Thursday, November 29, 2007

Funny Accents

Mitt Romney's squabble with Rudy Giuliani over illegal immigrants working in his mansion got quite a bit of blog attention. But this little line seemed to pass under the radar:

Romney: ...If you hear someone that's working out there -- not that you've employed, but that the company has -- if you hear someone with a funny accent, you as a homeowner are supposed to go out there and say, I want to see your papers? (Emphasis added.)

Now I think it would be difficult for anyone to define exactly what makes an accent funny, as opposed to being just, well, an accent. But I also think we all know who Romney was referring to.

As an example, when I was a young college drop-out working in a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I noticed how often diners stopped to ask where the lovely hostesses were from (Sweden), where the charming waiter was from (Brazil), and even where the gregarious owner was from (Brooklyn). But not once did I ever notice anyone ask where my fellow food runners were from (India and Bangladesh), where the hardworking busboys were from (Ecuador), or where the no-nonsense handyman was from (Guatemala, where he'd been a practicing physician). Most of us have a coded understanding, whether conscious or not, of what makes one accent "exotic" and "interesting", and another "funny" and "threatening". Some of us work hard to recognize and compensate for that reflex. In today's GOP, it's celebrated.

In fairness to Romney, he followed up soon thereafter with this question, again directed at Giuliani:

...You now are responsible for going out and checking the employees of that company, particularly those that -- that might look different or don't -- doesn't have an accent like yours, and ask for their papers? I don't think that's America...

But I think the dog whistle was very clearly sounded for those who were intended to hear it.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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