capturing critical theory out in the world: accents

i’ve run into situation at an establishment where critical theory has failed me

moments where i don’t know how to react to ignorant exchanges. so i’ve set out to write about these experiences as a guide to where critical theory fails me but also delineate ways i can interrogate my knowledge for future exchanges.

lets make it clear: i am not on a platform preaching onto others what i think they should be acting or behaving.

i am speaking about engaging with others while respecting each others identity. my duty here is to point at social interaction in the “real” world outside of the culturally aware bubble of the academy. my goals is get people to engage with a deeper commitment to socio-political awareness. those who cast off the issue because it is too socially confusing are attending to the bedding of their ignorance. as a brown women it is not my job to lead those who are ignorant into the proverbial “light” unless they ask themselves these questions first and are willing to engage with these issues.

whilst people in a position that employ characters are using the identifier of accents in a particular manner – to become a character (on stage: play/movie/etc) – accents are something natural a quality that is inherent and depicts ones social-economic history and current space they occupy

whilst employing accents just to “perform” them in casual exchanges is another  – one main impetus to do so, is mocking, to be “funny” – more often then that, there is a mixture of both – stating that its funny when it actually mocks someone. when as such is pointed out, the participants say that its was a joke and accents are fun and not meant to be taken “that” way. i call this the joker (with rolling eyes card).

lets open the can of worms that is discrimination and race relations in america – blatantly imitating accents without considering the socio-political issue demonstrates is ignorance. accents have been and are used to socially demobilize and preference to certain identity groups over others.

> take the common use of the italian “gangster” accent a la scarface – i get it. crime, drama etc imitating that one person’s you know-‘s uncle – what this imitation grossly ignore is simply : not all italians are like mobsters as is poignantly be illustrated by this series – further violently compacting a povital american history into a 2d 5 second video loop, plainly this leads to stereotypes.

> the imitation of someones Russian grandmother, just because you are 1/5 Russian (but grew in some ameican suburb) does not give you the option to imitate. it signals your alarming lack of historical perspective

> being an avid fan (and being raised on) the Simpsons, I’ve always cringed at the knowledge that Apu’s accent is a Indian stereotype (it is voices by a melanin deprived actor). why can’t we think of immigrants beyond their accents?

the point that is largely amiss when people engage in casual reproduction of an accent. is that: when you use an accent, your are also channeling stereotypes, while the latter form due to a trend in certain identity groups, stereotypes become overblown – hegemonic platitudes of how one thinks a certain identity group should ought to operate.

so lets be clear: when one imitates an accents you are engaging a socio-political history and while humor is necessary to don a character it is better to not engage in a character if you do not know the history. for example it makes sense if you are starring in 1920 drama of italian americans or playing a character from Ukraine (as is tatiana in orphan black) but its racist to walk around a social space  (work as an example) and randomly summon an accent as a joke,  asking someone “how they are doing” in a Russian accent because it sounds “funny”/”different”. its not any of the prior adjectives its ignorant.

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