I’m Southern (with a capital “S”). I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and grew up in Greensboro, NC. My Momma’s family has been in Mississippi since the 1830s, from what I’ve been able to trace, and my Daddy’s family was in the North Georgia Appalachian mountains since the 1740s, so far as I’ve been able to find. I’m proud that I’m Southern. I know what it feels like to have pink socks cause I can’t get the red Georgia clay washed out of them, EVER. I can tell you what clover hay smells like and how a deep breath can refresh your soul. I can identify the song of a cicada. I’ve tied June bugs to strings and flown them around like kites and played in the creek dodging crawfish holes in the hard red soil. I.Am.Southern. And I think that’s one of the best gifts my parents ever gave me, that sense of belonging and identity. UNTIL I move into a different locale, I barely had anything negative happen to me because of my Southernness (hush, it’s a word in my world.)
But once I moved to go to college, all that changed. While most everyone didn’t even act like they heard my accent (cause let’s be honest, it’s not THAT drastic!) there were those who were floored by it. As if I had crawled out of some backwoods shack having just shut down my still or something. It was cute in college. But MAN, once I got to law school, you’d think I was using cuss words every other word! People would ask me a question, and their little eyes would get wider once I started to answer. I had to taper it back, focus on how to speak. It was unnerving, especially as an Aspie. Their reactions had me just avoiding people. It was there that the first REAL assumptions of my ignorance due to my dialect were vocalized. I am aware of my accent. So much so that YES, I can pull it back or make it stronger. It tends to get stronger when I:
1. Am around other people with accents, because they are not as likely to get all judgy on me for it, and because it often puts them at ease, which can make the conversation go smoother (I am in the business of information, and you get more information out of people who are comfortable with you.);
2. Am drinking or get really tired, cause I can’t help it. Sorrynotsorry;
3. Want to annoy some ignoramus that thinks he/she has the right to belittle me and try to make me feel less than because I speak the dialect local to the area in which I grew up.
4. Get Angry. Don’t mess with my kids. Not only will I become scary, I might become incoherent to those of you who aren’t used to a good Southern accent.
I have a degree in anthropology with a focus on archaeology, and minors in geology and classics. In studying linguistic anthropology, you learn that most languages have countless dialects, meaning the phrasing and use of the language is different depending upon the place in which you live. AND In studying linguistic anthropology, you ALSO learn that dialects, along with many languages altogether, are dying out, and it is a shame! Well my dialect will not be dying out because of me due to someone else’s bias. I am not ignorant/racist/judgmental/OR a redneck because I say “y’all” and have a bit more of a drawl than most Americans. I do not sound like the lady on the news, and I’m thrilled with that. I sound like my grandma sounded. And she always sounded so pretty to me as a child.
I have two degrees from a major university, and I earned the distinction of graduating cum laude both times. I studied law at Oxford (the one in England), worked for the Smithsonian (yes that place) before I was 20, and was published in an international zooarchaeology journal by the age of 21. So I’m no slow minded fool. I just speak like I do because it is part of who I am. I’m not ashamed to be Southern. And no, that doesn’t make me a rebel or confederate flag waver. Being Southern does not automatically equate to racism or ignorance or hatred. It equates to living below the Mason Dixon line. That’s it, folks.
So please, the next time you hear someone say y’all or gonna, or wanna, or something with a bit more twang or drawl, please don’t be quick to judge. Dialect does not determine IQ. It does not determine success in life. It does not determine ability or kindness or spirit. This goes for ALL dialects. Not just a southern drawl. This goes for the Brooklyn accent, or how my husband’s grandmother talks (She’s from Boston and can’t pronounce the word “bar” in a way that I understand if I’ve had too much to drink. But she’s an AWESOME woman that thinks I need to slow down when I talk!) Keep in mind that if you say something about how their dialect makes them appear to be ignorant, you are just displaying YOUR ignorance. You might wanna tuck that ignorance back in there now, ya hear? It’s a bit embarassin’. Yo’ momma wouldn’t want y’all to be displayin’ your ignorance out there for the world to see, sugar.
Bless your heart.