When I hear the speech patterns of a person from the south- or southwestern United States, it connotes a regional feeling. For others it may stir ridicule of the speaker, identifying the person with cornpone humor. But it does not define the person’s race.
When I was in England, a Cockney accent defined one as working class. Race was never invoked, as Black Britishers speak with English dialects as varied as their White counterparts.
It seems that only in America can an accent not only define one’s station but also one’s race. And in this instance, too many people presume that a Black accent associates one’s street vernacular with ignorance.
James Carville, a White man and one of the architects of President Bill Clinton’s campaign, speaks with a deep, southern U.S. accent, and the occasional idiosyncratic phrase or two. Yet, few would argue that he is one of the best and brightest political strategists of our time. No mention is made of his race.
Would he still rank as a political genius were he a Black man? I would hope so, yet experience tells me that this is not the case. When Whites at the high school and university I attended chose to demean Black people, they would switch to their exaggerated, barely intelligible version of Black-accented English.
Worse, in my adult life, I have heard Black people themselves speak of other People of Color who speak with a neutral accent and cadenced diction as being akin to an Uncle Tom—a stereotype of the excessively servile, Black houseboy to a White household.
These oversimplified takes on one’s accent overlap in one area: they traduce and marginalize the object of their hatred.
If there is but one thing I wish the reader would understand from this response, it is this: The normative in America is not a diction spoken by Whites in the northern half of the country.
There are differences in diction that are regional, cultural and, yes, race-based. The answer to the real question of why some Whites exhibit such aversive racism to Black-accented English lies in the reasons Whites fear People of Color.
Answer this and you will understand why some Whites try to “sound Black,” and why some People of Color fear losing that capability.