My friends of color often laugh at me when they hear me talking to my white friends because I speak differently. I do.
This is not news to me, because ever since I moved to this country I have been told “You speak like a white person”. It did take me a while to understand what that meant, because coming from Italy, where MOST, of my friends were white, I talked like everyone else around me.
However, when I moved to the US, to Newark, a predominantly black community, I came upon the realization that I did speak differently. The combination of a very thick accent, learning new slang, and speaking “dictionary english”, and I guess just my tone, made me sound differently than my classmates, but I never thought of it as speaking “white”.
As time went on, understanding the system and racial issues of this country made me realize that I do speak differently. Differently in the sense that the way speak tends to be associated with a certain race. There is not necessarily a good way of speaking, because as Jay-Z said “intelligence is not attributed to color”, but there are different perceptions of a person’s tone and choice of words that are attributed to certain groups of people. People are and judged treated differently based on the notion of whether they sound white or black. Several people I know put on their “white voices” when speaking on the phone, because you are more likely to get listened to if you sound white. People respect you more when you speak “white”. I could never and still can’t believe this is a reality. It baffles me how oppressive this is. The implicit meaning of how “white” equals more intelligent, worthy of your attention.
Personally I have tried speaking more of what is considered as a “black person” because I wanted to feel part of my people and did not want it to seem like I was agreeing with problematic views. I was told that I didn’t sound right and that’s right because I just sound like me, accent and all. Yet, over the years, I guess unconsciously I have assimilated to speaking differently depending on the type of people I am surrounded by. Even though I am aware of this, I do not even realize that I am doing so, until it’s pointed out to me. This behavior has become natural to me, and I wonder why? Is it to fit in? To feel more included or accepted within the race I am surrounded by? Is it just a behavior which I have learned to better adapt?
To be honest, this entire notion of a way of speech being associated to a race is ridiculous to me, however I do recognize that it is real social matter.