Wednesday, July 9

sidney poitier sounds black

I should probably calm down before I type this. I should take a breath and step back and realize the many blessings I have received in my life. I should calm the fuck down but I don’t really see that happening. Once again, it is all Big Man’s fault. I don’t really read the NYT lately and especially not the columnists because there is no such thing as cheap blood pressure medicine. This article is a prime example.
Apparently the way your voice sounds affects how much money you make. Sounding ‘Black’ and sounding ‘Southern’ are the two worst things to sound like, even if you live in the South. There was a fairly extensive study, which was the subject of the article. It isn’t the only one of its kind. There have also been studies done showing that your name can determine whether or not you get called for an interview. Basically there is a pretty hefty portion of the population that is screwed. I wasn’t surprised by this. Who could be?
This is where my pressure shot up:
If one believes Grogger’s effects are causal, then investing in the ability
to not “sound black” looks to have a huge return — roughly of the same magnitude
as getting one more year of schooling.
Of course, there is the issue of one’s identity. There may be personal costs associated with being black and not sounding black. But these costs would have to be pretty large. (When I have Asian Ph.D. students go on the job market in the United States, I tell them that I think there is rampant discrimination against non-English speakers and encourage them to adopt Americanized first names for the job market. Very few of my students choose to do so — either a testimony to the identity cost of pretending to be someone you aren’t, or possibly their lack of faith in my assessment of the amount of discrimination.)
I was talking with one of my colleagues about this study. He thinks it will be a very important and influential one.
My response, “Tru dat.”
In case you don’t realize what is offensive about that please let me ‘break it down’ for you:
While I am not surprised that there is racism out there surrounding people who ‘sound black’ I am surprised that a major newspaper in this country would basically say that it’s fine and that what needs to change is for Black people to try and ‘sound white’.
The absolute arrogance and xenophobia of telling your grad students that they should have to CHANGE THEIR NAMES in order to get a job is so offensive as to literally have my palms itching.
My response to your “Tru dat” is a big Fuck You.
I was literally speechless after I read this. The utter gall of the man took away my voice for a moment.
Reading the original study made it clear that it was not grammar or slang that made someone sound white or black, it was the pitch, timbre and cadence of the voice. So all things being equal, all grammar being equal there is still a black sound and a white sound. I have no problem with that. I think it’s true in many cases.
But that’s it. After that I say no. I say no to the idea that some man or woman should spend hours trying to change the sound of their voice unless they work in music or network news. I say no to my great-grandmother having to change her last name because some customs official didn’t feel like learning how to pronounce it decades ago and I say no to Shaniqua having to change her name now because people assume she’s a welfare mom with five babies. People should stop being pricks. This isn’t about political correctness; this is about stopping general asshattery.
To the commenters who applauded this article for it’s ‘honesty’ and ‘courage’ I would like to ask you all to lift up your white hoods and take a good look in the mirror.
To the commenters who lamented the necessity for changing your own names and warned that those students who didn’t would be in for a hard road I say that you should be thanking them. It is the hard road they will travel that will make it easier for all of our sons and daughters.

Oh and by the way – yes, James Earl Jones does sound black.

29 Comments:

Doc said...

Just stopping by to say hi G... oh yeah and I love the term 'general asshattery' I need to find more ways to work it into daily conversation.

WNG said...

you really do, Doc. it's part of my plan to take over the world!

NoRegrets said...

I'm so tempted to simply write 'tru dat' in response to your post just to yank your chain, but I really can't be that evil.

I thought they had started moving away from the whole idea of the US as a melting pot - which implies everyone becoming the same - and started using something else. Obviously the writer doesn't agree with that.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

I feel you G, Big Man is always stirring up trouble! *lol* . I don’t have a particularly ethnic name and my school suggests that based on what most graduates look like, that I probably am not black. I have been told, although mostly by blacks, I don’t sound particularly black, which is funny because I don’t think I sound particularly white either.

Anyway the older I get the more I have picked up on the surprise when I show up for an interview or for a job I have gotten over the phone. It’s quick, but the hint of surprise in some white folks’ eyes that I could be the person on my resume is funny. Like wow she’s black. They might be expecting a woman, or even a black woman, but they most certainly are not expecting a glamazon by any means. j/k I definitely wouldn’t try to whiten up my name or sound to get a job. And the mention that we should ,well is a bit much. Sure do I wish we didn’t make up afro-centric names and we really used real ones of course, but hey that’s an AB4AN. –

The thing is that what is it to be white? There are many kinds of white good whites, bad whites, old whites, young whites, smart whites, dumb whites I could go on and on. But it seems somehow only negative blacks exist in this country lazy blacks, dumb blacks, angry blacks, etc. You know the prescription is to be less black as if that is possible, I mean simply by existing we are what it is to be black. Nothing we do will make us be white. And everything we do will make it black.

I mean really if you believe changing your name from Kunta to Toby and then perfecting your cadence to sound like Dave Chapelle’s in white face makes you any more palatable to white folks you are A) stupid B) a moron or C) white. We all know that none of this will change anything. That being black is just that, an irreversible fact no matter how light you can get you skin or straight you can get your hair.

The arrogance to think that it is all that simple or that assimilation is the only means to racial harmony is insulting at its least. Where is the prescription for these empirical facts that suggest whites need to stop identifying blacks with only negative things and that a black voice is just as hirable as any other or that black is not bad?

Thanks for the vent!

Now let me catch up on what’s happening here. Hope you had a good holiday!

-OG

WNG said...

I was thinking about that last night, NoR, and my metaphor was a salad...maybe I'll post on it later, when I'm not so hungry...

and no, you aren't that evil or maybe you're just scared of my pimp slap?

WNG said...

Why is OG always hitting post at the same time I am?!?!?

You're right, he's a trouble maker :-)
Actually, it wasn't his post as mucha s the article and the comments after it that just blew me up! I think you're right and we just have to 'do what we do' but it pisses me off sometimes that guys like that author get thought of as brave for writing a hack piece on a study like that. The study was actually really interesting and could be a window into how America operates - but instead of seriously tackling what this society needs to change to become more inclusive and live up to the Declaration we just celebrated he gives us some bigoted hackneyed idea about appeasement of the most base sides of people.
What could have been a wake up call turned into a lullaby.

Doc said...

I'm so tempted to simply write 'tru dat' in response to your post just to yank your chain

NoR - I actually did type True Dat it but wimped out and erased it... LOL!

Susan said...

Tru dat
















Purely because they wouldn't. ;) I use a different voice when I'm at conventions for work because our clients tend to think I don't know what I'm talking about because of my accent.

WNG said...

Susan haz ballz of stizeel! Doc doesn't. NoR is scared of the pimp slap. So sayeth the G!!!

Seriously though, this is what I mean about being able to use this study as a wake up call. We could all stand to stop and take a look at ourselves and our preconceptions about people(yes, even the Fabulous G) and how that leads us to treat people in a way totally disconnected from actual reality.
Instead we got this. All I have to say is...
Dude, Seriously?

slag said...

People should stop being pricks. This isn’t about political correctness; this is about stopping general asshattery.

I won't say "tru dat", but I will say, "yah...you betcha!"

Seriously, I actually think the study is interesting and valuable. The extrapolations from the study, on the other hand, make me want to punch somebody in the face. I'm so freaking sick of the privileged few telling others how to 'fit in'. Ralph Nader telling Obama how to be Black President. The media telling Clinton how to be White Woman President. When are people going to stand up and start telling these privileged few how they need to be to 'fit in' with the rest of us? Just because our history has given the average white male higher social standing, he thinks it's ok to use that standing to tell others specifically how to act. And while traditionally that is true, the goal isn't to enable that oppressive behavior. The goal is to stop it.

I think we can all get behind certain general standards of decorum and personal responsibility that we can share in order to perpetuate the common good. But when you start telling people how their voice should be or how they should look or how they need to behave in order to fit into very circumscribed categories, you've gone way too far. You've become a jerk. And the rest of us need to call you out as one. (not you, G, of course :)

WNG said...

If I ever write a book I'd love to have you as my ghostwriter, Slag.
"the goal isn't to enable that oppressive behavior. The goal is to stop it."
How does everyone not get that??? It's beyond me.

NoRegrets said...

I"m not scared of your pimp slap! I'll get bossmiggity to go after you!

NoRegrets said...

I was being a sensitive kind woman. I will note I do not have to be so in the future.
hereby noted...

WNG said...

Fine. Is NO ONE scared of the G anymore? Have I completely lost all power???

sniffle...


pout...

I am not Star Jones said...

just got back from the Cape and I'm catching up on my blog reading...
not surprised that the nY times is trying to convince people the only way to get a slice of the poisoned American pie is to do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to make sure that
certain people who baked the poison in the pie feel comfortable and not threatened.

all i can say is ain't gonna happen. i accept that I won't be as successful as people who willingly give up their identities for coin but I've decided to make another choice.

Thank you for riding them hard for their stupidity. And can you imagine what its like to be a non white person working at the Times if this is how they think?

Gye Greene said...

For what it's worth: if you follow the links to the actual report -- http://harrisschool.uchicago.edu/About/publications/working-papers/pdf/wp_08_13.pdf and scroll down to the table at the end (and if you know how to read regression tables!), you'll find that the penalty for "sounding black" is EXACTLY the bonus for being male. So, according to these results an AfrAm female who "sounds white" will earn (on average) the same as an AfrAm male who "sounds black".

Put differently: sexism has the same magnitude of impact as racism. And, I guess, an AfrAm female who sounds black is doubly-disadvantaged.

--GG

Gye Greene said...

Two more thoughts about the article:

1) Actually, "Southern accent" is statistically significant (basically, "a stable result") only if the standardized "aptitude test" scores aren't included. So, it turns out that a Southern accent is somewhat of a proxy for lower standardized test scores; once both are included at the same time, "a Southern accent" loses its impact.

2) Asian students changing names: It's just a pragmatic piece of advice. Just like it's probably not a good idea to wear your "Karl Marx rulz" necktie when you're interviewing for a corporate job.

3) The more I think about this, the more I think there could be **some** reverse causality going on, here: The longer I live in Australia, the more I sound Australian. So, it could be that AfrAms who work in "working class" jobs keep a "working class" accent; whereas AfrAms who work in fancy corporate jobs start talking like their colleagues. Maybe.


--GG

The CEO said...

Hold on, Big Man is not a trouble maker. He is just calling them as he sees them. I'd like to remind you that it was Big Man who brought your attention to the rape of the women in the military. I think he makes an important contribution. Please, no disparaging of Big Man.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

CEO that was a total joke! Just to clarify.

Man G, Big Man has minions too!!

-OG

WNG said...

Wow guys!
Let's take this in order: Not Star, glad you're back!!! (Thanks for rubbing it in about the Cape...appreciate that...) Thank you for standing up and refusing to change who you are.

Gye - You really don't have to explain to me that being black and female puts me at a double disadvantage in the workforce. BUT I'm glad you read the actual report. Way to do some research.
I really cannot go with you on Asian people changing their names. Why? Why can't the rest of us learn to pronounce them - or at least try? It's insulting to a huge group of people. It's like going back to a time when every guy who worked in a Chinese laundry was called Charlie. We need to move forward, not backward.

OK Monty, my first instinct is that you're joking...but in case you aren't I was joking on the fact that Big Man always seems to find the stories that send my BP through the roof - I was in no way blaming him for the stories themselves. Seriously - did he pay you for that?

I know, OG, I'm one of them ;-)

The CEO said...

I can't be bought, but, I can be just as guilty as you in the wry humor department. Besides that, I actually do like Big Man. I just don't comment on his site much. I lurk. Your instincts are pretty good. And I didn't want to emulate trying to sound ....you know what I'm going to say without me writing an essay about which stereotype sounds am I supposed to us. So, fuck it, I decided to defend Big Man. Not that he needs it.

WNG said...

That's fine Monty...
Thought you were supposed to love ME, but that's cool...
Choose Big Man over me - no problem...

sniffle...

pout...

Big Man said...

I have minions!

Who knew?

Yo, your post was nice. I didn't take the time to really hand that dude his ass, but you went ahead and did my work for me. Like I said in my post, I was enjoying that article so much because I was learning something new and interestng, and then I had to deal with his casual racism.

I really hate when that happens. It's like eating a wonderful ice cream sunday and then getting to the bottom of the glass and finding a Band-Aid.


And Gye, I can't get with you on the Asian folks thing either. It may be successful, but I'm sure it costs a part of your soul. I think there is a reason Barack stopped going by "Barry."

WNG said...

Yeah, Big Man, my minions don't fight for me...but whatever.

There's also historical implications to the Asian name change in America. (At one time or another most ethnic groups have had to deal with this, but it was usually the last name - like D'Andrade turning into Andrews in may family. Something about calling an entire race of people Charlie just bugs the shit out of me. And then telling their decendants that you're going to do the same thing to them, FOR THEIR OWN GOOD seems like the most base hypocrisy and racism. You're doing it because you don't want to learn how to pronounce the name. At least be honest.

um...ok...rant over...

His Sinfulness said...

The students who end up changing their names have had to make the tough choice to join the sytem or fight it. I applaud the fighters, and my heart goes out to the joiners...

His Sinfulness said...

The students who end up changing their names have had to make the tough choice to join the sytem or fight it. I applaud the fighters, and my heart goes out to the joiners...

Gye Greene said...

Hi, all!


To clarify:

Re: Asian folks changing their names.

For my personal politics, I totally try to pronounce folks' names they way they're **supposed** to be pronounced -- whether Asian, Euro, or whatever. My roots are near enough to Ellis Island that I know that my (Norwegian) grandma's maiden name was totally truncated (dunno if it was her family's choice, or done by some official). And there's a family story of a Japanese great-aunt (back in the 1930s?) in their rural one-room schoolhouse, where the new teacher said, "Your name's Chie? I can't pronounce THAT: you're Susan." (!!!)

Rather: the professor wasn't saying "this is a good thing" or "this is a bad thing." It's just personal politics vs. pragmatics: Asian students can either stand on their politics and decrease their odds of getting hired; or they can choose to (strategically) conform -- at least, while on the job market -- and up their chances of getting hired.

I wouldn't think less of a gay man or woman deciding to keep their homosexuality under wraps until AFTER the hiring decision.


Plus: In acadamia, you're hired based on teaching + research. Having an "ethnic" first name is a sign -- yes, it is -- that you're a recent immigrant (code for "lectures with a strong accent"). Having an "Anglo" first name is code for "American-born, and thus has no accent." Ex: "Takeo Yamaguchi" vs. "Frank Yamaguchi."

No, it's not fair.

But, and advisor would be remiss in pointing out to a student going out on the job market the things that will increase -- and decrease -- their chances of getting hired.

Again: personal politics and ethics, vs. pragmatism. If you do something because you want to fight (or change) the system -- and you're willing to wear the consequences: more power to you. But if you do it because you're young and cocky and don't think that your advisor knows what she/he is talking about: again, you wear the consequences.


The advisor wasn't racist: he was acknowledging a racist world.


(Phew...!)


--GG

Gye Greene said...

Yeah, I just can't leave this alone... :)

The advisor was telling people to change their FIRST names, not their family names. So, he wasn't saying to hide the ethnicity (via the surname); leave that alone. Rather, he suggested modding their GIVEN name (i.e. first name).

Among immigrants to the U.S. (I can't speak for all nations), the trend seems to be that U.S.-born kids get named what the parents view as "American" names (which is basically "Anglo").

So, "Giovanni Anglessi" will be assumed to be an immigrant, and speak with an accent, whereas "Johnny Anglessi" will not.


(Good stuff; I appreciate the discussion that G's post has generated.)


--GG

WNG said...

Gye, do you honestly believe that anyone could live in this country for more than a week and not know that changing their first name to some whitebread thing would help them? Let alone be born and raised here and not know? Do you think they didn't go to school with a Susie Chen or a Harold Wu? Do you think they didn't understand from the time they were in KINDERGARTEN?

He was advising them to change who they are to for the comfort of racist superiors in the workplace. He wasn't saying, hey - I'm really sorry, but if you don't change your name you might run into some trouble and I want to prepare you for that - here is why it is ILLEGAL and here is how you fight it if you want to. He was saying 'this is what you should do - make the white folks feel better and you'll do fine'.
Was he calling out those in academia or business to change their behavior? No - he was telling his students to support it.
These people realize the row they will have to hoe. They don't need him to tell them there is racism in this country, believe me when I tell you there is not one non-white person here who doesn't know it and feel it every day.
I can understand the students who decided to change their names, like HS I feel for them. I realize that the ones who did not may have a tougher time of it. I am not casting any judgements at all on them - it is a very difficult personal choice.
But this professor was so wrong that it is sickening to me. You talked about what your ancestors had to go through at Ellis island and I posted about my own family's name change, this is not something new. They did it to the Native Americans, to enslaved Africans, to Eastern Europeans, to Spanish, to Portugese, to the Chinese and Japanese, over and over the Anglos have forced everyone to try to 'be like mike'.
It saddens and sickens me that in this day and age we still think it's ok. That we don't look on it with abhorrence. It is their name. Your assertion that it isn't as bad because it's a first name would strip a woman who was going to get married of the entire identity she was born with - did you think about that?
Did you think about how much you would sell your identity for?
How much is your name worth to you, Gye?