post 4 on non black asian appropriation of aave
August 7, 2012
This would really have to be a multi-part series on many different kinds of appropriation since many, many people are guilty of pretty much appropriating every single aspect of Black american culture.
Anyway, what I want to talk about is linguistic appropriation. We’ve all been exposed to enough media (hip hop, rap, movies, tv, etc.) that we all have some stereotypical notion of what Black people talk like. I hesitate to call what is present in white media African American Vernacular English (AAVE) because it is often wrong (or part of the problem currently being discussed) unless it is Black produced media.
Now appropriation of a language can take the form of borrowing words, mimicking syntax, diction, or whatever. It is important that we don’t do this. Now, it can be the case that some Asians grow up with predominantly Black friends or in Black neighbourhoods such that they are considered part of the community, these are not necessarily the people I’m speaking to, as this case is different and should be handled within the community (by this, I mean that Black people are the final and total arbiters as to what counts as appropriation and what does not – and on a case by case basis since Black people are also not a monolith, so if your particular friends are cool with you using AAVE don’t expect that all Black people will be and if you are asked to stop, stop).
What I’m talking about are the kids in Asian countries or non-Asian countries who attempt to replicate the speech patterns of the Black community with little or no connections to that community. I’m talking about the Asian people who appropriate AAVE as a means to acquire the mass marketed notion of Black ‘cool.’ I’m talking about the people who use this vibrant dialect as a means to seem tough, hip, or whatever without the actual consequences of speaking in this dialect.
Ask pretty much an Black american about the necessity of code switching and not talking ‘Black’ so that they can get professional jobs or be taken seriously. Listen to Black people who tell you stories about constant and continual slights to their intelligence for having the audacity to reshape and create a libratory dialect out of a language imposed on them by colonialism (and often slavery).
And I do get it. At least in my case, I actively need to fight against using AAVE patterns or words in my writing because of how much reading the writings of other people impacts my own voice. This applies to music. As a big fan of hip hop, I notice just how easily the dialect can start sticking in your brain and being used in your own speech. I also get why people think it is ‘cool’ and want to adopt some of that ‘cool’ by using AAVE.
I get it.
But it is still wrong. If you need an analogy to understand it… how do you feel when white people mock the broken english that they think Asian’s have (in invariably a Chinese, Japanese, or Indian accent)? My guess is pretty shitty.
Using AAVE if you are outside of the community is actually worse than that. Not only does it share the same dehumanizing mimicking/mockery of people just trying to communicate, but it also is cultural appropriation. You are talking something that doesn’t belong to you and isn’t yours to use. You are replicating and reproducing the same colonial attitude that white people have (ie., you are not entitled to use whatever dialect you want to use).
Don’t do it.