Thursday, April 12, 2012

We're Southern... not stupid


Over the course of the past few weeks, significant shade has been thrown at Ben Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin's family. Attorney Crump is not a natural orator and his Southern seeps into every single (and sometimes extra) syllable. Many have assumed that because his speech is so very "Urban Floridian" that this somehow reflects his legal prowess and/or brain power. It's both an insult and a mistake to assume this. 

I don't know how many of you heard Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Magic Johnson or Deion Sanders (countless others) back in the day before the professional speech coaches got hold of them. Not. Pretty. I mention this to say that Mr. Crump requires a speech coach or a smoother spokesperson and nothing more. I'll admit when I first heard Mr. Crump, I longed for the silver-tongued effervescence of Johnnie Cochran. And then I went and looked up brother Crump's bio.

He has quite the track record of impressive wins and tackling improbable causes and coming out on top. He has worked hand in hand with Rev Al, Rev Jesse and other activists to shine light on racial injustice. He is considered a bright and talented legal mind with a shimmering future ahead. And he wears a navy suit rather well. (Sorry, just a sidebar. Moving on...)

As a child of the South, I grew up amongst a variety of accents and dialects. My mother speaks a very crisp combination of polished Baltimoran and syrupy Georgian. My father spoke British West Indian. I went to private school for the first 10 years of education so my Texan only comes out with I'm tired, tipsy or around a whole lot of twanging. 

I distinctly remember in my teens being on a group trip to New York where the other teens asked us, "So do you have horses and stuff? You sound like you live on a ranch." And they were stunned when we wiped the floor with them at the academic decathlon. 

Don't let the accent fool you. 

I will admit that I cringe (we were having this discussion on Twitter the other day) when I hear folks adding an R (or an R-uh) in where none sat previously. What is an uRsher board? Or when someone adds an extra "ed" to the end of a conjugated verb "I loveded you, girl!" Hearing the English language mangled unapologetically  sets my teeth on edge but I'd never mistake it for lack of intelligence. Lack of polish? Yes. Naivete that "others" won't hear that mangled speech and be dismissive? Yes. 

So I do see both sides. As a Southerner, I get how a pronounced accent tends to send a certain message. As a Southerner who was drilled on "proper" speech patterns and enunciation, it's a sore point when others in the public eye don't do the same. But I can't shade a man for his diction when his dedication and delivery of service are so on point.

Just had to share. Thoughts, comments, insights?

38 comments:

Jeannette said...

Yikes.... i do sympathize with brother man.  Seems like up to now his accent never got in the way of winning a case.  However, it's just one of those ugly stereotypes that some Southern accents, especially hoodish southern accents immediately gives off a perception that the person is not intelligent.

Sometimes it's not even the Southern accent.  There's been many times i'm watching a reality TV show and there's subtitles for some Black folks I can perfectly understand.  I mean WTF.

ShawnSoze said...

*holds up lighter in solidarity with all my Florida/Georgia brethren*
My parents sent me to private school as well. The accent struggle is real.

Suzie S said...

Born and raised around a combination of Mexican and Texan dialects. Never forget the day one of my teachers told me I sounded like I had a future at a Taco Bell drive thru window. I rounded my vowels and slowed my delivery cadence after that. But I totally feel this post.

JJai said...

I simply hate the way he was Mart-IN..Lawd, it tries my nerves but I have refrained from uttering a word against Mr. Crump til' now :)

Raised in Alabama but not allowed to let the Southern drawl overtake my enunciation of the King's English :)

TrulyPC said...

"I don't know how many of you heard Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Magic Johnson or Deion Sanders (countless others) back in the day before the professional speech coaches got hold of them. Not. Pretty. "  Ha!  I remember.My daughter sighs every time I correct her grammar and speech pattern (teen-speak drives me nuts) because she feels it distracts from what she is trying to share with me.  When people use poor grammar it does interfere with my ability to focus on what they are trying to say.  Accents and dialects are not a problem.

Only1DivaC said...

I'm with you on that accent struggle. I moved around a lot when I was little so I have that Southern/Midwest/East Coast accent going on. However, based on what everybody tells me I just sound country when I speak, so I consciously slow down when I'm speaking to people. But like you it will slip out in a minute when I have some libations in me or around my kinfolk.

tishatweets said...

I didn't hear him yesterday, but I've heard him before. For me, it's not the accent that makes him sound suspect (the great loves of my life have had them so I'm actually quite the fan), it's how he arranges his words. He's not eloquent at all and he definitely needs some help with that if he's going to be in the public eye.

CaliGirlED said...

 O_O!!! I hope someone gave her an apple with a worm in it!

GammasWorld said...

*Guilty* of thinking the brother had a serious accent but in no way did I mean to infer he was not intelligent.  I made a comment on the twitter about the need for a Mr.-Cochran-like-lawyer but I meant that camera presence and smoothness that Mr. Cochran cultivated over the years -- nothing a coach can't help with.  The southern accent struggle is real.  I have that "no accent mid-western accent" (Ohio) unless I talk "southern" purposefully.  I hear it all day every day from Blacks and Whites.   Thre's something different about having an accent and just plain using the wrong dang words though.  That's not a regional issue -- that's just I didn't pay attention during English class issue.  My granddaughter, bless her southern-born heart, said something to me one day and I bout fell over ... it was the most southern twang I had ever heard come from her mouth.  She pronounced the word correctly, but that accent!  I realized then, oh lawds my Peanut is straight country. 

TypeALady said...

Florida born military brat over here. I can pick up and drop an accent in a heartbeat. However, having a mother who also doubles as a Speech and Language Pathologist, there was a small margin of error for less than stellar elocution.

Mo said...

Listen, I have zero comments. My Kenya accent( a combination of 3  local languages, add swahili) is all over my spoken english. I just thought he is not media polished.

GrownAzzMan said...

Agree completely.

AppleBerryMIA said...

My mother shoved all of us into "charm school" - we spent three weeks on "Elocution and Diction" alone. As the instructor said "It's hard to be taken seriously when you sound like you've got marbles in your mouth" - Sigh. Even when I try to lapse into slang today, she gives me the side eye of all side eyes.

thinklikeRiley said...

I speak Inglewood and BK and Bouge.
Dude Crump took a case no one was trying to touch and help spin it into a national media event. All props to him. It's not his fault we are hard-wired to cringe when POC get on TV sounding country/hood/urban/whatever. But now that he's on this stage, he need's to tighten that game up. For reals. No shade. Just truth.

CaliGirlED said...

The Southern accent struggle is real! Yeah I know you're thinking what does a girl from Los Angeles, Califiornia know about a Southern accent! Well growing up in the hood and under the HEAVY influence of a family straight out of Mississippi, I know it all too well. And to spread the icing on the cake, my mom is from New Orleans. Let's just say it would never be good for me to visit both places within the same trip because I pick up the dialect instantly!  (I ain't playin no!)...I'm usually ok with the King's English unless I'm real chill with my folks or upset. But you all know I love "country talk"! (And I never mean that in a demeaning way.) I just think it's another one of those stereotypes or generalizations of a group of people.

But even though bad speech or an accent of some sort does not necessarily equal lack of intelligence, I would BESEECH the NBA and NFL to make speech coaches more available to (hell a requirement of) the athletes who prior to making millions for a team were seen and not heard.

bashowell said...

I'm originally from the Eastern Shore of Maryland where the predominant accent is Tidewater.  The most godawful collection of vowels and consonants in life.  Fortunately my mother isn't from there and my dad, though from there, went to school during segregation and the black schools enforced proper diction and elocution so he didn't pick up most of the horridness.  So most of that missed my sisters and myself.  A little of it seeps in when I'm tired, but for the most part I sound white...so I've been told -_-. 

As far as Crump, I didn't doubt his intelligence but I surely did cringe and wish he had a coach. 

La said...

I too went to private school as a kid, so I learned the King's English, but you can still very much tell I'm from Georgia. There are still certain words I have to think about to say correctly; dog (pronounced like dawg), Mississippi (MIS-sippi), today (TUH-daye). It taught me not to judge, so when I saw the comments about Atty Crump I just shook my head. I'm more interested in his track record than his dialect.

Kitadiva2 said...

Accent struggle?  That is so funny to me.  GA born, raised and got the accent to prove it.  Perhaps I did not catch all of these issues with Mr. Crump because to me, he is speaking with the diction that he is accustomed to,  and he has the  gumption to go all in to back it up.   The truth is, these smooth talking attorneys did not. show. up. and put their reps on the line - he did.  There is nothing country about him - he comes from another place where how he speaks is the norm.  Fitting in is not his concern, doing an excellent job and demanding justice for his client is though and he has that on lock. 

For the record, folks from other regions  sound all out of sorts to me and other southerners  too.  Yep, I laugh when I hear other accents and pick at how certain words are  pronounciated - but check it, I don't issue an insult about who the person is or what they can do because of it.  I don't assume you are unintelligent, backward, stupid, country, a bama etc. because you talk differently or live differently - you are simply different and it is both funny and cool to me.    To me, this is just another way to seperate us  (black folks) and frankly, looking at all the killing etc. of black folks with no justice offered across the US and world, we really can't afford to participate in this kind of division and underestimation of each other.    I'm just sayin'. 

mickmicki said...

*sigh*. Country grammar....all up and through hurr..I know that I am annoyed when folks make assumptions about my ability to do my job because of my dialect. Dialect struggle is for real.

That being said, I did let down the shade (a little bit) with Mr. Crump. I did opine that perhaps the family should consider a shiny, slick attorney if they are going to file civil suits against Zimmerman, the subdivision, and the city of Sanford. *hangs head in shame*

Thanks for the post.

Grace said...

My cousin plays in the NFL and is pretty high profile. The first thing his agent did was get him an "image handler"  speech, diction, posture, wardrobe - all "tidied for mass consumption. Lamentable that it's necessary but he wouldn't have his endorsements without it.

SingLikeSassy said...

You know, I read his bio before I heard him speak and  already knew he was impressive and as a result, just figured when he was emotional he had a hard time code switching. 

CaliGirlED said...

Anyone remember Lester Hayes, Los Angeles Raiders #37 in the 80's? I loved his game but cringed every time they would interview him, which they did much too often. Or so it seemed.

Michele said...

I saw him GMA this morning and I remembered all the hoopla surrounding his intelligence.  All I could think was, "Stupid people don't attend and graduate from law school."   **shrugs**

blackprofessor said...

I am glad I wasn't the only one who noticed his verbal troubles.  IMO, it isn't his accent but his diction needs more polish and he needs to enunciate more clearly.  It is obvious that he is very passionate about what he is doing but he does need some help with his public speaking.  

nylse said...

i'm sorry, but did you really mean pronounciated????

no comment said...

I believe Atty Crump has a speech problem that I am not sure a speech coach an help with. He has a thick tongue/lisp something. He is from my home state of NC. 

GrownAzzMan said...

Lester had a speech impediment. He got some therapy later on though...

CaliGirlED said...

 Yeah I know, but it would hurt my feelings to see him struggle like that. I heard him after the therapy, major improvement.

Kitadiva2 said...

At work, writing fast response, made a mistake. Oh well.  LOL.

Marioned said...

Accents I can  take,  poor grammar is a different subject.   As a professional, you do yourself such a disservice by not speaking Standard English.  My Mother was an English teacher, so at an early age I was corrected.    I agree that it is not an intelligence issue. 

M said...

I have been telling folks to not let Crumps slow talking Southern Twang fool  ya. The man is sly like a fox!

M said...

 You're make the assumption that most white people speak correct (or) standard English. You must aint been to Georgia then (ebonically speaking). White folks here don't speak any language you can understand. However I don't judge people, I tell most people that I can write standard English far better than I can speak it. I like hearing different accents, I am always fascinated by culture and languages.

M said...

I'm still laughing. We've had this argument within my family many times about the use or misuse of the English language and when it is necessary to speak "proper" (mainly in a professional setting) and when it is not necessary. It gets quite heated and some disagree with changing ones dialect to fit the occasion. But when we are together as a family it is "straight up country" no proper speaking necessary.

M said...

 FUNNY!

M said...

 Yeah my parents were born in Georgia but moved to Florida. I was born in Florida. My mom use to get mad at us when we called her relatives "country" and how country "they talked'. We still use the term he or she is talkin' "Georgia" or they "dress Georgia" meaning downright country. Of course I love my Georgia folks with all of the Southern drawl and twang. Guess where I am living now. Right "Georgia"! My fondest memories are vacationing in Georgia with my country relatives.

Carol said...

Southern drawl, twang, speech patterns, and enunciation...whatever...God is on the throne.

SassyJJ said...

Ahhhhhhhh!  I went to college with B. Crump's brother...aaaaaaand that North Carolina is very engrained in their speaking!!   This family is very dedicated and just awesome!  

Chree Carr said...

My dad spoke to me about going into media/image consulting
for athletes when I was working on my degree in PR.  I regret not pursuing that now because some
of these athletes are pure cringeworthy. 

I was born and raised in a small town in West Texas
so I'm familiar with the struggle.  It wasn't until college that I
understood the accent and its relationship to perceived
intelligence.   I don't doubt Crump's intelligence or his passion for
this case, but it's hard to ignore him when he speaks.  At one point he
used the word 'ignant' and I was speechless.  He just needs a speech coach
and media consultant to make him more polished in public forums. 

In the end, the comments shouldn’t outweigh what he has done for the Martin
family.

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