Today, I want to tell you about a subject close to my heart since a young age and for which it is time to react: my accent and the accents in general. I have always had the “Ivorian accent”, which bother some people, including family and friends. According to them, beauty standards is more than the physical attributes, it also encompasses your personality.
In today’s society, a young light skin lady with curly hair and almost matching the Caucasian beauty type (which is sold in the media as the norm) can’t have an accent other than the Caucasian one. Otherwise, people will point the finger at her and she will be marginalized. The world we live in is pretty sad.
Of course I think that this reasoning is ridiculous. It would imply that a person’s phenotype defines the accent she/he “must” have. I usually have people telling me that my accent doesn’t match the way I look. My response to them is: what about the Black Africans who spent their whole lives in France and who perfectly speak Moliere language with no African accent? Does it shock you? Is it that they should have a “Bledards accent” just because they are black?
In fact, we all have an accent, whether it is the French accent, the British accent, American accent or African accent to name few. Despite this diversity, it appears that there are some accents that people tolerate less. I have an African accent, an Ivorian accent that I love. And I certainly do not want to lose it. I was born and raised in Ivory Coast. It is only at the age of 16 that I moved to France. My accent is part of me, of who I am. Unfortunately, people are shocked by that accent and others are making it a big deal, thinking that it is a liability, while I personally see my accent as an aspect of my personality to preserve.
THE FASHION AND BEAUTY INDUSTRY IN FRANCE: KILL THE AFRICAN ACCENT
I recently met an influential public figure in TV broadcasting who also works on prestigious beauty events. He saw potential in me, was willing to open doors for me but made it clear that I couldn’t reach the top with that accent.
“You are beautiful, classy, looking like a Latina. But when you open your mouth, you break the myth”. Those are his word.
This comment was not only diminishing, but it also implies that classiness, charisma and elegance are only for non-African women since Africa can’t be associated beauty. Indeed, he said: ”you are too beautiful to have an African accent”.
According to him (or her), if I ever look to pursue a career on TV broadcasting with my African accent, I should look into African productions so that my audience won’t have any issue understanding me. In other words, for him and the people sharing the same opinion, to have this sense of fulfillment and succeed in life, we should adapt our accent to our phenotype and the audience?
Another annoying comment I got: “You have a shot for Miss France, but not with your accent, unless you want a guaranteed spot on all TV bloopers if you ever win.” I am really sad that people have this kind of thought in 2018, sad that Africans are still everyone’s clowns.
How can the identity of a people be used to make fun of them?
And you know what? Some models from Eastern Europe have a stronger accent than me but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone nor being an liability. But for some reason, the accent of half-black or Black models does.
As time flies, I understood that the comments were made in an attempt to hurt me and cause me to change to finally become what the French society expects me to be. When it comes to the possibility of me competing for Miss France or appearing on French TV shows, this same public figure’s thought was: “ Your tremendous untapped TV potential is wasted by your accent”.
I was once told the message sent by the “contrast” between my accent and my looks is:
”Be beautiful and shut up”.
And again, that suggests that we, Africans, have no understanding nor soft skills.
Are we unintelligible?
Oh, of course! You don’t look too far to see it: on TV, there are always subtitles when an African speaks. Personally, I find that sometimes they put subtitles when there is no need for it, which then become abusive a sense.
Without pretention, I speak clearly I speak and I always make sure not to be rude, which is why I am quite confused when I hear those comments about my accent. Therefore, I categorically don’t tolerate this lack of respect just because the society thinks that my accent sounds weird and “contrasts with how I look”.
To be a commentator or TV presenter, you have to do more than just speak clearly: you need to clearly articulate, regulate the words speed and flow etc. And I get that. But I do not accept the fact that a person’s accent – which by the way is a trait of personality – counts in the criteria used to decide whether or not this person can fill a position. After hearing the same comments over and over from French people essentially, I end up believing that they don’t accept diversity. They can’t take it, so they can’t deal with it in their relationships. They keep being mockers and getting people frustrated. Aren’t you noticed that people don’t laugh at the accent of the Frenchmen despite the fact that they are pretty bad in foreign languages? Rather, they are flattered to see them trying and take the effort to speak their language as a sign of respect.
But how come that the French is so mocker when a foreigner speaks French with a different accent, especially when this foreign turns to be an African?
All those remarks added to my reticence to take part to Miss France when one member of the comity approached me. I am proud to be French to, but I refuse to associate my image to a contest that is not ready to accept diversity. Indeed, I believe that being French is more that being white with straight hair and the “So Frenchie” accent.
Today, there is so much diversity in the French society that it is about time for people to open their eyes and ears to accept this fact. Ironically, the “anti-diversity” comments are from those who always claim to “promote diversity”. They promote diversity when it can benefit them and help them build a good reputation. And even when they do, the “diversity” they promote is restrictive and solely based on their criteria, so doesn’t reflect the reality.
Let’s come back in the fashion industry with another experience I had with my accent. During my castings, I sometimes narrowly failed to get big advertising contracts. At first, those failures made me question my ability to succeed in the industry. But later on, I realized that those contracts I missed were the ones for which I had to talk. Pure coincidence? I don’t mean that I didn’t get those contracts just because of my accent, but I am sure that it weighted a lot in the final decision.
Like I always said, “Whether it is in France or any other part of the world, anything related to Africa is not seen as lucrative”. So we not only have to match the industry standards (being white, with straight hair and no curves), but now have to get rid of our African accents? Since the advertisers expect the model to get into the character, the artistic team pay greater attention to details. And I get that. However, I got selected for advertising when I just had to be me and follow a script. It is clear that my “so African” personality doesn’t meet the advertisers’ expectations”. So I should “either abide by the rule or pass”.
I met another experienced public figure in TV broadcasting to discuss my career perspective in this sector. And one more time, the speech left me speechless:
“ You going to the United States of America is a thoughtful decision. By practicing your English day after day, you will end up losing your African accent and finally being noticed by French broadcasting productions… “
LOL! This logic is distressing and made me laugh. Tell me how can someone possibly lose his accent overnight? I still have my accent after spending 8 years in France, which I am proud of. All that drama around the accent summarized something that makes me really sad: according to people, I had the “back luck” to have the wrong accent, the accent of a dominated and not very well-known people. Because I can assure you that I would have never gone through this if I had the Swiss, Belgian or Canadian accent. In fact, everyone would have found my accent cute and sexy.
Unfortunately, real self-esteem and identity problems emerged from seeing the same accent advertised in the media. Indeed, I met more and more people who changed their accent only to fit within the society. In Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) for instance, it is frequent to see black women burry their African accent after marrying a white man and adopt their companion’s. In Ivorian slang, this social phenomenon of speaking like white people is called “Chocobi”.
You will often hear Ivorian say “ Il chocooo hein“, that means that the person forces himself/herself to speak with an accent that is not his, which is usually the accent of white people. I personally think that this is just an inferiority complex. People are trying to reach an ideal that is not accessible to them. We can’t blame them when we see the message spread by the media,
It is sad to reject who you are, your personality. This African accent is part of the African legacy. Instead of being ashamed, we should be promoting it !
LIVE WITH AN AFRICAN ACCENT
“Default on the product”, “ A French lady who speaks as a countrywomen”, “Come on, that sounds is nothing like you”. “It is really strange that the one with the lighter skin got the strongest accent”, “I was shocked when you spoke”, “You are just imitating the accent, right ?”
Those are some of the comments I got mostly from half-black and black people when they first meet me. I can’t blame them; they are the results of the society’s brainwashing. This society convinced them that to each phenotype match an accent, thus I can’t possibly have this “African” accent.
Those statements picture the hatred, low self-esteem, an internalize racism we inflict to ourselves. People will start respecting us when we will stop diminishing ourselves and become proud of every aspect of our culture.
Something everyone should be aware of: individuals don’t get to choose their accent. They get it from the environment in which they grew up. Making fun of an accent won’t change it but it can cause them to sink in an unhealthy silence, preventing them to feel fulfill and live peacefully.
BEING A MANAGER OR AN EXECUTIVE IN A COMPANY
Models are not the only victims of this discrimination. It is common to see it in the business world too where it seems that there is no room for the “African accent” Some of my friends confessed me that during interviews, they had no choice but to adopt an accent that sounds more “white” to have a chance to be hired. So my friends had to abide by the rules of the dictator (here the employer) in order to fulfill their biological and psychological needs: food, a place to stay and clothes to wear.
In 2018, despite current laws against discrimination, those are still common practices that prevent people for being personally and professionally fulfilled. It is the recruiter’s responsibility to be objective during the hiring process and based his selection criteria on the candidate’ degrees, skills and experience.
Finally, to those who feel diminished because of their accent or the way they speak: be yourself and stay who you are! This singularity is your strength so embrace it!
That is how we could make the world a better place, a world of peace, tolerance and the sense of community.
Everyday I pray God to change the mentalities so that we can all live together in one unified society.
To those who laughed at me, diminished me because they found that my accent was savage and didn’t match my appearance, here are the good news: I love my accent and I plan to keep it forever. And that is not only it: I plan to realise my full potential with my authenticity because being who I am makes me strong and different from what the society expects! Yes, a light skin lady looking like a Latina, with curly hair and an Ivorian accent, pretty unusual, right? Well, I embrace this touch of originality because it doesn’t go unnoticed and tell my story: who I am and where I am from
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