I first realized that there was something different about the way I spoke when a stranger, in casual conversation, asked me what country I came from. See, at most I'd sound British due to all the British sitcoms and mysteries I watched. Still, no amount of Britcoms could mask my Jersey Girl accent.I found it wierd that this person would think I wasn't as American as he was. It took a while after our chat that I thought that perhaps he thought I was from another country because I was black and spoke eloquently.
By "eloquent", especially when it is attibuted to African Americans, I mean speaking in a dialect other than African American Vernacular English(AAVE). Eloquence is a positive aspect among well-meaning racists("you're not like other black people. You're so eloquent!").Among other African Americans, Eloquence is used as a less-than-black mode of speech. When a black person is impersonating a white person, you know what they are talking about and will sound like.
This is a very mild example of this "White People Do This, Black People Do That" mode of comedy, but it's the most recent one I've faced.I can provide many other examples because almost every high-profile African American comedian has impersonated a white person at some point in their routine.I feel conflicted about these impersonations. On one hand, that is exactly how I've seen other white people talk and handle things. On the other hand, I know just as many black people talk about bangs or articles on NPR or sushi unironically.Heck, I've talked about all these things with great enthusiasm. I understand the comedy in what they are doing, but I kind of feel...mocked.
I think it's because I felt so much guilt growing up over my "whiteness". I liked rock music more than hip hip or rap and put mayonnaise on everything and cringed at the slightest hint of spiciness. I lived a middle-class lifestyle, my parents raised me with the values of an intellectual, and I was nerdy and eloquent. I think that a big part of Middle Class African American Life is a permeating sense of guilt. We know we are black, but so many people could easily claim that we are "acting white", "Oreos" or "Uncle Toms" if they really wanted to hurt us. I haven't been told that I am trying to act white, but I have been asked if I come from another country because it was so odd for a black person to speak the way I do.
Things like Stuff White People Like and the inevitable "White People Do This, Black People Do That" comedy routine gloss over a facet of African American culture that isn't within the binary of racial presentation.Black people can like Moleskine notebooks discuss an article on NPR about sushi, and their very blackness should not come into question because of it.I think it's about time that black people give up on feeling guilty over acting or speaking a certain way, be it speaking in AAVE or speaking eloquently.