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VOICE OVER PEOPLE
I Am Not A Black Voice Actor.
I Am Not An African-American Voice Actor.
I Am A Voice Actor.
July 23, 2020

Editor's note: How well do we truly understand one another - especially when viewed through a haze of ethnicity or skin color? The voice over profession is arguably more caring than most, yet insights are always valuable. The author first approached this topic in a Facebook post and video that we noticed and asked to reprint. Kabir graciously expanded that post to this article and moving video ...

By Kabir Singh
Voice Actor

A voice actor in the voice over community was offended by my use of the words "Black and African American Accented/Sounding" when describing my voice on my blog.

Here's an example from my website:

After a positive and in-depth conversation, it was suggested that "urban" is less offensive and preferred when describing my voice.

I will always lead by love – so, I went in and changed some of my blogs to reflect "urban" when describing my voice.

This is a sensitive time in the world, in the voice over community, and I respect that. I am paying attention to this and treating it with compassion and respect because the conversation needs to happen.

Specifically, in the voice over community – how we define voices and who plays certain characters is an ongoing discussion.
  • What is an accent?
  • What is urban voice over?
  • Can a black voice actor sound less/more urban?
  • Can a white voice actor sound urban?
  • Where do other minority groups stand?
  • Are we defined by our sound?
  • Are we defined by our race?
  • Who decides?
  • Is there an ownership on the sound of a voice, when it is an authentic sound?
SPEAKING MY TRUTH

I will always stand by my truth and speak it.

My website/blogs/marketing and soul reflects the name Kabir Singh. No stage name.

My videos/photos and content always show a brown - possibly ethnic ambiguous - Indian/minority. I am who I am.

The way I sound is not an act, character or a show.

I will not apologize for my up bringing and/or voice. My voice is my heart. My voice is my soul. My voice is the essence of my experiences.

I don't see color as a reason to discredit a person's vocal skills, talents or business.

I have learned from some of the most amazing black voice actors. But when I am learning from them, I don't see them as African American voice actors or black voice actors - I see them as voice actors. I see them with love and respect.

I have also learned from great white voice actors. How do they see or hear me?

WHAT INFLUENCES ME ...

I grew up in a trailer park in La Puente, CA. I was one of the only East Indian kids in the area.

There are countless times where I was made fun of and called horrible names by other kids. Everything from Sand N*GG*R, APU, Aladdin's Monkey to Osama Bin Laden.

I experienced this for many years as a young child. It is my truth and my story.

I am no stranger to hate. I am no stranger to being bullied.

The video below is my direct response to those who want to know my story, my influences, and are willing to judge me by the contents of my character …


VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

My name is Kabir Singh. I'm a voice actor, poet and philosopher.

By background, I was born in India, and I never had a father growing up so we bounced around country to country to look for him. I found him for the first time when I was eight years old.

We lived in a trailer park in La Puente, California.

Pops died when I was really young, when I was about 11 or 12 years old. So poverty, and the sufferings of poverty, are not too distant from me. The sufferings of being a single mom household is not too distant from me.

I grew up with a lot of bullying in my life. I grew up with a lot of people calling me things that they probably wouldn't want to call me today.

Those things made me the person I am today. Those things taught me what humanity is, what life is really about, what compassion really means, what love really means.

And I had to work on my spirit to get there.

Who I am ...

I was raised by the influence of the black culture. I was raised by the influence of the Hispanic culture. I was raised by the influence of single moms who worked every day of their life to take care of their kids.

I was raised by the influence and the beauty of black music. Of black grandmas that taught me life lessons. I was raised by homies that taught me what it means to be a man, how to stand up for yourself. These homies were black, Mexican, some were Filipino – all different races. They made me a better man.

I've been influenced my entire life by these people – these people that I consider my friends. People that love me and I love them, and I stand by their character.

I am a voice actor. I am not a black or an African-American voice actor.

I was born in India. I grew up with the love of African-American community and one that I cherish and I honor. One that I pay homage and respect to.

Along this journey of creating a business you learn many lessons. One of the internet games is search engine optimization. Involved in that game is how do you define what you're looking for. If I'm looking for a product or service, how do you describe it into Google?

As a voice actor, clients tend to hire me for my poetic sound, my urban sound. But they also tend to hire me because I may be able to connect to a certain audience that they're looking for because of my sound.

What is my sound?

You can call it urban. You can call it an African-American sound. You can call it a multicultural race sound. You can call it whatever you want.

I am a voice actor. I'm a voice actor that's been through my own sufferings in life. I'm a voice actor that puts my heart and soul into everything I do. I'm a voice actor that gets on the microphone and always shares my spirit.

I'm also a poet. I understand the sufferings of life. I'm a poet that looks after people in my community.

I'm a philosopher. I'm a philosopher that looks into the curiosities of life. Who thinks about how to improve himself and how to better himself in this world. My goals in life are to be a positive influence.

I'm no different than anybody and I make mistakes. And I learned from those mistakes.

My character is my pride. My character is my pride.

You are not hiring any label of me. You're hiring my spirit as you hire a voice actor, you're hiring my soul and my spirit.

It is my goal in life to approach compassion and empathy from a perspective without anger, without frustration. It is not my goal to offend. It is not my goal to stand in a place where I don't belong.

I stand for love and I stand for humanity. My race will always be human. I will die on that hill. I am a human being. I bleed this blood that circulates in the pump you bleed.

My job is to love and have compassion and take care of people around me and to do it in the graceful way and to do an honest way. And to never put on a façade.

You will always see my name as Kabir Singh. And you will always see my image of me. My skin, my face and nobody else. You will always get to know who I am from the depths of my soul, because I will always speak my truth.

I am forever a work in progress - as a voice actor and a human being.

There have been many races that have helped me on this voice-acting journey. Many white voice actors that have helped me become successful in business, many black voice actors that gave me reflection and perspective and an idea. Many old voice actors that teach me to keep it humble as I go through this journey of ups and downs of age. Many women voice actors who give me a beautiful perspective of the opposite of what I am, of the energy of the feminine, the beautiful energy.

I am forever a work in progress, and I will always define myself as a human being.

My goal is to become a better voice actor.

I don't know the lines of how to play imaginary. I just know how to be myself. I know how to speak my truth. And I will always die on the hill of truth and I will always look and reflect and try to see how I can improve myself, how I can be better. And I am not afraid of those conversations.I am a product of many colors.

I've experienced my own racisms in life. I've been called the worst of the worst also in my life.

But it's no fault to anybody else. I don't see color. In my eye, I am an Indian man. I was born in India. When I look at the cartoon character Apu and who does his voice, am I supposed to be offended because it's not an Indian from India?

It doesn't hurt my heart, so I don't see color. Because I'm a product of many colors. I'm a product of many races.

I'm successful because of many people. I am overall a successful person because of love and I will always die on that hill of love.

If I have done anything offensive or I've said anything offensive, I will always be receptive and make acknowledgement and improve. We are human beings who make mistakes and we shall improve. Forgiveness and love and compassion is part of the improvement.

I am not a black voice actor. I am a voice actor. I am myself.

My name is Kabir Singh. I'm not an African-American or black voice actor. I am a voice actor. I am myself. I am my spirit. I am my sufferings and I am my love and I am my compassion. How I am labeled or how clients perceive me is not my business.

My business is to be my heart and my soul. And to hopefully do it gracefully. It is always love, and forever it will always be respect to the cultures, to the communities that have influenced this young man to become a better man.

I will always stand by the love of the Hispanic, the Mexican, the black, the Asian, the white, the Indian, all these people that make me a better voice actor, a better human being.

Man, you are my brother, you are my sister.

And if I fall short, I will stand here to improve myself and build my character and become a better man. It is my duty to do so.

Peace.
--------------------
ABOUT KABIR
Los Angeles-based voice actor, poet and philosopher, Kabir Singh has been the voice of some of the world's largest brands, including T-Mobile, NFL, NBA, Nintendo, and Nike. His signature delivery is a poetic cadence with a raw urban street vibe. You can follow @kabirsvoice for all of his poetic philosophy and voice over related content.



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Comments (14)
Erikka J
8/4/2020 at 7:27 AM
Hello Kabir. I see your spirit and truly believe this was written with the best of intentions but in kindness, would like to offer you my perspective. 

The normalization of treating adjectives like "African American" and "urban" as synonyms perpetuate stereotypes that continuously keeps us from being considered for opportunities that don't fit into that box, stifling our growth for generations. 

Urban ≠ African-American.  

Entering urban, spoken word, multi-cultural and the like into your SEO sounds accurate and authentic to who you portray and the backstory you've shared. Any reference to imply that you are of African-American descent is misleading to your clients and robs them of the opportunity to cast an AA talent if that is their desire.  

I have a Filipino friend who's experience parallels yours in many ways. An amazing rapper/lyricist/songwriter heavily influenced by black culture, raised in and embraced by the black community, has a “black sound”, and a father to half black children. He refers to himself as an ally, acknowledges that he is not black and does not have a black experience. He refuses to use the word “n****”, even when it is common place in the genre of music he creates because he understands that it is not his place to do so. He acknowledges that although he is a POC, there is a privilege that he has because he is not black. However, he also presents himself authentically based on his background, upbringing and influences. I have always had a great deal for respect for him because of how he lives his truth and he has had great deal success because of it.

It is possible to acknowledge the role black people have played in your multi-cultural perspective without refusing to see color. It is possible to acknowledge the role black culture has had in shaping your creativity and earning success based on that without playing SEO games that toe the line of ethics.

For most of their lives, my children had the experience of being raised in a household with a single black mother - but have NOT experienced poverty. I've been blessed and have worked hard to be able to sustain an income that places them in upper middle class neighborhoods and schools with a financially stable life. I had an urban upbringing, complete with inner city woes, poverty and gaps in having necessities, but that has not been their lives. They are still African American. When society tells us that black also means urban, it subconsciously invalidates their black experience. As a black girl in the inner city that was constantly told that I "talk white", I know first hand what it feels like to have your ethnicity invalidated. We must not do that to our children.

As creatives and personality brands, I don't see how we can simultaneously claim authenticity yet separate parts of our identity from our talent. I identify as a woman, a mother, a partner, a voice actor, a singer, an artist, a creative, a college educated business owner - AND as African American. My clients get all of those factors that feed my world view when they hire my voice. While you would be well within your right to make the claim that your clients are getting a multi-cultural world view in the voice they are hiring, that it is informed by urban experiences and could related to urban demographics, I implore you not to refer to it as "Black sounding" or "African American sounding" from this day forward. Be our brother and help us dispel this misinformed generalization.

Claiming to not see color is to deny culture and all the beauty that comes along with it. Variations in color and culture are REAL. Diversity should be celebrated, not disregarded. As a self proclaimed philosopher, surely you can see the value in that.    
Barron Bass
7/31/2020 at 4:52 PM
Hoping to add to the conversation, even though my brilliant colleagues have said a lot of what I thought, already.

I love your work. I've followed you - you obviously have put a lot of time into training, etc. I didn’t know what your ethnicity was, I just learned you aren't black. Now, I’m disappointed when I think back because I feel like you've capitalized off of our culture in your messaging on your website and others. It may not have been your intention, but this happens to black folks time and time again, so it’s a sensitive issue. You have to be careful.

As you said, you are indeed my brother, I would like to believe so; but please don’t undermine the weight of what your fellow POC VO colleagues are trying to say to others, and now, to you. That, is not brotherly.

There are enough people in any industry that say “they don’t see color,” and by giving them words like this to co-sign, they will continue to stand their ground in their ignorance, simply because you are a POC. Ignorance about privilege, access, proximity, resources, the list goes on....

For perspective - I grew up with a great amount of East Indian folks, and went to college with even more. My Indian accent is pretty good. Even if I, a black man, gave “Indian accented” a whirl, the reception probably wouldn’t be great.

If you are with us, for us, and still fully you, with all of your different cultural experiences, this is a moment to not make yourself "other," and listen. You are already getting attention from this article - use it wisely.
Adrian Mechelle
7/31/2020 at 3:52 PM
Just here to simply support the previous sentiments from Damon, Rebecca, Andrew, Jean-Francois and Tre.

Be you!! Be true.

Show people that your urban sound isn't just specific to Black people by marketing yourself as who you truly are as an Indian American.
This shows us all that people of different races have different sounds shaped by different experiences. It helps everyone involved :)
(Fun fact, all Black people don't necessarily sound "urban" either ;) )
Tre Mosley
7/31/2020 at 11:54 AM
Interesting that you say in one breath that you’re a product on many colors yet you don’t see it. Clearly there is a disconnect. I won’t repeat what has been eloquently said by my VO colleagues on here...there’s no need to. You know the difference and you chose to ignore it to gain profit. For one who says they don’t see color, how’s that “green” looking to ya? No need to reflect on my words, I don’t need empty rhetoric. If you were genuine in your care and concern, this ridiculous missive you’ve penned would not exist. I will simply say “to thine own self be true.” In this day and age, more people are revealing just who they REALLY are.
Jean-Francois Donaldson
7/30/2020 at 10:28 PM
First off I am gonna say, be you. Be yourself! I will never ask you to not be yourself. I am asking you to be your actual self. Your upbringing might have shaped you and even your dialogue but it can't change who you are. As going through struggles is universal and everyone can experience it, it does not give anyone a pass to be Black, feel Black, or claim Blackness. That's not how that works. I grew up with 2 parents, I am still black. Just because I didn't experience the stereotypes of what white society thinks black households are, does that make me less black? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Cuz that's not how it works.

You might not be upset about Apu being voiced as a stereotype by a white actor but your fellow Indian actors are and that should be acknowledged. Your own personal opinion should be let known that it is not ammunition to drown out other voice actors who are asking for a change. Just like Black actors are asking for a chance to represent characters who look like us should be acknowledged and respected as well. Ask yourself do you not feel like you don't care about Apu because you as an Indian man just don't care or is it because claiming you did care would be hypocritical as you are essentially doing the same thing? You as a minority of Indian decent had and have a big chance to highlight that you guys are out there and that you don't have to be a stereotype of what they think Indian people are "suppose" to sound like. You could be inspiring other American Indian people to be themselves and proud. But you haven't you have been camouflaging your brown skin in making your clients think you are Black because that is what you have been advertising yourself as until just recently. Claiming intentionally or unintentional blackness only for financial gain is highly disrespectful especially while staying silent on Black issues.

I will say thank you for admitting publicly that you are not black while claiming you were in your SEO and marketing. I appreciate you no longer using that offensive marketing tactic. I appreciate the growth of acknowledging when you made a mistake and that you will do differently and that you are going to do better moving forward.
KABIR SINGH
7/30/2020 at 4:24 PM
I respect your opinion and reflect on it deeply.

I stand by my truth and words. There is no monopoly on the minority experience or the struggle of poverty.

My commitment is to truth and the truth dictates that it would be equally as racist/wrong to judge one human's experience of struggle and suffering to that of another's.

There is no mask here. I don't stand behind a fake name or image.

I will respect you and reflect compassionately when we speak.

I hope to receive the same respect and compassion as/if we get to know each-other's intents, story and experience.
Andrew Lander
7/30/2020 at 2:57 AM
This article starts out as a pretty innocuous and interesting take on the fluidity of race, upbringing, perceptions, and how it relates to one's sound. It takes half the article to get to the part where I cringe and realize that after parsing through all of the explanations, you get this:

1. "One of the internet games is search engine optimization."
2. "they also tend to hire me because I may be able to connect to a certain audience that they're looking for because of my sound"
3. "How I am labeled or how clients perceive me is not my business."

The first quote is a pretty clear indicator that you knew what you were doing to book work with the sound you have. The second quote indicates you clearly knew what that sound was. The third quote tries to downplay you being intentional about marketing yourself as having a "Black" sound.

You can't come out and say, "speaking my truth", "I am who I am", "I've experienced my own racisms in life", and "I don't see color"...that one though...really brotha?...like, really really bro?...then drop the mic like you didn't just say that you switched your marketing to "urban" after you were clearly, intentionally, and knowingly marketing yourself as someone who can connect with a "certain" audience with a sound that you know others have described as "Black".

If this was posted on Facebook it clearly wasn't posted in Black VO Facebook circles or else this article wouldn't have passed a very basic smell test.

That's because when you break this piece down to the aforementioned quotes, you realize that after all the heartfelt rationalizations, this article is less "moving" than it is a problematic piece that hurts the VO community by presenting a one-sided "All Voices Matter" argument masquerading as VO enlightenment.

Here's the truth of the matter. Until you were told otherwise you were a non-Black Voice Actor who advertised yourself as a Black Voice Actor because the people who hired you thought you sounded Black.

It'd be fine if you came on here and had something to say about why this was problematic (as evidenced by having changed your marketing strategy). But instead you defended your decision by basically saying (paraphrasing), "I've been through the struggle and I know lots of Black people too".

My dude.

Welcome to the club of, "But I Have Black Friends" and "Every Actor Who Thinks They Can Act As a Character Who's Not Their Own Race And Justifies it By Saying...'It's Only Acting'".

Look, I'm not denying your background. I'm saying you can't justify intentionally branding yourself as Black while at the same time saying you had nothing to do with it because (paraphrasing):

1. "People are gonna think what they're gonna think" and
2. "That's just me"

Nah man. I think you're way smarter than that. I think you have way more agency than you're giving yourself credit. And I think you have a responsibility as someone who has been given a platform to correct this article by addressing the problematic nature of misrepresentation in the voice over industry (assuming you truly respect our culture as you say).

There's a reckoning/realization/whatever-you-want-to-call-it filled with racial upheaval across the world. It's police brutality, it's freakin' pancake syrup, it's voice over, it's EVERYTHING. And right now when you have white actors stepping down from voicing roles of POC characters you gotta come at me with something better than this article.

Try this instead:

Calling your sound/truth "urban" and redefining what urban means? Fine, that's cool, because the term is problematic when it just implies "Black". I know plenty of minorities like yourself (and white people for that matter) who "sound urban" because they grew up in Brooklyn or DC and don't sound suburban/rural. There's a certain swagger and feeling there and I think you made the right decision in changing your marketing to reflect that.

See? Now we're getting somewhere.

I'd have no problem as a Black Voice Actor (talking about me, not you) if your truth was to make the urban sound your own and to own the heck out of it...as YOU. We already have enough issues with white actors who still think they can fatten their wallets by double dipping with cultures they "respect". Last I heard there was a football franchise owner who "respected" a culture so much he decided to fight tooth and nail with rationalizations to keep his team name alive. That ain't respect. That's a money grab. Please tell me that's not you, Kabir.

Respect us enough to define your own thing and come back to the table with a story of actual enlightenment regarding proper representation instead of a rationalization that's got the other side thinking (based on earlier comments in the comments section), "Well if he's okay with it then how bad can it be" and "Even though I'm white, I can't wait to audition for the next minority role that comes to my inbox".

If you want to be the sound of a white role as a POC, let's do that until the scales even out in this unbalanced industry. If you want to play the "urban" or "Indian" character or sound, fine let's represent your sound and your truth. But outside of that, don't give rationalizations for something that you had influence over through SEO and active marketing.

An article like this hurts the POC VO community and the VO community at large by diminishing (at best) and derailing (at worst) the fight for proper representation in this competitive industry.

I offer both you, Kabir, and the site Content Manager who published this article, the opportunity to clarify your statements and publish something that better illustrates the fight for minority representation in the VO community (assuming you really care about that, which I sincerely hope you do as a fellow POC).
Rebecca
7/27/2020 at 12:02 PM
Let me distill this for the reader who doesn't have time or lacks the comprehension to cut through all the bloated, flowery wording to get to the (disappointing) point.
"I came up around y'all (assimilated or appropriated? A little of both? Only you know the truth). I was poor and didn't have a dad (because that's the default Black experience, amirite?). I listened to your music and partook of the fun parts of the culture. I experienced bullying and racism (nevermind that the types of racism you experienced, while heinous, are not and can never be equivalent to anti-Black racism). Therefore, I'm down, I'm at the cookout, I've paid the dues to get to bill myself as a Black man in my SEO and profit off of the culture and people I purport to love"(while quite likely minimizing their already meager opportunities).
Damon Alums
7/27/2020 at 11:43 AM
Mr. Singh,

Your upbringing and circumstances have given you the gift of a sound that is currently popular. Not in dispute.
Your voice is your voice, which you have claimed without creating a separate “This is me when I’m sounding Black” persona, which is nice, but ALSO not in dispute.
I have not heard your “urban accent”. I will not dispute it.
I do not know your product. I will not dispute it.

What I have seen and can discern is that you have put on an urban veneer when it suits you to make money, and taken it off to do the same. You have now posted the equivalent of an “All Lives Matter” post in a “Black Lives Matter” moment in the VO industry to increase your shine. It is an inclusive message, but it is unfocused on the issue, self-serving in the extreme, and does NOTHING to clean up the ugly status quo of “It’s just voice ACTING, so everyone could do it” that Black voice talent continue to endure to their exclusion. In fact, your article only muddies the waters further.

Mr. Singh, your time could have been better served shedding light on the nuance and flow of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or expressing the added degree of difficulty of being a voice talent of Color in the industry today, with a poetic, philosophical twist. What you have delivered to the public is, “I grew up hearing the dialect, and have adopted it as my own. I use it to get paid, but have nothing to say about how the industry should change. I say what I say with a full heart and a smile, so what I’ve said is more impactful.”

Your history is yours, Mr. Singh. I respect it. Your stance is also yours, but it is the stance of the MERCHANT, not that of the POET or PHILOSOPHER. Someone holding to those titles would have come up with a stance that would have made room for other voice talent of Color.
KABIR SINGH
7/24/2020 at 12:10 PM
Much love to everyone reflecting on this. Thank you for your perspective and encouragement. I appreciate you.
Ryan Duncan
7/23/2020 at 5:17 PM
Beautifully said, Kabir. Life is so much more complicated, in the best kinda way, than to dilute yourself down to a label.
Joshua Alexander
7/23/2020 at 3:45 PM
Great article, Kabir! Richness and honesty. I appreciate it!
MML
7/23/2020 at 1:48 PM
Very powerful and articulate article. Thank you, Kabir, for speaking your truth and inspiring others.
Valencia Dobson
7/23/2020 at 8:56 AM
This article is by far one of the best I've ever read as it describes the persona of you, a man whom just so happens to be of the Indian race. Kabir, you have given me life as a black women with aspirations of wanting to be a voice actor that can be booked for what I sound like and because of who "I" am, once my initial training is complete. (I'm still being coached at this time.) However, I did have one coach tell me that I was too Southern and that I may need to look for a " Southern Market" to voice in. I didn't let that stop me, I practice even harder now. I'm just waiting for my time when I can record my demo, and a talent agency says, "that's the Urban Southern voice we're looking for - she's versatile, and who consumers like listening to "!

Thank you for being a trailblazer!
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