a disappointed mother


I Don’t Think It’s Funny When My Kids Do Fake Accents

May 22, 2018

When the fake accents ping-ponged from the dinner table to a play date and then back to the dinner table again, I knew it was time for a discussion.

A fake accent suddenly appeared one night, as a string of unintelligible syllables spoken with a heavy, fake Asian accent, eliciting giggles from around the table. This accent came from my 13-year-old stepdaughter, so we usually give the bio parent a chance to intervene. So I waited. But he was out of earshot, and it was up to me to ask what was up with the fake accent. The reply was that it was just something she and her friends routinely did without thinking, like it was almost a habit.

Well, that made it worse.

Related Reading: Why White Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Racism

I tried to explain how imitating another country’s language and accent wasn’t the coolest thing to do. I tried to probe, in an attempt to understand why she and her friends did it all the time. She wasn’t offering up any information, but I remember as a kid why we put on fake accents. We thought it was funny. And I think that the same reason held true for my stepdaughter and her friends. They just did it to laugh and be silly.

I could have left it at that, but I felt the need to talk a bit about persecution and white privilege, especially when my stepdaughter asked why people didn’t make such a big deal about putting on fake British accents. I did have to think about that for a second. But what I wanted to impress upon the kids is that although every group of people has been persecuted at some point in history, the atrocities inflicted on certain ethnicities in recent history made it all the more imperative that we have a discussion about oppression.

"I tried to explain how imitating another country’s language and accent wasn’t the coolest thing to do."

I also mentioned that I actually don’t think that we should be imitating British people, as that is also making fun of a way of speaking and a certain group of people, and I just don’t see why it is necessary. She said she still didn’t see the point, and we agreed to disagree for the time.

When I heard my nine-year-old son do a fake accent with a friend, I was able to take a more direct approach — it's easier to do with your own kids. I talked about the same things I had discussed with my stepdaughter. He got it, because appreciation of different cultures and avoiding even the slightest racial slur is something I’ve drilled into my kids from the very beginning. That’s probably because I still remember the mortification I felt as a young kid — the baby of the family — upon parroting back to my older sister a joke I had heard on the playground. She didn’t laugh. She got angry, and commented that it wasn’t funny. It wasn't funny because it was a racial slur.

I think I was eight years old at the time and had no idea what the words meant. But she carefully explained them to me, noting how using these words is one way of treating someone else badly. I felt terrible, and from that moment I’ve had zero tolerance for jokes at other people’s expense.

I remember having a date over to my house when I was at university. The guy told a stupid and disgusting racial joke, and I asked him to leave immediately. The date and the relationship was over.

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It’s hard to know the best and most effective way to teach our kids the nuances of being respectful of different cultures, especially when there are various styles of parenting at play. I default to the side of extreme caution. I’m not even sure how I feel about actors adopting different accents for roles in movies. There are so many other ways we can communicate, such a variety of things to talk about and an abundance of ways to tickle our funny bones. I simply don’t think we should ever stoop to imitating another culture for laughs, just because it is different than how we speak or sound or look.

I have noticed that the fake accents have stopped around our house. I don’t know if that is because I “made such a big deal about it” or because deep down everyone realized that it wasn’t super cool to get a laugh at the expense of another culture. I'm just glad it has stopped, because I don't think they're funny. 

So from now on, no quoting Monty Python. We’re just going to speak in our plain Canadian accents, and joke about the weather, instead, eh?

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

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