#BBCTrending: The debate over ‘speaking white’


By BBC Trending What’s popular and why

Earlier this month Nefertiti Menoe had had enough of the phrase “You’re speaking white.” After she saw a meme on Facebook that ridiculed minorities who use proper English, she posted a short video to her own page.

“I don’t know why we’ve gotten to a place where, as a culture, as a race, if you sound as though you have more than a fifth grade education, it’s a bad thing,” she said. “That really gets under my skin.”

Menoe refers to the practice by some minorities of using slang to communicate, and the idea that members of each community, in her case African American, should identify with those same speech patterns.

In an interview with the BBC, Menoe said that when she moved to Long Island, NY, from Kenya, when she was 12, her classmates told her she spoke funny.

“I thought, ‘How do I speak funny? Is this not English?’ In middle school, I started hearing from my black and minority friends, ‘You sound white.’ I thought, does that mean black people in America don’t speak this way?” Talking it out with her mother, Menoe says she gained the clarity to understand her skin colour wasn’t a reason to alter her language.

“Ridicule of any kind is wrong – including making someone feel bad because they speak properly.”

When she posted the video, she says she was amazed when within a day, 70 friends “liked” it and 15 shared it. To date, almost 15,000 have shared her original post, and almost 33,000 have watched the video, on several sites that shared the link.

The reaction is varied. Many, she says, feel she aired her community’s “dirty laundry”.

@cjadream7 commented on the YouTube video: “For Black kids especially, it might come NATURALLY to say ‘dey’ instead of ‘they’… I still say it myself sometimes, and I have a Masters. That doesn’t make me stupid… Does everyone who only speaks English need to speak like news reporters? No.”

But many others agreed with Menoe.

On her original Facebook post, Lorenzo Johnson wrote: “English is the only language most of us speak and a lot of us do not do a very good job of it…..and to poke fun or belittle those who take the time to do it correctly shows stupidity and a lack of education……nuff said.”

“We’re the human race,” Menoe told the BBC. “No one is better than another. It’s either you speak properly or you don’t. Proper speech doesn’t belong to the Caucasian race.”

Reported by Micah Luxen



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