Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I'm glad I still say y'all

One of the goals on my employee evaluation for this year was to write more columns for the paper - at least one per quarter. My boss said for me to look at posts I write on this blog and either repurpose some of them or use them as a jumping off point for ideas.

Here's the latest one I wrote.


Y’all know what it’s like to have a Southern accent.

Some people assume you’re a stupid racist, and others want you to talk more so they can picture you on a veranda wearing a hoop skirt.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my accent for years. And now, I have a 7-year-old son who is becoming aware of speech patterns and accents.

Our household represents two areas of the country. I’ve lived in Georgia, South Carolina and now North Carolina. My husband grew up in upstate New York.

He mows the lawn. I cut the grass. He wears sneakers. I wear tennis shoes.

Growing up, I didn’t realize I had an accent. I knew that my cousins from California and Illinois did. But everyone around me spoke like me.

It wasn’t until college, when I was surrounded by people from across the country that I started to think maybe my accent was a hindrance. I don’t remember a specific incident that prompted my insecurity, but I was growing more aware of how people might perceive me when I spoke.

My first job in a newsroom was in the town where I grew up, and Southerners outnumbered the people from other places. But my second job was near Atlanta. Spending time in that Southern city, I very rarely met anyone who was from Atlanta — or even Southern, for that matter. The friends I met had come for college or jobs, and when I got to know them, I wanted to sound like them.

I started to change the way I spoke. I dropped idioms I had grown up using. I changed my vowel sounds. I even tried going by Kimberly instead of Kim.

Had my Granny known about what I was trying to do, she would’ve said I was gettin’ above my raisin’ or gettin’ too big for my britches.

And she was right.

It took a few more years before I was able to appreciate my accent as part of my heritage and family history. I started to realize that it didn’t matter what other people thought about how I sounded. I knew where I was from. I sounded like my people. And what better connection can you have than that?

My son, now representing the next generation of our family, seems to have a good ear for accents. When he visits his grandparents in South Carolina, he immediately switches to saying supper instead of dinner. And sometimes, when his Grandmama talks to him, he imitates her exactly. I hear pure Georgia coming out of his mouth.

I asked my husband how he would feel about our son having a Southern accent.

“It would be fine,” he said. “It’s representative of where he’s from.”

I didn’t tell him how long it’s taken me to be at peace with that sentiment.

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