Opinion

Gaffney: Do not judge people by their accent



I’m English. I was born and raised in a suburb of London for a good half of my life and spent the other half living in California.

Unfortunately for me, despite the fact that I ideologically associate more with my American “side,” I have carried forth with me a strong British accent. Unsurprisingly, it’s the first thing that people notice about me. Sadly, it’s also the only thing that they identify me with.

When I first moved to the United States, I was quite pleased with the attention that my accent brought. I was a novelty. I beamed with pride at saying particular words to the delight of my classmates or reveling people with tales of mystical England. At that point in time, I even was quite courteous to people who asked me things such as ‘Do I bow daily to the Queen?’ ‘Is there music in England?’ ‘Do we all say “Cheerio” to greet each other?’

After a while, and by that I mean a couple of years, I naturally began to tire of it. Everyday I was surrounded by other kids, constantly requesting me to say words again and again. I would eventually relent, and my classmates would leave satiated, apathetic to what they would ask of me due to the splendid immunity of their American accents. I also then earned a title I would permanently rue. The British Kid.

Now, nearly a decade since my big leap across the pond, I can barely tolerate it when people ask me any questions about my accent. I’m even worse when people announce me as their British friend/classmate/coworker/etc. Whereas in the past, I would entertain people to a certain point, my fuse nowadays is a lot shorter. I don’t think most of the people I encounter realize that there are over 53 million people just a mere ocean away that sound pretty much identical to me. My close friends know that I’m not fond of accent-based questions and nearly all of them tell me they forget I have one after a specific amount of time.

For a while, it confused me as to why everyone would fixate so much on my accent. It’s just an accent? But that’s when it dawned on me. The question I get asked the most.

“Do Americans have accents?”

In a lot of ways, I’m very lucky. I speak fluent English, and the British accent is thankfully one that is typically associated with intelligence and poise. But what about the many other accents?

An accent is an unfortunately accessible avenue for Western stereotypes to be inflicted upon others. Do all people with French accents eat snails and play the accordion? No. Do all people with Japanese accents ravenously eat sushi? No. However, these stereotypes shamefully spring to mind upon hearing an accent.

Why?

An accent is a way to pigeonhole and define something that the United States is only just becoming acquainted with. Something that the United States lacks a great knowledge of. Other cultures and countries.

Obviously, there will always be exceptions to the rule – not everybody thinks this way – but these exceptions are certainly not in the majority. I can tell you that from my own experience and daily barrage of ignorant questions.

In the most simple terms, every American has a distinguishable accent just like every other individual. The truth, which may be unpopular to some, is that the world does not revolve around the United States. Nor does it revolve around any other country. The United States is teeming with incredibly intellectual, creative and culturally-curious citizens who are more than willing to break their own stereotypes. As a result, Americans also do not deserve not to be judged based on their accents.

At the end of the day, we are defined by our accents – the way in which we speak and verbally reflect where we are from. Tragically, our accents force us to be viewed and stereotyped to an exaggerated degree. More importantly, we are often not perceived as one within the country that we call home.

I am American. But with my accent and all its baggage in tow, I feel I will never be seen as one.


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Ciara Gaffney

Ciara Gaffney