From Rolling Out Magazine: Beyoncé’s highly anticipated documentary “Life Is But a Dream” premiered on HBO this past weekend and it seemed as though all of social media was tuned in. Both fans and critics seemed equally intrigued at the chance to see a little “behind the veil,” and get a glimpse of what life must be like for one of the world’s biggest superstars. There were moments of refreshing honesty and others that reeked of staged “regular girl” pandering, as to be expected. And, of course, some were enthralled by any and every mundane detail of “being Bey,” while others were repulsed by what they felt was just empty fawning over yet another celebrity they’ve deemed “overrated.”But one consistent source of biting humor and scathing criticism was her voice.Not that force she unleashes during resort concerts, halftime performances and award show tributes. No. Her speaking voice. The decidedly unrefined, quietly unassuming voice that you hear in interviews and that you heard during voice-overs throughout “Life Is But a Dream.”Beyoncé was famously mocked by talk show host Wendy Williams for sounding “like she has a fifth grade education,” late last year when the documentary was announced. And the Twittersphere was overrun with criticism ranging from “She sounds so dumb” to “I wouldn’t be shocked if she was illiterate.”Are we overstating here? Or worse — are we bashing one of the world’s most famous women for daring to sound like — gasp! — a girl from Houston?
She didn’t mumble during interview segments. Her voice-overs didn’t sound like she was reading cue cards or like she was some airheaded ditz. Were there double negatives? Poor subject-verb agreement? Did she say “further” when she meant “farther?” What was so terrible about her speaking that people think she sounds illiterate?Simply put — she sounds too Southern.Southern accents have long been associated with stupidity and a lack of refinement. The Scarlet O’Hara affected antebellum Southern belle archetype has long been overshadowed by the hillbilly hick, and in the black community, there tends to be even more stigma attached to sounding “country.” How many southern rappers are criticized for “cooning” just because their money-cash-hoes anthems are delivered with a drawl? Would we be so quick to toss that word at a rapper from Brooklyn; even if that rapper’s songs and videos utilized similar imagery and themes?Do we have a certain expectation for a star of Beyoncé’s magnitude? Are you not supposed to sound like that when you’re the biggest star in the world? Maybe she should practice her non-regional diction like news anchors, or adopt an affected faux European accent a la Madonna — would that silence some of the barbs?Or maybe we should all pause for a second and think about what we’re truly criticizing. The next time you see Beyoncé in an interview, maybe jot down a quote or two and ask yourself — if you just read it on a page, would you think this person was “illiterate” or “dumb.”And be honest about the fact that we continue to stigmatize and regularly feed into negative stereotypes regarding how people talk below the Mason-Dixon Line.–stereo williams