Everyone’s heard of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech to the Women’s Right’s Convention at Akron Ohio in 1851. But the version we’ve all heard of or encountered in memes is one published 12 years after the fact, which is radically different from the one published in 1851 by a journalist who knew Truth and checked his text with her to ensure it accurately represented what she had said.
Truth was born in New York and grew up speaking Dutch. She took great care to ensure that her English was correct, especially when doing preaching or public speaking. But the version published in 1863 was rewritten to be in Southern slave dialect.
May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?
The site has a handful of Youtube videos where modern Afro-Dutch women record versions of what Truth’s speaking might have sounded like.
Well, chillen, whar dar’s so much racket dar must be som’ting out o’kilter. I tink dat, ’twixt de niggers of de South and de women at de Norf, all a-talking ’bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking ’bout? Dat man ober dar say dat women needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have de best place eberywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages or ober mud-puddles, or gives me any best place. -And ar’n’t I a woman? Look at me. Look at my arm. I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me. -and ar’n’t I a woman?
Ever since the beginning, white Americans have been looking down on Black Americans for being stupid and illiterate. Even white abolitionists couldn’t imagine a Black person sounding educated and talking in standard English. It says something sad about modern America that the version of Truth’s feminist speech that everyone’s heard of is the one invented by a white person who thought the speech needed to be recast into slave dialect in order to sound “authentic.”