Celebrating East African Writing!
BLACK IN AMERICA: With an Accent by Timothy K. Ndegwa
On July 23rd and 24th of this year, millions of people worldwide – most of them African Americans (read Blacks) – were glued to their television screens watching a prime time special investigation report “Black in America” hosted by Soledad O’Brien on CNN.
According to the Nielsen Media Research, more than 4.5 million viewers watched the well-researched report. This report explored the experiences and state of the black person in America.
O’Brien covered the wealthy, the middle class and the poor black all living in the same America. Some are living the American dream and others are not. She covered all the obstacles at length.
Like most of the viewers, considering myself black and in America, I figured out I may as well jump in the band wagon and watch it.
Soledad O’Brien, born María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien, from a father who is Irish-Australian and a mother who is Afro-Cuban, is a senior reporter with CNN special investigations unit. This makes her a second generation immigrant just like Barrack Hussein Obama, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in this year’s presidential election, whose father came from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Siaya District, Kenya.
Having been born in America, it’s hard to detect an accent in his speech. Yes, I said an accent. Consider the first generation immigrants coming from other countries, and the accent that lands in the USA ports daily.
This makes you fall under Black in America, with an accent category. Every time you open your mouth, it’s easy to tell you aren’t from here. In the few (read many) years I have lived in the USA, I still carry my accent and you know what, I might try to twist or roll my tongue in a particular way, form or shape to hide my accent but a good listener will detect it.
Assuming we live in the same America, every time you open your mouth you have heard things close to; where are you from? I detect an accent! What is your origin? I can not understand what you are saying! Can you speak slowly? Can I speak with someone who speaks English (if you have penetrated in the call center world answering phone calls) Are you from Nigeria? (Does that make everyone from Africa a Nigerian?). Some even try to teach you how to pronounce Kenya like you just saw that word for the first time.
With such questions, you better be in good books with the authorities before you take your hard earned educational credentials to look for a job or position that you are academically qualified. It explains why Ngeno always working in that place after all the graduation ceremonies he invited us to; he always graduates with honors.
If all immigrants could write books of what they have gone through, or not achieved because they are not only black in America, but Balck in America with an accent, the shelves in Barnes and Nobles would never run dry in the accent section.
Yes, I know some have excelled with the deep accent accompanied with the right makaratasi. Even this group has obstacles which come with the accent they carry. Like the report by O’Brien, many immigrants have been knocked out of the promotion line when they show up for interviews because they have an accent or their names tell they are not from here (that’s a whole topic for another day).