There I was, sitting at my desk, writing away, bothering no one when my phone rang. It was Hollywood calling.
“Hey,” said a friend of ours who is a big-time movie producer. “I have you on speaker phone and the director of casting is here with me.”
Now, don’t go getting ahead of me and think they were calling to offer me a part of some kind. No, they were calling to ask about a famous friend of mine, to whom they wanted to offer a part in a major movie. I was asked a question and as I began to answer, my “friend” said to me, “Now, speak where she can understand what you’re saying.” Apparently, he thought he was cute.
I fell dead silent. See, I hate people making fun of the way I talk. I happen to have a lovely, lyrical accent and I’m proud of it. I bit my tongue, not because he didn’t deserve a good comeback but because I try to behave with gracious Southern manners when I am being introduced to someone for the first time.
Now, remember: I was sitting in my little corner of the world all the way across the country when they called me for help. I wasn’t thinking, “Gee, I wish someone would call me up and make fun of the way I talk.” I was minding my own business, being the same sweet girl I always am.
Despite the mocking comment, I was gracious and helpful. After hanging up the phone, I made a cup of coffee, took myself to the rocker on the back porch and sat down to have a good think about what had just happened.
Why do people think it’s acceptable to comment unkindly on Southern accents? Why — in this day of political correctness where every comment about people of various nationalities, religions and political views are scrutinized and reprimanded publicly — is it still fine to joke about Southern accents? Where are the politically correct police who should be protecting us? Where are the advocates to spring up and protest on national television shows, “That is against what America stands for. We celebrate the diversity of accents and cultures.”
There is no one to stand up and fight for us. We’re thrown to the wolves and expected to be gracious because that’s what Southerners are — gracious to the fault of letting rudeness slide by. Just like I did and like I often do.
I thought, too, about this: Never once in my entire life have I ever commented negatively on someone’s accent. I have never been introduced to someone raised in Boston or Long Island and mimicked their words back to them or said sarcastically, “Where did that accent come from?” or “Will you say that again so I can understand?”
If I have ever had difficulty understanding someone’s words, I always smile sweetly, genuinely and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand. I hear with a Southern accent.”
Later, I explained to my friend in firm words spoken in an icy Southern accent how I felt about what had happened. He was contrite and offered a genuine apology. At heart, he is a fine and decent person.
I would tell you what I said to him but I can’t. My preacher reads this column.
Rich is the author of the forthcoming “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’”.