Confession time. I realized yesterday that I have I bias. Yes, me, who preaches that all people are children of God, who want to boil all the “big” issues of the day down to the personal because deep down we are all the same. I have an ugly, despicable prejudice. Here’s how I discovered it:
I was trying to be a good citizen and listen to Brittney’s interview of Megan Barry at Nashville Is Talking. I’m hoping she posts a transcript; I wish I had waited for that. But alas, I listened to the whole thing. The substance of what Barry had to say was important (she was a little wonkish for my taste, and she’s more culturally liberal than I, although she kept trying to change the subject when the hot button issues came up – good job at steering her back to the question, Brittney). But, substance really didn’t matter.
I couldn’t get past her voice.
Please don’t get me wrong. Mrs Barry has a wonderful speaking voice. Fran Drescher she is not. Even tones, good cadence, not much interruption by “uhs” and “ahs” (most commendable considering the environment). Her enunciation was absolutely perfect. There was no discernable accent.
But, I heard her voice, and my mind immediately said “She sounds like a Wellesley grad”. And it’s true, if one closes her eyes while listening, she’d think she was listening to a Hillary Clinton interview from 30 years ago. And, immediately all kinds of negative assumptions jumped into my mind, mainly the word “elitist”. Going to her website and reading her bio showed none of this to be true, so I felt even worse about my initial reaction.
If slapping myself would have cured me of this line of thinking, I would have done it. I knew the thoughts were wrong the second I thought them. But it was visceral. My mind kept sighing with relief every time Brittney would speak; try as she might to have a non-descript “anchor voice”, Brittney’s has a down-home quality that cannot be hidden. Once again, this attitude of judging both women by the sounds of their voices is WRONG, wrong wrong. I ask forgiveness. I wish there were some kind of Ted Haggard-style “Accent bias” reeducation program where I could be “cured”. Then maybe I could learn to love Ann Coulter; I cannot right now because I absolutely cannot STAND to listen to her overly-patrician voice.
But you know what? I think we ALL do this, in one way or another. If you look deep inside yourself, you know it’s true. Some hear a deep southern accent and immediately think “ignorant”. Some hear a California-surfer voice and immediately think “slacker”. I personally find Hindi accents, by themselves, funny. When I hear a “high” English accent, I automatically assume “intelligence and class”; when I hear a Cockney, or a British working-man accent, I immediately want to go ask the person if they’ll have a beer in the pub with me.
Once again, I think these visceral reactions are wrong. The single biggest regret I have in my life was when I purposely trained myself to lose my southern accent in high school. I thought it would make me sound more intelligent, and it probably did in the eyes of many. But, looking back, it really hurt my father that I did this. I cut myself off from my roots. Today, most people that meet me think I’m from the midwest. Being extremely proud to be a Tennessean, this makes me sad.
I apologise publicly here and now to Megan Barry for my reaction. I may even vote for you, assuming the unlikely entering into the race of a level-headed conservative doesn’t happen. And, for the record, I actually at one time had a crush on Dianne from Cheers, specifically BEACUSE of her “elitist” voice. There may be hope for me yet.