‘You Talk White:’ Being Black and Articulate

By Keith Powell, The Huffington Post


2015-10-13-1444736138-4333228-DPP_0022-thumbIn my early 20s, before I was cast on 30 Rock and while I was still trying to find my way as an actor, I attempted a very odd social experiment:

I would often walk into audition rooms using an English accent. I’d introduce myself and engage in light pre-audition conversations with a standard upper-class British dialect. I would then launch into the scene with my regular speaking voice, and after the scene was over, I’d return to the British for my salutations.

The truth of the matter was this: I did it because I was frustrated. Being smart, black, young and American had become a liability. People seemed to think I was some kind of walking oxymoron. I was often asked to be more “urban,” and it never seemed like the right time or place to launch into a diatribe about how I was born in West Philadelphia and I already sound like a real urban person. Pretending to be British just made life easier.

In fairness, black British actors are generally rather talented. And stylish. And handsome. So so handsome. So who WOULDN’T want to be like them?

But it seemed to me at the time that some people would be more comfortable hiring a foreigner – someone far removed from our current racial and political quagmire – than hiring someone who lived next door but had an entirely different background.

I think it’s because we are uncomfortable with what we don’t understand. And when we get uncomfortable, weird things start to happen…

All of my black friends have been told at some point or another during their lifetime that they “talk white.” I’ve been told it so many times, I’ve lost count. In some perverse way, though, I believe it’s said as a way to come to an understanding: the person who says it doesn’t know many different types of black people. Black people are generally seen as uneducated thugs. I do not appear to be an uneducated thug. Therefore, I must talk white…


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