"Who do you think you are?"
"You talk like a white boy!"
"You think you're better than us!"
I am 45 years old. It's been at least 28 years since the things that I wrote above were last said to me... to my face, anyway. It still smarts when I bother to think about it, which I seldom do... but it's been there, all these years, a very personal source of pain. A lifetime of barbs and insults, all because of the way I talk.
For generations, it has always been desirable in the black community, as it has all over America, to get all the education that you can. Education has always been seen as the way to improve not only your economic condition, but your social position as well. Since emancipation, this had been seen as a great thing in the black community. The thought had always been, that if your children got an education and learned to speak English correctly, perhaps they could enter a trade or one of the professions. It was certainly so for my mother's parent's (a professor and a Nurse)... it was so for my parents.
Then something changed.
In the 1960's, it became popular for black people to remind each other to "stay black"... to not "sell out" to the white man. Apparently, not talking like you are from the ghetto counts as selling out. In my opinion, this thinking has done massive, lasting damage to the black community.
It has now become fashionable in the black middle class to ape urban behaviors as a means of "staying black". Children of families that live in 800,000 dollar homes, who go to schools that aren't struggling, walking around in super-baggy prison clothes, and despite their middle-American accents, trying as hard as they can to sound like they are refugees from a Snoop Dogg cd.
I was born into a military family, at Hamilton Air Force Base, California, where we lived until my parents were divorced, and we moved to New Jersey to be near my maternal Grandmother. The neighborhood that we moved into was mostly black (this was 1969, the height of "white flight"), even the first generation Portuguese immigrants were moving as fast as they could. The place I grew up in was solidly working class. Most of the people were second or third generation children of the post-emancipation diaspora. Most spoke with a common accent: southern share-cropper... what has morphed into, and has become accepted as "Black English", "Ebonics", "Ghetto English" and what have you.
The problem is that I didn't speak the local language. Oh, sure, I could mimic it, if I wanted to, but, why should I? I don't do things just to fit in, I never have, and don't plan on starting now.
This is all old news to many of you who know me. I've covered this ground before, but there is something different about it today. You see, tomorrow, Barack Hussein Obama is going to be inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States... and he talks like me.
I had planned to give a long discussion about who the "black community" will or won't embrace for different reasons.. I had planned to talk about how, when Obama's campaign first started, many black "leaders" were concerned that Obama wasn't black enough. I had planned to vent about all sorts of things associated with the accusation of "acting white". But, as I sit here, taking a break from getting ready for tomorrow's event, I find that I no longer have the energy to put into it.
I simply want to say that Barack Obama's accomplishment in winning the Presidency has highlighted the fact that no matter what community you were raised in, or live in, achievement speaks for itself. Reading, learning, being well-spoken, scholarship, and integrity, are the paths to success... no matter what color your skin is.
I'll close by giving a special shout-out to those family members, fellow students, colleagues, black pundits and civil rights leaders, journalists, and others who have ever tormented or criticized any black person about speaking standard English. You need to hear this, from me, to you.
Go **** yourselves.
We aren't "acting white", we are acting like Americans who have as much a stake in this country as anyone else does. We are acting like Americans who have an inherent right to the blessings that accrue from our citizenship. We are acting like this is our country... because it is.
This is OUR time.