I have literally had it up to *here* (wherever here is, know that I’m pissed) with the disgusting, repulsive, rude, and on some occasions racist filth that has been spewed by so many people over the way ONE YOUNG MAN (barely) FROM THE DEEP SOUTH SPEAKS.I’m talking about Jameis Winston. Y’all did this with Ben Crump, Civil Attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, another Florida State Alum, and I just can’t take it anymore.
My mind is so prolifically blown, that I’m not sure where to start. I’ll back all the way up and hope that this eventually makes sense.
Let’s get this straight out the gate. An accent, particularly a southern one, does not make one stupid. Just as speaking the Queen’s English does not make one intelligent. You can still say the same trifling BS using big words as you can by including the word “y’all”. You can make a case around always using correct grammar, but the internet proves daily that for the most part 90% of us don’t know or choose not to follow conventional grammar rules. Yet many of us, again for the most part, are actually pretty smart. I don’t always equate one’s intelligence purely to academic prowess either, but to each his own.
Now back to Jameis Winston. I am a Seminole (class of 2006) and I am very much a follower of football. Therefore I have been witness to Jameis Winston’s many speeches. I have loved each and every one of them. Yes I’m biased as I am from the South, about 4 hours away from where Jamies grew up. So there I’ve put it all out there. However, in every speech I’ve heard of his I hear his accent, but I also hear other things: passion, glory to God, youthful excitement, leadership, etc. I actually have no problem making out his words, and if you’ve heard me speak you would probably not know that I’m black. (So I’m told, often. All the time. Ugh.)
But yes, he’s country. It’s kind of funny, but in an endearing way. I’d actually like every one of his speeches available on audiobook so that I can pump myself up every morning before work. Jameis is country, but he is no fool. In high school he was a top rated Quarterback in honors classes with a 4.0 GPA. How many of you can say the same? You may THINK that schools pass athletes through, but not honors programs. Take that to the bank. Everyone that interacts with him seems so surprised by his intelligence (another blog for another day), but they rant and rave about how smart and captivating he is. Stanford wanted him. This is not because he’s just some mindless machine that can throw a ball.
So then this takes me to my next point. He’s clearly smart, so why doesn’t he talk like it? Among black folk we call this Code-Switching. Dialect is a cultural thing. I won’t get all academic about it because I can’t, I only know based on my own experiences. Essentially, code-switching is moving between AAVE and common American English for many of us. Black children are raised being told that we have to be twice as good to get half as far. We’re told to speak properly, dress nice, be good black people. We’re taught that if we do all of this we’ll be respected. If we “act White”, we’ll be more easily accepted into their world. I’m not going to say that speaking properly and being college educated is a white or race thing, but let’s not kid ourselves that the underlying tone of all that BS is “get the white people to like you so that you’ll do okay in this life.” For some of us it works. I have a great corporate job, and a pretty bland name, and I’m sure only the trained eye can pick up my blackness via my resume (Delta Sigma Theta, and other orgs). But I still rock a fro to work that older Black women frown down upon out of worry that I’m not assimilating enough to make the bosses happy. For others we’re not so lucky. Sometimes you don’t get the chance to smile, talk properly, and show that you’re a “good” black person before they pull the trigger. My husband, a man who graduated high school at 16, Law School at 24, and owns his own successful law practice, wears hoodies sometimes, and likes Jeezy.
I hate it. I hate that I have to “code-switch”, but yet I do it because I’ve been taught it’s necessary. When I call home though and I talk to my Bonus daddy (30 year Air Force Vet, Chief MSGT, from South Cakalaki) our conversations are littered with “finna” “fixin to” “went across the skreet” and other Southern colloquialisms. Both he and I are college educated, and world traveled. Something a lot of the folks I’ve seen rag on Jameis may not be.
In many of Jameis’ speeches he’s in a moment of passion. Either he’s in the locker room, playfully motivating his team to “do it big”, or he just won the ACC championship game and he’s hollerin’ Southern Preacher Style that he loves God, his family, and the Seminole Nation. I thought his Heisman speech was wonderful, accent thicker than ever, but a great speech. I could tell he was trying to be scripted, but he has a very goofy and playful personality that kept creeping out in his speech. That is something I hope he never loses.
After he brought the Seminole Nation back from behind in the 4th quarter to win the game (I was there! I almost died), he was approached by ESPN to give his comments on the night’s events. He was immediately blasted on Twitter by folks from every corner. The worst of all was AJ McCarron’s mother, an Alabama native herself who had the gall to ask “is he speaking English?” What the heck is so different with me that I clearly understood every word that he said? Sheesh! Here is an emotional 20 year old (barely, the game was on the same day as his birthday) young man who just did the most exciting thing in his life to date, in front of millions of people across the world (shout out to Te’ola Winston! ha! Loved that). You expect him to wax poetically about underlying strategic priorities that had to change in the 2nd half in order for the team to pull off a historic win? GET OUT OF HERE. Twenty year old me would have stuck my tongue out and proceeded to streak around the stadium. But that’s just me.
But let me end by saying this:
Jameis Winston doesn’t need to code-switch for ANYBODY. And here is why. He is a student-athlete, and he is extremely intelligent. I’m sure he could sit down and take any test and do well. However, what will make him MILLIONS as opposed to $100k at a corporate job is his athletic ability. Let that sink in.
People want him to speak properly because they want him to represent us like some patron saint of Blackness. That DOESN’T exist. You can be the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND THEY WILL STILL CALL YOU A NIGGER.
Jameis did a great job during all of his interviews and 1-to-1 conversations during the Heisman presentation. He knows how to be polished, fun, and likeable. But at the same time, he truly doesn’t need all that. He will be the #1 Draft Pick when he enters in 2015 (sadness!) and he will instantly make Millions. He will get endorsement deals like other athletes who may not speak proper English or who may not speak at all (Derrick Rose) and he’ll be okay. He does not have to speak better to make YOU comfortable. He’s damned if he do, damned if he don’t. I hope he continues to be who makes HIM comfortable.
Maybe one day Jameis won’t be playing football and he’ll need to do some other job. I still think he’ll be quite alright. He might even become a sports broadcaster. Hasn’t stopped Charles Barkley, Lou Holtz, and countless others. Maybe he’ll become a high school or college coach. He can do whatever he damn well pleases accent and all. I hope all the people who choose to “rag” on him, and who insist that he need not ever be in front of the camera ever again take a look in the mirror. What was the last SPECTACULAR thing you and your Queen’s English did?
Jennifer Walton b.k.a The Corner Office Diva is a quarter-time blogger living in the Midwest. A true Southern girl by roots, she’s got her Career, her Husband, her Pumps, and her Passport. Follow her @JGRunsTheCity and CornerOfficeDiva.com