Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.
“Until moving to the states, I never really thought much about my accent. I was born in Liverpool and raised in Bangalore. To me, it is just a typical convent-educated, urban Indian accent. It is the accent of my sisters and all of my friends.
“Here, a lot of people can’t quite place me because of my accent. A lot of people have told me their mental image of me before we met is tall with long hair and white. I have had times when I go out to meet someone for an interview, and we have trouble connecting because they are looking out for someone else. Now, I just tell people, I am short, brown, and have a nose ring. It’s funny, I was meeting a cop once and described myself, and he said, ‘Great, I am six foot four, in uniform, and I carry a gun.’ We joked that we would have no trouble finding each other.
“Before going into radio, my plan was to do television. I did my master’s degree in communications in India and then did a second degree in broadcast journalism at Urbana-Champaign. While in school there, I interned for a TV station and they let me do everything, but wouldn’t let me get on the air. They said that people wouldn’t understand my accent and the ratings would drop. The station encouraged me to learn an American accent if I wanted to get on television. I thought about it a long time, but I knew that people would eventually realize that who I really am was not matching my American accent. I felt like they wouldn’t trust what I was saying, and trust is the most important thing in this line of work.
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“I made a decision to go into radio, which was new for me because we don’t have public radio in India. I got my start in Springfield, Illinois, and then moved to Washington almost three years ago. Working as a journalist in this country, I have come to realize how nuanced this place is.
“Because I have no grown up here, I am constantly asking questions about everything. Sometimes, those questions are about language and how English is used differently in America and India. Sometimes, the questions are about how things work here. Sometimes, those questions are about the bag tax and Michelle Rhee. In asking these questions, it gives me a really broad view of this place, and let’s me see things that some here don’t see because they may be so used to seeing things a certain way.
“I feel like I learn more about myself in this profession than in any other profession out there. Everyday, I meet someone new and match what they say with what I believe. It forces me to always think about every angle of an issue and take a very nuanced approach to things.”
Kavitha Cardoza is a senior reporter for WAMU 88.5.