CNI Editor Emeritus
Several years ago, a woman named Jennifer Adams wrote a book titled “Say Goodbye to Your Southern Accent.” I sort of knew the essence of the book before reading Amazon’s description. But I read it anyway:
“Is your Southern accent holding you back?” it begins. “If you’ve ever felt self-conscious or stereotyped because you speak with a Southern accent ... If you feel that speaking more neutrally would increase your confidence ... If you feel that reducing your accent would give you a professional edge. ...”
Well, you need to purchase this book.
But if you’re like me — retired and unrefurbished and not interested in speaking neutrally to produce a professional edge — then you don’t need that book. Or perhaps you like your Southern accent, as I am pretty well attached to mine, then you don’t need that book. Besides, most advice is as useless as a steering wheel on a mule.
I agree with Chuck Reece, editor of Bitter Southerner magazine. You shouldn’t feel bad about the way you talk, he said in a recent podcast called “What We Talk About When We Talk About How We Talk.” Instead, you should learn to embrace it.
Unfortunately, Jennifer Adams has a point: A deep Southern twang or drawl can be a hinderance in certain professions and areas of the country. Doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you sound too Southern, you may have one strike against you from the start.
It’s a crying shame.
Reece, a Georgia boy, said he felt the need to reduce his accent when he was living and working in New York City. But he got over it. I was a bit self-conscious at times living for nearly a year in Cambridge, Mass. I could ask a Yankee drug store clerk, “Where do y’all keep your toothpaste?” and she would ask, “Where are you from?” Doesn’t matter where I’m from, I wanted to say, but didn’t, because I’m Southern and usually polite. I just need some dadgum toothpaste.
There are other negative assumptions that sometimes come with an accent that tells the neutrally speaking species that this white boy is from the South. You are probably a racist, they think. At a get-acquainted dinner for journalists and spouses in Massachusetts, the buzz of the evening, we found out later, was that my wife, a white woman, sat down beside, conversed with and dined with a black woman. Actually, my wife has a knack for picking out the nicest person in the room, and this woman happened to be the one. This was 1973, but I’m not sure things have changed that much.
I take offense to those unfair assumptions. But I’ve gotten over it. Mostly.
Maybe one of these days, we’ll accept people as people, regardless of their accents or geographical upbringing or race or culture or whatever. And we won’t assign an IQ according to how a person sounds.
In the meantime, if somebody doesn’t like my accent, well, he or she can kiss my grits.