Saturday, October 6, 2012

Scandal as black man has a black accent

In the latest shocking evidence of something or other that right-wing pundits have dug up, Barack Obama has been captured on film in 2007, addressing a black audience and playing up certain "black"characteristics in his voice. And this is important because... I'm not sure exactly.
The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Oh the Spew-Hannity
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Is Obama's accent really that different when talking to the black audience? I don't really think so, but in any case, it's something I don't find particularly unusual. It's called code-switching, and its something that a lot of people do unconsciously. Particularly bicultural people, or those who navigate between different cultures.

For my own part, I speak differently when I'm around people who don't speak English very well. Every time I go to Malaysia, I have a vaguely Malaysian accent after being there about 2 days. I call people "mate" when around working class white Australians, but use "man" when around younger or more ethnic peoples. And having just been intensively watching repeats of The Wire, more and more bits and pieces of ebonics are creeping into my speech. And all this is pretty much unconscious. It just happens, because like many other people I tend to attune to whoever I'm around. So I'm not at all surprised that somone like Obama does it.

Excellent article on this by John McWhorter at The New Republic.


  1. It is a different accent, but that shouldn't be such a big deal. Malcolm X was the same way--he felt freer when talking to a black audience, and he spoke more in "standard" English when talking to white people.

  2. Yeah, most of us who engage in different cultures and different languages do code-switching. That's what people do.

  3. that was an awesome vid! I'd like to see Mitt Romney speak to a classroom full of 3rd graders or his wife in the bedroom in the exact same way he'd speak to a room full of 50 year old politicians or the Queen of England, jus sayin'.