Highlighted by Afolabi Kolawole

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Oh. Speaking White. You ain’t know? It’s a thing. I feel it most when I laugh a certain kind of laugh that doesn’t feel like Bronx me. It feels more like the went to high school in Midtown me. And those are two very contrasting worlds, worlds with varying degrees of hue, that never converged. You learn to make these worlds meet in accordance with who sits in the rooms. We do it without knowing, at times. It sits outside race, ethnicity, lives in culturism, outside our periphery— there is a tinge of Dominica that rests under my tongue whenever my Uncle Winston talks about lobster tails around me; it is a comfort. White speak is comfortable for other White people, or maybe I am imagining this world, that sort of existence? I know how it feels to say the word “dope” in a room full of non-colored people, and the smiles or chuckles that come from it. Because it is not normal for them, as it would be normal for those who breathe the vernacular, who are steeped in the culture, and that live not in just Black and White. That kind of coding is relevant to the Dominican, the Puerto Rock, the Asian or White who has been in the circle or lunchroom with the same people that they ride the school bus with. That comes from speaking a language others just are not privy to. This is the dialog of socio-economics. There is a rigid caste system you live in, when you grow up outside of the walls that allow others in without license or question. I sit in rooms with others who don’t know how to or why they need to code switch — because they do not have to think on these things. It was not part of a vigorous process they would have to go through in order to be initiated into the world. They are born into the world, clean, without chains or restraint. All I have known are handcuffs and firehoses. And one could surmise that times have changed, but I know what a hoodie and sweats and a beard mean as opposed to chinos, a clean shave and collared shirts with a brown skin, when put face-to-face in a board room of my peers. I recognize the shifting of seats, the teachings that carried me through grade school, mental health and prison advocacy, as well as agency life: the art and skill of knowing when “dope” isn’t a good fit, but perhaps “good job” and “that sounds good” may be more appropriate. Who decides the parlance, our speech? I am now watching a debate where a 70 year old White man, who has not a clue how to run for president let alone how not to sound like a walking sexual predator, has been given a mic and a platform because he has the money to do so. You pick up things, much in the way ballers know courts, a feeling you get, vibes almost — you read rooms in ways in which one who is not brown or black recognizes because they have been forced to, have been made to because of circumstance.