Unemployable: Your Accent Makes You Unwelcome Here

A few weeks ago I blogged about a girl who came in to interview with my company who didn’t get the job because she didn’t have the right “personality”, when what my manager really meant was she sounded too “Black”. It’s an unfortunate event that happens every day to Black folk – the immediate disqualification from a job opportunity because you sound, well, Black.

But what about when your accent keeps you from ascending to the highest job in the land – say, I dunno, the president of the United States?

I was listening to NPR this morning, and there is a dude I’ve never heard of in the Republican circles who’s posturing himself as though he’s running for president. His name is Haley Barbour. He’s from Mississippi. The deep, Deep South: where some black folk are still share croppin’ and who have some of the lowest literacy rates and highest obesity rates in the nation.

Oooo…not good.

In the short snippet I  heard on the radio, I knew immediately this was NOT a guy I would vote for, or whom I wanted to be my president. And it’s not because I’m Black or because he’s a republican. I voted for George Bush twice. It’s just because he sounds like a card carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan. These are the exact words he used on the program:

“We have to rein in all this government spending before it bankrupts the country!”

My translation:

“What he means is: We have to cut down on all this spending and stop giving niggers and beaners free federal dollars!”

Now, consider if Barack Obama said the exact same phrase in his elite Harvard accent:

“Folks, we have to rein in all this government spending before it bankrupts the country!”

My, and everyone else’s translation:

“Wow! What a fiscally responsible president we have! He’s thinking of the long term consequences of spending what we don’t have. C’mon guys, lets tighten our belts, put our hands to the plow and get America back on track!”

It’s something I’ve always known, but in my older age is becoming more and more apparent – that what you say is sometimes not as important as how you say it. Sometimes, who is saying it makes all the difference. Whether the messenger gets shot or not sometimes highly depends on who that messenger is.

Let’s not mince words. If a gay guy walked up to you in the kitchen and said “Ooh, we need to spice things up around here, don’t we?”, you’d assume he was referring to the color and hue of your wallpaper. Perhaps it is too dull…But if a Mexican guy standing in the kitchen said the same thing, you’d inform him, very politely, that your nacho dip does not in fact require more jalapeños.

Am I wrong?

  • AHitchcock

    Malaka,
    As a Mississippian with a drawl similar to Gov. Barbour’s, I understand how you came to such a conclusion. The problem with stereotypes is unfair labels. I feel certain if you learn some of Barbour’s accomplishments as governor you will see he’s not the racist nutjob you assume he is. Maybe you won’t vote for him. But don’t judge a man because of his accent.

  • AHitchcock: That is the point exactly! “Don’t judge a man because of his accent”. I am sure that he is a very fine governor. The fact that I’ve never “heard” of him (i.e. in terms of scandal) sadly suggests that he probably is. I don’t think I said he was a racist – I said he SOUNDED like a racist.

    In this post, I was making reference to a job opportunity that a girl lost when she came into an interview with my current employer. She looked great on paper, and was only a few hours shy of getting her Masters. She was clearly qualified. However, she was passed up on the position because she didn’t have the right “personality” and the manager didn’t feel like she could engage with members of the sales team. Anyone who has the discipline to pursue a Masters can communicate with co-workers on a professional level I’m sure. The problem lay in her accent – which was very southern Black/African-American. It didn’t sound “professional”.

    Is this pre-judgment any different than what Gov. Barbour may/does face? I don’t think so. It’s not fair, but it does exist for people in all parts of the spectrum.
    Thank you for the insightful comment!

  • David S.

    I used to be the first person to judge a person by their outward appearance, accent, etc. etc. But the more I’ve been around people the more I’ve realised that when you do this, you are actually more likely to be wrong then right. Yes, I know everybody does it, but I’ve stopped letting the fact that everybody does it be my excuse to do it too. I can’t change everybody, and I know that people will never stop judging me on my appearance and accent, but I can at least try not to do it myself, and I’ve found that my life experiences have been richer now that I am actually willing to get to know people instead of assuming I know everything about them from what I see.

  • And now folks, lets all gather ’round the camp fire and sing Kumbaya!