Just yesterday, a few hours into spending time with a new friend, she stopped me mid-sentence with a big smile and said: “did you just say BAYG?! Are you from the Midwest?”
It still takes me off guard when people notice my accent because it took me so long to figure out that I had one.
When I was in kindergarten in Minnesota, I got in my first argument with a teacher over that very same word. We were learning how to sound out words, and this involved figuring out the difference between “short a” and “long a”.
“Sad Sam ate some bad ham”
“Kay and Jay wait to buy bait.”
I had this down. Could totally hear the difference, no problem. Except when the teacher came around to check my work, she informed me that I misidentified the following words as long a sounds, when they were really short a:
I’m sure I made an epic face at the teacher when she tried to tell me I was wrong. Could this woman not hear the same thing I heard? I was like “listen: BAAAYYYYYG. It’s a long a.” And she was like “no, it’s “baaaahhhg” pronouncing the word in a funny, snooty-sounding way that I’d never heard before. She sounded like a jerk.
I was so frustrated I almost cried. I knew I wasn’t wrong. Why was she pretending not to hear what we were all saying?
The feeling of defiance faded, and I gave up, figuring it was something I personally would just never understand. I don’t remember asking any other kids, or my parents, if they heard the same thing. I figured it was just a problem with me. Which, even though this is a silly example, is a little bit profound at the same time. An authority figure told me something that didn’t resonate with my own truth, and I got mad about it. But then I accepted it, because I wanted approval.
I totally forgot about this kindergarten frustration until I moved to Massachusetts for college and people started repeating the word after I said it, like “BAYG?! that’s so cute! hahaha.” Suddenly it all came together: Oh. It’s an accent. I have a Minnesota accent. That’s a thing. So accents don’t just belong to people from Texas or Paris or India or Jamaica. Mind = blown. I had the same experience when someone told me about the blog Stuff White People Like. Like oh wait, this experience I grew up thinking was universal/default is actually reflective of a group identity.
There’s a whole lot more to say about all of this. Like privilege in accents (I certainly don’t face workplace discrimination for mine) and white identity, and other things I did in kindergarten. I’m sure I’ll get into it more in other posts. But for now, this is it.