It’s the Appropriation For Me

While the concept of cultural appropriation has been defined as when the dominant culture uses the objects and elements from a marginalized group to their own advantage, the appropriation of language can have similar detrimental effects. 

For those who are unfamiliar, African American Vernacular English, also known as AAVE is a dialect of English most common amongst the Black community. It’s roots can be traced back to the West African region as well as the southern part of the United States. Like any other language has its own grammatical rules, phonetic functions, and syntactic structures. However, unlike other languages, AAVE has historically and still currently has not been deemed as “professional” or the “proper” way to speak and therefore is often condemned. 

But with the rise of social media especially on apps such as Tik Tok and Twitter, non-Black users have been referring to it as “internet slang.” Words such as: period, chile, lit, and many others have been co-opted by non-Black users who deem them “trendy” and “cool.” However, just like any other trend, once people begin to get tired of something they toss it to the side or label it as “overused.” 

This is problematic point, blank, period. AAVE is a symbol of Black power, history, and joy. It exists deep within our music and media. It pays homage to the Black LGBTQ+ community in drag and ballroom communities who have been the ones creating the terms we have today. AAVE is an act of resilience. Every time Black people use it, it is to assert it as valid and that it demands to be accepted. 

While some might view these terms as “just words,” they will never be just words as long as Black people are constantly told they are inferior for using them. As long as Black people have to code switch between AAVE and standard English to keep their jobs and to not be denied access to professional spaces, it will always be bigger than just words. Moreover, as long as non-Black people continue to profit and gain social capital for it’s usage it will always be an issue. Because while non-Black people are profiting from its usage, Black people constantly self-police themselves as a way of survival. 

Language can transcend certain barriers and that is not to say that AAVE is exempt from that ability. Black culture has permeated every sector of society, therefore it is not surprising to hear AAVE. However, the bigger issue is the lack of appreciation and credit amongst non-Black users. The appropriation of AAVE by non-Black people ultimately means that Black culture is being erased. Furthermore, with this erasure the narrative is being re-written to attribute its creation elsewhere. 

In America where Black people have literally had to create our culture from ground up, our language is not to be reduced down to internet verbiage. As the lines between the real world and virtual world continue to collide, education becomes even more crucial. So I ask for non-Black people who use AAVE to think twice before they use it. But also, question if you know the history behind the language. In schools that offer foreign languages, we are taught not only the literal words but the culture and history of the people who use it. When we speak a foreign language we understand the respect that must be present. As non-native speakers, we understand our limitations, and don’t attempt to push boundaries. AAVE is no different.  

So, I urge you to ask yourself how it’s become a part of your vocabulary and the motives behind why? Question, if your usage is perpetuating anti-Black and racist sentiments. More importantly, figure out how you can be part of the solution and not the problem.