When I do videos, or I speak to someone who is not from the South, I tend to ease up on my Southern accent quite a bit. I can’t drop it completely, but it isn’t quite as strong as it is when I’m talking to my Mom, or Mr. Awesome, or my neighbors. For a long time I was a little bit ashamed of my accent. Spending a good bit of my life NOT living in the South taught me that once someone heard your accent, they’d treat you a little differently than they otherwise would. When we lived outside DC we ran into people on a daily basis who smirked at our accents, and even went so far as to make judgments on our levels of intelligence, just because of the way we pronounced certain words, or ordered our tea, or talked about football. So, I learned early on to let it go just a bit, and soak up the local accent as much as possible.
As of late, however, I’ve come to realize that my accent isn’t something to be ashamed of. It may tell people that I hail from the Southern States, but it doesn’t tell them who I really am, what I really stand for, and what I’m actually worth.
My accent means I come from a region rich with history and heritage. Now, some of that history and heritage isn’t so good, which is putting it mildly. To put it bluntly, it’s downright awful. But, my accent doesn’t mean that I am racist, despite the accusations of those who might not know me. No one in my family ever owned slaves. My family name came over to this fair land from Germany, in the form of Jewish immigrants. Yes, you read that right: there are real life Jews who live here in the South. No one in my family protested the end of segregation either. On all sides my family was made up of poor farmers and factory workers who spent most of their time just trying to make ends meet….not worrying about African Americans coming into their school systems and juke joints and neighborhoods.
My accent means that despite what anyone may think, I love my black cousin, *Jason, and my black sister in law, *Shauna. It means that I have to work twice as hard to prove to the world that I see them for who they are and what they’re worth, regardless of the color on their skin. And the funny thing about it all is I don’t think they question my love for them just because I’m white and Southern. And if ever they did, I would be the first in line to assure them that it will never matter to me that anyone might think us different or unlikely. Because that’s what love is. That’s what family is. And these people are my family.
My accent also means that I value education. You don’t have to remind me that the education system in the South is atrocious. I see it. I live it. And I choose to homeschool because of it. But, my husband is a product of the Alabama school system…and he’s an aerospace engineer who works for NASA. So, I guess some of us Alabamians turn out pretty okay. To me, my accent means I’m passionate about being as knowledgeable and socially aware as I can be. Mostly so I can prove the naysayers wrong.
My accent means I have to work twice as hard to make a "Yankee" take me seriously, and I’m damn well going to work twice as hard. My accent means I’m committed to seeing children in my region challenged and given all they need to accomplish educational excellence. Not just because the rest of the US will value their ideas, but so they will learn to value themselves. And education opens the doors for self-respect and self-assurance. It’s a right for all children, and I believe in it.
My accent means that I place quite a bit of significance on the past; both mistakes, and victories. I look to my elders, and the stories of our small towns for guidance and inspiration. I learn from the errors of their ways, and hold my head up high in honor of their successes. During the civil war the college in my town was an all women’s college, one of few in this state and the South at the time. When Union soldiers marched on my town, they made their way for what is now Athens State University, knowing full well it was an all women’s college, and knowing full well that it was going to be an enjoyable night for those soldiers who were far from the “comforts” of their own wives. We can not naively believe that all Union soldiers were saints, just as it is unfair to believe all Confederate soldiers were racist dogs. Generalizing makes the pill easier to swallow, but in the end it’s still a pill, and it’s still a convenient untruth. The soldiers approached, but the President of the women’s college met them in the street, with a letter from Lincoln in one hand, and a gun in the other. She stood between them and her school, and warned them that Lincoln gave his word that her girls would not be touched, and her college would not be burned. And if they refused, she’d have a bullet for each of them. The Union army turned around, and moved on, and Athens State University stands to this day.
I cling to this because the image of a strong, Southern woman, standing up for innocence and education isn’t something you’re going to see in a movie, or on a show on NBC. These aren’t the stories people want to hear about. But they are the stories that inspire me to be a strong, independent woman, ready to face an Army with just one gun, rather than back down to the ways and wiles of men. My accent means I believe in myself, and I will never let any man tell me how to think, how to live, and who I’m supposed to be. I choose my own path.
My accent also means I believe in family. There are plenty of people who will split hairs on what defines a family and what a family should be, but to me, a family is any group of people you trust with your life. They are the people you know will always have your back, no matter what you’ve done or what has happened between you. Family MATTERS. And in the South we cling to the concept of “blood is thicker than water”. In some ways this isn’t so awesome, because sometimes you really don’t want to have to be related to certain people. But as far as my own little family goes, there’s no doubt in my mind that they are the most important people in my life, and always will be. I thank my raising for that.
My accent may tip people off that I’m from a troubled, educationally challenged, and poverty riddled region…but it should also tell them that my fellow Southerners are capable of so much more than they’re given credit for. When people don’t expect much of you, you’ve got all you need to prove them wrong. And I’m determined to prove them wrong.
My accent means I can whip up a mean batch of Cathead biscuits, grow my own veggies, organize one heck of a party (complete with pickin' and grinnin'), debate current events in a way so charming you'll never see my winning argument coming, and do it all while battling Southern humidity, carrying a baby on my hip, and quoting The WSJ. It means I'm strong, intelligent, and I look fabulous too. And by the way, if you ever make your way down to Alabama, look me up. I've got a guest bedroom waiting and a gallon of fresh sweet tea sitting in the sun.
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