“May I the
have the turkey club without bacon?”
“Sssr Hun. Would you like some wooder?”
“Yes please with lemon.”
I did not know it then, but the way I speak has a big impact on how the world views me. Some people might think I’m rich or something because I speak “proper”. Some people think I’m sucking up or trying to act superior.
“Why you talk that way? Are you White?” I usually ignore them because I don’t really talk all that differently then they do. In fact I talk the same way they do in a language called English. You would think people with an accent would have a hard time fitting in But for me its the opposite. My lack of accent is what makes me standout for better or worst. When in the “hood” some people think it’s uncool. When out in the street some people look at me like “ I didn't know black people could talk” I think I have always talked well, but never in a dry NPR kind of way. I have an accent apart from my “white” or Philly ones. It is my accent picked up from living with a crazy family, and hours of watching Star Trek.
When I was little I loved using big words because if you did people would listen. Strangers would upon meeting me exclaim how smart I was, telling my mom I should get tested as if she did not know me. My big vocab at a young age also got me into trouble. For example in kindergarten a fellow classmate was talking to me about animals.
“ My favorite animals are cats and dogs and fish and...”
I knew a lot on the subject and chimed in.
“ You know you’re a animal”
“No I’m not,” she said loudly
“ Yes you are, you’re a mammal”.
At this point she had enough of my blasphemous tongue, so she ran off to the teachers. “Khari called me a mammal” It took the teachers a while to calm the child. Then they want me to say sorry to her, for what I thought, but gave a half hearted one anyway. Now I know this is taking it a bit too far but people seem to be insulted with certain language when the meaning is unknown to them. It holds some weight over their heads. One must first take in account the place where people come from in order to communicate.
I used to feel that in order to be understood I had to change the way I talked depending on where I was. I didn’t want them to judge me by the way I spoke. So I try to sound less like me and more like the people I was trying to fit in with. This reminds me of a quote in James Baldwin If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me What Is. He says, “What joins all languages, and all men, is the necessity to confront life”. This fear of being left out or being seen as an outsider brings to mind “the necessity to confront life”. For that is all a language is, a way to describe life. So that being said the language of others I used to fit in, was not reflecting my life. I want to not lie to people with my voice, I started to talk normally and use “big words”. The dreaded insults came back, for a little while anyway, but over time they got bored with the teasing and got used to my voice.
Looking back, it feels rather silly to try to sound like someone am not. However the reasoning behind the action was sound. With so many people in the world trying to fit into social boxes, it is hard to say true to yourself. I might have stopped trying to sound like other, but there is still pressure to be like them. So keeping in mind “the necessity to confront life” I must make sure I’m true to mine.