I love being multilingual and breaking stereotypes that black people (especially Americans), can’t speak more than one language. But I also get tired of the ignorant comments that come with it. Not just from fellow Americans, but from people I encounter when traveling and living abroad. Is it SO hard to believe that I’m just a black girl with an interest in languages? Does there have to be some kind of hidden cultural connection in my background that justifies my passion and ability to learn languages? So, y’all just not gonna let me be smart, huh?
Inspired by Aintilatina.com's post, here are 6 things black multilinguals are tired of:
1. When people find out you can speak another language and they ask your family background. The conversation always starts off the same:
Them: “So, where are you from?”
Me: “New York City.”
Them: “No, I mean where are your parents from?”
Me: “New York City”.
Them: “No, I mean what is your background.”
Me: “I'm Black.”
Them: “No, I mean your heritage.”
Me: “I’m a descendant of African slaves who were stolen from Africa, brought to the U.S. to build the country with their blood, sweat and tears, who went from being owned like washing machines and dryers to being treated like 4th class citizens in South Africa.”
Them: “Oh.” Silence.
What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?
2. When you’re traveling, people often address you in English because, let’s face it: You’re black. I can’t tell you how many times I flew on this German airline (that shall remain nameless), and every time the flight attendants always addressed every white person on the plane in German. Yet, they always came up to me speaking in English. I’ll never forget the time that they approached the passenger next to me in German but he couldn’t understand (he was American), so I told the flight attendants in German “dass er kein Deutsch versteht”, and proceeded to translate to him what they said. The flight attendants and passenger next to me were pretty shocked. I knew the flight attendants could repeat what they originally said to him in English (English knowledge is required in aviation), but I just felt like being petty. #CallmePettyLabelle
3. People tell you that you’re trying to be “X” culture because you know the language and understand the culture pretty well. This cooks my grits, I tell you! I’ve told this story on my Instagram, but I’ll tell it again. I grew up hearing Spanish all the time, so I had a natural inclination to learn it. I had to hear people calling me a wanna be Latina because my Spanish pronunciation was native. While I was studying French, I had to hear people tell me I was wanna be French because my pronunciation was good. Although one of my previous jobs was as a Bilingual English/German representative, my coworkers even called me a wanna be German, because I almost sound accent free when I speak German. Soooooo, I just can’t learn the language and like learning about cultures? I have to want to be that culture too? You know what….
4. Even after you present your credentials, they still don't believe you're fluent. I remember applying to some Germany based positions and German language jobs, even uploading my Goethe Zertifikat as part of my resume and cover letter package to prove I fit the requirements. Despite that, I was still grilled in interviews. I also recall in my bilingual position, many people still addressing me in their broken English even AFTER I was introduced as a fluent German speaker. So I guess the 6 years I spent in Germany to get this flawless accent, plus the $150 dollars I paid to have a native German at the Goethe Institut proofing my reading, writing, speaking and listening comprehensions skills during the Goethe exam doesn't really mean much then….
5. Your lingual ability will always be underrated in comparison to others who aren’t black. I’ve worked in different German speaking environments where there were other people who were of German ‘heritage”, but in actuality their ability to speak German wasn’t much better than mine and sometimes was actually much worse. Yet these people were always approached by staff in German and when they responded in English (because they didn’t know how to reply in German), staff commended them for being considerate of the non-German speaking coworkers around. I love the staff's willingness to overlook the Germans' poor language skills while judging me so harshly on mine.
6. Your family and friends ask you to translate everything, no matter what language it is. I don’t mind when people ask me if I can translate something in German, French or Spanish. That’s understandable. But it is so annoying, when people ask me to translate languages I never even had contact with! “But isn’t Russian like German?”. Really? Are you serious? That's not even the same alphabet!
These were so on point, right? What was your experience with the above? What are some other things that that you get tired of hearing as a multilingual? Share your experiences below!