Don't Apologize for Your Accent

Ever heard someone tell a white person with a strong southern accent to "learn English?" Why do people view foreign accents and the accents of white southerners differently? The White Guy has the answers.

Luke Visconti's Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


Do you feel the same way about the difficulty of understanding an immigrant's accent (say an Indian's accent) and another white guy's accent (say someone who has a strong southern accent and you are not a southerner)? If not, can you think of a reason for feeling different[ly] about them?


In my opinion, many people (not just white people) will use an accent as a reason to insult a person with less perceived power. Since you asked specifically about white people, I will relate that I've heard white Americans tell people with foreign accents to "learn English." I've never heard a white person from the Northeast tell a white person with a southern (U.S.) accent to "learn English." I'm sure it happens from time to time (probably immediately prior to some unexpected dental work), but it can't be common.

That's because in almost all cases, if the person with the southern accent is white, they are perceived by white people to be a peer. Peers are permitted to have an accent. I have a friend with a prominent British accent and she's told me that she finds most American men find her accent to be "sexy" and she's used that to her advantage in getting superior customer service. A southern accent is considered charming in many circles. But a "foreign" accent–especially from a person of color–can be met with scorn and derision, especially by bigots.

I've had the opportunity to travel to many places on the planet and have found that my brain has substantial shortcomings processing languages other than English. Therefore, I humbly understand how other people could have an accent for many years after adopting a new language.

At a recent meeting of PRIMER (Puerto Ricans In Management and Executive Roles, where I am one of two Anglo members and the 2006 Member of the Year), I was talking with one of my fellow PRIMER members who has a fairly prominent Spanish accent despite two decades of living in the mainland, a graduate degree from a top continental U.S. university, and a highly successful career in corporate America.

I had to ask him to repeat a sentence and he apologized for his accent. I felt terrible about his apology, so I said, "Please don't apologize. If I moved to Puerto Rico, twenty years from now, I'd still be the guy with a difficult-to-understand English accent–because that's just the way I am."

By the way, have you heard this joke? A person who knows three languages is trilingual, a person who knows two languages is bilingual and a person who knows one language is American.

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In an age of increasing racial confrontations, a business must have zero tolerance for discrimination.

In the Trump era, there has been a proliferation of Islamophobic and racist incidents across the country. When discrimination occurs at a place of business, it's apparent if the company's leadership and workforce support diversity and inclusion. A Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf café barista refused to serve a racist customer; meanwhile, a white manager at a Starbucks called the police on two Black men for no reason.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Executives from Nielsen, New York Life, TIAA and Toyota Motor North America talk about communicating their commitment to D&I management and backing it up with actions that get results.

At the 2018 DiversityInc Top 50 event, more than 400 people were in attendance during the day to hear best practices on effectively managing diversity and inclusion.

Moderator: Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc


  • Angela Talton, Chief Diversity Officer, Nielsen
  • Kathleen Navarro, VP & Chief Diversity Officer, New York Life
  • Steve Larson, Senior Director of Diversity & Inclusion, TIAA
  • Adrienne Trimble, General Manager, Diversity & Inclusion, Toyota Motor North America

We White People Need to Own This

Martin Luther King has been dead for 50 years and Donald Trump is our president. Who is responsible?


Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 18 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

We will be deluged by Martin Luther King articles and columns today. Some will be excellent, like the one Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote. But most will be saccharine sweet and not say what needs to be said.

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Lisa Garcia Quiroz, Time Warner's First Chief Diversity Officer, Creator of People en Español, Dies at 56

Quiroz was an advocate of diversity and inclusion, education and the arts.

A Latina trailblazer, Lisa Garcia Quiroz, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Time Warner Inc., and president of the Time Warner Foundation, died Friday at age 56 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. An advocate of diversity and inclusion, education and the arts, Quiroz created a dynamic legacy.

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The Chief of Staff Needs to Get Off His Privileged Racist Ass and Do Some Homework

And his draft-dodging boss needs to put his juvenile visions of military dictatorship out of his head.


Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 18 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

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