“African American English is the single most important source for new slang (and, eventually, unmarked everyday colloquial usage) in White American English. Yet White authorities and ordinary people scorn and abuse it in every possible way. African American English is widely regarded as a disorderly form of “slang,” to be discouraged at school and on the job. ”—Jane H. Hill, The Everyday Language of White Racism
- Drew some very racist comic
- Made Trickster Mode characters in Homestuck canonically white, despite claiming that the characters were aracial (but also says they definitely aren’t black). When fans were upset about this, he included a page stating how one of the characters was “feeling CAUCASIAN” with a dramatized protest from another character. He later changed the panel not because it was offensive, he claimed he didn’t mean it as an attack on those with PoC headcanons for the characters and that he still found it funny, but because racist fans were using the panel as an excuse to attack PoC fans and fans with PoC headcanons.
- Made fun of people on the Autism spectrum
- Defended use of PTSD/Trigger Warning jokes in his comic by saying it was satire
- Created an entire character to make fun of “sjws” and trigger warnings
- Appropriates AAVE with the character Condesce (here, here, and here) and portrays her as a racist stereotype (here, and here)
- Used lynching references/imagery in comic
- Has used homophobic slurs in comic
- Repeatedly uses ableist slurs in comic (here, here, and here)
- Another character who’s a racist stereotype is Damara, who’s a promiscuous Japanese school girl.
- Describes human reproduction as exclusively heterosexual
- Well known for some of his very fatphobic answers to formspring questions
Post 4: On non-Black Asian appropriation of AAVE
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.
“ . . you never hear anyone impugn white New Englanders like the Kennedys, John Kerry, or Howard Dean for saying "idear" instead of "idea," yet "aks" in place of "ask" is somehow indicative of all kinds of negative things.”— Commenter Jennifer on Feministe’s wonderful post about the expectations that members of marginalized communities need to bear the burden of others’ ignorance. While this quote really isn’t related to that except by way of an anecdote, it’s one that’s very true. Any time somebody criticizes African American Vernacular English (a.k.a. Ebonics), particularly pronunciation, by saying that it’s wrong or poor/bad English or uneducated, I want to strangle them. The fact that they’re not bringing it up when it comes to the diverse pronunciations of America’s vast dialects of white folks is not coincidental.
People who say that AAVE makes folks sound "uneducated" can burn in hell with gasoline soaked clothes on
Because I’ll be damned if somebody tries to discredit my intelligence because I don’t sound like a fucking walking journal of English every second of my life.
Clearly your racist ass ain’t about shit since the only thing you’re hearin is how I sound. You ain’t tryin to get to know me. You ain’t tryin to hear anything I’m sayin anyway.
You done took up the white supremacist ass mindset that AAVE = automatically stupid.
Fuck you and your ‘proper english’ bullshit, you racist bitch.
AAVE - African American Vernacular English
“The AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is the product of a combination of historical, linguistic, and social factors in the long-term experience of African Americans in the United States. It is stigmatized because it is spoken by a stigmatized group.”
Black people speaking AAVE is NOT an indication of the intelligence of a person or people.
Some Type of Thievin’: Tyler Oakley and the Appropriation of Black Women’s Speech
What follows is an essay about Tyler Oakley’s problematic practice of linguistic appropriation. In the following weeks I plan to write an open letter to Tyler concerning the same topic. But I thought I might upload this if anyone is interested.
A great deal of research in sociolinguistics has focused on the phenomenon of crossing in an attempt to highlight the fact that social categories once thought to be fixed are actually constructed through linguistic means. Categories like women, men, and people of color are easily visible to the researcher, but traditionally less attention has been paid to the ways in which these social identities are linguistically performed by people who aren’t members of those categories. A good deal of research, for example, has focused on the appropriation of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) by white, heterosexual men (Buchholz 1999, Cutler 1999, Jacobs-Huey 1997) in order to draw on its indexed “cool” masculinity.
In this paper I hope to consider the intersection of an additional category – homosexuality – and the ways in which it is constructed through the practice of style crossing. Through an analysis of YouTube videos posted by the user Tyler Oakley, I aim to show that the appropriation of black women’s speech is a resource for the construction of a white, homosexual masculinity. Unlike the appropriation of AAVE by heterosexual, white men, the appropriation of a stereotyped black women’s speech by homosexual, white men projects a subaltern masculinity that nonetheless maintains and even bolsters the image of the racialized “other”. Unlike potentially subversive forms of crossing, like the performance of white women’s speech by African American drag queens or the use of the ‘other’s’ language to “build cross-racial affiliations that may usher in a ‘new ethnic’ identity category”, I argue that Tyler Oakley’s use of stereotyped black women’s speech represents an instance of outgroup linguistic racism (Rampton, Buchholz). In the words of Maggie Ronkin and Helen E. Karn:
“Outgroup racism is the ‘socially organized set of attitudes, ideas, and practices that deny [a racialized group] the dignity, opportunities, freedoms, and rewards that [the United States] offers white Americans’ (Feagin and Vera 1995:7). Extending this notion, outgroup linguistic racism is any linguistic attitude, idea, or practice that has these effects.”
Tyler Oakley’s frequent style crossing is an act of outgroup linguistic racism in that it dually indexes desirable qualities on the part of the speaker: sassiness, the cultural capital of knowledge about memes and popular culture that feature black woman, and a ‘sense of humor’. The strength of the indexical tie, however, depends on the “speaker’s and hearer’s shared access to understandings of racist stereotypes” of AAVE and black women in general.
II. Tyler Oakley and White Homosexuality
Tyler Oakley joined YouTube as a user on September 18, 2007, and his first video was uploaded on October 1st when he was attending his first year at Michigan State University. He has since graduated and lives with fellow video blogger Korey in San Francisco. Tyler posts videos nearly every week, and he has uploaded 197 videos since the creation of his video blog (vlog). Most videos feature Tyler updating his 453,733 subscribers about what has happened to him since the last time he uploaded a video, some feature a guest star who are YouTube vloggers themselves. His channel has a total of 37,352,015 views, an average of 189,604 views per video. I don’t want to forget to highlight the number of ways Tyler Oakley is an important figure for gay youth on Internet spaces; he talks openly in his YouTube videos of his sexuality and has participated in mass vlog projects like It Gets Better and National Coming Out Day. In an interview about his support of The Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention organization “providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth”, Tyler said,
My own way of supporting LGBTQ youth is by being present online. I’ve been documenting my life on YouTube for the past five years, showing a normal gay guy go through experiences and challenges. When I was growing up, that didn’t exist. I want people to search google and find me and see that they don’t have to fit a mold or a media stereotype. They can be themselves!
Still, it is important to recognize the ways in which the focus of gay rights movements can become one-dimensional and begin to frame the movement through a white and middle class lens. The role of language in this gay “whitening”, as Allan Berube refers to it, is strong: by parodying the speech of black women Oakley maintains racial hierarchy by reinforcing the ideology that black women are sassy, loud, and that their anger is an object for a (white) audience’s enjoyment. Just as the indexicality of black men’s speech relies heavily on cultural ideologies that are created and perpetuated by the media, the indexicality of black women’s speech is also filtered through a media in which there are very few representations of black women. What black women that are written into television shows are either angry or sassy, and Tyler Oakley can therefore draw on an audience’s shared cultural knowledge when he performs a stereotyped black women’s speech. The meme of the “Sassy Black Woman” has already entered the online cultural lexicon; observe the following post on tumblr, a web-blog platform most frequented by young people – “50% of Tumblr’s visitor base is under the age of 25” (Lipsman 2011)
“one of the best ways I rant independently to myself to cope and get out anger about some bitch, is to, either in front of the mirror or in the shower, talk like I’m bitching this ho out, acting like a sassy black woman using phrases like, “you scumbag droopy ass stinky ass vagina having nappy headed motherfuckin’ stupid bitch ass ho”.”
The post’s text is followed by two pictures of black online figures saying angry comments that have since taken on an air of humor: Antoine Dodson, who became the object of the internet’s attention after a clip of him talking with a local news program about a break-in that happened in his housing complex, saying to the intruder, “You are so dumb. You are really dumb. For real.”; Kingsley, a fellow youtube blogger, saying, “No. You’re a slut.”; as well as an animated picture of a black woman dancing. At the top of the picture chain is Tyler Oakley waving his hand in an exasperated gesture that indexes a particularly sassy black femininity.
This does not entail that Tyler Oakley has some sort of membership in a black, online community. Rather, he holds the same relationship as the audience does to blackness online: he commodifies it, uses it as a stylistic resource, and further reproduces an ideology of black femininity that hinges on sass as humor.
III. Appropriation as Shared Indexical Space
Oakley most often crosses into black women’s speech during moments of humorous exasperation or when he wants to call attention to the stupidity of his addressee in his narratives. The medium of the vlog lends itself well to the demonstration of multiple actors within the narrative. This is often accomplished with a shift in style and/or a quotatitive construction, but in the following narrative Oakley can edit clips together in such a way that he can perform the presence of multiple actors. In a video entitled “HAVE YOU LOST YOUR DAMN MIND?!” Oakley describes a familiar and humorously annoying sitution. Unlike the narrative of Brand One in Buchholz 1999, Tyler Oakley uses constructed dialogue to cross back into a variety that is closer to his own unmarked way of speaking. At the opening of the video (Example 1), Oakley is speaking in his unmarked way, and orients the audience to the fact that the narrative will be about something he hates.
1. 1 if you know me by now
2 you know that i hate
3 everybody in existence
4 and that includes you.
5 and there’s a multitude of reasons
6 why i hate the entire world
7 but today i’m going to delve into one
8 and that is
At this point there is a break in the stream of the video – it is cut back together and Oakley begins crossing into the prosodic features of a stereotyped black women’s speech: vowel elongation, final alveolar nasal in gerunds, rapidly delivered rhetorical questions, and all the while he is waving his finger in the manner of the trope of the “sassy black woman”.
2. 9 if i’m lookin’ under a pillow or a cushion
10 you can safely assume i lost something
11 you don’t gotta come in and be like
12 oh what are you doin?
13 what the fuck do you think i’m doin? ((fast))
14 lookin’ for some spare ass change?
15 you think i’m some type of ho:::bo?
16 sneakin into my own apartment?
17 what the fuck do you think? ((fast))
18 no bitch (.3) but you can ask me
19 what are you looking for
20 i’ll letchu do that
21 but then do not follow it u:p ((waving index finger in a circle)) with
22 oh well have you tried thinking about where you last put it?
23 i just wanna be like (1.5) ((shaking head, mouth open))
24 what the fuck do you take me for?
25 and the other part of me wants to be like
26 AAA:::OOOO:: I have never considered such a thing
27 why tha::nk you (.2)
28 oo: my god it hadn’t cro::ssed my mind
29 to look where i had last put it
30 remind me to write you a fuckin thank you note
31 and send in the mail and when the mailman
32 loses it just be like
33 .hhh(.) oh have you considered where you last put it
34 no you FUCKIN bitch
35 of course i tried to look where i last pghut it.
36 what do you think i am?
37 some du:mb ass ho?
38 bitch(.) reconsider ((moving hand back and forth))
39 who you are (.) talking::: to:: ((heavily aspirated))
40 at this point i don’t know what the fuck ((fast))
41 i’m tryin to look for because now i’m lookin
42 for a fuckin knife to shank open yo head
43 and see if you still got a brain and if not
44 let me just TELL YOU
45 have you considered lookin where you last put it?
46 because bitch it is missing:::guh (.3)
47 ((waves hand)) hhhhhh
48 that is all.
Unlike the narrative of Brand One, this has little to do with racial identity; still, Oakley’s narrative in its acontextuality covertly draws upon the stereotype of black women purely as a stylistic resource. Mocking the speech and gestures of black women in this fashion is a clear case of lingusitic appropriation that because of its use by gay white men simultaneously indexes a white homosexuality. Thus the stereotyped speech of black women becomes a resource for Oakley to construct his own identity. White homosexuality fills the indexical space of this speech variety – through language crossing, Tyler Oakley asserts his own as a gay white man and as an entertainer.
The data above reflects the intersection between race, gender, and sexuality. While the narrative is not overtly racialized, it is racist in that it maintains the ideology that the speech of black women is an object of amusement for an entertainer’s audience. While such examples can complicate the traditional view in sociolinguistics that people cross into AAVE primarily to index their own masculinity, as Tyler Oakley uses the prosodic features of stereotyped black women’s speech, it does nothing to change the fact that his crossing scaffolds racial hierarchy insofar as it elevates Oakley’s own privelege to use the language variety of women of color. Tumblr user onlyforthepressed puts it well when they write that the main function of the trope is “to turn any emotions experienced by a lady character of color (especially a black woman) into something for the audiences’ amusement. Her words are no longer taken seriously…she’s just ‘sassy.’” And Oakley’s crossing extends the trope into the real world; as Lanita Jacobs-Huey writes,
white adolescents need not rely on peer associations with blacks in order to hone their outward affinities to black language and culture. With the explosion of hip hop magazines, televised jukeboxes featuring the latest rap and soul videos, and stand-up comedy and films about urban black street life, youth of diverse backgrounds can now educate themselves within their bedrooms.
Tyler Oakley’s crossing is unlike Brand One’s in that he does not attempt to construct a fundamentally heterosexual “cool” or “hard” indentity. Instead, Oakley crosses not only to construct his own identity as a sassy gay man but also to mock, and in his mocking he preserves the racial ideology that the speech of black women is something worthy of mocking.
I find white people's relationship to AAVE so fascinating
You’ll shake your backs to AAVE over a beat in the club
Before you decided to insert ratchet into the popular vernacular you’d pester black folks as to it’s meaning when we used it in conversations with each other
but let a nigga suggest that the grammatical structure of AAVE is obvious enough that teachers should be able to bring that into the classroom to aid in their instruction of standard american english to native AAVE speakers
and you lose your fucking shits like I’m saying we should force it on y’all
I really can’t with some people in my language class
the lack of cultural sensitivity and understanding some of these motherfuckers are gonna bring to their future classrooms is just about non-existent
A lot of this arguing has left me with a question.
A bit of background before I ask:
- I am a Chinese American, born in China and adopted by a white mother.
- I grew up fully aware of who I am
- I lived in a area that had an amalgam of races (white, latino, black, african american, chinese american, fillipino, ect.)
- I went to a high school that was about 30% white, 30% black, 20% asian, and 20% hispanic
So, with all of this, I grew up with a mixture of what you would call AAVE and American English. I just say it, I don’t say it to be cute or funny, it’s just how I say shit.
So, my question is: Does this mean I am appropriating? Is it really appropriation if it’s just who you are? I have never had any of my friends, nor my black ex tell me to stop using AAVE.
I really am curious, answers would be lovely.
on the topic of using Black vernacular to sell and be cool
my sister has informed me that her very rich and white institution of higher learning now has white sorority girls from some of the richest places in the country saying YOLO. i think it’s time to retire that word lol. it made me start conversing with my room mate about how a lot of our vernacular has to make cycles and rotations because once white people start using it frequently it’s not cool or ours anymore. and so we gotta bring some old stuff back. i mean, i use words like bomb, whack and ill still lol. but because they are not part of the common white copy cat vernacular tryna steal our shit. i don’t use words like yolo or swag. you know what we call swag in my house? fucking denim jackets on old dudes lmao. but that mcdonalds thing about them making those commercials with Black casts to sell that shit to white audiences made things make a bit more sense. cause those ads are horrible to just about every Black person i talk to. but white folks prolly think shit is cool. and they copy and use the vernacular. and it sounds shitty and gross and appropriated. and we gotta change shit and recycle and invent new vernacular so we can keep our stuff to ourselves.