Accentism When A Prejudice
Noushin Siddika Fariha :
With a wide range of scholarly discussion and media coverage we are well aware of how racism creates a discrimination based on a made up racial hierarchy. Resembling that accentism is a discriminatory behavior drawn on one's accent or use of language. When people are judged negatively and mistreated for their accent that is called accentism. Unlike racism it's not a criminal offense. But everyday people from all across the world face discrimination and suffer for their accents. "People make snap judgments based on accents" and it's "how they identify us" said an informant when Dr Alexander Baratta from Manchester University asked people why they changed their accents and how it made them feel.
Accentism may indicate any society's view on its different region. For example, in Bangladesh one may have a prejudice that the people from Noakhali are cunning as a result hearing an accent from a person of Noakhali, the listener may judge him negatively therefore the speaker may be mistreated in academia or in his work place. Accentism indicates the hierarchical pattern of a society. People judge accents comparing to one specific standard accent. What makes a standard accent? Most likely the answer is power. The accent of powerful or majorities often get dominant over others. Here the concept of hegemonic accent can be brought. Gramsci's analysis of hegemony involves an analysis of the ways in which capitalist ideas are disseminated and accepted as commonsensical and normal. When we try to alter our accent so that people do not make fun of us or we can present us in a smarter (which is also a hegemonic standard) way, we accept that the "standard accent" is normal and ours is not. Thus we unconsciously follow the standardizing and othering (minority's accent is other accents) process, Edward Said explained in his book "Orientalism". Apart from this if we look a little closer, we have got hundreds of Youtube channels and websites teaching us to improve our accents. Everyday millions of people stab in to those channels and websites which indicates a flowering of an accent based industry that simultaneously indicates how mad we are after our way of speaking instead the knowledge we produce. Accents to some extend are part of our identity as well. When we go through an alteration of accent or identity we put our very nature at stake. As a result a human being might go through a social alienation from their natural human essence for
living in a society of hierarchical social class. When people are not able to speak in their own language or accent, they are not able to speak their own words. Eventually they lose their ability to think for their own and they forget that they are the lord of their own action, that is when the enslaving process of society starts. Even if we don't dig deep down, accentism leaves a visible psychological issue on people. People are continuously being bullied for their accent, the corporate sector won't hire employee who doesn't speak a standard accent, in academia not using a standard language or accent is kind of unforgivable. One's social status flares up in the eyes of others if (s)he speaks in a good accent and vice versa. This problem is quite deeper than we can imagine. It's high time to acknowledge the necessity to uproot another form of racism and let people be -for both the betterment of individual and peace of society.
(Ms. Fariha is an Undergrad, Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka)