“you sound white.” this was said to me last week by a new friend, a white male, i’d just met. i’ve had to take some time before writing this blog post to raise some awareness in this area of ignorance. this is also not the first time those 3 words have been said to me… interestingly enough, the other time it was said to me was also by a white male back in college, who, at that time, was one of my good friends. we’ve lost touch since then (not because of that).
this post will probably ruffle feathers. that’s coo. & not that i owe anyone this explanation, but for the sake of transparency: i confronted the friend who recently said this to me, in the moment, & he eventually apologized & even said “that was really ignorant.” i also gave him a heads up today that while i’ve forgiven him & will continue to, i’m gonna do a blog post. this is not to get back at him… it’s to use something negative that happened & turn it into a positive, & hopefully give a voice to others who have had this happen to them, regardless of their color, & to correct in love those who have done it to others. also i wanna say: ignorance means lacking knowledge. it’s not the worst thing in the world to be ignorant, in the sense of not knowing better. it’s what you do out of your ignorance that can either be positive or negative. we can learn & grow out of our ignorance, or we can be hurtful & divisive. it’s our choice. aight. let’s get into it.
first of all, this comment “you sound white” made me boil on the inside. if you have ever said this to someone, think about a few things. how am i, a black woman, supposed to take that? did you mean it as a compliment? if so, HOW IS THAT A COMPLIMENT… TO ANYONE. the fact is, if you’re trying to give me a compliment in saying that, you’re basically insinuating that talking well & or intelligently & confidently is a white person thing… which is just awful of you to alienate people of a different race than you in that way. since when did white people own the territory of speaking well & sounding intelligent? how has this now become a yet another thing we base on color? also, if you meant it as a compliment or a good thing, it leaves me no choice but to wonder how you’d describe the way black people sound when they talk. what you’re telling me is that i cannot be both black & sound intelligent, which is ludicrous.
it’s not just a matter of “that’s not how i meant it.” think about the words you say & how they might effect someone who looks different than you, or even talks different. i remember when i was growing up, my nigerian parents always had people commenting on their accents. my mummy didn’t like it when white folk in oklahoma would say to her & my daddy, “you all have an accent; where are you from?” she told me that for 1: to her, THEY had an accent… because how she spoke was normal to her. but she didn’t go around telling people they had an accent, even though she was living in a state where she was clearly the minority. & 2: she felt like it was just another comment that pointed out how different she was from the people saying it, & not in a celebrating way. while most of them probably weren’t trying to, it kind of made her feel isolated instead of feeling welcome in a foreign-to-her place. not to say we can’t ask about people’s accents. i think it’s just good to ask in a warm welcoming way.
i know there are plenty of stereotypes out there as it pertains to how people talk… there’s the thug black person voice, the white valley girl, the southern hicks… etc. there’s a huge difference in appreciating those differences & all the colorful ways people communicate, & telling someone they sound like a race that they clearly aren’t. ESPECIALLY a white male to a black female, ESPECIALLY right now in this heightened racial time in our culture. it’d be different if i was purposefully trying out a certain way of speaking that stereotypically more white people sound like than black people. but this comment was said about me from a time when i was talking normally, just being myself. the white male who said this to me was referring to when i was on stage speaking to our church congregation, which is predominantly white, at the close of our live album recording. might i mention, i was also surrounded by all white people on stage as well. as if i don’t already have enough stuff to deal with in this picture i just painted… add on top of that a white male telling me that in this beautiful moment, i sounded white. huh?! wh-whaaaat?
& you know what the Lord convicted me of while i was seething about all this? that i’ve joked to a white friend that they dance ‘white,’ or that they are so ‘white’… which, yeah, they are; but the fact that it’s a joke clearly means i’m poking fun at them for being that way. & while i can only recall saying it to a friend only after they’ve first said that about themselves to me, i’m not so sure that makes it ok? maybe my white friends can comment on that & help me out. but i’ll publicly say i’m sorry. my hurt from my situation has caused me to look inward & do my own heart-checking, instead of just looking outward. i have never meant to use color/race to divide. for the record: i’m a HUGE believer in dancing however you want, “good” or “bad,” because to me the confidence behind the dancing is my favorite part. that’s a very specific subtopic in this larger subject, but i needed to voice it. to my white friends: how does the comment “oh my gosh, you're so white” make you feel?
now to white people who have said “you sound white” to a black friend: the comment “you sound white” is not just ignorant & offensive; it’s completely, though maybe subconsciously, putting your race above everyone else’s ~ specifically the black friend you are talking to. & whether said black friend confronted you about it or not: it is WRONG. i’ve always believed that there’s nothing inherently wrong with having white privilege, but again, it’s what you do with it that makes the difference. please use your privilege for good, & please do not use it to talk down to your friends who don’t look or talk like you. & PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, don’t try to make your friends who don’t look or talk like you feel better about themselves by telling them they sound white. get out of here with that.
as i told my friend who recently said that comment to me, i use my voice on social media to speak out for my fellow black people, especially those who are surrounded by majority white people, & i also use my voice on social media to speak up about topics like this that we sometimes tend to avoid. so as always, let’s all have grace for each other when we don’t see eye to eye. we’re allowed to disagree, as long as we remain respectful. if this blog post came across as harsh… let it. there’s a time & a place for harshness, & for me, this was it.
thanks for taking the time to read. leave a comment below on your thoughts, i’d love to hear them even if you disagree.
all photos taken by andrew b