Students Challenge Racism One Conversation at a Time

By Lamarcus Weir

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – When a classmate outed Amaya McNealy for speaking “white” simply because she enunciates her words, she was taken aback.

“A lot of people are surprised by the way that I speak,” she said. “They don’t express it but I can tell it on their faces.”

McNealy, a 16-year-old rising senior from Tuscaloosa County High School, said that her type of language depends on her surroundings. In society, blacks are expected, by some people, to speak in slang or wit the dialect of ebonics. McNealy’s use of big words and proper speech pegged her as a target for ridicule among the black community.

The expectation for people to speak a specific way because of their race and culture puts all people into a very small box. People are sometimes expected to conform to stereotypical racial categories, which some see as a way to oppress freedom of speech.

“I answered a question in class and a girl stood up and said, ‘Why do you talk like that? You talk like a white girl. You’re not supposed to talk like that,’” McNealy said. “I said ‘Oh, so I’m not supposed to speak in a proper manner? That’s very stereotypical of you.’”

The discussion about talking color crosses generations.

“People believe that I don’t have the manner to use proper English,” said Linda Harkness, a 65-year-old grandmother and mother of two who lives in Tuscaloosa. “As I got older I started to speak in improper English after I left the school environment.”

Some argue that talking a color or speaking in proper english is a byproduct of the environment in which they were raised. Friends, family and other personal situations can directly affect the way a person speaks. Shykeria Long, 18, and a graduate of Tuscaloosa County High School, believes that a lot of black people are pressured to speak in a certain way because of their personal upbringing and connections within the African-American culture.

“I don’t even talk proper, I talk pure slang,” she said. Long lives with her brothers and attended a diverse elementary school. She was passing AP English with a B and during a class discussion, a “preppy” white girl challenged the way she spoke, and got Long sent to the hallway.

Through her personal experiences, Long has realized that the color of her skin does not determine the manner in which she speaks. Long and others believe that there is no such thing as talking in color. Language is an ever-flowing part of life that takes many forms no matter a person’s race, culture, or background.

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