My Southern Accent

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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The nasal e’s. The slow drawl of the a’s. The association with old ladies sitting on their porches with tea. These are all the characteristics of a Southern accent.

Growing up, I had a somewhat thick Southern accent without even realizing it. All of my friends had the same accent. Why would it not be normal? It wasn’t until middle school that I realized that I had any accent. We were at lunch, talking about accents, when I asked a friend who had moved from Kentucky to Texas what I sounded like. He told me that ninety five percent of the time, I sounded like I was a really conservative rural hillbilly. That sentence, and a few recordings on my phone (that I have thankfully deleted since), made me think that my way of speaking was not normal.

After that, I started, among other things, manually changing the way I spoke. I started imitating my mother’s Long Island accent. I changed the way I pronounced w’s and a’s. I stopped the slow drawls. I noticed all the stereotypes in the media and on television of Southern people. How the accent was associated with being uneducated. With being dumb. With being racist. I didn’t want to be any of these things. I wished I wasn’t a Texan.

Many other people in the media did the same thing as I did, for the same reasons. For example, Stephen Colbert. He was born and raised in South Carolina. At a young age, he recognized all the same tropes and stereotypes of the Southern accent. That it was associated with being dumb, with being poor, with being uneducated. He ended up changing his accent by imitating the news anchors that played on his TV, that had perfect American accents. Why do I bring him up? Because his story on his accent convinced me in high school to stop imitating my mother. I didn’t want to be held down by stereotypes. In tenth grade, some of my old mannerisms came back. My drawl came back. My nasality on certain words, such as “fine” or “mine” came back. I finally let my accent out.

My accent from my childhood hasn’t or probably never will fully come back. And I’m fine with that. What still bothers me, however, is that these stereotypes are still just as prevalent, if not more, in the media. For example, a few years ago, Beyonce was ridiculed by Wendy Williams, a popular talk show host, for her extremely thick accent. Williams said that she sounded like she had a fifth grade education. This comment annoyed me in particular because it perpetuates the idea that being Southern is equivalent to being dumb. That you have to overcome the Southern accent in order to be respected. This is not true. If there was one thing that I would tell my middle school self, it would be that you can be Southern and you can be smart.

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