*NOTE: Jamila Lyiscott, PhD., aka, Dr. J, is an aspiring way-maker, a community-engaged scholar, nationally renowned speaker, and co-founder/co-director of the Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research. Dr. J is most well known for being featured on TED.com where her video, ‘3 Ways to Speak English,’ has been viewed over 4.8 million times, and for her commissioned TED Talk, ‘2053’ in response to the inauguration of the 45th occupant of the white house.
Jamila Lyiscott’s 2014 spoken-word essay presentation carefully entitled, ‘3 Ways to Speak English’ @https://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english?language=en highlights her ability to be ‘trilingual,’ and triggers an automatic definition of a person’s ability to speak three different languages fluently. According to Catharine Seabrookes (https://uvivoice.org/im-articulate-an-intellectual-response-to-spoken-word-tedtalk) Lyiscott’s interpretation, however, delves deeper into a social issue, cultural identity, language variation, and social stratification.
It reminded me of the way my teachers acted when a new student spoke proper American English and the times my parents spoke so weird when they were on the phone sometimes or why’d they’d speak properly to white people in restaurants or on the beach. Why did they feel the need to do that rather than just speak? It confused me as a child because I processed it as “Oh, white people need to be spoken to properly… because they’re white. I need to speak properly.”
Oh, white people need to be spoken to properly… because they’re white. I need to speak properly.
The very first line happened to me when I was little. I was maybe 10 or 11 and I was on the beach teaching my little siblings how to dive when some older white ladies walked/waded past and said to me “Oh, you speak so well.” I was confused, but before I could even respond, my dad, who happened to be a few feet away, butted in and accepted the ‘compliment’ for me. Forgetting my dad interjecting where he was not needed, why did she say that? Why was she so shocked that I was describing a rather simple process to my siblings? Looking back, I realize how strange it can be.
Now, I do speak in the typical St. Thomians accent often but the honest truth is that it comes more natural for me to speak ‘properly’ because that was the first thing I ever heard. I didn’t go to local daycares or aunties; I was sheltered. I stayed home and listened to tapes where a white man with a very calm, soothing yet enthusiastic voice taught me to read, notice vowels and consonants and he read stories to me. To compound this, when I did watch tv, I watched Disney in my free time, so I spoke ‘properly’ out of habit.
I do note that many of these issues happen to American blacks rather than Caribbean blacks because of the diversity (or lack thereof) in the US. In the poem, she repeated I’m articulate, something she never thought about until that lady brought it up. My counselor mentioned that – because we live in the Caribbean and we [the USVI] is territory of the U.S. – we are bilingual. Initially, we thought she [counselor] was lying but we spoke American English and our colloquial St. Thomian English.
Perhaps the most important fact that Lyiscott brought up was the fact that English is literally a combination of so many other languages. When speaking at home, Jamila answered her father ‘properly’ rather than in their local dialect. This happened as a result of the ‘compliment’ that she received. Now, I am not saying that anything is wrong with speaking properly because it is important, especially in professional settings. However, this is a slippery slope, and this is how culture is lost. America and its English have permeated the world. They became the standard so to get ahead, people feel driven to hold back their native tongues and dialects.
[American English]… became the standard so to get ahead, people feel driven to hold back their native tongues and dialects.
She also mentioned how people make assumptions because of her hair. I used to feel insecure about my hair myself. I have nothing against ‘locs’ when they are neat and clean but judging someone because of a cultural style is very low. People often think that people who speak differently (often ‘broken English’), are less smart.
At the beach, my mom stopped us from yelling to one another ‘too loud’ alot, through gritted teeth, so we ‘don’t make a clung (clown) out yaself front deez wypipo heh.’ We heard this sermon all the time so now, we don’t ‘do too much.’
…my mom stopped us from yelling to one another ‘too loud’…‘don’t make a clung (clown) out yaself front deez wypipo heh.’
Lyiscott writes about other important topics like the omission of black history in history textbooks. It’s more like “We enslaved you, but we freed you. Moving on.” I was 19 when I found out about the horrors or slavery. Slavery in the Caribbean was just about ungodly; it was so brutal and feral. Hundreds of years of that severe oppression and then all of a sudden, we have to be happy that they let us go. They went through the trouble to rename us as a way to brainwash us as if the transatlantic trip below deck was not bad enough.
I have to say that if there is a section that most I readily identify with it would be when Lyiscott says that she is fed up with the Eurocentric ideals. I do not have a problem with white people. Each race has their perks, and no one should be ashamed for being born as who they are. What I mean is that you do not have to feel bad for being white, but you should not be ignorant or dismissive of the fact that many people are at a disadvantage, because of these standards.