Thursday, November 01, 2012

The song of my people...

Here's a song for Music Thursdays. I love this song. I am going to post it twice, but the first time you only need to listen to it for about a minute and a half, so you can hear him singing. But it's such a great song, you may just want to listen to it the whole way through twice.

I first heard this song on one of my Pandora stations. I then went to youtube and found the official music video that you can watch below:

At about 23 seconds is when I yelled to my husband, "Wait, this is a white guy?!"

Did you have the same reaction? Sam Sparro sounds like a black guy to me.

So, what does it mean to sound like a black guy (or a black person?) I've been thinking about this quite a bit in preparation for writing this post, and I've narrowed it down to two things.

You can sound like a black person if you talk like our friend Antoine, meaning you pronounce your words a certain way or have a distinctive (usually Southern sounding) drawl. Click the link if you don't know who Antoine is. You can also sound like a black person if you structure your sentences in a distinctive way (think Ebonics.)

But, you can also sound like a black person even if you enunciate the endings of your words, and structure your sentences in the way that we are taught to in school. Black people's voices seem to be generally deeper than white people's. Or maybe they just have a different timbre. Maybe black people's vocal cords are longer or looser or something. I have a theory that some white women artificially increase the pitch of their voice in order to seem happy, non-threatening or something similar. Not basing that last statement on anything other than my own personal experiences; not trying to piss anyone off.

So, is it bad/racist/racish to think that you can tell a someone's race just from hearing their voice? Is it bad/racist/racish to say someone sounds black or sounds white?

Well, I wouldn't have a problem with someone telling me that I sounded black if it were for reasons related to the quality of my voice. And I don't think that anyone would ever say that I sounded black because I don't pronounce the endings of my words. As I wrote here before, I'm sure there are many people who think that I probably talk like a white person.

But this is the problem: a white person telling me that I sound like a white person is not a compliment, and a black person telling me I sound like a white person is not an insult (even though that is how each comment is intended.)

I talk the way that I talk. And since I am black, I would say that means I talk like a black person. Antoine talks the way that he talks, and since he's black, that means that he talks like a black person too.

Do more black people talk like Antoine than talk like me? I don't know. But I do know that Antoine's manner of speaking is much more commonly accepted as the black way of speaking than mine is. That is troublesome to me because it serves to create division among black people about who is truly black. Time spent on that is time not spent on changing the things in that documentary I shared my last post.

Are Antoine's professional opportunities limited by the way that he speaks? Probably.

And who shoulders the responsibility for that--Antoine? Or the person doing the hiring? Should he change the way he speaks (something that is a big part of a person's identity,) if he wants to get a job at State Farm? (that was just the first corporation that came to mind.) Or should corporations embrace a wider range of ways to speak, in an effort to celebrate diversity?

All right, I feel like I am kind of rambling now. But I wanted to leave you with a few more questions.

Do you feel like you can tell a person's race just from hearing their voice? Like, if two people read Mary had a Little Lamb, could you tell who was white and who was black?

If you're not white or black, can you tell if other people are the same race as you, even if they don't have a stereotypical accent? If so, how?

Have you ever thought someone was one race, and then met them in person, and found out they were another? What happened? How did you handle it?

Feel free to answer any, all, or none of my questions in the comments. You can even ask some of your own.


1 comment:

  1. When you said, "Maybe black people's vocal cords are longer or looser or something" I had to laugh because another stereotypical thing came to mind. And that is called, Well Duh! of course black people's vocal cords are longer. It's because they are weighed down by their massive boy parts! Everyone knows that black men have gigantic boy parts!"

    Of course I've never SEEN the boy parts of anyone that is black and have only seen my husbands boy parts in person. I've seen a few boy parts in a Playgirl that I thumbed through in Hollywood about 12 years go but nothing but an uncircumcised person stands out.

    Also, after the post about Antoine I eventually watched Sweet Brown the girl who said something to the nature of 'ain't nobody got time for that' and I could just listen to her talk forever. I really love the way she's so calm and seems thoughtful about each word she's saying. If she lived nearby I'd want to seek her out just to meet her. I bet she can tell some really good stories.