How Our Accents Can Divide and Unite Us

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Can the way we speak be a source of unity instead of division? Two journalists share their stories.

We all judge others on how they sound: their accent, their pronunciation, their use of slang. Some of us have been criticized for these things ourselves, mocked because we sound different from those around us.

The way we speak can be a source of division. But it doesn’t have to be.

In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we speak with Jessica Mendoza and Jingnan Peng of The Christian Science Monitor. They host the Monitor’s new podcast Say That Again?, which explores how we sound, how we listen, and how we can come to better understand each other.

Both hosts and guests on this show were once newcomers to the US. We hear some personal stories of how their own voices have affected their experience, and how listening differently can help us all find common ground.

Our show includes several extracts from Say That Again?, including a man who was turned down for a job because of his accent, and two women whose use of Black English – often derided by outsiders – has become a source of pride both professionally and personally.

Jessica Mendoza

Jess is a reporter and podcast producer for The Christian Science Monitor. She’s produced and hosted podcasts about the legacy of racism in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the challenges and resilience of women in the pandemic; and the ways that accent and language shape identity. Her work includes helping to develop the Monitor’s long-term multimedia strategy and collaborating with other Monitor reporters and editors to engage audiences beyond written stories.

Jess started at the Monitor in 2015 as an intern at the Boston office, where she worked her way from the web team to the National News desk. She worked two years as the Monitor’s West Coast correspondent out of Los Angeles before coming to Washington, D.C., to cover politics on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Previously, Jess was a radio DJ for a top 40 station and sideline reporter for a pro basketball league in the Philippines, where she’s from. She holds a bachelor’s in communication from Ateneo de Manila University and a master’s in journalism from Northeastern University.

Jingnan Peng

Jingnan Peng is a reporter and multimedia producer for The Christian Science Monitor. He mainly shoots and edits videos, with a focus on disability, culture and politics. He previously covered breaking news for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and reported on technology and culture for Quartz. Say That Again? is his first podcast.

A Beijing native, Jing studied literature as an undergraduate at Yale and went on to complete a Master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School. Outside of work, he likes learning languages, watching films, and performing improv comedy (he has a gig at Boston’s Improv Asylum).

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