The Language of Race

At a very young age, I was introduced to the world of acting. A very diverse space of creative writers, thinkers, designers, architects, and creators. It is not an easy business to dive into without knowing the language in which we speak.

In certain places you’re better seen and not heard, and sometimes, they don’t want you to stop talking. Growing up in this environment helped me to enunciate and articulate my words. My mom would always tell me, “always use your words” or “enunciate your words when you speak,” so I’ve become very outspoken over the years. The industry is a game of language from the beginning of your audition till booking the job. Your introduction is something like “Hello, my name is Zolee Griggs and I am 18 years old.” It’s all about the charm and your attitude. With the industry being predominately white and being around white people so often, I realized the difference in how I acted around them on set than with my friends or at home. This wasn’t just on set, but I caught on how I thought I had to associate with white people to be accepted or not be seen as an illiterate black girl. I wanted to be accepted so badly, I would over compensate and change my voice, my word usage, my entire personality in a sense.

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I picked up on this at a very young age and it was recognized by others also. I would receive a thorough amount of comments such as “wow you’re so well spoken” “you can articulate well” “such broad vocabulary” and sometimes from other white friends “You don’t sound black,” almost as if it was impossible for a black girl to be anything other than a stereotype: being loud, illiterate, and ignorant.

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This began to grow a devise in me. When I was around other black people with not the best grammar, I would judge them and stereotype them just as I hoped the whites didn’t do to me. Subconsciously stigmatizing my own people, and sometime with the help of family members also demeaning my people. As I grew older I realized, there was nothing wrong with either types of black girl. The more quiet and articulate girl or the outspoken one who wasn’t sure what her next word would be, but she was passionate about getting her point across. Both girls must learn from each other to be balanced in order to survive in this society.

Anyways, back to the story… From kindergarten until middle school, I never thought I’d have to rearrange my language anymore than I already had. Going into middle school, I knew I was very articulate, but wasn’t aware the affect it would have on my reputation. All my teachers appreciated my intelligence while my peers viewed me as a goody two shoes. I was teachers pet, I was too nice, I was stuck up because I participated in class and enjoyed doing so. I’d never been in an environment of kids loathing school the ways my peers did. When I spoke to my peers, I would constantly hear, “Wow you sound white, why you talk so white?”

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Something I’d never heard before. For most of my life, my settings were predominately diverse with a mixture of everyone, but in middle school, I attended a predominately black school. I was baffled why I was being ridiculed by my own people? I was confused on what they meant by talking white. After awhile, I caught on it meant I was too well spoken. This baffled me ten times more. I thought to myself, “Let me get this straight, now speaking properly is considered being white?”

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So being intelligent was only a “white thing.” What I learned from my peers was there was a devise in our language. Being black meant having broken english and misplaced grammar, while being white was the polar opposite.

The main issue I had with this was the undermining meaning my peers were expressing subconsciously. I was being told by my own people that I wasn’t black enough because my english was good. This is when I learned there is a language with race.

There is a juxtaposition between white and black people and how we talk. Black people in American have come up with our own language. Back in the slave days in the South, blacks weren’t able to learn proper english, so we created our own broken english that also turned into African American Vernacular or Ebonics. Despite back in the day when people looked down upon black vernacular, a vast majority of people now use black slang on a day-to-day basis unaware of its origin.

White people from the slave days till today, are able to afford good education that allows their people to learn the proper english, or the school systems they attend are more structured. White people are normally raised in an environment of proper, well spoken, and mature english, so they learn it at a very young age.

The difference in the language is how we’re raised, what we are exposed to, and the cultural differences we have. Phrases such as “ion know” “ratchet” or “bae” were considered uneducated when black people used them, but now they’re used in mainstream media and on television because they’re “hip” when in reality, they’re washed out.

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Middle school is when I started to change my literature and myself. I was not paying attention in class, using more slang in regular conversations, and losing basic english skills I once knew. I felt the need to dumb myself down and be as street as possible just to over compensate my black side.

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Just like I wanted white approval in acting, I wanted black approval in school. Although I was slowly being more and more accepted at school, I was losing a sense of who I was as a person and at home. My language became more defiant, sharp witted, and slang was taking over my vocabulary. I even picked up a horrendous cursing habit, which quickly gave me the nickname “sailors mouth,” which my mom wasn’t having.

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This new environment had changed my language drastically, and quickly.

Once I entered high school, I realized I was back in a diverse space. There was a great amount of every race, style, personality, and language. I felt comfortable. No one in my new school pressured me to “talk white” or “be more black.” I felt myself finally being able to relax and letting myself shine. Because I was comfortable with myself, I had time to reflect on myself over the years. I realized I needed both experiences to shape me into a well rounded person. I knew how to socialize will all types of social groups because of my experience. I learned there is no such thing as talking white or black, but there are differences in how these races interact with others and those differences are what make us so unique.

(Homework assignment for Professor Duran, English 1)

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