Hi guys 🙂
Like the title reads, if I had a dollar for every time I have been asked (or told) —
I would be a millionaire. I promise you I would.
Since what seems like forever ago, though it was only high school, I have been told that I “talk white,” “don’t talk black,” “don’t talk normal,” or that I “sound white.” In fact, when I heard this for the very first time, I honestly did not know how to respond. Because what do you say to that — thank you? I was confused, especially because it wasn’t a white person who was telling me this, no. It was another black person. I remember asking them to explain what they meant and they proceeded to tell me, in this matter-of-fact tone, how they thought I should be talking and even went as far as to list off all of the ways they thought I was talking “wrong” as if they were quoting, verbatim, the requirements that needed to be met in order for me to consider myself authentically black.
I also remember being really hurt by the end of that conversation. Because at that time in my life, I was dealing with identity issues, having been adopted into a white family. So this confrontation seemed to the only reiterate the notion of just how unwelcome I was in the black community. I walked away, becoming more and more upset with each step I took to distance myself from what had been one of the most insulting and demeaning conversations in my life. I was upset not at the question I had just been asked but upset at myself for the way I talked. I remember asking myself, “Why can’t I talk like them so that they can stop ostracizing me and just like me for me?”
I will never forget that encounter. And even if I could or even if I did, it wouldn’t do me any good because that was the first of what would turn out to be hundreds. Seriously.
Little did I know that in a few years, I would come to the realization that when you learn to love every part of who you are, not just the attractive or endearing features, you will never be harmed by what another person says or does to you. And it would take me a few years to get to a point in my life where I understood not only who I am, but accepted myself wholeheartedly.
But until I would learn to accept myself for who I am, I allowed each and every attack at who I was (and am) to bury me deeper into this hole of self-hatred. I never understood how white people, for the most part, accepted me and liked me, while the people who shared the same color skin as I, quite literally wanted nothing to do with me. Time and time again, I was made to feel like I had committed an act of treason against my culture for speaking the way that I did.
So, to fit in, I desperately decided to watch videos on Youtube in the hopes that I would instantaneously be able to speak the colloquialisms that had been the dividing line between who I was and what they aggressively wanted me to be. But my sudden urge to take matters into my own hands in an attempt to be accepted and approved prompted me to take a step back and really think about all of this…
For me to modify all of what I have ever known and become somebody I wasn’t, changing the way that I talked would only be a fraction of what I would have to do to. I would have to deny not only my familial ties, but everything else that supposedly made me “white,” like —
- the way I dressed and presented myself
- the boys I chose to date
- the friends I had and the people I chose to surround myself with
- the privileges I had
- not having to struggle for things that others, unfortunately, have to struggle for
- private school education all of my life until my senior year of high school
- where I lived
- what I was able to do and experience in my life
But that didn’t matter to me. At least back then it didn’t. In fact —
I began watching how I spoke and trying hard to change my vernacular such that I could hopefully redeem myself and be apart of the community I was born into. But, that was to no avail.
I asked myself, “What will I gain by being somebody not? What good will it do to change who I am to impress people that feel it’s their job to attack who I am just because it’s different than what they are and what they do?” I wondered if I was the only one that was getting left out and made fun of for that wat that I spoke. I also wondered if the black people who had said these ignorant things to me realized that they were doing themselves a disservice, in that they were promoting and, in a way, glorifying, the white culture. Did they know that they were confirming a deep-rooted stereotype in which white people are said to be the only people to know how to talk properly and act presentable?
I had a lot of questions about all of this…
In Michelle Obama’s remarkable memoir Becoming, she, too, talks about her struggles with identity, especially when her cousin asked her why she talked white. Michelle goes on to say:
“The question was pointed, meant as an insult or challenge, but it also came from an earnest place. It held a kernel that was confusing for both of us. We seemed to be related but of two different worlds.”
Had the former First Lady published her memoir years ago when I struggled with my identity and feeling like I had to fit in, her words and our identical struggles would have brought me great comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone and that I am not the only one to have this issue. Now, however, her recounted words make me want to hug her and be like, “I feel you girl. I totally feel you.” I then imagine we would have this long and in-depth (and hopefully never-ending) conversation about our pasts and our lives as we drink Rosé (Do you like wine, Michelle?) and play with Bo.
A girl can dream, right?
Now, at this point, I do feel it’s necessary to say that I have had a few encounters in which white people have commented on the way that I spoke.
Never did they say, “You talk white” or ask why I talked the way that I did and do. But, they would “compliment” me by saying that I spoke very well, that I was very well spoken and articulate, or that they loved the way I talked. And while there’s no doubt in my mind that they truly meant what they said as a compliment, at first I didn’t take it very well. Of course, I would say thank you, but I wished that the way I talked wasn’t even noticeable to the point of receiving comments, compliments, or insults. I wanted the way that I talked to just be normal.
“So, to compliment someone on perceived whiteness, their apparent conformation to the status quo, is blatant approval of the erasure of their actual culture and heritage.” | char adams
Furthermore, “[r]acist ideologies, which are often manifested in statements like “you talk like a white girl,” permeate U.S. culture so much that they are seen and treated as normal and natural. It’s been happening for so long that we don’t give a second thought to how oppressive these ideologies can be.” That said, I made this post for several reasons, none of which include casting blame or igniting a race war or whatever the hell happens when someone mentions something race-related and others don’t like what’s said.
It’s important to note that Sincerely Shirley, as mentioned in my lengthy About Me page, is quite literally written by me, sometimes about me, for me, all while it is also for others. In cases like this post, I get a little more personal in that I have allowed myself to tell of my past in the hopes that people not only read what I say but maybe even (I pray) grow and learn.
Because I had to learn. I had to learn to know myself. I had to learn to love myself. I had to learn to accepy myself.
Like I said early on in this post, I would eventually come to the realization that when you learn to love every part of who you are, not just the attractive or endearing features, you will never be harmed by what another person says or does to you. And while it would take me a few years to get to a point in my life where I understood not only who I am, but accepted myself wholeheartedly, I have gotten here —
And my God, it is the most liberating, rewarding, and powerful feeling ever. I am blessed.
And the only way this was possible, was for people to come along and say ignorant things to me that would hurt me in the places I chose to ignore. I couldn’t learn about myself if I didn’t know what I needed to learn. And once I started understanding where I hurt and why, I used that knowledge as motivation to be the most authentic and self-assured Shirley possible. That said, the only was I grew was not to change who I was, no. But to use the bricks that were thrown at me not as weapons to hurl back at the naysayers. But to use those bricks to make stairs; stairs to get to the top. The top being where I’m at today.
So, if you have been in a similar situation or are currently experiencing what I went through — do not change who you are. Allow yourself to learn from what has happened or is happening and know that this will shape you into a stronger version of yourself. You’ll look back and laugh and thank yourself for deciding to stay true to who you are.
Oh, and one last bit of advice from an old friend of mine —
“When they go low, we go high.”
I dunno why, but I felt like that quote really works there. 😉
Thanks for reading guys! Love to you all.