We Speak: Ciku

Why doesn’t Ciku Theuri sound Black? Her friends wanted to know. Eventually, she wanted to know. Ciku tells the story of how she came to speak the way she does—and how others, from Ohio to Kenya, perceive her speech. (Spoiler alert: she does sound Black.) Also in this episode: why many Americans choose the voices of Black celebrities for their digital assistants. This is the third in our four-part series on speech, identity and bias.

Ciku Theuri is a producer with WBUR/NPR public radio show, Here & Now. Nicole Holliday teaches linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Much of her research is focused on one question: What does it mean to sound Black?

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions, Jobii, and Podington Bear. The photo of Ciku Theuri (credit: Amanda Pitts) is from her graduation at Oakwood University, Alabama, in 2015. Read a transcript of this episode here.

Join the discussion

  • As a first generation Kenyan-American who grew up in a small midwestern town, I could definitely relate to your experience. Just like you, I’ve come to a point where I’ve learned to love my full self, including the way I talk. It’s been difficult understanding and appreciating my full self, especially since I’m still in high school, but my family and people like you have made it easier. It’s great to know that I’m not alone in my experience. Thank you for being open enough to talk about it!

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