I’m delivering a presentation at work and 2 minutes in, a colleague randomly shouts, ‘why aye man!’ across the boardroom table. Everyone laughs.
As bizarre as this scenario sounds it wasn’t the first (or last) time it’s happened. As a person with a regional accent, I regularly come across a strange grey area of prejudice that creeps into my day-to-day London life and I’m certainly not alone.
A lecturer at Sheffield University has spoken out this week about the prejudice she faces due to her regional accent. When describing her experience of women working in academia, Dr Katie Edwards said ‘we can’t be taken seriously and have working class regional accents at the same time’. I can totally relate.
When I first moved away from the North East of England, I didn’t even consider people would be bothered by my Geordie twang.
Fast forward 5 years in London and I’m working at an advertising agency where I have to grit my teeth as a company pitches the idea of using ‘the Geordies in a call centre’ to explain something complex to customers because ‘if they can understand it, anyone can’. In the same year, I would be called a ‘Pit Yaker’ and quizzed on what my grandparents ate. No, seriously (and when I gave my answer the response was ‘oh, coal mining food?’)
It’s worth noting that the majority of people who said these things weren’t looking to make me feel upset or embarrassed. In fact, they seemed to think I would find it amusing – that it’s just something everyone LOLs about over the dinner table.
The truth is that when people ridicule those with regional accents, I don’t think it’s simply because they sound a bit funny.
Fundamentally, the punch line is almost always poking fun at working class backgrounds, implying a lack of sophistication and suggesting we are of inferior intelligence. So, although I can of course take a joke, when this happens regularly and often in a professional context, yes, I am offended.
When I ever have (awkwardly) told them how hurtful their comments can be, they’re usually shocked – both by their own inconsiderateness and the fact that their normally friendly Geordie pal is now positively seething.
It’s still hard to challenge them – I long for the day I can just respond by saying ‘Well that was rude. You dick’ But, I doubt I’ll ever get there. Maybe that’s just the friendly Geordie in me.
First published on Grazia Daily.