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

The reading “‘Nah, We Straight’: Black Language and America’s First Black President” explains how the different use of language can be a powerful source of interlinkage within certain situations. Barack Obama was used as a victim to demonstrate how we tend to shift languages and accents when needed. Obama is the perfect example because not only he was the president of the United States, but he was a multicultural president of the United States, identifying as an African American and American man. Obama got the opportunity to gain exclusive access to experiencing both black and white cultures. Due to his ethnicity, he has the power to connect with each race through his use of language. The reading emphasizes that we live in a country where the ideal figurative speech is the standard “white American” persona to make it far with professionalism. Though in Obama’s case it was necessary for him to speak professionally and formally to maintain his image, it was also necessary for him to use black language to gain a relationship with his multicultural citizens. The reading states different forms of opinions towards Obama’s worth of presidency. For instance, the author states“ ‘we argue that the ‘brotha with the funny name’ wouldn’t have gotten elected if he couldn’t kick it in a way that was ‘familiarly Black.’” (3). As well as,  “ ‘In order for Obama to sound ‘knowledgeable’ to the majority he must speak like a white man, communicate clearly, say r’s, etc.’” Who was “bluntly stated by a white woman”. (23). The many different interpretations of how people perceive language prove that language is very powerful, it determines who you are as a person, and humans tend to complement and cater to their culture. Based on the reading, this gave Obama a hard time because without realizing, he would say “ ‘nah rather than ‘no.’ “. (7). And for linguistics, that is not proper, especially for a president.                  

     Though the United States hosts many different cultures, it is still ideal to speak proper English. We learned from Obama himself, after the election he had to change the way he spoke to represent professionalism. In that case, it helped citizens take him seriously while it prepared him to be the best version of himself. Despite the professionalism, Smitherman was amazed at how before the election, Obama used his African roots to connect with the diverse crowd. Smitherman felt that Obama taking a break from proper dialects into slang was comforting and inspiring to the diverse population. Obama connecting with the crowd manifested signs of encouragement and confidence within different cultures. Obama represents an eloquent balance of speech through his black and white roots, which lead to Smitherman’s conclusion of him making a great president one day. 

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.

The Article “Belated Thoughts on Obama’s Accent” by Ben, shows a timeline of Barack Obama’s speeches and how his dialect improved over the years. Ben accomplished keeping track of Obama’s speech through staying in tune with Obama’s background. In the first video, Ben explained how Obama was “shaped by Chicago” because of the way Obama stretches and intensifies his a’s. In the second, Ben recognizes a slight Southern Kansas accent by the way Obama “leans towards glide deletion”. Ben pointed out that during the second video, Obama ”is talking to democratic voters in a Red State. Since his audience is a group of people who probably disassociate themselves from the surrounding political environment, slipping into a local accent may hurt Obama more than it helps him. Although I couldn’t say for sure.” Compared to Smitherman’s reading, Ben’s quote was another opinion on dialect which proves that language is a powerful source of forming relationships and should be transitioned depending on the situation. 

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