Summary of “‘Nah, We Straight’: Black Language and America’s First Black President” by H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman

In “‘Nah, We Straight’: Black Language and America’s First Black President” by Alim, H. Samy, & Smitherman, Geneva (2012), the reading explains the meaning and use of language in America. As the authors specifically look at the background of different races to see and understand their own set of language. One of the arguments I see is that based on your race or culture you part of, it impacts the way you speak your language. Depending on what situation, you are in, you would change your use of language into a different and more manner way of speaking. In other words, race or culture impacts your way of speaking to other people, as it would change when you are in a different setting or speaking to someone. An example of this would be Obama’s language and race, in the article it was claimed that Obama was elected because he had a good and formal way of speaking English in America. However, it was stated that Obama was at a restaurant and while ordering food, he was using slang and African American English. Obama reported to say “Nah” then saying no, and it a big deal since it was a bad look and ungrammatical in the black language system. The authors explain Obama may have changed his way of speaking English, so it can help him be elected as president. As many people of America look for a president who has proper English, but Obama had to focus on his grammar as a lot of people had expectations of his use of language. During Obama’s campaign, he was in a difficult situation, as he had to balance the way he was speaking as a black person but also a white person. It is claimed by the authors that based on the way we use language, it identifies us and shows people who we are as a person to talk to and how formal we are. The authors explain they had to sound educated in order to win his elections as he would fail if, he didn’t fix his way of speaking or use of language. It was surprising former president Obama was using slangs but more surprising as he was able to practice and establishes himself as an American. I realize the reason why the authors were writing the article was to inform people and this generation to realize our use of language. As many people and cultures in America recognize the slangs and the different languages we speak, is not formal. As a result, we must take notice of how we use language, as it defines us and shows who we are. That is why Obama had to change his language as he needed a better image and presentation of himself.

Alim, H. Samy, and Geneva Smitherman. 2012. “‘Nah, We Straight’: Black Language and America’s First Black President.” In Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S., 1–30. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

3 thoughts on “Summary of “‘Nah, We Straight’: Black Language and America’s First Black President” by H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman

  1. While you’re right that the topic of this piece has to do with language use changing in different contexts and how race and culture impact ways of speaking, these statements are very broad and could apply to almost any course reading. These are concepts that support the bigger and more specific argument the authors are making. To improve this summary, carefully re-read the chapter and look for phrases like “In this book, we provide…” or “this book provides new insights about…” or “we reveal…”

    Your review of the authors’ evidence would benefit from more detail about how that evidence relates to the overall argument you identify. Also, be careful about your wording when describing the authors’ claims. Saying they claim that Obama was elected because of his language use is different than saying they claim or describe why language was an important issue in his campaign.

    Once you have identified a more specific argument or claim the authors make, your critical discussion of their contribution can be better framed in terms of how this text contributes something more than a way to inform people that language is important. Be sure to avoid here making statements that we “should” or “must” do such things if these are not statements the authors themselves make.

    Breaking your summary into paragraphs would help provide clarity and organization.

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