Interesting NPR segment today: A powerful eruption on the sun disrupted radio signals on earth. What’s remarkable is it’s a PhD candidate talking to an NPR host about solar flares, completely in two Southern Black accents. Two women, at that.

I am dismayed at my own involuntary racist reaction to these voices. I do not expect educated people to speak this kind of English. A crystal clear example of my prejudice. I know and respect Ayesha Rascoe’s work on NPR. India Jackson is a PhD candidate and clearly a domain expert. The segment is good, detailed at the right level for the NPR audience. But I hear the accent and my knee-jerk reaction is negative. In my defense I was raised to be like this and I am trying to be better.

My favorite moment is about 2 minutes in, discussing the threats to humanity from a solar flare:

RASCOE: Do we have any way to prevent that?
RASCOE: No, no.
JACKSON: No, no, no.
RASCOE: That’s not…
JACKSON: We cannot…
RASCOE: We don’t want to hear that, India.
JACKSON: We cannot prevent the sun from doing what she goin’ to do.

The way she delivers that last line, stretches “sun” to two syllables with an intense diphthong. It’s delightful! And effective. She’s discussing a complex topic in astrophysics and the frightening threats it poses to humanity. But then she uses a vernacular phrasing, “doing what she goin’ to do”, to highlight our impotence. She makes the topic relatable, almost friendly, a perfect tone for an NPR’s more casual weekend programming.

I hate this prejudice in me, that certain kinds of accents read as ignorant. I know I’m not alone in having it. I am glad this NPR segment challenged me.

  2023-12-17 21:33 Z