Smile Politely

The Doldrums of “Talking White”

As America slugged down their first cups of coffee, and had their morning debates concerning Ralph Nader’s recent statement about Barack Obama’s campaign stances, I found myself doing much the same, but with a nice trip down amnesia lane while I was at it.

There’s no doubt Ralph Nader has a sound mind for this country. The five-time presidential nominee for the Green Party, [ed. as an Independent and a write-in candidate] has shown those who would listen (and a host of others that should have), a different painted picture of what this country honestly needs.

However, the wise words and messages of concern become somewhat dull in the face of two simple, pointed words Nader accused Obama of to a Colorado newspaper : “talking white.”

I first heard it at four years old. My father at 6. My mother when she was 10. It proved itself to be a harsh lesson for nearly anyone interpreted as black, but speaking decent English. According to the imagery we are bombarded with concerning black people in this country, we appear to be a people incapable of reaching anyone but our own, because of our perceived limits in speech.

Call it what you want: black vernacular language, Ebonics, or hood slang. No doubts, even as someone who “talks white” sometimes, I find myself an example of the anthropological principle of “code switching,” jumping back and forth between a rapper’s drawl and a professional diction. For those of us that could show a difference in the way we spoke depending on the situation, our intelligence was seen as “seeking whiteness” in the eyes of society. Black people sometimes saw you as being “less black.” White people saw you as trying to “unfairly assimilate.”

In the environment of this election, we seem to have a great deal of this racially-charged talk floating about our daily updates and news feeds. But, with all the political pandering, religious scandals and questioning of this political season, should anyone honestly have stooped this far?

What Nader said leading up to his faux pas has some bearing. Obama has a great deal to prove to us. All of us. No turning point in plot for this country has been so crucial. As a time when we have shown the world little to nothing but our destructive half, we are begging for “change.”

On the other hand, what Obama has to prove stands as double for the black population of this country. We waited for our chance to become readers, freed men and women, workers, representatives, senators and now it looks as though we may take a step further.

The world is watching both candidates, and this rhetoric helps no cause. Standing, perhaps in opposition of one another, but with the same push for a change. One would hope that the idiocy of a phrase such as “talking white” in assessing another person’s intelligence could be set aside. This country’s “one-drop” rule and ingrained principles of discrimination have too long sat at the back of our minds, making their way to the forefront only when “racial identity” is concerned.

Both candidates have a responsibility, as do the people of this country.

To Nader, there is no such thing as “talking white,” only speaking intelligently. You must assess where you stand and read the underlying histories of this country. Perhaps then, you would understand part of the stigmas present for Black America and White America. You’ve shown your level-headed nature before.

To Obama, your intelligence has swooned Black America, and we’re placing parts of our hopes and dreams on your shoulders. While you’re running with them, don’t forget that we’re behind you and take time to look back and see those whose dreams and hopes you’re carrying. You owe a lot to this country, including some of the problems Nader spoke of. We’re ready when you are.

To America, — black or white — it doesn’t matter. This is your chance. You have an opportunity to bury a piece of the hatchet of past and present discriminations here and now. The world is watching as we have a black man running for president of this country. Show each other that when you say “race doesn’t matter” that you mean it.

Hell, maybe one day “talking white” will then be universally referred to as “intelligent speech.” Color not as a basis, not as a side note, but as an ignorance thereof.

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