“What is so funny about someone pronouncing the name of their native city in their native language?”

I’m international junior faculty at a university in the United States. I often get comments about my foreign accent, and every time I get them I become so aware of it that I speak worse and even forget grammar (after all these years!). This is one recent episode. This is my first year as a tenure-track faculty, and in my third day in the new department I saw in the hallway two faculty members I hadn’t met before. I approached them, they smiled, I introduced myself, and one of them said “so you are from ….” and smiled widely with a small inclination of his head. It took me some seconds to realize what he was doing  “you are from….. how do you say it? You say it differently, right?”. I realized he wanted me to play circus animal and say the name of my native city in the way it is said in my native language, because here in the US that sounds funny (I learned that). The other faculty member joined the conversation commenting on my accent, too.
This is not the first time I’ve got this, but it is disappointing to see it in my new colleagues. They seem insensitive to how harmful their attitude is, and I don’t know how to communicate this to them (knowing that they were trying to be funny and welcoming makes things more difficult). It made me feel very uncomfortable and, as usual, awfully aware of my accent and of my being a foreigner. Their comment annoyed me and made me feel frustrated and insecure, and did so in a space where I need to feel comfortable and connected to my colleagues in order to do my best in my job. And anyway, what is so funny about someone pronouncing the name of their native city in their native language?

 “arrogance is what I need if I am to ever going to make it in this profession”

 

I did my BA in philosophy in the third world country where I grew up. I am a woman of color doing a PhD in philosophy. Leaving home to pursue my dream of studying philosophy in Western universities was the scariest thing I have done, especially because I do not have financial assistance from my family.

Whenever I am at philosophy conferences, implicit bias makes it difficult for me to participate in the discussion. I often have to wave my hand aggressively just to ensure that the chair notices my hand. I know this behavior makes me look aggressive and impertinent, but between a choice of accepting that I will not be heard because of how I look or looking like a pompous ass, I figure that pompous ass is probably the lesser evil.

I always try to make it a point to let the chair know — as politely as I can in private — if s/he had overlooked my hand. Of course, no one likes being made aware of their biases, so I find myself making enemies whenever I become a victim of implicit bias.

The amount of arrogance that I have to cultivate just to get to ask a question is disheartening. And yet arrogance is what I need if I am to ever going to make it in this profession because I need to constantly tell myself — against contradictory external evidence — that I belong here as much as everyone else, that I deserve to be heard just as much as anyone else, that my command of the English language is just as good as others in this auditorium.