The Confusion of Being Black but Told ‘You Talk Like a White Boy’
Because without context, this hurts — so think about the impact of your words
When I was 16 years old, I worked at a video store. Instead of cutting lawns or flipping burgers like many kids my age, I wore a snazzy polo and stood behind a big counter. Four days a week, I watched movies and convinced people to buy a family plan membership and the big-ass bag of Twizzlers next to the register. It remains the sweetest gig of my working life.
During one Sunday morning shift, a couple I hadn’t seen before walked in. Getting new members to sign up was my favorite part of the job, so I quickly welcomed them, and encouraged them to look around and let me know if they had any questions. We had a brief exchange about what films had just been released for rental, how long they could keep tapes, and all the usual topics that people ask on the first visit.
As I finished up the husband’s last question, a slow smile grew on his face. It was the kind of smile that makes clear that someone is ready to hit you with an unsolicited opinion that they probably shouldn’t share. The kind of smile that waits for silence. As soon as he got the chance, he struck.
“You talk like a White boy,” he said. “Why do you sound so White?”
It wasn’t the first time I had been asked that question. Black kids — and even some bold White ones — asked me that all the time in school. They twisted their faces in disgust and confusion; their eyes picked me apart like I was some gross racial anomaly. The question would hit me like a sucker punch, landing in my stomach with cold, nauseating pain.
In the ’90s, my teen infatuation with dad jokes and yielding to The Gap’s incessant khaki ads made me a moving, apparently whitewashed target.
No matter how many times I heard it, the question still broke my heart. That’s because it was never a question; it was a verdict.
I was guilty of being a first-degree sellout.