Part III: “You Sound White”

Posted on January 13, 2016

In this five-part series, Christian Williams, City of Goodyear, AZ, opens up about his experience with race.

Disclaimer: Race is controversial topic with many diverging opinions. Knowing that, I feel obliged to start with this disclaimer. The opinions, in this column, are mine and mine alone. My opinions do not reflect those of my organization, my race, my gender, millennials, or <insert anything else you want>.

By Christian Williams – Twitter

“Stop acting white!” Some of us have heard this phrase either directed at us or at one of our friends. I am here to tell you that actions and behaviors are not connected to skin color. Skin color is simply the pigment we are wrapped in.  Unlike a house, your skin color cannot be painted a new color. You can change what’s inside of you and how you respond to all kinds of people.

An Arizona Accent?

Beginning at a young age, and even to this day, I have heard – “You have an accent” or “You sound white.” I heard the phrase for the first time when I was in an all-black neighborhood in the South. I would occasionally tag along with my grandma when she went to teach at a school in an all-black neighborhood. During my visits, I would have people say that “you have an accent,” (what is an Arizona accent?) and occasionally I would be told “you sound white.”

I didn’t know how to process these comments. I mean, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a black guy who talked the way he talked.  I don’t know what talking white means.  As I grew older, I would hear this from blacks and whites. Apparently “talking proper” equaled “talking white.” I was puzzled by the assumption that only white people knew how to talk proper. I thought strongly (and still do) that this is a gross, inaccurate assertion. In my eyes, “whiteness” or “blackness” cannot be boiled down to dialects and accents or “blackcents.

Clothing Commentary

I remember an experience, at a young age, when I was told that I dressed too white and too preppy. Being young and somewhat innocent at the time, I struggled to understand what this meant and what I should do about it. Should I sag my pants more?  Should I wear baggier shirts? Should I watch BET and try to match what they are wearing?

Finally, one day, I realized that I didn’t care if people made those comments or had those expectations of me. I didn’t like baggy pants, I didn’t want to dress to meet expectations, and instead, I dressed how I wanted to dress regardless of outside opinions. Just because I dress a certain way doesn’t mean I am less black.

Start Living

images (1)Race is not determined by your clothing or how you talk, and race shouldn’t be defined that way.  In high school, I realized that some people will think I am “too black” and some will think I am “too white” but, I realized that I don’t care about those opinions. I decided that I was going to be myself and wear what I want to wear and not care if I sound “too white” –whatever that means.  Making this decision allowed me to stop caring about fitting into a stereotypical label, and start living.

I end this column by asking “who cares?” Who cares what your co-worker or peers thinks about your accent? Who cares what your neighbor thinks about the way you dress? Who cares if you are not liked by everybody? The answer is as long as you care and are happy with your decisions, you will find satisfaction in the outcome.

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