Mo' Colored

Oprah and Obama (no additional names necessary) hit the campaign trail this weekend. I saw clips of them speaking at a rally in South Carolina, attended mostly by black people. For some reason both parties feel it's necessary to take on a speech pattern that sound more down-home, or, if you will, black.

Has anyone else noticed this? And does it annoy you as much as it does me? I've seen Oprah slip into dialect occasionally on her show (especially if she's interviewing someone black), but at least she's not running for office. When a political candidate changes his manner of speaking to suit the audience, it rings phony to me. There's no drawl in Obama's voice when he's involved in a debate. The man doesn't even have southern roots, for crying out loud.

Personally, I think this sort of thing will backfire on them, and I wish they'd both cut it out and speak like they normally do.


Shelia said...

I want folks to speak like they normally would...If I see that the person changes their dialect to fit what they perceive to be a certain audience, then it does look like their intentions are phony.

On the flipside, if I'm in say south Louisiana for over a day, I start speaking the dialect of some of my friends...and it is unintentional. So, I said all of that to say, I will try to give them the benefit of the doubt...but then again :)

Reon said...

Hey Bettye,
I chuckled when I read your post:-) Not sure what was up with Obama, but Oprah has often joked about her tendency to do this, slip into the dialect of the person she's interviewing sometimes. I don't think it's about race with her though, because she's done it with people such as Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, too. I think it's more of a southern thing. And she has southern roots (Mississippi and Tennessee) so that probably has something to do with why she's attracted to trying it out again when she gets the chance. She does lots of southern "Madea-isms" when Tyler Perry is on her show, too. Lots of people say they tend to slip back into an old familiar dialect when they go home or are around people who speak that way.

DonnaD said...

I don't think it's a conscious thing on Obama's part. When I was in college, my roommates often accused me of changing my voice depending on who I was talking to, taking on a more "casual" tone talking to my mother, a "southern" tone talking to my then-sister-in-law, or speaking more "European" around them (they were white). If I'm talking to someone with a southern accent, I'll sometimes slip into the same mode.

I don't think he does it on purpose; I think it's something in the brain that makes you try to blend in to make those around you feel comfortable talking to you. I think it's more perceptible to those of us on the outside looking in.

bettye griffin said...

Shelia, Reon, Donna . . . thanks for sharing your observations. I'll cut Oprah some slack - she does, after all, have roots in the South, being born in Mississippi and raised in Tennessee. But I still think this can backfire on Obama, who's straddling a difficult position of trying to appeal to all voters while being accused in some black circles of not being black enough. I can't help thinking he might be doing this deliberately to try to prove "I'm as black as the rest of y'all." He is, of course, but he doesn't need the speech gimmicks to do it. If he starts sounding like JoJo from the 'hood, he's going to lose white votes. The safest way to navigate any tricky situation is usually just to be yourself. There's nothing wrong with sounding "down home," but nor is there anything wrong with speaking like you're anchoring the network news. The speech characteristics Obama demonstrated this weekend are just out of place in a man raised in Asia and sound affected to me.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

I watched them in Iowa and I didn't hear a lot of slipping and dialect from either of them. So, it must be an audience thing. That said, I have never been to the Caribbean in my life but I have had West Indian best friends from grade school to graduate school. I've hung out with their families and I often find myself breaking out into a West Indian dialect at no matter who I'm around. I also break out into southern dialects too. Both are for effect or to stress what ever point I want to stress. They are pretty much a part of me though. I do it no matter who I'm around. And often I do it when I'm talking to characters in a book or on TV. But that's a whole other story... LOL.


Patricia W. said...

Yeah, I think it's the dialect slipping thing. I know I do it. Very NY when in NY. More Midwest with my Cinti girlfriends. Starting to take on a Southern thing down here in FL. And don't even begin to mention when the West Indian side of the family and the Panamanian sides are in the same place!

I remember an Africana studies professor talking about how all African-Americans are multi-lingual, and that we have to be in order to move successfully between the boardroom and the hood.

bettye griffin said...

Gwyneth, I don't think there's a phony bone in your body!

Patricia, your post reminded me of a Panamanian woman who was on a bus trip down to the outlet mall in Fort Lauderdale with me. I thought it odd that her accent sounded more like Jamaica than a Spanish-speaking country! She was sitting with a woman from the Caribbean, which might explain it.

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that the dialect slipping thing can happen unintentionally. I was born and breed as a northerner, but I moved to the south a few years ago, within months I realized I'd picked up the twang! It wasn't intentional or meant to mock, it's just when that is what you are hearing, it's what you repeat back.

bettye griffin said...

I guess everybody's different. I lived in Florida for 17 years and in Illinois for nearly 2, and people stillask me, "New York or New Jersey?" I guess I'll never be able to get rid of my Noo Yawk twang!

Thanks for posting . . . whoever you are! (reminiscent of Jimmy Durante . . . but chances are you don't remember him or what he used to say!)