Talking White

One day, you’re going to be successful. One day, you’re going to be in politics. One day, you’re going to change the world.

This kind of praise isn’t unique — many children are propped with inspirational compliments when they’re young. The type of (unnecessary) praise that has always stuck with me, however, went a little bit something like this:

“You’re black, but you ‘talk white,’ so ‘you’re going to be successful someday.’”

Maybe it came from a friend of the family. Maybe it came in the form of a passive comment from someone during an event. Who it came from doesn’t really matter; what matters is how we discuss this issue moving forward.

Let’s be very clear: there is no such thing as “talking white.” Being black is not a way of speaking and being black with a college degree and speaking with inflection doesn’t make you less educated.

I grew up Black. I grew up Jewish. I grew up mixed.

My Dad is Black. My Mom is White.

This intersectionality — the overlap of  social identities and how they cannot be simply expressed as one or the other — is relevant to this experience.

My understanding of Black intersectionality is very much a part of how I approach the world and how I deal with this type of tokenism. This idea of, “you’re one of the good ones,” because you “talk white,” is not something that explains away racism, nor does it make any experiences of racism any better.

For me, Black intersectionality is walking to my Mom’s car and being asked what I’m doing and why I’m “stalking around the area.”

For me, Black intersectionality is the uncertain looks I receive from those in a synagogue, never quite sure if they’re judging why I’m there or simply looking over at me.

For me, Black intersectionality is always feeling like the odd one out in some family photos, but never doubting for a moment that my family loves me. 

Just because I may “talk white,” doesn’t mean I don’t deal with problems of racism. Tokenism is still very much a part of our society as a whole and just because I’m your one black friend, that doesn’t mean you can say “Niggah” in front of me and expect a laugh. These comments still impact me, even if you don’t think I’m Black enough to care.

I grew up in a household where, for most of my childhood, I was sheltered from actually noticing racism and often, what was happening right in front of my eyes. 

I was lucky in that my superheroes were not just Superman, but Static Shock, a black teenager from Dakota City who struggles who deals with his super powers through the lens of racism, among the normal tensions of a superhero. I wrote elementary-school reports, not just on FDR, but on Frederick Douglas. And when I spent my time reading, I never made assumptions about the characters race without context from the author. 

I’m counting the days until someone says something to me about “talking white” again — or worse, until someone discusses why they don’t agree with a particular black person in the media because of the way they speak.

How long is it going to take before Black Americans, college degree or not, don’t have their intelligence questioned because they don’t “talk white.”

As the Editor-in-Chief of the Triton, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to address this issue from a personal standpoint. The #BlackAtUCSD campaign is the inspiration I needed to finally write something personal and act on those thoughts. I know who I am and I shouldn’t miss an opportunity to speak on it.

So I guess the question I’m trying to pose to those who disagree is this — can you tell how black I am? How about my black friends? Do I write white too?

Gabriel Schneider is the Editor-in-Chief at The Triton. This article was written in response to #BlackAtUCSD, a 10-week campaign created “to build the consciousness of non-black students and bring awareness about the Anti-Blackness that perpetuates itself at UC San Diego, as well as build the politics of current Black students at UCSD,” for the this week’s theme of Black Intersectionality.