White people, when you call me “well-spoken,” this is what you’re actually saying.
I was a Resident Assistant in college, and most of my floor consisted of white freshmen girls. One evening, I was sitting in my dorm room when one of the girls came by to hang out. It happened pretty regularly. She was from a small town not far from the university, and she hadn’t been away from home before, so I would give her advice and lend an ear when she needed it.
Then this shit happened:
Girl: You’re not like other black people.
Me: *silence ’cause I know what’s coming*
Girl: You speak so well. You know what we call those other black people?
Me: Don’t —
Me: First of all, don’t say that word. Second of all, if you say that word around the wrong black person, you’re gonna be picking your teeth up off the floor.
Girl: But —
Me: Get outta my room, Becky.
Okay, her name wasn’t Becky, but it should have been.
I’ve had several variations on this same stupid conversation, but girl legit went there with me.
I guess I’m one of those black folks white folks are comfortable around. I’m “well-spoken,” which is code for “You sound like us. You sound white.” I’ve heard this my entire life, and I’m sick of white people throwing this at me like it’s a compliment. It’s racist bullshit, and I’m not here for it or you. I am black. Blackity-black-black, so don’t get it twisted because I can speak using correct grammar. That means nothing.
White people, when you utter this nonsense like you just gave a black person the highest praise, hear me when I say you didn’t. Just the opposite. You’re saying we’re all the same to you. We all speak “black.” Until we don’t. Stop putting us into a box that has one label like we’re one-dimensional. As if you can meet one of us and know about all of us. When, in fact, most of you know none of us. What’s the statistic? That only 25% of white people have any friends who are people of color? So the truth is that you don’t even know us, and you’re not even trying to know us.
If you think you have black friends, you probably don’t. White people like to slap that “friend” label on any relationship that’s not clearly defined. Let’s see…
Coworker you have lunch with once a week.
Teller at your bank.
Anyone at your dry cleaners.
Waitress at your favorite restaurant.
Your doctor. (seriously?!)
Y’all get to the point where you have 500 “friends,” and you probably don’t even know most of their last names. Lemme ask you this. Do you go to their house? Vanpool their kids to school? Call each other just to shoot the breeze? List them as your emergency contact anywhere? Do they have your house key so they can check on your dog while you’re on vacation? Have they met your family? Any of them?
So stop. Stop saying you have black friends when you don’t. Because believe me, if you and I are just having lunch once a week, there’s no way in hell I’m calling you my friend. You’re not. Be lucky I call you anything other than a coworker. Although I’m gonna call you my coworker because that’s the extent of our “relationship.”
But see? This is why you assume that me and my “white speak” are an anomaly. You’re not around any of us. Just like white folks who believe Fox News is actually news, you believe what you see and hear about us. And most of what you take in is from the media. Not a good source, white people. Not a good source at all. To hear them tell it, we’re a bunch of lazy illiterate criminals whose sole purpose is to disrupt society. Like that’s all we wanna do. We don’t have aspirations of successful careers, value education or our families, and we certainly don’t want to “fit” into mainstream society.
Okay, that last part is probably true.
We don’t want to contort ourselves to make you comfortable around us. My “proper speaking” has nothing to do with trying to blend in with white people. My mama speaks the same way I do. But she also told me, if I had to fight a white kid in school, then fight and I wouldn’t get in trouble. She knew what I was gonna face with white folks. I’m just warning you. Don’t assume because you find me comfortable that I find you comfortable. I don’t. Black folks have been screwed over too many times by white people for us to trust you. You’re too silent and too willing to allow violence to destroy my soul and those of the people I love.
Admit that you’ve been lying to yourself. You are comfortable around other white folks, so that’s who you socialize with. Feel better now? And the way I speak has nothing to do with who I am as a person, and it doesn’t define black people. I am not special because I can connect nouns with verbs. So this whole, “You speak so well” white nonsense? Stop it. Black people are multidimensional. Understand that so you can understand us. Then take it from there.