Sunday, January 31, 2010

Negro Dialect - What is that?

I've written several articles and essays over the years about my thoughts on the subject of "Speaking White" and I felt the need to address it again after the whole "Negro dialect" comment sparked an uproar a few weeks ago.

Mid-January Democratic Senator Harry Reid made some comments in regards to President Barack Obama and his way of speaking.  Although, I'm sure in his world, he thought what he was saying was meant to be a positive comment, it wasn't.  But really, who even uses the word "Negro" anymore.  I've heard German and Russian people who aren't Westernized use it but in the United States, the word Negro has been practically obsolete since the early 70s. (except for on the 2010 Census, but that's another story)

 Below is a paragraph from discussing Reid's comments, to read the entire article click here.

"He [Reid] was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,' " Halperin and Heilemann say.

Let me begin by talking about my own experience with proper speech.  Growing up, I had friends of all races and from different cultures and we were taught the King's English, as it's so often referred.  If you blind-folded someone and tried to have them guess as to the ethinicity of the children, they would've had no idea because we all sounded the same and we liked it that way.

Over the years, speaking sproper English was all that I knew.  If someone was new to the school and pronounced words incorrectly our teachers would correct them.  You'd never hear a child say "ax" instead of ask or "pacific" instead of specific, that wasn't tolerated.  We rarely used slang and if we did, it was only in front of each other, we wouldn't dare use it in front of our teachers or our parents.  Boy have times changed.

When I went to high school, I decided to venture out because I didn't want to go to my local school, instead I attended a neighboring school that focused on Science & Technology.  The very first week at my new school I knew I was in for a different experience.  While my cohorts in the Science & Tech program were very similar when it came to the way we spoke, the neighborhood kids or "the locals" as we called them (shaking my head) had an entirely different way of speaking.  It was amazing how differently we spoke even though we lived only 10 minute radius from one another.  If you're from the DC area you know what I'm talking about. For instance, area was pronounced ur-rea, Maryland - Mur-lin.  I refused to assimilate and continued to speak that way because that was not what I was taught. 

In high school, I'd alway get comments like "You talk White" or "Why do you speak so proper?"  It never bothered me when other Black people would say it, I just figured they weren't educated the same way I was, but that wasn't my concern.  It wasn't until I was older when White people would comment on the way I spoke, it was always "You're so articulate" or "you speak so well."  I grew to hate the word "articulate", not because I wasn't proud that I was able to speak well, but because people seem to think all Black people or African-Americans are supposed to sound the same.  I found it offensive because you'll NEVER hear a white person tell another white person that they're articulate.  It's just unheard of.

Even as an adult, people make comments and assumptions based on the way I speak.  When I tell them what schools I went to from high school through graduate school, I'm always greeted in shock.  For some reason, people assume if you speak proper English you went to private and Ivy League schools.  Not sure where that idea came from.

I speak the same way, whether I'm addressing a superior, co-workers, friends, or even my mentee.  I see no point in dumbing down the way I speak for anyone.  I don't believe there is such thing as a "negro dialect".  People will speak with different accents based on where they were raised and it doesn't make one person better than the other.  We're all very diverse people and should never be judged by having a certain pattern of speech.


  1. I do believe there is a such inflection in voice and even the most "proper" black people I can still tell they are black without looking at them. Especially men. I do and will probably always use slang but I have always had an understanding of proper speech and context. Needless to say I've never been accused of "talking white" and thats okay too. lol

  2. It's disgusting to me that speaking proper english is equivalent to "speaking white." I've dealt with this my entire life. I hardly ever use slang, unless I'm trying to be funny, and I'm not someone who curses either. It's been my personal experience that when people talk to me they use their "telephone voice." It almost feels like they're mocking me. In the words of Dr. Cosby, "come on black people."

  3. oh yeah, negro dialect is a joke. like you said everyone has different accents and certain colloquialisms based on where they are from, but that's about it. Reading Sincere's post, I never would have thought that using your "telephone" voice would be considered mocking; but I'm not really one to try to turn myself off or on around friends--I guess that is pretty offensive.

  4. Like Sincere, I have been mocked a time or two. Usually I'll get the valley girl impression, which I find to be annoying b/c I don't speak like that. I'd never speak broken English in an attempt to belittle someone.