Which Accent Has the Worst Reputation?

Most of us are familiar with the BBC accent, the more refined version of which is sometimes called posh. It’s long been the standard for the British Broadcasting Corporation. But if you listen to the BBC today, you’ll hear a variety of UK accents (in the US, NPR sometimes broadcasts BBC News).

Some accents are stigmatized, associated with a lack of education or criminality. But featuring a variety of accents might reduce negative attitudes. As long as someone speaks clearly and uses correct grammar the accent shouldn’t matter.

What we in America sometimes call neutral or general American is associated with the evening news. But it’s not actually a neutral accent. People from the upper Midwest (like Tom Brokaw) sometimes say they have no accent. For whatever reason, that accent is the basis (with some alterations) of the so-called neutral American accent.

Other accents haven’t fared so well. If you want to imitate a stupid person, talk in a Southern accent. If you want to imitate a criminal, use a New York accent.

I previously wrote that the Southern accent is derived from a now extinct (and stigmatized) dialect from early 1600s Sussex, England. Dialect is not merely about geography. It’s also about time (that is, it changes over time). And it’s about social class.

But contrary to popular perception, regional dialects are not dying. Instead, language is constantly changing, so young folks don’t sound exactly like their grandparents. Regional differences still abound, however.

I’d like to see American broadcasters drop the fetish for neutrality and embrace speakers of all American accents.


Psychology for Men

Writing for the Telegraph, Martin Daubney asks, “Why isn’t there more of a focus on male psychology?” Severe mental health problems are more likely to affect men, and more common issues such as depression occur equally in men despite men being underdiagnosed.

Men have a reputation for not opening up. But people will open up when they feel safe doing so. This means taking men seriously, not minimizing their concerns, and not blaming them.

Sitting down and talking might not always be the best strategy. I know a psychologist who told me that the best conversations he’s had with his dad was when they were playing golf. An activity can be a powerful tool for men. Especially when we don’t push a man to start talking right away, instead letting him take his time, and allowing for the ebb and flow of conversation with silences and interludes of more superficial and even humorous talk.

And sometimes only men can connect with other men. The idea of male only support groups may be met with resistance in some circles, however. But Daubney quotes Martin Seager from Men’s Minds Matter:

…in single-sex groups men can be very blokey one minute, then talk about something incredibly painful the next. It really worked. Men are very worried about shame and embarrassment, and there are rules about masculinity that need to be honoured, not belittled.

He continues,

If men are alone in a room they are tremendously good at supporting each other; they’re like soldiers in combat that really care for each other. So we realised that a men’s group is a really powerful space.

A focus on masculinity as toxic, however, may only make things worse. Seager says,

Men don’t need to ‘man up’ and they don’t need to ‘woman up’ – be more like women. We need to allow men to be men and honour that, on their terms – and that comes from 30 years’ experience in clinical practice.

Psychology for men must start with what men need rather than a critique of masculinity, lists of how men need to change, or an analysis of how men’s communication styles are wrong.

Slavery, the Civil War, & Blaming the South

South Carolina might take down the Stars & Bars. It’s about time. It’s so easy as a Yankee to judge the South. But the North is just as guilty, just more passive-aggressive.

Defenders of the South claim that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery. They do have a point that slavery as the sole cause of Southern secession from the United States is simplistic, but they’re also engaging in historical revisionism. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that slavery was the primary catalyst of the Civil War, though there were secondary issues as well.

There’s no defense for slavery or the war that would have preserved it (had the Confederacy won). But there’s a huge myth about the Civil War that the North promotes even today.

The South would be better off exposing this myth rather than trying to revise history.

The myth is that Abraham Lincoln and the morally superior North courageously opposed slavery. The truth is that the North profited from slavery just as much – and perhaps more – than the South did; and the North fought the Civil War to preserve the Union and not to abolish slavery.

Alexander Stephens, vice president of the nascent Confederate States of America, gave his Cornerstone Speech three months after Fort Sumter (the shots that began the Civil War).

What was this cornerstone?

The “moral truth,” that for African-Americans “slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” Stephens prefaced this statement with a reference to the Declaration of Independence, where Thomas Jefferson declared that “all men are created equal.” In contrast, Stephens states unequivocally that, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea.”

Jefferson, however, was a Southern slave owner himself, and his sentiment of equality cannot be understood in its modern, more expansive, sense.

Lest you think that Stephens was unclear, he clarified that, “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” (Emphasis mine.)

One defense of Stephens is that he was speaking extemporaneously, which is to say, off the cuff. In other words, he said what he really thought because he didn’t have time to come up with some bullshit.

Well, at least Abraham Lincoln will save the day. In a letter to the New York Tribune, Lincoln explained his rationale for fighting the Civil War: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it.”

In the end, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (in part due to the fear that Britain would join the war to defend the South, which supplied much of Britain’s cotton), and supported the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery. But reread Lincoln’s words above to understand why.

In 1848, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner railed against “an unhallowed union…between the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom.” Northern textiles were profiting greatly from cheap Southern cotton. The North profited as much as the South – and more so when you consider that the Civil War didn’t destroy the Northern economy.

What’s more, the North could plausibly say that its hands weren’t bloody. Northerners held no whips. Southerns did Northerner’s dirty work for them, only to have the North self-righteously condemn the South.

The situation today is not much different. Racism is not unique to the South.

Why Are Mass Shooters Almost Always Men?

We are struggling with the senselessness of yet another mass shooting. The shooter at the Charleston Emanuel AME Church identified race as his motivation. We find ourselves asking again why it’s always a white man doing the killing.

Yet, there’s no evidence that race is a factor in most shootings. Based on data Mother Jones compiled, whites are slightly over-represented among mass shooters, as are Asian-Americans and Native Americans. Latinos are notably under-represented among mass shooters, and African-Americans are proportionally represented.  (The data are at the end of this post.)

Mental illness is frequently blamed, and indeed almost 85% of shooters had possible mental illness or behavioral issues. However, this figure could be lower because not all cases are clear. Further, it’s notable that depression plays almost as large a role as psychosis. Workplace problems (and related financial stress); and relationship problems, typically rejection, also seem to be common themes.

What is clear is that the shooter is almost always a man.

Why is a big question. There are more knowledgeable people than myself who have written about the issue. I will note, however, that male depression is often overlooked. It’s a central factor in men being 79% of completed suicides, and it seems to be a factor in mass shootings as well.

I also wonder why Latinos are under-represented among mass shooters. Is there something different about Latino culture? For example, shooters often seem socially isolated. Do Latino men have stronger social ties, and if so, does this give a struggling Latino man a healthier outlet for his stress?


The Data

Mother Jones published information about mass shootings in the United States from 1982 to 2012, and in June 2015 they updated their database, adding eight shootings that happened from 2013 to mid-2015. Oddly, Mother Jones missed a ninth shooting – Elliot Rodger.

Their initial report found that 44 out of 62 gunmen were white men. Only one shooter was a woman, and she was white too. Of the nine mass shootings since 2012, three of the gunmen were white only, and one (Rodger) was multi-racial (white and Asian).

This means that 48 out of 71 shooters, or 67.6%, were white only, non-Hispanic, as are 62.6% of all Americans according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Asians were 8.5% of the shooters and 5.3% of the general population, while Native Americans were 4.2% of shooters and 1.2% of the general population. African-Americans are 13% to 14% in both cases. But Latinos, who are 17.1% of Americans in general, were only 5.6% of mass shooters.

Of the 71 shooters 68, or 95.8%, were men.

Mother Jones did not say whether anyone was mentally ill or not, and instead noted how others described the person, and whether the person was known to have been under psychiatric care. Including Elliot Rodger, 46 out of 71 (64.8%) mass shooters might have had mental health issues. Eight were described as depressed (11.3% of all shooters, and 17.4% of those with possible mental health issues). Nine were described as schizophrenic or paranoid (12.7% of all shooters, and 19.6% of those with possible mental health issues). Another 13 shooters (18.3%) may have had previous behavioral issues.

Wrestling With Double Standards

Double standards are all around us. It’s easy to think of examples. The problem is what to do with them. Some seem intractable. But some might exist for a reason.

A recent Facebook discussion got me thinking. The topic was abortion and choice. I mentioned a controversial idea advocated by some. What if a man doesn’t want to be a parent? Should he have the right to a “financial abortion”? That is, to give up all legal and financial rights and responsibilities as a parent?

I wrote that I don’t support this, but I felt hypocritical for thinking that women can’t be forced into parenthood, but men can be. Some of the responses were pointed, however, even though I was agreeing that only women can choose birth or abortion because only women can get pregnant, and that the father’s financial support is in the child’s best interests.

One man wrote that a man “already made his decision… when he chose to have sex with her…A condom is a fuck of a lot cheaper than child support”. A woman agreed: “So, here’s the thing boys, the time for male choice is when you enter into a sexual relationship.” I responded that I wouldn’t make that argument with the gender roles reversed. Rather, I don’t believe a woman is consenting to motherhood just because she consents to sex.

My point was simply that my stance on choice is inconsistent, and I’m admitting that I hold a double standard. But most of us don’t like to admit that we hold double standards.

The types and degrees of sex differences are hotly debated. Are women really better at multitasking? Are men actually better at math? Differences in what makes a man or a woman attractive are obvious, however. Being poor doesn’t diminish a woman’s attractiveness nearly as much as it does for a man. On the other hand, as he ages a man’s physical appearance is judged far less harshly than an older woman’s appearance is.

What’s considered beautiful in a woman varies by culture, but men in every culture value women of youth and health far above all. And extensive research shows that women the world over value men of high social status, which usually means being a good provider.

In other words, parental investment theory has it right. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we seek mates who will bear the healthiest offspring (men’s desire for young women), and who are best able to provide for these offspring (women’s desire for resourceful men). Though the latter is less important in the modern world of career women who can provide for children without men. 

But the human ability to make choices, with knowledge as power, means biology is not destiny. A key point for men and women who are looking for love is that just because certain people are considered to be the most attractive doesn’t mean that other people are not attractive. In the long run, the quality of the relationship matters more than youth or social status.

The most indisputable sex difference, however, is that no man can get pregnant. Further, women’s reproductive opportunities are more limited than men’s. Women can get pregnant but once a year, and not past middle age without medical intervention. But a man could impregnate several women each year, and some men have become fathers even as retirees.

It’s no wonder that women are more selective. There are Youtube videos of men asking women for sex, which is always met with a refusal and sometimes a slap; and women asking men for sex, which inevitably results in several yeses. 

Casual sex is simply less risky for men. But the most infamous double standard for those with multiple sex partners is that women are sluts and men are studs.

I oppose slut shaming (and shaming in general), and I think there’s much we can do to change cultural attitudes. But I doubt women will ever be thought of as studs for having multiple partners. Do we have an unconscious bias because of women’s exclusive physical investment in pregnancy? If so, women might always be more selective than men, while promiscuous men are seen as successful because they’ve demonstrated a track record of overcoming the barrier of female selectiveness. But note that this bias in no way condones shaming either women or men.

Besides slut shaming, there are other ways that culture can magnify sex differences. Perhaps men’s role as the initiators, and women’s role as the choosers, is why the “yes means yes” debate focuses almost exclusively on whether men obtain consent from women.

But we must not blind ourselves to the reality that women can sexually assault men. For example, there’s been a proliferation of news items about women (usually teachers) having sex with boys. Women, however, receive far lighter sentences than men who have sex with girls. Indeed, many people don’t think it’s as bad when a woman has sex with a boy.

Like slut shaming, I think this is a double standard we should address even if it’s an uphill battle. After all, I doubt women’s motivations are different from men’s. It’s about an adult’s control over a vulnerable person. And even if the boy desires the woman, he might not be prepared emotionally or legally for the consequences.

Just Your Garden Variety White Guy

That my family has a certain amount of Native American ancestry has long been a legend. It goes back at least as far as my great-grandparents, who told it to my grandparents. And perhaps further back for all I know.

But it turns out that I’m your garden variety white guy.

Where do family legends like this come from? Really, it’s not that boring being white.  I am from Maine, after all. I can entertain people by talking in a funny accent (even if my real accent is neutral white American).

In my defense, I’ve always checked white on forms. I fit the stereotype. I like old country music like Johnny Cash (though not new country) and classic rock, I’m boring, I dance like I have a pole stuck up my ass, and I hope to visit Ireland some day.

Recently, my sister and I did an experiment. We had our DNA tested with different companies. The results were consistent: 100% European ancestry. We are more than half Anglo-Irish, though the amount of French is less than we thought it would be (despite having a French last name).

Something unexpected did turn up, however. There’s a notable percentage of Iberian ancestry (Spain). And my Y chromosome is predominantly found among people of Middle Eastern descent. Among people of European descent this Y chromosome is found mainly (but not exclusively) among Jews.

This doesn’t mean I’m Jewish, though it’s possible. Spain expelled its Jews around the time Columbus sailed for America, so the Iberian combined with not as much French as I expected could indicate that a male ancestor left Israel during the diaspora back in Greco-Roman times, then ended up in France after being kicked out of Spain.

I’ll never know. The genealogical records only go back to my ancestors’ arrival in the New World.

Doesn’t matter. I still can’t dance.