Black Kids Don’t Need to “Talk Right”

Published in
4 min readOct 14, 2019

Photo courtesy of Zach Vessels

When I was seven, I remember being curious about the kids who went to speech class. Like me, they got to leave our class to go to their “special” classes, and I wondered what they did and what the work was like. These kids were mainly rural white kids and Black kids.

One such kid who went to speech class also went to gifted and talented classes with me. Although the teacher reassured the students, that speech was not a “special education” class, many of us who were left behind couldn’t help but wonder if something was wrong with those who left. Why were they leaving? According to the teacher, speech helped them “talk right.”

Educational justice is a social justice initiative aimed at closing the learning gap for underserved students. Educational justice includes a wide range of actions such as changing the discipline policy when it dis-proportionally affects marginalized students, testing students from underserved populations for learning disabilities instead of assuming they’re troublemakers, and working with students’ accents and dialects instead of working to erase them.

In essence, educational justice acknowledges that students may come from unequal backgrounds and work to meet them where they’re at to ensure that they have the time and resources necessary to learn the material just like their more privileged peers.

The problem with my speech class in elementary school is that it wasn’t based on educational justice; it was based on assimilation.

For most of my K-12 education, my class has mostly been about 49 percent white, 49 percent Black, and two percent other. My teachers, on the other hand, have been mostly white. After having about 50 teachers throughout that time, four were Black; 46 were white. Because of that, whiteness, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness were taught and reinforced in the classroom often without the conscious intent of the teachers.

Many of my white teachers believed that they “talked right.” It was the way the world was supposed to talk. Ebonics — which was what it was called at the time — was wrong. Living in the South, you also have to deal with Southern American English which in many ways is akin to African American Vernacular English (AAVE). These ways of speaking were something that needed to be…


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