Saturday, May 11, 2013

America and the accent

It's been an interesting time so far. Half a year in the US of A - a time which leaves me with some weighty thoughts.

Having lived my life in different places, and not being completely familiar with any native language puts me in the odd position of belonging nowhere. Sure, I've been speaking English since I was a kid but it's Indian English - it's my means of communication and ends at that. Indian accented English will win you no sense of belonging to India - you will be an outsider in any part you visit, even though you can be understood. There's a level of familiarity that native languages have - an unspoken connection that induces (what I imagine to be) that fuzzy sense of camaraderie. I know it because I feel that warmth when (on the oft chance) I hear random phrases of Tamil in passing - it evokes memories.

Which brings me to the US. Yet again I am cognizant of a dominant culture that I feel an outsider to - the over-arching white privilege - the white American accented English, the culture, the social protocol. Just another place where I can be understood, but where my words are just what they are - words, that don't translate to fuzzy feelings of warmth and conformity and normalcy. Even if I do partake in the American accent for no reason other than to not repeat myself, I find myself speaking another language - just as if I was conversing in broken Tamil with a native Tamil speaker.

I don't like Russell Peters anymore. It's something about living as an Indian in the US and observing the general Indian community that evokes a pitiful response. The jokes I used to find funny don't seem remotely so any more. Rather than laugh I find myself saddened by the reality that in essence, Russell Peters says, "I'm a brown guy, but I'm not like the other brown people! I'm like you America, and let's laugh at brown people!" Racism seems to have been replaced by a cultural (and seemingly innocuous and acceptable) variant. I feel indignant that superficial things like accents matter - they shouldn't.

I wish for a world where what's said that matters and not the way it's said. That where fuzzy feelings are evoked by ideas rather than sounds and accents.

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1 comment:

Aravindh Chidambaram said...

"I wish for a world where what's said that matters and not the way it's said. That where fuzzy feelings are evoked by ideas rather than sounds and accents."

I used to be really particular about how people spoke English, ie if they were speaking "local" english or "proper" english. I didn't say it out loud of course. It took a while before I learned to be non judgemental. I guess its an acquired skill that takes time for people to learn.