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“You’re so articulate” may sound like a compliment. But when it’s said by a white person to a black person, there’s an unspoken racist element at work. It becomes, “You don’t sound like those other black people.”
Watch Jamilia Lyiscott explain why the dialect of English she speaks in the classroom is no more valid than the ones she uses on the street or with her family.
Click for the Transcript
Today, a baffled lady observed the shell where my soul dwells and announced that I’m articulate. Which means that when it comes to enunciation and diction, I don’t even think of it cause I’m articulate. So when my professor asks a question and my answer is tainted with the connotation of urbanized suggestion, there’s no misdirected intention. Pay attention ’cause I’m articulate.
So when my father asks “What kind of ting is this?” my articulate answer never goes amiss. I say, “Father, this is the impending problem at hand,” and when I’m on the block I switch it up just because I can. So when my boy says “What’s good wit you, son?” I say “I just follow to dem people, but I done.” And sometimes in class I might pause the intellectual sound and flow to ask “Yo, why dese books never be about my peoples?”
Yes, I have decided to treat all three of my languages as equal because, I’m articulate. But who controls articulation? Because the English language is a multifaceted oration, subject to indefinite transformation.
Now, you may think that it is ignorant to speak broken English, but I am here to tell you that even articulate Americans sound foolish to the British. So when my professor comes on the block and says, “Hello,” I stop him and say “No, you’re being inarticulate. The proper way is to say ‘What’s good?'” Now, you may think that’s too hood, that’s not cool but I’m here to tell you that even our language has rules. So when mommy mocks me and says “Yao be mad going to the store” I say “Mommy, no! That sentence is not following the law. Never does the word mad go before present participle.” That’s simply the principle of this English.
If I had the vocal capacity I would sing this from every mountaintop, every suburbia, and every hood ’cause the only God of language is the one recorded in the Genesis of this world saying “It is good.” So I may not always come before you with excellency of speech, but do not judge me by my language and assume that I’m too ignorant to teach, ’cause I speak three tongues. One for each, home, school and friends.
I’m a tri-lingual orator. Sometimes I’m consistent with my language now and I switch it up so I don’t bore later. Sometimes I fight back two tongues while I use the other one in the classroom and when I mistakenly mix them up I feel crazy like I’m cooking in the bathroom.
I know that I had to borrow your language because mine was stolen, but you can’t expect me to speak your history wholly while mine is broken. These words are spoken by someone who is simply fed up with the Euro-centric ideals of the season and the reason I speak a composite version of your language is because mine was ripped away along with my history.
I speak broken English so the profusing gashes can remind us that our current state is not a mystery. I’m so tired of the negative images that are driving my people mad. So unless you seen it rob a bank, stop calling my hair bad. I’m so sick of this nonsensical racial disparity. So don’t call it good unless your hair is known for donating to charity.
As much as has been raped away from our people, how can you expect me to treat their imprint on your language as anything less than equal?
Let there be no confusion, let there be no hesitation: this is not a a promotion of ignorance. This is a linguistic celebration. That’s why I put tri-lingual on my last job application. I can help to diversify your consumer market is all I wanted them to know. When they call me for the interview, I’ll be more than happy to show I can say “Whats good?” “What a gwaan?” and of course “Hello.” Because I’m articulate. Thank you.
Jamila Lyiscott is an advanced doctoral candidate and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College where her work focuses on the education of the African Diaspora. She is also an adjunct professor at Long Island University where she teaches on adult and adolescent literacy within the Urban Education system. A spoken word artist since the age of fifteen, Jamila works with youth, educators, and activists throughout the city to create spaces that reflect and engage the cultures and values of black and brown youth inside and outside of the classroom. Follow her on Twitter @BlackRelevance.