“You speak English well” and other things…


I saw the title of this video by ybg and immediately it resonated with me. ImmediatelyI did not need to watch the video to know what it was that Tonie was going to talk about. I was also reminded of a post that I read by Renni Eddo-Lodge: “Please don’t describe my work as eloquent” and in that instant, I decided that I had to write some things down myself.

In all honesty, I don’t know and I’m not sure where to begin but this is something that has always irked me from the day I had my personal experience with it, and it challenged me since then.
One of the issues here is this: society doesn’t expect “black people” to be well-spoken. They expect Ebonics and slangpidgin English and bad grammar, poorly phrased sentences and general difficulty when wanting to converse in English. This is why when the likes of Barack Obama stands up to speak he is described as “eloquent”, when an individual like Kofi Annan gets such an honourable position such as General Secretary of the UN people are amazed, when people have phone calls with my mother and then see her in real life they’re surprised not to see a “white” woman. And it’s a problem, a colossal one.

It’s a problem because my ability to speak English doesn’t indicate the kind of mind I possess.
It’s a problem because I have received verbal abuse, from a Ghanian boy and his sister, because “I speak poshly“, and when I later used colloquial slang such as “skeen” and kissed my teeth they thought I was doing it for show; to prove a point.
It’s a problem because people congratulate me on something that isn’t that great: the ability to speak English, and at the end of the day it’s because I’m not likely to get sunburnt and my English is supposedly proper and, in this world, those two things don’t mix; they’re oil and water.
*It’s a problem because a “black” friend of mine wondered why I didn’t understand certain colloquial terms, for example wasteman/peng,  after all  I “lived in East London before” therefore I should be familiar with such terms…?
**It’s a problem because that same friend’s brother thought I was “bounty” because I enunciate my ts, and maybe other things I will never know or understand.

First and foremost, how many native English speakers go abroad and speak the language of that country? How many of you speak Spanish or French? How many of you desire to speak those languages?!
I constantly hear your whines and moans of “WhY cAN’t evERYone SpEAk eNGlisH?!” English being the most spoken language in the world and why? BECAUSE YOU COLONISED THE MASSES AND FORCED  THEM TO SPEAK ENGLISH, THE MASSES YOU BROUGHT TO AMERICA AND EUROPE THROUGH SLAVERY AND TAUGHT THEM YOUR TONGUE BECAUSE IT WAS EITHER LIFE OR DEATH FOR THEM. STOP BEING SO INJUST AND NAÏVE.
Immigrants have gone out of their way to learn a language that they didn’t need to learn and what do you do? You degrade them, imitating their accent and claim you do not understand what they’re saying and then if they speak it well, according to your standards, you degrade them in a more subtle manner: “You speak English so well!”. The ability to “speak English well” is not a Nobel Prize award. So, don’t congratulate people “speaking English well” as if they just received one.
Additionally, the ability to speak English well or not indicates absolutely nothing at all. It is not scientifically proven that speaking English well shows that you’re an intelligent being and why is it that thought is only applied to foreigners/immigrants?! I know people that were within the top sets in my secondary school in English, maths and the sciences etc. but say the word compromise and watch their faces contort into confusion. Ask them to spell definitely, and you’ll be seeing the letter a thrown in there somewhere or something hideous looking as “definantely“. Ask them to read in class, a simple sentence like: Johnson went to his neighbour’s house to borrow some sugar will sound like this: “John-son [pause] went to [pause] his nay-ba [pause] s house to [pause] borr-ow…” need I continue?
Some of them still don’t know the difference between their homophones e.g. their, there and they’re at age 16/17?! These are born and bred native English speakers that learnt no other language, if one is to use that thought that your ability to speak English correlates to your intelligence to such people what would we be saying about their intelligence?

Now, to my “brothers and sisters“. If one is already oppressed by the outsider, should one by oppressed by the insider?

NO.

Don’t be stupid. Do not be stew-pid. D O   N O T   B E   S T U P I D.
They say birds of the same feather flock together, why are you going to turn against your flock of birds and start behaving like a crocodile?
There is nothing wrong with speaking proper English, it’s not necessary to use slang but at the end of the day it is a choice and you shouldn’t criticise other people because of the choice they’ve made. Also, don’t forget where you’re coming from, don’t forget your mother’s tongue – don’t forget that it exists.
***And the labelling and use of the word(s) “bounty“/”coconut“?
I don’t understand the meaning of the term.
I know the colour of my skin, I have been reminded of it on a regular basis.
I know the colour of my insides, it is the same as everyone else on this Earth – it’s not white.
I know my mother tongue, I understand it and though – much to my dismay – I do not speak it fluently I can tell you a thing or two, occasionally with a distorted accent.
I know, eat, recognise and cook the food of my country.
I know not to give someone something with my left hand.
I know to address my elders and those older than me as sir/ma/aunty/uncle and to ikun’le.

I know peers that cannot do that.
They insist on eating chips rather than pounded yam.
They insist on standing in front of their elders.
They don’t know which is their left or right.
And this is why when I come across my aunties and uncles, most of which are not related to me in anyway, they’re amazed that I understand the Yoruba that rolls off their tongue and that I eat the efo riro that my mother cooks. I know where I am from and where I belong and I am comfortable with that.
Are you?

*NB those weren’t those exact words, I wasn’t an idiot, it’s just to give you an idea. This happened in year 7, and I had recently moved to the area from East London, as explained.
**He later retracted his statement, KMT.
***This may have to be a post for another day…

This is also worth reading.

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