So I've often mistakenly said that I don't have a New York accent. This is false. Everyone has an accent. My accent is, I would guess, exactly what you would expect from an American born in 1986 in Manhattan whose parents were not native New Yorkers and who grew up in the milieu and socioeconomic circumstances that I did. Region is of course a big part of accents, but class, education (not so much “good” or “bad” but type) and the voices of those around you will shape how you speak as well.
But I'm going to take us Northerners to task here. We all have accents. Just because we do not speak with a Southern drawl or a midwestern twang does not mean we are neutral. We simply speak the way most of the people around us do, so it seems normal.
Think of it this way: when British actors play American successfully, they're not removing their own accents so much as adopting ours.
But that's not the real point. Because most of you reading this are native English speakers. Even though we all speak the language differently, fact is no one will assume we do not understand them just because of the way we speak.
If you have a distinct accent that is very clearly from a country that speaks little English, though, you might be the brightest person around, with impeccable grammar, but people will (consciously or not) assume you don't know what the hell you're talking about. Less so in urban centers, where people are used to all sorts of different voices, but it still happens on the subway.
The goal here is twofold. First, we need to consciously remind ourselves that speaking English with a particular accent does not make someone intellectually inferior. They might well be stupid, but you need more than a drawl to know that about them. We also shouldn't assume that having the same accent as you makes someone more likely to get along with you, although I have dropped a few 'g's at the end of my gerunds when speaking to my more Southern relatives. Silly Justin.
The other side of the coin is to recognize what some folks may have to endure. We can sit here and not misjudge people for speaking with particular accents, and that's nice, but there are other people out there who will still mistreat someone for speaking English “weird,” and we need to keep this in mind when relating to someone who speaks differently. I make fun of Boston and Long Island accents because they hurt my ears (what? They do!), but fact is, that's how people spoke as they were growing up, so to expect them not to do so is to expect them to dismiss part of themselves. They may want to do this, but we need not force it on them.
We're all accented individuals, folks. This isn't to say no teasing is warranted, but accents have absolutely not bearing on intelligence or kindness, and it's best we keep this in mind.
One final question: what accents do you admit make you cringe? I mentioned mine above. You know you have at least one. The goal here is to be honest and then work on not judging said folks in the future.
Peace and love,