That’s a specific “you,” not an epicene one. If you think you, personally, can accomplish this feat but most people cannot, the answer to the question is “yes”; if you cannot but others can, you should answer “no.”
Race is in quotation marks because while I believe that concept has no biological validitity and is socially unuseful, it would be ingenuous of me to pretend that everyone in the world, or even on the Dope, agrees. [ETA: I really should have written “distinguish between white people & black people,” but that didn’t occur to me till I was typing out the poll.)
I’m lucky if I can tell a man from a woman. My ability to distinguish voices at all is very limited, making the endless conference calls we have at work a source of extreme frustration, especially when that one voice says, “SpoilerVirgin, would you mind sending me that document after the call?” Then I have to decide if I’d rather just guess, or look like a fool by saying, “Sure, would you mind telling me who you are?” (These are people I’ve been working with for 10 years, although they are all in different cities, and I’ve never met most of them face to face).
Race would add an entirely new level of confusion I don’t even want to contemplate.
I cannot distinguish, nor do I care to. I’m not trying to sound high-handed here, but what difference does the race of the person at the other end of the line make? I’m more interested in trying to understand them if they have a pronounced accent, which can happen regardless of race.
While I cannot distinguish race/color per se, black and white people do often have different accents or word usage in the US. For example, what’s sometimes called ebonics, though it’s sometimes evident as different accents even if it doesn’t rise to the level of a different sub-language.
So I picked the “more complicated” option on the poll. If I can tell that you’re speaking ebonics, then I can tell that you’re black. (With the level of certainty that Sherlock Holmes would be applauded for, which is to say, I’d might well be wrong 5% of the time.) It’s not so much that the voice indicates race as it is that the voice indicates culture, and certain cultures (sub-cultures, whatever) do divide on racial lines.
There may also be other clues. If you introduce yourself as Leshawnda or Taniqua… yeah, you’re black. (Again, subject to my Sherlock Holmes standard of certainty.) But, again, I’m really basing this judgment on culture, not on color per se. If you introduce yourself as John, I no longer have a strong culture reference and you could be any color.
I can often do it, but it’s not like I sit there trying to figure it out. There are different tonal qualities. I can also immediately identify the voices of people I know, actors, or singers I’m familiar with. If I meet you in the morning and you call me that afternoon, I will know who it is.
I was surprised to learn that not everyone can do this.
Years ago I talked on the phone regularly with several people in a client’s office in Manhattan. When I finally met them in person they seem confused. I asked if something was wrong. “Um. We thought you were a 300-pound black man.” I was (and am) a 170-pound white guy but I sound like Barry White on the phone.
Once a woman called the wrong number and got me on the phone. She didn’t hang up immediately like most people do when they dial the wrong number. She heard my voice and got a bit excited. Most of my experiences with phone sex started the same way. It’s a great voice as long as you don’t ruin the illusion by seeing the guy it’s coming out of.
Anyway, my point is that if you think you can tell a white person from a black person on the phone, my experience says that you probably aren’t as accurate as you think you are.
Also, I should have said I have the *impression * that I can identify race. I think my chances are pretty good, but really, I’m talking straight out of my ass. It’s not like I’ve ever been part of an experiment. I mean, I can tell tube amp from digital amp pretty reliably too…and I know that for fact.
Oh crap, I clicked the wrong box. I said “sometimes,” but meant to say “never.” The thing is, how would you know? Presumably, you’d never see the person, and the subject wouldn’t come up in the conversation. So how “reliably” would you know?
I think I have a good ear for it, yes. However, I should hasten to add that rarely do I ever get to validate my predictions when it comes to listening to people on the phone. But if I’m in a position to hear a person’s voice before I see them, I’m usually right about what race they belong to.
jayrey, it’s not that I’m interested in people’s races when I’m listening to them–though I woud be lying if I said that race is never on my mind with dealing with people. It’s just something my ear registers involuntarily, just like it does for regional accent. There’s is no “need” to notice whether someone has a Bostonian accent either. For me, a “blaccent” is the same thing.
I voted “other” because I can identify some black people as black, but not all of them, and I couldn’t identify someone as white.
If a person is speaking AAVE, has an American “blaccent,” or has a typical West African accent, I can be pretty sure they are black. If I needed to know for sure for some reason, I would verify, however.
If a person is speaking SAE or in most foreign accents, I wouldn’t have any way to tell what race they are.