Monday, March 30, 2009

"He Speaks So Well...He's So Well Spoken..."

"You sound articulate."

That's what the law firm partner told me towards the end of our first conversation the other day. I had to stop from laughing. I immediately got that feeling that you feel when some unwitting participant triggers an inside joke that only you and your friends know about so I had to make a real effort to hold back the grin that I could feel coming on.

Nearly every black professional or student I know has heard this word used to describe them at one point or another, so I suppose it is somewhat like an inside joke. One big inside joke that never really seems to die, even in 2009. Articulate. Ha.

We all remember the great Chris Rock stand up:

"Whenever Colin Powell is on the news, white people give him the same compliments: 'How do you feel about Colin Powell?', 'He speaks so well! He's so well spoken. I mean he really speaks so well!' Like that's a compliment. 'He speaks so well' is not a compliment, okay? 'He speaks so well' is some shit you say about retarded people that can talk. What do you mean he speaks so well? He's a fucking educated man! How the fuck did you expect him to sound, you dirty motherfucker? 'He speaks so well.' What are you talking about? What voice were you expecting to come out of his mouth? 'Imma drop me a bomb today', 'I be Pwez o dent!'."

Now, I'm quite sure the partner did not use this term out of any malice or intentional disrespect. Nevertheless, its still one of those nagging little issues that we can't seem to escape in the office space or the classroom setting when our colleagues discover that, yes, we can in fact speak the king's English just like them. Who knew?

However, before we cast aspersion over White America for their role in this inside joke, I witnessed a spectacle of a conversation yesterday on the subway between a Black mother and her children that led me to think that perhaps it is time we do some introspection on whether the joke is actually on us. In other words, is the Black community as a whole at fault for buying into the notion that speaking proper English is something that we just don't do? That somehow speaking proper English is "speaking White?"

To touch on the subway incident real quick, I basically had a Cosby moment ear hustlin' in on this conversation. Again, I had my iPod in as I usually do, trying to mind my own, when over the music I can hear this woman talking to her kid very loud and very ghetto. I didn't hear exactly what the kid said, but then this older dude who was sitting across from the mom said something like "well she's just a talker ain't she?" referring to the kid. The mom replies "yeah ever since I put her in [name I cant remember] academy she's been sounding like one of these white kids. Gonna have to take her back over to [other school who's name I can't remember]." Then they both laugh and she says "you have a good one" as she and the kid got off at their stop which had just arrived. Denzel's character in the "Great Debaters" is surely somewhere rolling over in his grave.

Speaking of Cosby, the few nights ago on CNN they were discussing the impact the Obama's may have on this the black community and it was mentioned that after the episodes of The Cosby Show aired, Black enrollment at college went up and Black home ownership also increased. The Black community, as a whole, saw something that it identified with and responded accordingly.

That being said, I guess my questions are (i) how much of this "Intelligence = White" notion is our own fault and (ii) is this something that we as a community can begin to move away from again now that we appear to have reached another paradigm shift with a very public example of an educated and popular Black First Family?


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