This I Believe

Shelly - Royal Oak, Michigan
Entered on September 17, 2008

This I believe – “An Orange is Just an Orange”

An orange, is an orange, is an orange. Did you catch that? My mother had a boyfriend at the time, a tall dark and handsome, poised man. He pronounced orange, “ar-range,” almost as though he had a slight European accent.

She liked the way it rolled off of his tongue and felt I should pronounce it the same way. So, at the age of twelve, my 6th grade year in junior high school, I began to pronounce it that way.

In my twelve year old mind, saying “ar-range,” was cruel and unusual punishment. To add insult to injury, my mother made me read the dictionary. I had to begin with the A’s and give her a new word everyday and use it in its proper context in a sentence. I had to do this in addition to my regular school assignments.

I cursed her in only a way that a twelve year old could, under my breath so that I wouldn’t feel the sting of an open handed slap across a vulnerable part of my anatomy or even worse, the sting of her harsh words from her tight lips. Eventually, this exercise in futility –or so I thought, has become my passion.

I attended a predominately black junior high school but that was disrupted when we moved to a racial mixed neighborhood and school district. I continued to be fascinated with words — their meanings and etymology. I was bullied and physically attacked by my black classmates because I “talked white.” From that point on, I had to acquiesce and learn to speak slang or what is now deemed as “ebonics,” to fit in. I began to study the martial arts to protect myself from those who continued to challenge my blackness or the lack thereof; the thesaurus is now my preferred weapon of choice, in lieu of the martial arts

I have to digress to frame this belief. My mother was educated, although she did not receive her four year degree, she attended a two year business college. My mother was very articulate, and as they say, “talked proper,” as did many of her friends and colleagues who belonged to her golf league. Yes, even African American’s in the mid-seventies golfed long before Tiger Woods was a notion. I learned to golf at the age of nine and traveled across the country with my mother throughout my pre-teens to her golf tournaments.

We were not the Huxtables by any stretch of the imagination, but I firmly believe had it not been for my “way with words,” the doors that I’ve walked through in the corporate arena may not have been open to me. The media and rivals of Barak Obama question his blackness or marvel at his verbal prowess and vernacular owing it to his ivy-league education and bi-racial upbringing.

The skin of an “ar-range,” the skin of my mother and/or the skin of a politician are all inherently unique and have their own “fingerprint.” Yes, an orange, is just an orange.