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This is something that a colleague at my previous job noted about me. I had to call a client and enquire about something. My voice, even while the phone was ringing, was one way and as soon as the client answered, it become another.

He probably thought it was an exceptional observation, but it was something I’ve been aware of for many years.

This point was brought to my attention again recently when I was chatting online to someone from America. He asked me if I have an accent, and I found it hard to answer. Do I have an accent? I know the way I speak is unique to the part of South Africa where I’m from,   but is there a particularly South African accent? Even Nelson Mandela, our most famous citizen, sounded completely unique. This friend of mine said I “sounded British” and compared me to James Bond (he was being way too kind). Later, he said that it seemed like the more I got comfortable speaking to him, the stronger my accent became. This was an interesting contrast to his story, in which he, as an African American, gets told that he doesn’t sound “black enough”.

Speaking, as a part of our identity, has always interested me. I wrote about the particular problems associated with being “coloured” in South Africa. I experienced a similar issue to my American friend when i was growing up. I was accused of being “sturvy” (stuck up) and “acting white”. Read about that here.

I find it strange that the way in which we speak is so important to others. We are so inclined to form an opinion of someone based on past experiences, and what we think we know for sure. This results in prejudice, which has this way of being unfair towards others. Last year in Cape Town, it became clear that there were quite a few racist (or just cautious, as they might put it) property owners, discriminating against others based on who they thought they were.  Read that unshocking expose here.

——

Being in the city of Jozi is strange. Speaking to a few people, I found the things I was saying rather interesting. I am often asked about where I intend to go – which publications I want to work for and what field of journalism interests me. I am not sure yet, but my rhetoric has become particularly ambitious, and I like it. At my first Joburg party (three, in fact, in one night. That is evidently the way it’s done here) I met so many people. I really enjoyed speaking to them, and before i knew it, I was asked what I do, and other such probing questions. I really enjoyed it – the questions, not the probing – and realised that I was networking.

What I don’t like, however, is something else I’ve seen. Networking is a skill I believe I have yet to master. I know of someone who readily says, in melodiously lingering affectations, that he IS a networkeeer. I have an issue with this type of person because what happens is that the people with whom they interact are reduced to a type. No one wants to be viewed as simply what they can do for you. Often these relationships are symbiotic, but we are still people. This is why Joburg gets such a bad rap as a city of people always working. Even when they are partying, it is still an exercise in forging contacts.

What it boils down to is people knowing people, becomes a case of “knowing”. Do these people going into networking sessions (the idea of which I find bizarre) know that they are speaking to people, speaking to people but not treating them like people? This is a part of business, which I understand, but all I want, as usual, is a little consciousness. We are not brands, and this is a big issue with celebrities. Every (inevitable, it seems) meltdown, from Amanda Bynes to Justin Bieber, seems to happen at, or after, moments of success. These people were also reduced to blank slates, types not to be deviated from. We lose perspective on life when we realise that others want us for what we can offer, rather than who we are. Whether it’s money, our business or even our bodies, we are more than what we can give to others.  What’s worse is when people do not realise that they are giving of themselves in this way, or even because it is all that they think they can offer.

While I settle into a city of people who always seem to be working, I hope I can remember to give more than what they think I can give. It’s ok to change who you are to suit an environment. The people who point fingers and judge are often those who are most insecure about their own shortcomings. Remember where you came from, but don’t forget that we are not stagnant beings. And of course, when I was unwittingly thrust into the gyre of networking, what made a deceptive reappearance… none other than, my white voice!

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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