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Accentuating Diversity - With Accents!

23/11/2016 16:55
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I have a voice, and I'm using it. As a young Caribbean/Asian working class girl living in Yorkshire, I have faced plenty of prejudice - and a fair amount of it because of the way I talk. I remember being told that I would never be able to become a broadcaster. "Don't even attempt to get into the media!" they laughed. Why? Because I was too working class, a person of colour, female, and worse still - I had a Yorkshire accent with a twang of Asia and the Caribbean! Working in the media? With my voice? It would never happen!

We would hope that things had moved on from the 1950's days of BBC presenters using 'Received Pronunciation' - the Queen's English - or 'posh' accents, on TV and radio. After all, regional accents are acceptable now, aren't they? At least on local TV and radio. But these days, with most professionals in the media still being white middle-class men from London or the Home Counties, many working-class people are still told, as I was, that their 'foreign', regional or local accents are unacceptable.

OK, there are some exceptions. Rare individuals like 'Lorraine Kelly' have made it, although even she had to tone down her Glaswegian Gorbals accent. But starting out, if a working-class kid with a local accent wants to have a long shot at making it in media, they are often told that they have to change themselves - and since their voice is their instrument of expression - change their accent.

Many people have made the decision to take elocution lessons or work with a voice coach to change how they talk. To my way of thinking, they dilute their identity and uniqueness, whilst turning their backs on their upbringing and neighbours. They deny their history. I do understand why people hire voice coaches, and I do respect their choice in doing so. Many people dislike the assumptions made about them because of their accents.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary has suffered terrible abuse on social media, being called 'thick', 'common' and worse, because of her Northern accent. She remains resolute in retaining her own voice, but such viciousness from other people must sting her and shake her self-confidence.

I know I am judged because I'm a woman, a person of colour and, of course, because of my accent, yet I have decided not to opt for working with a voice coach. I don't want to change. This is me, take it or leave it. In my case, the mixture of my Yorkshire and Caribbean background evident in my voice is part of my cultural identity. Without it, I wouldn't be myself.

I have appeared on radio and television news programmes. I have listened to and watched my performance played back. Of course, my accent is in evidence! But I'm frankly more concerned about what I'm saying - the content, clarity and the articulation - not the accent!

I want to hear more regional accents on television. This is part of a wider need for the media to be more inclusive - with more ethnic representation; more women; more LGBT presenters. More same-sex couples presenting daytime TV and quiz shows. Only then will there be true diversity of voices and accents, representing the multitude of people who watch and listen to the media.

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