On liminal identities, exclusion, and othering

The general writerly wisdom is that one should never respond to a bad critique. Yet I want to use this one, which is not a critique of my work, to highlight casual othering and exclusion in our communities.

Amal El-Mohtar, who is known to some of you as the editor of Goblin Fruit, Rhysling Award winner, Nebula nominee, and the author of the Honey Month, sometimes volunteers to read for PodCastle. I have a lot of respect for PodCastle, even though I am not much of an audiobook person due to aural processing difficulties. I read for pleasure, but listening to stories is work. So what I am about to say is not a critique of PodCastle.

Enough disclaimers.

Amal has recently recorded Daniel Abraham’s “A Hunter in Arin-Qin” for PodCastle. At the PodCastle forums discussion thread for this story,  one of the comments read: “I’m not a fan of feigned ‘accents’ and this just felt so forced.”

The problem is, of course, that this is Amal’s real accent. Amal is Lebanese-Canadian living in the UK. Her accent is composite. This is how she speaks all the time.

This is, of course, of direct relevance to me: I am yet another person whose accent is composite; people have trouble placing me. It is also of direct relevance to Shweta Narayan, and to a number of other people here.

So yes, all you people with identifiable accents, please think about those of us with those composite, hyphenated identities, those who moved around, absorbed things, maybe lost their language(s) along the way to better fit into a world hostile to liminalities – please think about how it makes us feel to hear our accents – the very voices with which we speak – are feigned, are forced. Are not genuine. Are fake.

Are not real.

Our voices are not real enough, not recognizable enough to be ratified as real. Our voices do not exist. We do not exist.

You think I am taking this to far? Unfortunately I am not, as this not the only example of othering in this thread.

In the very next comment Amal comes in and says, “I’m sorry my reading didn’t hold your attention, but I’m not feigning an accent. That is how I speak.” At this moment, Amal is officially in the thread, present in the conversation.

Yet, a few comments below, she is referred to in the third person. Please peruse the conversation data yourself and see. One of the commenters says, “She is “A Canadian-born child of the Mediterranean….”” (emphasis mine, RL)

Referring to a person who is present in the conversation by the third person (especially the third person pronoun) during any conflict discourse is an exclusionary tactic. I have even written about this in my academic capacity. What it is doing, in sociolinguistic terms, is marking the person (in this case, Amal) as not a ratified participant in the conversation.

Amal herself calls the speakers out on this: “To everyone speculating about my accent — please, guys, stop. I’m right here! It’s weird to read about you trying to figure out my accent’s origins based on my bio as if I’m not participating in this conversation.”

Why does Amal even need to call people out on this? Why must a person’s native, composite accent be accused of falseness, fakery, forcedness? After the speaker comes in and corrects the accuser, why must the exact nature of her accent be questioned and discussed – between the ratified participants, as if Amal herself is not even here?

If you think this is the only occurrence of this, please think again. I have been on the receiving end of such questioning numerous times.  I have been on the receiving end of harassment because of my accent, in this community. We are not the only ones.

We are people. Just like you. Please think about this.