Race, Status & Self: The Power of Words.

“You talk like a white girl!

Ever heard that phrase before? It’s usually directed towards Latinos and Blacks living in urban/suburban settings whose socioeconomic status, educational background or way of speaking breaks the barrier to what societal norms have placed as the status quo. “Acting white” or “sounding white” can be delivered as a “compliment” or it can be a “diss”. If you’re not cool enough to roll with the street vernacular in a particular ‘hood and your style is too ‘bougie‘, then you are convicted of “trying to be white”. Conversely, if you’re a young Latino/a or black individual in a four-year university (or graduate program) with goals and aspirations of attaining great things, pursuing a fulfilling career, perhaps joining the track team or have an interest in playing tennis or chess, then you’re not a “real” minority, you’re pretty much a white person occupying a brown persons body.

If however, you are a minority who lives in a poor community, dropped out of school, enjoy gang-related activities and the distribution and/or consumption of illegal substances as your favorite pastime, speak with an accent, tone or vocal inflection in your voice that easily identifies you as such then by golly everything is pretty damn normal with you and how you live your life. No one feels threatened, no one is offended and you go on your merry day acting and speaking (insert ethnic/racial minority here).

This is a form internalized, institutionalized and structural racism. Plain and simple. While such a facile phrase may seem innocuous, it is extremely detrimental and will only perpetuate the dangerous stereotypes we have placed on minorities today. The danger of this self-fulfilling prophecy must be put to rest.

By telling a person of color that they speak/act “white” what you are really telling them is that they do not fit the stereotype of what a minority should be in your mind.

Some food for thought:

She’s Puerto Rican but she doesn’t sound like Rosie Perez. 

He’s from Bed-Stuy but he is headed to Princeton?  

She’s from the Bronx and she’s an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, my that is mighty white of her! 

A black astrophysicist that runs the Hayden Planetarium! Well, he’s not really black. 

Do you see my point?

Our youth internalize these myths and the low expectations we have of them will become a reality. When we expect individuals to fail they will succumb to that failure. “Sticks and stones” are powerful daggers and we can use the power of our words to change things.

Instead of equating success, affluence, speech and mannerisms with a particular race or ethnic group we should rather equate these things with education. Education is what breaks the sound barrier when it comes to these divisions and attempts to bring people up to an equal playing field. Education is a common denominator among these attributes which transcends race, ethnicity, culture and socioeconomic status. Blacks and Latinos will continue to face structural forms of racism but the less perpetuation we have of it through the use language the better off future generations will be.

We are a people of progress in today’s society. We fight for the rights of our LGBT friends, we advocate for marginalized people and we are more cognizant of race, culture and ethnicity than ever before. I’d be happy to see us continue to move forward making more progress and not let small figures of speech retard our potential and growth.

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” -Sonia Sotomayor


About Maya

I like words like "labyrinthian," "kerfuffle," and "serendipitous" because they're mellifluous. I love poetry, pumpkin ales, sangria, long summer days, Fall foliage, going out of my way to step on crunchy leaves in October, live music, Jazz, Salsa dancing, theater, film (foreign and indie), the arts (myriad varieties), dance (in theory and practice) and any place where I can sit outdoors and take it all in.
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One Response to Race, Status & Self: The Power of Words.

  1. Tacey says:

    Yes, I’ve heard this all my life… Like saying I’m an Oreo….

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