"I remember there were kids around my [Chicago] neighborhood who would say, 'Ooh, you talk funny. You talk like a white girl.' I heard that growing up my whole life. I was like, 'I don't even know what that means but I am still getting my A.'"
That's my First Lady continuing her effort to reach out to children of color in D.C., while addressing some children in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the District.
Now a few thoughts about this "talk like a white girl" phenomenon: First, there is no such thing. Either you speak clearly or you don't. When I am in Southern Louisiana I still struggle to understand what folks (black and white) are saying. You folks in Baaastan talk funny to me, too. And so do some of you New Yawkers. In fact, right here in Philly your accent might be different depending on which neighborhood you are from. I can always tell a South Philly accent (they say youze a lot), and a black person from Mt. Airy sounds different from a black person from West Philly. An Irishman from the Northeast? I am all over that as well. Mrs. Field says I talk funny because my Jamaican accent always creeps into my diction. Mrs. Field would have probably been teased a lot in Michelle Obama's neighborhood as well. Mrs. Field was born and raised in South Louisiana, but she managed to craft a very generic accent. It's always fun to see the reaction we get when Mrs. Field makes arrangements over the phone and the people see us in person. Yes, may I help you? I am Mrs. Field, we spoke over the phone. We did? Oh, yes, of course....
Anyway, my point is, people have accents, and we all speak in different ways. The important thing is that we speak well, and in a way that can be clearly understood by whoever is listening to us. Now unfortunately, some of my cousins, well.....it's almost like they don't want the person listening to understand. Unless you are in on the secret slang, you don't deserve to understand what the speaker is saying. For some of us, it's our own way of communicating that might as well be a totally different language. When our children grow up speaking like this it's tough to get them out of it. And damn it, the shit can be embarrassing when they reach adulthood. If I have to strain to understand the conductor on the train, or the person taking my order at the fast food restaurant, that's a problem. Especially when they are supposed to be speaking English. I am not talking about an accent here, I am talking about putting words together that just don't belong. Just what the hell does, you be done messed up, mean? YOU. BE. DONE. MESSED. UP. That is not English, that is some kind of ghetto Morse code that will get you nowhere in school.
Thank you first lady Obama for at least addressing this issue. The kids were wrong of course. It's not speaking "white", it's speaking properly. And it's speaking in a way that can make it easier for them to succeed in school, and ultimately in life.