For Black Girls Whose Voices Are ‘Too White’ or ‘Too Black’
I’m trying to figure out how to talk with my “Black voice” as my theater mentors said I would. They said they could hear the edges of my Blackness in the way I said expecially instead of especially. They said they could sound out some Black sounds when I axe for a pin instead of asking for a pen. They said it sounded dissonant against my Californian white-voiced glottal fry.
Speech teachers with flashlights down my throat searched for ways to make me sound the way they wanted me to. I would vigorously practice in the mirror, trying to edge out any form of Blackness or any sound of the South within my speech pattern. I would fight my own tooth placement when my S’s sounded too silabent. I would oftentimes sound silly in class, trying to overextend my words so the white speech gatekeepers wouldn’t notice learned habits from my family.
I just got out of high school, where I was trying to sound Black enough to exist. My voice was too L.A. and not enough Oakland. I’m not even from L.A., so I don’t know what that means. Apparently there was no Blackness to be found in my constant code switching between AME Church and Piano Lessons. Between being a counselor at a Shakespeare program in the summer mornings and then talking to my aunt on the phone in the evening. I had no “Blaccent,” nor a “whitecent”; it was just a sound coming out of my mouth, which was constantly being critiqued. Is that a voice?
I was told it was too low to be a girl’s voice. I was told it was too fast to be cute. I was told it was too much in the back of my throat. I was told I wasn’t actually Black because it didn’t sound that way, and then I wasn’t actually white because it didn’t sound that way, and I am not biracial, so this just became awkward. However, I still loved to talk, so I just shrugged it off and said things like, “Maybe I am a 40-year-old white woman who’s been in blackface my whole life and you’ll never know it.”
Sometimes I believed those things while looking in the mirror. Was I even Black if I didn’t sound Black, didn’t eat fried chicken all the time, and couldn’t dance? Was I even a Black person? Was…