When I was a kid, I was accused on more than one occasion of talking white. I was guilty of using proper English. I also know that I change the way I talk depending on who is in the room. For example, there is a lilt in my voice when I talk to men and women who are clearly my elders. It is a way of giving them respect. I learned recently this is called “code switching.”

Playwright and performer Sarah Jones and John McWhorter, a linguist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, discuss sounding black and “blaccent,” a term McWhorter coined.

This is a wonderful piece on what people sound like and why. Take a listen.

3 thoughts to “Sounding Black

  • Laura

    A friend and I have created a website in response to recent news regarding the Justice of the Peace in Louisiana refusing to marry interracial couples. The site is dedicated to biracial people and interracial families. I would love it if you would come by and check us out. AND, I would love it if you gave us permission to list your blog on our resource page!


  • class factotum

    I grew up on military bases abroad. Lots of kids of all colors around me. But everyone spoke English the same way. It was a surprise to return to the US and attend a high school that was not on a military base and hear different accents.

  • class factotum

    OK. I just saw from your earlier post that you, too, are a military brat. I have to tell you a story about my friend Michael, a fellow brat who went to my college. I didn’t meet him until after college when I was running my alumni association in Memphis. We spoke over the phone before we met in person. He was insulted I didn’t know who he was. “I was the SWC MVP!” So I looked him up in the yearbook. “Michael! You’re black!” I said. “Well duh,” he laughed.

    He told me that he did not experience racism until he was 14 and his dad, who was a Lt Col in the army, retired and moved his family to Memphis. As you know, rank is what matters in the military. But in Memphis, the white kids didn’t like him because he was black and the black kids didn’t like him because he acted/sounded “white.”

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