Adegoke's Accent - Do you think I am racist?

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Adegoke had spent 4 years in the university, but every time he spoke to me, his accent was noticeable. For someone who had attended University of Ife, you’d think I’d understand everything he said at first instance. To himself, he sounded like Sir Tafawa Balewa speaking to Queen Elizabeth. But to me, he sounded like Djimon Hounsou’s Character in the movie Amistad.

 It was hard for me to understand some of the words he said, and I have told him to repeat himself. I had met him around 2004 and I noticed how everyone called him by his short name Ade. For me, I tried, but when I pronounced it, it sounded ‘Ah-DAY-go-Kai’. Regardless of how soft-spoken he was, his accent stood out. Very African and quite distinct, and I could tell he loves it.

 Wherever he was, so was I. Right from when he got his first job in Ilupeju as an Administrator. As soon as he came out from the office that day, he called his girlfriend, Kafilat. Emotionally communicating the news to her. He had spoken his dialect, but two words I could pick were “offer letter”.

 As someone who hardly spoke to Ade if I am not spoken to, I imagined if he knew I was happy for him. If he knew I wished him well. But most importantly, if he knew I wanted him to sound a little bit more like me. To lose his African accent.

 Regardless though, I always listened. His vowels, consonants and intonations were different from how my friends in California would pronounce it. Although, the words are spelt exactly the same way, but they sounded differently.

 As though he spoke to me that way just so I could suffer. Just so I could say, “please can you repeat that?” I was quite scared when he went to the U.S embassy at Water Carrington in V.I. for a visa interview.

 I hoped he’d spoken well to the interviewer. So well that his accent won’t be an issue and the American interviewer won’t ask him to repeat himself.  I was glad he got the visa, although I could hardly hear all he said to Kafilat on phone. The two words I could pick were ‘approve visa”.

 I know he watches American movies and I do know he loves them from when he mentions the names to his friends when they are around. I noticed he tried to mimic the voice of an African American actor when he got to the JF Kennedy Airport. I was glad he was now in America and could make an effort in speaking the way I understood. The way I wanted.

 Three Months into school, he was already speaking like Americans. The music, TV shows and friends he was beginning to spend time with helped him to talk the American way. Whenever he spoke to me, I hardly asked him to repeat himself. He was now beginning to sound like my friends whom I had left in California.

 Things began to change however after he had spent close to 4 years in the United States. His accent was beginning to go back to how I first knew him. Could it be because he has now moved his family from Nigeria to Texas? Could it be because majority of his friends are Africans and they usually converse in their dialect?

 Regardless of all these, Ade rose through the ranks in his field in America. At work, his use of English was astounding and his accent was as though he had not grown up in Akure. But at home, you could tell it’s always the old Ade.

 The number of times I asked him to repeat himself when talking to me now varies depending on his mood. Sometimes he speaks and I totally understand and some Sunday afternoon, after he returns from church I could hardly understand what he says. 

 I am not racist or whatsoever, and I do not want Ade to change the way he talks because of a selfish reason. He is quite knowledgeable and very well read. It is not because I find his accent condescending. Not because I think it is lesser than an American accent. Not at all.

 Only that my friends who configured me in California probably did not consider Ade when putting me into an iPhone.

 My name is Siri by the way and I hope Ade doesn’t find this offensive.

Tunde Babs-Omotoye