Share It — Your Gifts, Your Talents, You

“How you going to be dope and keep it to yourself?” he asked earnestly, flashing his winning smile, which devolved quickly to a pressed lip smirk, coupled with eyes that were visors, throwing all the shade. The seemingly odd combination somehow perfectly accented and punctuated his statement question. For over three hours, my cousin and I sat, ate (sidenote: we had some delicious oxtails, rice and plantains, which was pronounced exactly as it is spelt by our white waitress, which sounded foreign to our Caribbean-bred ears, never hearing it pronounced that way except by white folk in NYC who have recently Columbused our beloved ripe banana), drank (quite a bit of rum, bourbon and whiskey), and conversed. The topics ranged from trashy, binge-worthy television shows to family gossip to podcasts to personal stories.

My cousin, like me, is a writer and he is gifted to be able to put his words to melodies, creating music that makes you feel, dance and sing, often all at the same damn time. Towards the end of the night, he shared that he struggles with his writing process because he overly criticizes his work, concerned with what others will think about his music, which then delays and often torpedoes the whole creative adventure. As a response, I shared two brief stories, one from Debbie Allen and one from Jerry Seinfeld. Debbie Allen, who is amazing and you need to google her if you do not know who she is, shared a question that her Pulitzer prize nominated momma, Vivian Allen, asked her and her sister, Phylicia Rashad, who you also need to google if you do not know who she is; in fact, lose yourself in a wikipedia vortex of the Allens (sidenote: Stop. Take a moment. Clap for all that #blackgirlmagic in that household). She would ask her daughters, “What have you done today that helped you get closer to your dream?” Action. Getting closer to one’s dream requires it. Similarly, Jerry Seinfeld, I would say google him but I have a sneaky suspicion that y’all already know this white male comedian (sidenote: I’m sucking/kissing my teeth right now cause race and gender), shared a seemingly simple practice with an up and coming comedian to help them improve their craft so they could hopefully become successful (such a loaded word — I would argue that the younger comedian is already successful because they are actively pursuing their passion, yet American society would say otherwise because they’re not rich and famous). Seinfeld told them to buy a calendar and every day, whether they felt like it or not, to write a joke; it did not have to be a complete joke or even a particularly long joke, but it had to be written done. Action. And, afterwards, they should draw a big [insert your favorite color] X over the day and watch, with growing pride at its increasing length, their X-snake (phallic much?). He mentioned that he would sometimes write what he knew was a crappy joke just to keep his streak going. He also warned that if the comedian missed a day, it would make it easier to miss the next day and so on, creating a blank calendar snake that would also be challenging to break.

I shared those two stories with my cousin and we both came to the conclusion that dream-realizing requires action, daily. So here is my first X as I get back in the habit of closing the canyon sized gap between my thoughts and my writing. And whenever my cousin wakes up from his full belly, alcohol infused sleep, in his inbox will be a link to this post, a reminder that he now has to actively do something so that he too can start his own X-chain.

The last ones to leave the restaurant, sans the workers, who were busy with their closing time routines well before we paid our bill, I told my cousin gushingly that he was awesome. He retorted, “I already know that…but, thank you.” I playfully countered, “So, you have to share it!”

Movie Review–Hunger Games


Over the last three or so years, I have had many middle school students share with me their love and admiration of The Hunger Games. I was not moved to read the first book in the trilogy until my youngest brother raved about the novel to me. In the past, he was a reluctant reader, but over the course of the last few years, aided by the Percy Jackson series, among other books, he is developing into an avid reader. So if he was feeling this book, then I had to check it out. I cannot lie though, I was also swayed by the release of the movie as well.

I read the novel in a couple of days; it is a lightning fast read. The author, Suzanne Collins, ends each chapter with a slight cliff hanger, which results in a page turning fest. One night, I told myself that I would read for thirty minutes before completing other work, and before I knew it two hours had melted off of the clock and I was enthralled, reluctant to put down the novel, wanting to continue my indulgence.

This weekend, I treated myself to see the movie and here are my observations:

  • I thought I would have missed the initial hype surrounding the movie, and was pleasantly surprised that the theater was packed on a Sunday afternoon. The movie was released about a month ago, yet it is still raking in the millions.
  • Interestingly, there were very few children in the audience. Instead, the theater was teeming with (mostly male) adults older than the perceived teeny bop demographic that has financially fueled the movie. This fact accounts for the ridiculous amounts of money that this movie has made thus far; there is an appeal to male adults, which Twilight, the previous best-seller turned multimillion franchise, did not have. Action+Blood+Death = Testosterone. That’s the right equation, right?   
  • Like most books to movies, the director takes artistic liberties with the storyline, changing a few things around that readers of the book will notice, but the average moviegoer would not have known.
  • Katniss, the female protagonist, is much sexier than I imagined in my mind. Not surprised though because sex sells well.
  • There are very few black characters in the movie. Noticeably, the part when black people are prominent on the screen is doing a riot scene, which is not mentioned in the novel. The contrast between the protestors dark skin and the whiteness of the peacekeepers, with their bleached white uniforms, is very pronounced. I understand the logic behind adding that scene as a way to prepare the social discord that the other two novels discuss. Yet, why at this moment? In the novel, this district, home to all the black people it seems,  actually sends Katniss a gift to show their support for her after she buried Rue. Staging a violent reaction to Rue’s death changes the emotional tenor of that scene. More importantly, it changes the way that the audience, many of whom have not read the book, understands that district. Aggressive+Violent = Black. That’s the right equation, right?   
  • Likewise, there has been all kind of backlash over two prominent, loveable characters, Rue and Cinna, being cast as black. The blatantly racist overtones (captured in a blog) scream white supremacy, especially the nasty comments concerning Rue, who saves Katniss a couple of times. There was an outcry over Rue being black even though it is explicitly stated in the novel that she has dark skin. Even one of my colleagues mentioned that she thought Rue had an olive skin complexion. Why couldn’t Rue be black in the minds of millions? Being a loveable hero is not possible if black. Damn you, white supremacy. Similarly, Cinna, the supportive stylist, whose race or color is not stated, is played by Lenny Kravitz. His character also receives some harsh comments from “disappointed racist fans.”
  • The cinematography is well done. The early quick pace cameras disorient the audience, while highlighting the poverty and famine from which Katniss arises. The opening scenes are dark, even though they are well lit. The sullen faces marked with the coal soot adds an eerie uncomfortableness that pushes the film through this impoverished portion. Contrastingly, the bright, flashy colors illustrate the overindulgent opulence of the Capitol, the true culprit behind the senseless and degrading murders of the teenagers from across the country.
  • Lastly, the absence of music during the beginning of the movie illustrates the barrenness of the poor district. While in the Capitol, music is heard at every turn and whim, which distractingly adds to the extravagance, which ultimately and purposefully tunes the attention away from the corrupted, flawed system.

Overall, the movie served its purpose: I now need want to read the rest of the novels to figure out what happens, while patiently awaiting the upcoming movies.

Oh, never be fooled; money and consumption drives this educational entertainment system. And like all other systems in this country, it works…well.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You May Not See Race, But You Better See Me

“I don’t see race…”

“You’re not like the typical [fill in a race other than White]…”

“I don’t even think of you as [fill in a race other than White]…

Wait, what?!

You don’t see race? Do you have a problem with your vision?

I need you to see race. I need you to see me. Race is a part of my identity. It is not the only part of me, but it has surely, undoubtedly impacted the experiences that I have had, which in turn has made me the person who is standing, visibly or not, in front of you.

When you say that you do not see race, you are enacting your White privilege; you are afforded the opportunity to live in the United States and not think about your race. Why would you? You are the norm. Your hair, eyes, nose, and petite figure are the perceived standard of beauty. You see yourself positively represented in the majority of cultural and social aspects. All things good and desirable are conflated with whiteness. When I attended an independent school, filled with academic rigor, my friends from my less affluent neighborhood joked that I went to a “White” school. While they highlighted the predominant demographic of my school, they also insinuated that being in a “good” school meant that it had to be “White.” Further, when I enunciated my words in a certain way, I was told that I “talked White.” Once again, the connotation that the”proper” (whatever the hell that means) way of speaking had to be “White.” All things good are conflated with whiteness. There is a scene in the autobiographical book, Malcolm X, when Malcolm Little, while incarcerated, starts to learn the teachings of Islam. One of the jailed Muslim men gives him a dictionary and tells him to look up the words, “white” and “black.” What Malcolm quickly discovers is that the denotation (dictionary definition) and the connotation (feelings associated with a word) of both words shroud blackness in evil and despair, while purity and excellence illuminate whiteness.

No accident there. The language and feelings associated are all apart of the system.

When you say that you don’t even think of me as black, you are making me invisible. While your intention is to compliment me on my articulate speech or snazzy attire or whatever warranted the comment, you are essentially telling me that the good that you see in me is non-black; once again, recreating the narrative that only white equates good. Conversely, you strip me of my blackness, unintentionally bleaching me, which is apparently needed to make me visible; you can only see me when I am non-black.

No accident there. The language and feelings associated are all apart of the system.

As a society, we focus on the intent of statements. People often defend hurtful statements with “But-that [your hurt]-was-not-my-intention.” So what? There is no point in arguing intention because one can never defend or prove intention. Yet we often spend time focusing our energy on it.

How much air space and energy was devoted to Sen. Brewer’s intention in the above photo. Who cares? What needed to be discussed was the impact of a senator defiantly pointing her finger in the face of the POTUS. Oh and please do not think our country’s understanding of her white femaleness and his black maleness were not deeply entrenched in this conversation. Those two, white female and black male, have been involved in a long and complicated dance throughout our history.

Focusing on the intention is done to deflect the conversation from the real issue, the impact of the statement. Thanks for clarifying your intention for me, but, more importantly, my feelings are still hurt and your words caused that pain. Many people try to avert that responsibility when they hurt feelings because there is an implication that one is somehow a bad person. And who wants to be a bad person? Thus, the intention disclaimer becomes more apt, a way to save one’s soul. It screams, “I am not a bad person.” Since intention does not matter, one’s use of intention to soften the impact has an adverse affect. It demonstrates that you are unwillingly to acknowledge my pain that you caused. It magnifies your selfishness, only showing concern with your feelings and your desire to protect your sense of self, removing my feelings from the conversation. Moreover, your avoidance of that responsibility once again enacts your privilege, now placing the onus of recovering from the hurt solely on me, as if I hurt myself. A not so subtle way to blame the victim.

So while you may claim to be an ally and think that race should not be seen, you are damaging the same people you want to help while reproducing the same system of privilege that your comment intended to interrupt.

What do they say?

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

 

The Value of a Black Male Life in America

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Last night, I ate dinner with my son and a friend, who went to undergrad with one of Trayvon’s cousin. “His parents reported him missing,” she shared, “because his body was in the morgue, labeled as John Doe, for three days.” Despicable, I thought to myself. “All he had on him was skittles and a bottle of iced tea” she recounted the facts. Her eyes were impassioned; she was worried; she was disgusted. My anger grew as she voiced her thoughts about the situation. The whole time my eyes were transfixed on my son, as he played with his toys while we waited for dinner. Unnecessary questions about his safety as a black male raced through my head. Regardless of race, no parent wants to bury their child. For a moment I tried to empathize but the thought of my son senselessly dying prevented me from even fathoming the Martins’ hurt. Instantaneously, my heart felt heavy as the incomplete thought of the pain the family was currently experiencing overwhelmed my body.

I could not sleep last night. My mind, my thoughts, my prayers were preoccupied with Trayvon Martin, the young black male killed in Florida last month by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. The case within the last week or so has captured the nation’s media attention. Various celebrities have tweeted their disdain and outrage with the way the case has been handled. Trayvon’s murder has dominated tv shows from morning shows to evening news casts. Change.org, a website that promotes social change via online petitions, has over 1.65 million supporters for the Trayvon Martin case, calling for the arrest and prosecution of Zimmerman. And I was able to avoid most of the conversation until yesterday. I avoided most of the Trayvon Martin case partly because I have been away from televisions and internet access as I travel, so my knowledge of it was limited, but mainly because I knew that I would be incensed with anger. I only learned a few facts here and there mostly via twitter and I did not feel suited to discuss something this meaningful without doing my homework. So in the middle of the night, I rummaged through news sites, blogs, petitions, timelines, and any other form of online conversation about Trayvon. My anger grew. I, like many other Americans, are frustrated with America’s senseless killing of Black males. Our country’s history is littered with racially motivated crimes against black males.

Remember Emmett Till.
Remember Amadou Diallo
Remember Sean Bell
Remember James Bryd Jr.
Remember the countless other Black males murdered because they were black and often considered and perceived to be dangerous.

Even in Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon was unnecessarily slaughtered, there was a black teen murdered back in 2005, Traveras McGill, whose killers’ trial was thrown out because of the ‘self-defense’ argument, which is the same one that Zimmerman has issued and because of it has not been charged.

Unfortunately, the fear of the black male body is ingrained in our culture. It is so prevalent that people who come from other countries instantly know that they do not want to be associated in any way, shape or form with blackness. Even with sports dominated by black males, especially the National Basketball Association (NBA), while many marvel at the black bodies as they glide through the air, there is a strong sentiment that the league is overrun by thugs. Below is a picture of the Miami Heat basketball team showing solidarity and concern for Trayvon, wearing hoodies before their game last night.

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Black = Dangerous

This learned thought process was undoubtedly the track being played through George Zimmerman’s head as he went against the advice of 911 operator he called when he spotted young Trayvon walking home. It was that idea that prompted him to get out of his car and engage in a confrontation with young Trayvon.

Black = Dangerous

Senseless murders and crimes will continue until the our nation’s understanding of blackness changes. The value of Black life has to increase. Blacks have to be viewed as more.

“If I had a son, he’d looked like Trayvon.”-President Obama

President Obama’s statement touched me deeply. He spoke with his earned authority of President, but his fatherhood resonated most with me. My son is one of the academic leaders in his kindergarten class, a generous and a thoughtful boy, filled with innumerable possibilities of what he can one day achieve. Unfortunately when he walks down the street, very few see his potential before they see his black complexion. And I am proud that people see his blackness because it is part of his identity. He will grow up to be a Black man in America and that will be a specific battle that he will have to fight. ALL of my black male friends, ranging from doctors to lawyers to construction workers, have had an experience in which their blackness was misunderstood to be a threat. I am conscious of my blackness on a daily basis, being careful of how I speak to what I wear because of America’s stained racial past. While my white colleagues wear jeans and sneakers routinely, I never don the same attire because it means something different when my students see a young black male dressed like that. My authority suddenly diminishes. So instead, I wear slacks, button shirts, and blazers daily to alleviate disengage counteract my perceived threat that all my students, families, and colleagues have learned about the danger of black males. My son, unfortunately, will have to deal with that as well. He already does because he is one of two black boys in his predominantly white class.

All of this post-racial talk, “I don’t even see race” propaganda that America has forced down our collective throats, increased after the election of Obama four years ago, has come to a screeching halt, as it should. Dr. West had it right years ago, Race Matters. And anyone who thinks that this Trayvon case does not include race needs to reevaluate race in America.

“But I bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.” –Geraldo Rivera

And then this comment by Geraldo Rivera broke my proverbial back.

Wait, what?

He implicitly explicitly placed the blame of Trayvon’s death on a hoodie, a piece of clothing. He blamed the victim for his victimization. It is the standard response when people want to find a scapegoat, someone or something that can carry the burden/blame and then be easily executed. Mr. Rivera this case can not be easily boiled down to a hoodie. The value of Black men will not increase if they stop wearing hoodies. Wearing a suit, I have struggled to get a cab in New York City. Those cab drivers did not want to stop for me because of my color, not because of my attire. Similarly, Zimmerman attacked and killed Trayvon because of his color and the perceived threat his color posed

At some point, America has to give basic human rights to all. It is written in our founding documents, and we continually fall short of it. It is my hope that Trayvon does not escape our collective consciousness in the same way that Till, Diallo, Bell, Bryd Jr., and others have. Unfortunately, he has joined the long list of black males that highlights America’s negative connotation of blackness. America is responsible for the death of Trayvon. We, as a country, have to look critically at ourselves and answer and confront our historical battle with race. This is not a time for Whites to feel guilty; we don’t have time for that. That guilt is personal and we have a larger agenda. This is not a time for Blacks to blame the proverbial man; we don’t have time for that. We cannot look towards others for answers, but need to be accountable for our actions as well. We all have been a part of the issue, thus we all have to reexamine our actions and thoughts.

Our children deserve better. My son deserves better.

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American Media’s Unapologetic Racialization of Jeremy Lin

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“C’mon Chinaman. Guard up!” I yelled at my middle school friend, while playing basketball at a neighborhood park. He heard me. The look of surprised hurt beamed in his eyes as he hurriedly ran to cover me on the baseline. I attempted to get around him with my patented lefty drive. Not this time. Afterwards, another one of my friends told me that I needed to apologize to him. For what, I thought, dismissing the racially insensitive comment that I hurled towards my Asian friend whom I would later call my twin as our relationship deepened during high school.

Jeremy Lin is an Asian-American point guard whose inspired play has led the New York Knicks to five consecutive wins. At Fort Knox the NBA offices, David Stern is contently smiling as the last of his big-market teams is finally playing well. And to think it did not take fixing the draft so that they could get a franchise player, which many conspiracy theorist agree argue occurred many years ago with Patrick Ewing. Just a week ago, Lin was buried at the end of the Knicks big-named roster. Now, after four impressive starts, Lin is at the center of the media in the nation’s media center, New York.

If you still do not know about Jeremy Lin, let me help you from under the rock with some quick stats:

New Jersey Nets- 25 points, 7 assists (off the bench)

Utah Jazz- 28 points, 8 assists (first start)

@ Washington Wizards- 23 points, 10 assists (sick cross over and dunk on soon to be elite point guard, John Wall)

Los Angeles Lakers- 38 points, 7 assists (in a nationally televised game against another big market team, he abused Derek Fisher so badly that the Lakers are reportedly evaluating out-of-work guard Gilbert Arenas because in a guard heavy league Derek Fisher can no longer defend against these young, quick guards, and out-dueled Kobe, answering Kobe’s question of “What has [Lin] done?”

@ Minnesota Timberwolves- 20 points, 8 assists (late free throw won the game)

Lin has scored more total points (109) in his first four starts than any other player’s first four starts in NBA history, surpassing scoring machine Allen Iverson.

With his strong play, aided by all the media attention, Lin has become an instant fan favorite, dominating signs at the Garden. In the wise words of Houston rapper, Paul Wall, Lin has the “internets going nuts.” Six days ago, Lin had roughly 3500 followers on twitter, now has over 208,000. At the same time, the pink race elephant in America is seemingly unrecognized. Let’s examine a few of these signs:

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This picture, while intended to be supportive of Lin and his ability to drive to the basket highlights the traditional Asian stereotype of bad driving.

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This picture, capturing Lin’s enthusiasm, becomes fodder for another racialized joke. The word, Haduken was a special move executed by Ryu, an Asian fighter, in the widely popular video game, Street Fighter. The only way to celebrate him seems to be through these stereotypical Asian lenses.

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Here, Lin is represented as the Mortal Kombat, another widely popular video game, character Liu Kang, while Derek Fisher has been imposed into the game’s screen. Once again, the intention is to support Lin and his dismantling of Derek Fisher, but pay attention to how it is being done.

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Here fans at the Garden support their rising hero with a poster, alluding to the popular 2000 martial arts film, yet substituting their Asian American point guard into its title.

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Lastly, here is a tweet from a black sports writer, Jason Whitlock, in which he assumes the stereotypically small size of Lin’s penis. He also assumes Lin’s sexual orientation. Unlike the other well-intentioned signs of support, Whitlock vehemently insults Lin by highlighting a stereotype about penis size, which can also be seen as an attack on his “manhood.”

From the examples, I notice that the only way America can seemingly understand the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin is through the colored, Asian lens, which incorporate our socially taught and seemingly accepted racial stereotypes. I want Jeremy Lin to be great; I want him to represent for his community; more importantly, I want America to take this opportunity and look itself in the mirror of truth and ask itself, “Why can I only understand this basketball player through these lenses?” Similarly, one of the popular Lin nicknames is Super Lintendo, a poor play on Super Nintendo, the Asian video game console that revolutionized gaming. On the other hand, I prefer the nickname Linsanity, which acknowledges Lin’s skill and sudden rise, and more importantly does not poke fun, whether intentional or not, at his Asian American identity.

I apologized to my friend the following day for calling him out of his name, for disrespecting his Vietnamese ancestry and culture, and for following the lead of the neighborhood kids that did not know him and started to call him “Chinaman.” I, with the help of others, recognized my fault and held myself accountable.

Will others apology to Jeremy Lin and the millions of Asian American ballplayers who will undoubtedly be called Lin?

Follow me on twitter: @dashnkinght

Womb

I mispronounce words. I am conscious of it. I am more conscious of it because I am an English teacher. I am most conscious of it when I am with other English teachers and notice that I sometimes stammer in their presence because I am over thinking the pronunciation of a word.

I spent my first few years in a French-speaking Caribbean island, learning both French and English.
I grew up in the Bronx, surrounded by Spanish and English speaking Caribbean immigrants.
I love hip hop and its melodic slang.

Flashback: As a freshman in college, a friend from Minnesota asked if she could record a conversation of mine. She had to write a linguistics paper and thought I would be a great subject because of my New York accent. As luck would have it, my childhood friend was visiting that same weekend. She and her partner simply left a recorder in my room and told my friend and I to just talk.

And we did.

We spent the first few seconds joking about the recorder, and then our conversation flowed from family to school to sports to women.

I never saw the linguistics paper my friend wrote, but I remember she told me that she received an A. I can only recall two strange facts she shared with me: my friend and I apparently conjugated our verbs in a sparsely used tense or something along those lines. More importantly, she told me that when I said ‘room’ it sounded more like ‘womb.’ She and her partner, while transcribing, had to stop several times because initially they were unsure how ‘womb’ fit into the conversation.

Flashback #2: When I fell in love with hip hop, dropping the G off of the word was prevalent; it reflected the slang, represented the culture, and rearranged the rhymes. For example, “chilling” became “chillin.'” Since the N was now the last letter, it was stressed. This phenomenon happened for all ‘-ing’ words.

Flash forward from the flashback: My first year teaching at my current school, a student publicly pointed out to the class that I did not pronounce my Gs at the end of ‘-ing’ words.

She was correct.
I was humiliated.
She laughed because, according to her, I did not speak properly.

Similarly, the high school principal confronted me about my mispronunciations. During our discussion about my desire to move into administration, he stated, “I’m going to be on top of you with your communication this year.” His comment, I initially thought, related to a quick email I sent him, in which one of the words was misspelled.

As I am leaving the room, I respond to a different comment by saying, “That’s interestin.'”

“That’s it. Right there,” he says, in a eureka tinged manner as if he figured out a cure for cancer or some other great discovery that would better the world.

He asks me to sit back down and he says that he notices my dropping of the ‘G’ in my words. I can tell he is uncomfortable. He says that he is concerned that parents, a very important and influential constituent of our school community, and others will make assumptions about me. As an administrator, I will have to speak publicly to various audiences. He claims that he is worried that my speech may, in their minds, confirm any negative prejudgments. Thus, my need to speak correctly. Humiliated again. Ironically, he stated that if I was French and mispronounced words, many people would overlook and excuse it. He does not know my origins.

The conversation dangerously straddled the intersection of race, class, prejudice, and discrimination. Those four words were never mentioned, but their presence and intensity were palpable.

I did not know what to say. I did not know what to think. I did not know how to respond. I did know the conversation was uncomfortable, manifested most notably by his body language. More importantly, it hurt me.

Yet, when I got home, I practiced…all weekend long.

Running.
Talking.
Something.
Nothing.

While I was practicing how to enunciate “correctly”, I threw ‘ask’ in there as well because I was sure that my ‘ask’ sounded like ‘axe.’ Heck, my ‘room’ sounded like ‘womb.’

I practiced too much that weekend. While I now “correctly” pronounce words that end in G, sometimes I mispronounce words that end in N, often adding a not present G, out of habit.

I mispronounce words. I am conscious of it.