibly say to a person. Sometimes I feel like that one small conversation set the tone for how I acted throughout the entire school year. After that comment, I didn’t say anything, I had soon come to realize how isolated I was because, although I had friends, none of them spoke to me the way I spoke to them. I wished I was white, because if I was, then I wouldn’t feel like I didn’t belong, and it would also give everyone an explanation as to why I spoke so proper in comparison to everyone else. I had eventually learned how to change the way I spoke so that I wouldn’t sound out of place, but I was never able to fully speak like my friends and most of my relatives. I felt like a lever that had gotten stuck in the middle, I couldn’t fully transition over to the other side, no matter how much effort I had put in.
In the article, If Black English isn’t a language, Then tell me what is?, James Baldwin suggests, “A child cannot be taught by anyone whose demand, essentially, is that the child repudiate his experience and all that gives him sustenance, and enter a limbo in which he will no longer be black, and in which he knows that he can never become white. Black people have lost too many black children that way.” Initially, this quote may seem like it speaks on how changing a black child’s slang can erase their existence as a black person, this quote actually speaks on black children and it is explaining that erasing or shifting a black child’s speech to fit the norm in a culture where their speech isn’t the norm can eliminate this child’s history. In my elementary schools, I didn’t understand what language meant or why it was so important, however, the more people spoke to me about how I spoke to them, I realized that being able to speak the same language is something that can unite a people.
Baldwin, James. "If Black English Isn't A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?." Nytimes.com. N. p., 1979. Web. July. 1979.