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Speech on Forced Identity Wins First Place in State Contest

 

“It was something Eagan High School senior Jay Walker has heard most of his life: ‘You’re just not black enough.’

It’s an accusation that’s always infuriated him, he said , and on Saturday he did something about it. He used it as a topic in a speech that won him first place in the creative expression category of the Minnesota state high school Class AA speech tournament at South St. Paul High School ...

Competitive speech tournaments tend to attract those students who have better grade-point averages than their peers, and the ones who are, to say the least, extroverted performers. They have no trouble putting on silly expressions and assuming foolish positions in front of audiences. They read poetry, tell stories, recite historic speeches, inform, discuss and, as Walker did, provoke ...

Walker wrote his own speech, one of the requirements for the creative expression category. It was titled ‘Blacked into a Corner.’ His thesis, he said, is that African-Americans often limit the freedoms they’ve fought for by stereotyping themselves, and by forcing definitions upon each other about what it means to be black.

And, yes, he used the N-word, in what many said was a provocative performance. He took the part of a black man who was trying to be black enough and a fairy godfather who was trying to help him.

‘You’re going to need a powerful black name,’ he said as the godfather.

‘Like Barack Obama?’ he replied.

His father, James Walker, said he was not surprised that his son won. ‘And I’m not bragging,’ he said. His view was colored by the reaction of the audience, and the kids sitting around him who said it was the best speech they’d ever heard.

Walker said his dark humor and emotional intensity came from his own experiences when people challenged him about his own identity. ‘OK, define what black is,’ he said.

On Saturday, it was being a state champion.”


“Communicating as performance art: Some of the state’s most talkative high school students from 350 schools competed over two days in a speech contest in South St. Paul” by Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune, Sunday April 22, 2007 p. B1 & B9

 

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