More On 'Talking Black.'

The linguist/conservative pundit John McWhorter and playwright/actress/mimic Sarah Jones did a great segment last year on Studio 360 called ‘Sounding Black’ that dealt with Barack Obama’s strategically deployed ‘blaccent’ — and what it suggested about our perceptions of race and class.

JONES: Just like Barack Obama, I am a person of mixed-race heritage.  But, I am identified, and am clearly identifiable as African-American, or black.  That is, at least, if you look at me.  But what if you are listening to me? Do I sound black? Do I have a ‘blaccent?’

MCWHORTER: Blaccent is interesting because it is a very hazy concept in people’s minds.  So if you say that there is such a thing as Black English, what most people think of immediately is teen hip-hop slang.  The sad thing is that for many people, the blaccent connotes lack of intelligence.  And I think we know historical reasons for that.

And on the other hand, there is an ambiguous relationship to it because especially when the blaccent comes from an older person it connotes a certain warmth.  And so we have gotten to the point where Morgan Freeman, or that Morgan Freeman voice is now considered a wonderful voice for a narrator in a movie or in a TV commercial.

Also, the black female voice, as long as she is middle aged, that kind of nice, leathery sound, that is something that is considered warm and authoritative.

You can give the whole conversation a listen here.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • thinking of a name

    How funny! I am now listening to this conversation and Sarah Jones had the exact same experience that I did with a phone interview lol. Anyway, I always thought that Obama sounded like a cross between Martin Luther King and JFK when he was giving his speeches and it seemed to me different enough from his debating voice for it not to be intentional.

  • John McWhorter is my dude

  • thinking of a name

    Here, I will start. I do not enjoy Dyson. I will be the first to admit that I have not read his work, however, when ever I read or see him in an interview I agree with almost nothing he says. He presents this image that issues of black poverty and under achievement are due to institutional racism, which is a valid argument, but I don’t see where he offers any alternatives to combat the situation. I don’t see him addressing the issues of black on black crime. I saw an interview in which he said that he was given preference over his brother because he was light skinned, which could possibly be true, but now that you see the problem please offer a solution that I can put into action. Basically, I see the complaining, but where is the attempt at fixing? I am all about ideas and solutions and I am wondering where are his.

    Now, all of you wonderfully intelligent folks please educate me on Dyson :).