Saturday, September 20, 2008

accent discrimination

A linguistic professor once told me that accent discrimination is the only socially acceptable form of discrimination left--well, minus sexism, racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, etc...but there is still something to be said about the tendency for people to judge others based on dialect, and for this to be acceptable.

Even aware of this tendency, I still slip up. A teacher's assistant for a political science class is from England, and just because he has that wonderful British intonation, I register him as more intelligent. Well, I don't always pay attention when people speak, and finally I decided to follow along--needless to say, the bloke is not quite my idea of intellect of the year. But I let the sound of his voice guide my perception.

Aside from being the perpetrator, I also can also fall victim to this tendency. You see, I am from the valley--as in valley girl--and while my "likes" are not abused, when I get very excited or am with good friends, that pitch infamous valley girl pitch kicks in. And let me tell you, I have been assumed to be stupid, ditsy and the like because of it.

So just a gentle reminder, it's not how people say it, but what they are saying. And, as always, a person is more than appearance and sounds.


Max said...

Whether people like to admit it or not, most discourse is more a matter of "oh, that's interesting" and "how convincing" than "oh, that's true", so I'd definitely say that, for better or worse, style will always take precedence over substance. You're conclusion is then not so much a "reminder" as a suggestion, as honorable as it is impotent :-\

Vanessa said...

I disagree. It is a reminder. To say that challenging culturally implanted biases is impossible is at odds with the very idea of progress and social justice.

It is called internal work, and any one can do it with enough critical thought and dedication.

Maxim said...

I don't follow. Being at odds with progress and social justice makes something impossible? Ahh, but I forget we have a starry eyed idealist on our hands..

And I'm familiar with the notion of "internal work", however I don't see how stating that it exists and is within virtually everyone's capacity constitutes an argument that people will engage in it to rid themselves of some lazy biases.