The voice came on the radio, slowed by the syrupy, languid humidity of the Deep South. My home. Born and raised in Central Florida, a place as deeply redneck and cracker as Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi. I cringed.
“Idiot,” I thought, the quicksilver judgment whipping into my consciousness before I had a chance to censor it.
I’d made that flat judgment based on the speaker’s accent. Not the thoughtful, intelligent discourse. Not the well-considered ideas and provocative discussion. Just the man’s accent.
Now let’s be very clear. One hour in my hometown, I can talk like that too. It’s as natural as breathing. I can also understand, and can even speak, the unique Southern Black patois that was inherited through the slave trade. That language is a mishmash of English, French, Cajun, Caribbean, African and a whole lot more mixed in. It has its own cadence and rhythm. Hearing it is like listening to a lullaby, if you grew up with it. That is the language of my youth, as much a part of me as blackberries in spring and the rich, black, earthworm-filled earth of my father’s farm. I grew up surrounded by a gaggle of Black kids with whom I played, planted corn, and rode a white-faced mule for hours on end. I miss the innocence of not knowing anything other than laughter and friendship.
I don’t have the same reaction to that accent at all.
This morning I was out on my lawn spreading grass seed on the doggedly bare patches under my crab apple when Peggy came by. Peg lives a few houses north and does a turn around the blocks on a walker. She’s 92. She was telling me stories about roof repairs, as we are all dealing with hail damage right now.
She began one of her sentences with, “Now, I’m not a racist, but…”
First of all, yes you are. Second, any time you need that qualifier, you’re advertising it with the next few sentences out of your mouth. Third, I find that highly offensive. I’ve spent years doing diversity work, and even won national prizes.
Yet I am just as prejudiced as Peggy, and anyone else with an axe to grind about any group of people built on baseless assumptions.