AAVE Is More Than Just Your Internet Slang

If you aren’t familiar with the acronym, AAVE stands for African American Vernacular English. As a Black child growing up in a suburban neighborhood, I was often told I was articulate because it surprised people that I spoke “proper english.” At the time, I didn’t register how insinuating that Black people didn’t speak proper English is offensive. The way many Black people talk, in AAVE, isn’t incorrect English. It isn’t a result of  someone not knowing how to speak “properly.” Actually, AAVE is a dialect, with its own rules. Some people even advocate for the consideration of AAVE as a language.  We regard British English as a separate, but still acceptable dialect of the English language. The same should be true for AAVE. The stigma around AAVE is because of years of racism that devalues the intricacies of African-American culture. 

Cultural appropriation is a divisive topic. While (white) people often argue that culture sharing is important, many marginalized groups argue that it allows white people to capitalize off what they created. One of the most common examples is white celebrities like Kim Kardashian West wearing a style that is very clearly cornrows. Yet, Kim insists on calling them “Bo Derek braids.” By renaming the hairstyle after a white model, Kim erased the Black origin of the hairstyle so that it would benefit her. In a unique way, AAVE can be culturally appropriated by non-Black people as well. Speaking in AAVE- when nonblack- is often called a “blaccent.” People have accused many celebrities– from Ariana Grande to Awkwafina– of adopting a blaccent.

Awkwafina makes for an especially interesting example. She rose to fame through her comedic rap career. Early videos highlight her blaccent, despite the fact that she grew up in a predominantly white and Asian neighborhood. Referring to Awkwafina as a “culture vulture,” an article from Femestella highlights her role in Crazy Rich Asians as pandering to the “sassy Black friend” trope. Throughout the movie, Awkwafina’s character, Peik Lin, speaks in a notable blaccent. Furthermore, people have pointed out that Awkwafina used a blaccent to jump start her career, and then dropped it as she shifted to more serious roles.

Her recent Best Actress Golden Globe win for The Farewell is a historic moment for Asian-American women. But it’s important to acknowledge that she began her career by co-opting Black cultural aesthetics. Every day, I see non-Black people on TikTok doing the same thing Awkwafina did. It’s clear that this trend of using a blaccent for clout won’t disappear anytime soon. 

How does internet slang fit into all this? To be clear, AAVE is more than just slang. But, the advent of social media and the popularity of Black creators has led to many people adopting slang terms created by or used by Black communities. Oftentimes, the slang is created by Black women and Black members of the LGBTQ community. 

So many of these terms have completely been co-opted by non-Black people to the point where they aren’t even recognized as taken from the Black community. Your twitter and tiktok lingo? Most of it is taken by white people. Some examples…

  • Chile
  • We been knew
  • Period
  • Finna
  • Pressed
  • Sis 

Black culture does not exist merely for your entertainment. Using a blaccent does not make you automatically funny– and non-black people on social media (and in real life) need to learn that. When a black person speaks in AAVE, we’re told we don’t speak correct English. Yet, Non-Black people continually do it and create a whole career. To be clear, using a blaccent and appropriating AAVE is mockery. Most of the time, it isn’t used correctly. Just check out this “AAVE struggle tweets” account on Twitter.  

On a more serious note, if you’re not black, please rethink consistent and incorrect usage of AAVE. I personally won’t argue that every slang term originally created by black people is offensive to use (keep in mind that other black people may disagree with me on this.) But, if you notice yourself adopting a “blaccent” only when trying to make someone laugh, you’re probably using it the wrong way. If you find yourself thinking AAVE phrases are “ghetto” or “ratchet” when black people say them, but cool and trendy when white people say them, that’s part of the problem.