Growing up, I used the word “y’all” pretty loosely. As I got older, I consciously used it less and less until it disappeared from my vernacular altogether about ten years ago. When someone in Colorado or Oklahoma would say I don’t have a Texas accent, I would take that as a high compliment, though people have noted that a few words slip through with a hint of Texas. Words like pillow “pellow”, museum “muzam”, or seal “sill” still divulge my roots.
In the past year or so, I have revisited this situation in my mind. After listening to an NPR segment about a crime scene clean up company whose owner intentionally used a false southern accent in efforts to get people to trust him quickly. It immediately forms a connection with the grieving families and loved ones who needed so much comfort, albeit in a dishonest way. Since I heard that podcast, I’ve been thinking about the erasure of my roots by eliminating “y’all” and other words and phrases that make me sound like I hail from Texas (hello, “fixin to”). Snobby as it is, I thought I would sound more educated and intelligent if I spoke in a more neutral accent. Now I’m realizing that not only do I sacrifice the warmth that comes with a southern accent, I am attempting to erase my roots. I am not one of those die hard Texas fans who live, love, and breathe Texas. I had a very privileged upbringing in North Texas, in a very upper white, middle class home town. Growing up there with supportive parents gave me a leg up in a way that others not from a cisgender, white, town with large bank accounts do not have. But even when I was a preteen (do we still use that word? It’s pretty awful), I dreamed of leaving Texas because I just felt different. But I don’t look like I don’t belong there.
Recently, a close friend pointed out to me that I have the look of a trustworthy, white woman with good, white teeth. And a nose ring and tattoos is not going to derail my girl next door look. Looking like I do is a privilege. I can walk into a room full of white people and ask them for their time and money for a cause and they won’t think I’m motivated by poverty or ill intentions. I won’t get hit with the ubiquitous “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” response. I can fly under the radar in cisgender, heteronormative crowds. I can speak to Caucasian baby boomers about the queer community because I look like a white baby boomer myself. It is a huge privilege to look and sound like I was raised in the community in which I was raised. I’m noticing since that humbling conversation that I’ve taken privilege for granted. There is a privilege to being white and to looking like the girl next door. My white privilege often makes me feel guilty, but that shouldn’t keep me from acknowledging that it’s ever present. That it systematically allows me opportunities I would not have otherwise. And I can no longer ignore my own privilege by insisting that it’s actually a negative thing to look and speak the way I do.
Thanks for letting me share,