Despite growing up as young black male in the “hood,” facing all the same challenges—like violence and poverty—my voice, moreover the way I talked, somehow made me less black than others.
Next week when I walk in the barbershop to get my haircut, I’ll be greeted by my longtime friend and barber who will shout with a smile: “Cracker Chris, my favorite negro honkey!” Oddly enough, it’s become a term of endearment and a long-running inside joke that becomes an outside one once patrons in earshot hear me speak.
For as long as I can remember, black people—particularly my peers—have always asked me: “Why do you talk white?” After brushing off the offensive statement that I’ve come to expect, I always respond: “What does that mean?” They usually stare at me for a moment before saying something like: “Well, I’m saying, like, you talk so proper and shit.” I sigh, shake my head and then say: “soooooo… you do understand that your comment—in context—is saying that black people speak broken English?” They usually, sadly, respond and say: “well yeah, I mean, don’t they?”
Now sure, I know black people—we all do—who speak fluent Ebonics but to suggest that all black people talk like ignorant hoodrats and that all white people pronounce every word with conviction, clarity and authority, is severely misguided and ill-informed. Furthermore, when blacks, moreover society as a whole, insinuate that somehow other blacks with couth are trying to be like their white counterparts, is simply not true.
I’ll never forget being 23 years old, living in Austin, Texas, and selling shit tons of AppleCare. With 90% of the transactions being done over the phone, I relied on my voice and my ability to speak clearly—which came from years of performing in stage plays—to get me over and close the deals. One time I called a woman, we had a pleasant conversation and I sold more than $500 worth of coverage. At the end of the call, she says:
“I’m curious, you have a great speaking voice and you sound handsome, what race are you?”
Shocked, I stammered and said “umm… I’m black.”
She responded: “I thought so, because of the why you said ‘ask.’ However, you speak so well for a black man, though. You have an accent, where are you from?
“Philadelphia,” I answered.
“Suburban Philadelphia, I assume?”
“No, I grew up in the hood, around the corner from a Chinese store and across the street from a crackhouse; will that be all today ma’am?” I asked, obviously annoyed.
The reason for this, in my opinion, is because society has a way of classifying people into just race, leaving class, culture and values on the cutting room floor. Because I’m black, other black people—and to fair, most whites—think I’ve at least one tattoo, an opinion on Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta, memorized the latest Lil’ Wayne song and am currently waiting for the 1st of month.
Recently at an event, a young black male—who discovered I was a journalist—walked up to me and told me I should interview his artist, because: “he’s hot” and “he spits fire.” I guess I was supposed to relate to those terms and express my excitement for discovering the next Kayne West. I informed him that before he touts his client’s spicy saliva, he should ask me—and in the future, others—what they do and see if it’s aligned with your industry and goals.
He seemed receptive to the life lesson, yet moments later, he was asking again: “so, can we set up an interview?”
This time I entertained it. I asked the overzealous hype man what made his artist newsworthy? He responded: “cause he rappin’ about that real shit. He’s fire, man.” I told him I didn’t understand what that meant. So, I tried a different approach. I said: “Why would somebody want to read about your artist? What has he done in the last 3 months that no one else has done?”
He smiled, puffed up his chest and revealed that his artist recently opened up for “young (insert random name here).” I had never heard of the emcee he was referring too, and I let him know that. He looked at me as if he wanted to revoke my “blackcard” and said, chuckling: “damn homie, you don’t know who young (insert random name here) is?”
Not smiling, I said: “No. Do you know who Mahalia Jackson is?”
He didn’t. I wasn’t surprised. I told him that it’s not wise to assume that all black people do, talk and like the same things. I felt compelled to tell this young man that I prefer ballets over twerking contests, merlot over Mad-Dog 20/20, and sushi instead of deep fried fish sticks.
His artist never got the interview, but he got a lesson he’ll never forget: blackness comes in all shades, cultures, classes, experiences and values. There’s no guide to being black and there’s not one singular “black culture.” Life, much like my blackness, is boundless.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
Source: TBO Inc®
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