Thursday, June 22, 2006

Everyone's a Little Bit Racist*

...Including me.

(* Post title stolen from a song from the fabulous Avenue Q, the Broadway musical that can only really be described as Sesame Street - for adults.)

And ordinarily, I wouldn't pontificate about this aloud, but damn it irritates me.

Ken Lee, right - the son of Bing Lee, founder of the Sydney electronics empire - he's been in charge of the business for ages since the old man died.

The Lees endured all manner of shit - famine and Japanese invasion, mainly - before escaping China to start up the business in Australia. A pretty inspiring story, really, BUT:

Ken has been in Australia since 1948, and is now 75 years old.

So why is it, when you hear his voiceover on the Bing Lee commercials, instructing you to "come in and meet my team", he sounds like he just got off the boat and is still struggling with Remedial English 101?

The guy has been in Sydney for nearly 60 years!!!

My theory is that this may not be his natural accent. I think, like Ernie Dingo on The Great Outdoors, he might "ethnic it up" because it bodes well with the Oriental market bartering attidude that informs the company's motto, "Everything's Negotiable".

If I'm right, I reckon that makes him way more racist than I am.

If I'm wrong, well...Commence your boycotting of QP at will. Apparently, I'm already banned from the web browsers at The Feminist Bookshop. I can hack it.


At 22/6/06 7:13 pm, Blogger M-H said...

You mean the feminist bookshop has discovered the internets? Wonders will never cease!

At 22/6/06 7:25 pm, Anonymous woulfe said...

How many languages do you speak, Sam? I take it you're coming from considerable experience in losing a foreign accent.

Doug Cameron, the union leader, has been in this country for yonks, but still speaks with an impenetrable Scottish accent. Does that make him racist too?

At 22/6/06 7:37 pm, Blogger Sam said...

Only two, woulfe. I assume that if I had lived in France for nearly 60 years, however, that my French would be a lot better and I wouldn't sound so ocker.

At 22/6/06 9:59 pm, Blogger Andrew said...

Melbourne's Lord Mayor Cr So. Grew up here in his teens and always lived here and is barely intelligible. His English is so bad, he has been elevated to cult status by the young. Some lose it, some don't.

At 22/6/06 10:55 pm, Anonymous Neil (Ninglun -- but not Chinese) said...

"...the large majority of adults retain their accent when the second language is acquired after puberty" -- The Effect of Age on Acquisition of a Second Language for School. That's with my ESL teacher hat on.

"Ken Lee was born in Yantai in Shandong province, northern China – the eldest son of Bing and Sho Fan Lee. When his father left the family for business in Australia, Ken helped his mother provide for the family by trading in second-hand goods. They survived the horrors of the Japanese occupation of China and local famine, and in 1945 joined the flood of refugees leaving the devastated country. It took three more years to get to Hong Kong and on a ship for Sydney. Ken and his father were finally reunited in 1948. Ken was seventeen." -- Dynasties (ABC) on the Lee family.

QED, you might say.

At 22/6/06 11:07 pm, Anonymous CeeJay said...

Hmmm... Have you spent much time with older migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly those who migrated after they finished school?

One other example a little closer to the queer community: Marc Kuzma (aka Claire de Lune) has lived in Sydney for over a quarter of a century. I guess he (and she)'s also playing us for fools if we believe that accent?

Or is a French accent less offensive?

At 22/6/06 11:45 pm, Blogger HDZ said...

I have a theory that the Australian accent is somewhat "regressive" - it disappears very quicky under the influence of other accents. If you listen to various ex-pats you find a "foreign" accent comes very quickly. The same way, "other" accents here would predominate.

At 23/6/06 9:01 am, Blogger Sam said...

It's not that I find it offensive, CeeJay. Irritating, but not offensive.

Point duly noted, ninglun.

At 23/6/06 9:16 am, Blogger Gay Erasmus said...

Heh. Ingrained accents are a bit like sexuality. They're largely involuntary (but able to be faked!).

Dad's a migrant who's been in Australia for about as long as Ken Lee. He still has a strong accent. Funnily enough, when I was growing up, I had no concept of accents; I couldn't hear the difference between, say, standard English and my Dad's heavily accented English. It wasn't until people told me (actually, it was other kids asking me why my dad wouldn't let go of his "old accent") that I noticed.

At 23/6/06 9:19 am, Blogger Gay Erasmus said...

ps Thank you for the Avenue Q reference. Yes, 'Everyone's a Little Bit Racist'. And the 'Internet is For Porn'!

pps What's the story behind the Feminist Bookshop ban?

At 23/6/06 9:27 am, Blogger Sam said...

I read about my banning on your website, GE! Thought you were banned there too?

I imagine it stems from when Gail Hewitson wrote a letter to SX criticising me for my Schapelle Corby column. She's a very unforgiving woman, it would seem.

At 23/6/06 9:44 am, Anonymous Ninglun said...

Thanks, Sam. I have followed this up on my more academic blog.

At 23/6/06 10:08 am, Blogger Gay Erasmus said...

Heh, might be wrong, but I don't remember that coming from my site.

Of course I'd *love* my site to be banned from somewhere, anywhere!

At 23/6/06 1:18 pm, Blogger Ron said...

I would love to do what you want and ban you from my site, GE, but I've only just added you to the blogroll this week.

I can do other things though, naughty things ... ;-)

At 28/6/06 8:37 am, Anonymous weez said...

Sam, with regard to speaking accented Eglish, I've been in Australia for weeks short of 10 years since my move from the USA- and you'd still think I'm fresh off the plane to listen to me speak.

Accents are curious things. They start from the formations of a child's very first words and don't change unless some really concerted effort is applied, maaaaaaaaaaate.

Hooroo for now. ;)

At 29/6/06 6:31 pm, Anonymous kate said...

I heard of banning books, but banning people from bookshops? Goodness me.


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