As soon as Awkwafina started getting bigger movie roles and a lot of hype, the conversation around her “blaccent” and use of AAVE went mainstream. For years now, Nora (her real name) has been asked about it in interviews and she’s never really had one explanation or specific apology. I think that’s partly because – in her mind – she speaks like every one of her classmates from Queens, as in: she’s not adopting AAVE, she just has a regional outer borough accent and she talks like people of all races from Queens. What she never really explained is why she can easily drop that outer-borough “accent” pretty quickly whenever she wants. Well, Nora is tired of being asked about it, so she issued a statement on Twitter and then announced that she was quitting Twitter:
Awkwafina is answering for her controversial “blaccent.” The Golden Globe winner, 33, who has frequently faced criticism for her use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), addressed the controversy in a statement Saturday on Twitter.
In the letter, Awkwafina (born Nora Lum) acknowledged the “historical context of the African American community in this country,” writing: “And in life, linguistic acculturation, immigrant acculturation, and the inevitable passage of globalized internet slang all play a factor in the fine line between offense and pop culture.”
“But as a non-Black POC, I stand by the fact that I will always listen and work tirelessly to understand the history and context of AAVE, what is deemed appropriate or backwards toward the progress of ANY and EVERY marginalized group,” she penned. “But I must emphasize: To mock, belittle, or to be unkind in any way possible at the expense of others is: Simply. Not. My. Nature. It never has, and it never was.”
“My immigrant background allowed me to carve an American identity off the movies and TV shows I watched, the children I went to public school with, and my undying love and respect for hip hop. I think as a group, Asian Americans are still trying to figure out what that journey means for them – what is correct and where they don’t belong. And though I’m still learning and doing that personal work, I know for sure that I want to spend the rest of my career doing nothing but uplifting our communities. We do this first by failing, learning, acknowledging, hearing and empathizing… And I will continue, tirelessly, to do just that,” Awkwafina concluded.
I’ll be controversial: I don’t think Nora ever did any of this with malice. I think she started doing a blaccent when she was younger because, in her mind, it sounded cool and she heard other people talking like that and she thought it was okay. Then it became part of her “Awkwafina brand” as an entertainer, and she’s clearly been trying to retire that part of her “act” for years now. As for this statement, it’s the equivalent of “I’m listening and learning” combined with “I wasn’t mocking anyone.” I don’t know – I don’t feel one way or the other about it. I think she needs to do what’s best for herself, and clearly that’s taking a social media break.
— nora (@awkwafina) February 5, 2022
To Clarify: I am retiring from the ingrown toenail that is Twitter. Not retiring from anything else, even if I wanted to, and I didn’t drunkenly hit someone with a shoehorn and now escaping as a fugitive. Also am avail on all other socials that don’t tell you to kill yourself!
— nora (@awkwafina) February 5, 2022
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.
She didn’t issue an apology. That statement was word salad that she tossed together then proceeded to “like” all of the comments of the non POC supporting her tweeted. I think she is actually a jerk and may feel justified because she is a non-white person.
Hard agree. When she saw how her word salad was ratioed, that’s when she quit twitter. She is a jerk and a culture vulture.
I think she is an idiot but not malicious but really she would have heard the criticism looooong before she became famous no doubt somebody told her about herself before this. However, she is trying to listen now. This can’t be brand new information to her.
I must agree too. Wasn’t this the same woman who, years ago, said that she made a conscious decision NOT to do a strong Asian accent because she didn’t want the larger American public to pigeon-hole Asian people? If so, then her choice (and it was a conscious choice) to adopt this accent shows that she didn’t give a damn if the public continued to pigeon-hole Black Americans, cuz she just didn’t give a damn.
We could spend 40 thousand days and nights talking about non-ADOS or Black immigrants scrambling up the ladder of the American Dream by climbing over and shitting on ADOS Black folks. (Including, sadly, many Black folks from The Continent.) Meanwhile, those same people often do not realize the multitude of ways they are simultaneously benefitting from the advancements of Civil Right because of the work of ADOS Black folk AND saying/singing/eating/enjoying things from ADOS Black culture.
Her agent told her to drop the accent and cultural appropriation in order to get more work, so she did.
The cultural appropriation got her attention and in the door, dropping it once there was pretty easy.
So that proves it was all an act and for that, she can kick rocks in flip flops.
I avoid any and everything she is involved in now.
Yep, tale as old as time. I wanted to root for her but had a feeling she was essentially Miley Cyrus during her hip-hop phase.
You nailed it in one, Tiffany!
A lot of people tried (for years!) to explain to her that this is a situation where intent doesn’t matter as much as impact. She’s on the record about why she refused to do roles that would require her to use stereotypical Asian accents, but she was fine putting on a verbal minstrel act. She also liked a bunch of comments telling her that she had done nothing wrong before deleting.
She probably does need a break from social media, but I also see her avoiding feedback about her problematic behavior. I don’t see an actual apology anywhere.
I’m with Kaiser on this. I feel like she has been trying to address this and has not always done the best job of it but this woman is no Joe Rogan. Of course that bar is so low one would have to tunnel beneath the earth’s surface to go lower. I hope to continue to see her grow.
When did she properly address this? When did she apologize? Because that four page letter wasn’t an apology. If she understands why it’s bad to play stereotypical Asian characters, why can’t she understand what Black people have been saying for years?
RE: FAY- 100%
She emphasizes being unkind is not in her nature…but when I hurt someone, intentionally or not, I apologize. There was no apology here.
As a black person, I don’t get the rage boner people have for Awkwafina. I also took her accent as her local New Yorker accent. And if she drops that accent for acting roles, it’s because she’s playing a role that requires a different speech pattern.
It’s interesting that you say this, because I actually perceive it to be the opposite. Admittedly, I haven’t followed her career closely, but in the clips that I’ve seen of her “Awkwafina” persona, I didn’t get the sense that she was doing a “blaccent”. It just sounded like an exaggerated New York accent. However, from the clips that I’ve seen of her in movies like “Ocean’s 8”, it definitely sounded to me like she was putting on a very pronounced “blaccent” with AAVE.
Now of course, one can argue that it’s the producers, directors, etc. that directed her to speak that way, but it’s interesting that she has stated that she would never use a stereotypical “Asian” accent in a film, but had no problem using another culture’s.
Just my 2 cents.
This. The issue has never been with how she presents herself every day. The issue is with specific performances where her exaggerated accent is accompanied by mugging, finger-wagging and neck-rolling. It looks a lot like minstrelsy.
I agree. I never saw her mocking anything then profiting from it. Even if it’s not her natural home accent you can grow up around a language and mimic it out of enjoyment. It’s why north Easterners say “wicked” and Californians say “Hella.” New York has a strong culture, language, and dialect that I can see anyone growing up in wishing to emulate and embrace. Not to mock, not to profit from, but out of true embrace. I think of the many chefs like Roy Choi who have a distinct LA culture and sound. He grew up around an Asian/Hispanic culture. He does amazing tacos. He literally profits from a food that Mexico invented, and Mexicans are treated horribly in the US as a whole. But it is what he knows and it’s not malicious mocking, but genuine affection for a culture and cuisine.
RE: T3PO- I agree that one can embrace cultures that are not their own, but accents are different. Because our accents are what identify our roots/places of origin. They are something that we tend to think we can rely on to give us clues, if not outright tell us, where and how someone grew up. And so when someone puts on a fake accent, there is the sense that s/he is trying to misrepresent his/her roots.
@Snuffles: She grew up in a white neighbourhood so where did the blaccent come from?
@AmyBee She went to LaGuardia High School. Even with living somewhere as affluent and very white as Forest Hills, I am not surprised she picked up the accent while going to public school (and with that school being a renowned performing arts school, she probably wanted to emulate the dynamic kids around her).
As an alumni of that very same school, (I’m a few years older though) I can confirm. My classmates were from ALL OVER NYC. BK BX, Qns, SI and Manhattan. From every neighborhood, and every culture. West Indians/Caribbeans, Central & S Americans, South Asians, E Asians, Arab, White, Blk, you name it. After 4 years of befriending and hanging around all these different cultures daily, you all tend to start sharing terminology, accents and mannerisms. It is what it is.
Beats me. I never felt the need to do a background check on her. I’ve seen people change the way they speak depending on who they are around or what situation they are in all the time.
My BFF was born in the Bronx and went to boarding school in Connecticut. I’ve seen her go full Cardi B Bronx to Martha Stewart Connecticut more times than I can count. I frequently pitch my voice differently depending on who I’m talking to. I knew a meek, nerdy white girl who wore coke bottle glasses in junior high, completely change her voice and personality to a ditzy blonde the moment her parents let her get contact lenses. I knew a bi-racial black girl who spoke like a “white girl” at the beginning of her freshman year, completely change to a “blaccent” and changed her hair and clothes to fit in with the other black girls in school.
People do all kinds of weird shit to fit in.
Just cuz you are born into a certain neighborhood in NYC doesn’t mean you stay in it 24/7, or that all your friends are only from that particular neighborhood. First off, my neighborhood today has been so gentrified so much that the majority is now white and well off. But during the 70’s/80’s/90’s, it was a lower income, minority neighborhood. And yet, I still had friends from the “white” (Polish, Italian, Irish) hoods thanks to the NYC public school system, or having cousins who lived in other neighborhoods and made friends with their friends. If you’re not from NYC, you just wouldn’t understand.
@Regina George Your story is so true. I am a Bay Area transplant living in Queens now, and it has been fascinating to see it IRL. Every adult and kid who grew up and went to public school here has that accent, and the people who have it are varied- an Irish/Italian ex, some Cuban friends, Muslim kids on the bus, and of course Asian kids too. So though the accent seems unexpected, it’s a totally authentic social experience being verbally expressed.
As a mixed race Latina and native NYer, with a very obvious NY-Rican accent (that can also be perceived as using AAVE outside of NYC), I conquer. Many of us code switch depending on our situation. When I’m around my bosses, some colleagues, I drop the urban street slang. When I’m amongst my peeps, the language changes. People outside of NYC just don’t get it and don’t get us. Only I’m not famous. So I don’t get the same outrage as being directed to Awkwafina.
Give this a rest. It’s called code switching. The anti-Asian mindset in these comments is concerning. There is always a pile on with her, no matter how she tries to explain herself. If you’ve grown up in an area where you switch the way you talk depending on your company, then this really isn’t that big a deal. She’s not actually doing blackface ffs
Im black and I thought she was doing a NY thing as well. I dont like or dislike her. On a side note. Im slightly offended thats how people think “black” folks talk. Im from Chicago and we speak regional here. None of us sound like Ms. Nora. I hate when people talk “loud and ghetto” it means talking black. Sad.
I’m native american and grew up in Oklahoma, then went to Minnesotan public schools for highschool and college. Now, I work in the software industry. I code-switch all the time with my friends and family. I will go from talking like a refined, highly-educated professional to “broke-ass profanity-enthusiast with a confused accent” in the same paragraph when I’m comfortable around you. My residual Oklahoman accent probably makes me sound like I’m REALLY culturally appropriating, but if you went to my impoverished Native town, you’d find most of us talk like me when I’m relaxed. I also went to school with a bunch of Hmong people and Akwafina just sounds like an Asian kid who went to public high school, but with a New York accent. I’m gonna have to tell a few of my friends their code-switch accent is allegedly culturally appropriating black people because they went to public school. LOL
As a black woman, I’m tired of people making excuses for her. She used the accent because it was profitable to her and dropped it the minute she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. There was no apology. All she had to say was I’m sorry and now that I’m older and wiser I will do better. Drop the Awkwafina if you are serious. And by the way, for those who are not black, you don’t get to accept an “apology” that wasn’t meant for you.
This! All of this. She used it when it suited her and stopped when it didn’t
Blue sky 100% agree
If she gets offended by exaggerated Asian accents and refused to do one but thought it was as okay to do an exaggerated blaccent. No ma’am her reasoning is not acceptable and neither is that non apology.
My mom is from down south but you would not be able to tell, she never had a southern accent, her nor her 9 siblings.
“And by the way, for those who are not black, you don’t get to accept an “apology” that wasn’t meant for you.”
I was going to say I feel like white people particularly should be sitting this conversation out. Listening and learning should really be our only involvement here. But accepting her apology (or lack thereof) when it has nothing to do with us is another level entirely lol Jesus
Kebbie gets it. Everyone listen to Kebbie. White, Latinx, or Asian people please sit this one out.
As a native american tribal member whose tribe was the first down the Trail of Tears and who codeswitches to a slang-laden, profanity-riddled, Oklahoman-accent-y lazy way of speaking that would probably deeply offend all y’all because it would sound “black” even though it’s just the way the poor people in my native town talked mixed with what I picked up in public school in the Twin Cities, I am very tired of some black people acting like they have a monopoly on all spoken English that isn’t Proper English. I recently saw a video that was like, “All slang basically belongs to Black people and using it in jokes is disrespecting us.” Um… ok, bro. Why do black people WANT to be tied to this accent so badly?? How much of black culture is what you were told is “black culture” and how much is ACTUALLY black culture? How much of your culture is benefitting you and how much is keeping your oppressors in power? I think it’s very important to think critically about these things in order to move out of the victim mindset and start beating the oppressors at their own game.
Natives are programmed to keep the government in power over them, and it’s quite unfortunate. I recently found that natives are being controlled by the government, because the government holds their lands in trust, which means tribes can’t take out loans, build equity, etc. and have to rely on the government for everything. We’ve allowed ourselves to believe a certain narrative about our culture that renders us “powerless”. Parts of our culture were forced down our throats by their schools through indoctrination. Our “Great Spirit” was made up by whites to make Christianity more acceptable. My tribe used to have multiple gods and mythology and I just found that out a few months ago. And it’s more than that. I mean, it’s not “normal” for natives to get MBAs and become financial players who can make a real difference, so I decided to get an MBA and work to change that narrative. Native women are the lowest paid minority in the US, relative to education and in comparison to other minority women. I will never be underpaid by white people or other minorities again (my last boss was Asian and gave everyone on the team promotions (whites) except me, even though I was her star performer and she bragged about me constantly, so I quit for a company that paid me twice what I was making). Know your worth, figure out what narratives are being forced on you, and try to change them. Figure out the real problems that are keeping your people down. Because it’s probably not people using slang or making comedic raps about growing up in NYC/about their vag.
I am Asian-American and grew up in southern CA in the late 80s. Throughout my teens and 20s I sounded like a version of SNLs “Californians.” I had an Asian friend who grew up surrounded by LatinX culture & people and she sounds, well, LatinX. As I got older and moved into different professions I learned to “drop” my accent and change my speech patterns depending on the context and social situation – this is normal!
I get why people might think Awkwafina is culturally appropriating, but what if that IS the culture she grew up surrounded by? Because I am Asian, should I “sound Asian”?
No one is saying she or anyone else who is Asian should “sound Asian.” Just saying she shouldn’t speak in AAVE. I think that’s pretty clear.
It’s disingenuous coming from her since she was VERY clear that she wouldn’t participate in stereotypical Asian roles or put on Asian accents.
She gets it when it comes to Asians, but it’s all about what she was supposedly around when it comes to her “blaccent”, despite growing up in the whitest part of Queens.
I can’t speak for Awkafina’s actual intent, but the dropping and picking up of accents is really normal for Asian-Americans. My non-black friends who hang out with and grew up with predominantly with black friends speak like them. Same with the ones who hang out with LatinX. Grow up with predominantly white folks, speak like them too. It is the very nature of the American Asian experience.
Our accents will change depending on who we speak to because we learn early in life to go back and forth between an asian accent and another accent. You have to in order to be able to speak another language. You use the accent to match the people you are speaking to.
I have seen this argument before but I’ve never seen anything that substantiates that point. If she grew up with a predominantly Black circle of friends in which they all sounded the same with AAVE, then shouldn’t there be some receipts?
I know, right? Some people are using the “code switching” explanation to rationalize the character she chose to make money with when she was an unknown performer. However, the questions are about the accent and mannerisms of her entertainment character – not about the way she (as a person) relates to various friends and acquaintances. By the way, for those who say she didn’t profit off of anyone’s culture, wasn’t she paid for her roles as Awkwafina?
@ Tiffany, yes, thanks for your many well articulated points. I’ll go further and say this points to a larger issue of cultural appropriation and being a culture vulture to get ahead and stand out. Non black ppl have the privilege of picking and choosing what parts of the culture they like and want to use and a abuse to be seen as ‘cool’ ‘edgy’ or ‘down’ then when its served its purpose and they don’t need to speak, act or sound ‘urban’ they do this kind of thing. Gross. How many opportunities did she get by using this fake persona when say a black comedian with this actual background and accent were overlooked?
What’s problematic is not just what I’ve laid out, it’s that black ppl are not afforded the same luxury, I wake up black and go to sleep black. I don’t get to choose how I sound and speak and I’m judged for it in a myriad of ways by society. I may not get a job offer because I ‘sound too black’ or other opportunities because of how I look and that’s the larger issue, the rank privilege.
And growing up in Queens doesn’t make an Asian woman sound the way she did. Let’s get real here. I’m surprised the author is so nonchalant, this is the kind of unconscious bias that is insidious and that needs to be called out. When Hilaria rightly got called out for her accent and problematic appropriation last year on this site, so should Nora.
She’s problematic AF and that ‘apology’ was bs.
Agreed! There was no apology, she knew what she was doing, black people have been telling her it was wrong for years now. She only dropped the accent when it didn’t suit her anymore.
Well said Gary.
Some people really don’t think the true struggle for being and embracing Black ( or they do know and don’t care because, racism). From the changing of our names on resumes to even get a interview. To being careful in how we speak in any space outside our own.
The fact that she was able to parlay our real struggles into a career to only write it off is noticeable and Pepperidge Farms remembers.
Yes!!!! Thank you.
Thank you Gary, that was very real and helpful and I think you put it succinctly.
I’m an Asian (soon-to-be-American via green card) who went to international schools and speaks English with a typical North American accent (completely non-distinguishable. When I speak on the phone, people assume I’m white). I once hung out with an Asian guy friend of a friend’s from LA who had an obvious “blaccent.” It puzzled me and I thought he was trying to sound black to appear cooler. When I asked my friend why he was using that accent, he shrugged and said a lot of Asians spoke like that in LA.
I’ve since felt quite conflicted because as an Asian from Asia, I was not the authority on what constitutes a proper “English accent” for Asian-Americans. I worried I was being judgmental for even pointing it out and my initial thought was that it’s all an act to appear cooler because hip-hop is so influential globally; however I think other commenters explained the cultural and regional influences really well. I am thankful that @Gary illustrated why you cannot profit off of someone else’s struggle. Why it’s not an outfit you try on when it’s convenient or a persona to adopt for clout. If Nora hadn’t talked about being against the stereotypical Asian accent I think she would have more of a leg to stand on. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
She can miss me with her “intent” BS. As Lizzie said above, intent doesn’t matter as much as impact. How was the road to hell paved again?
Except intent always matters. Legally, humanly, it matters. Whether you killed as manslaughter or as a premeditated murder matters. Whether it was an accident or malicious intent matters. Whether it was a thoughtless comment or a deliberate offense matters. So, why does it not matter here suddenly?
Green Desert didn’t say that intent doesn’t matter at all. She said that it doesn’t it matter as my much as impact. And she’s right.
To use the example you gave…if you kill someone, even by accident, it’s still a very serious offense. A human being is still dead. And you have to face the consequences of what you did.
You can’t simply brush it off, because it was an accident.
She’s been getting called out about this for years and has never said the words, “I’m sorry”. There was no apology in that statement. Also not everyone in Queens talks the way she was speaking. Not all black ppl talk the way she was speaking. She grew up in an area that was and still is mostly white. She used a form of AAVE to come off as funny and make a name for herself and dropped it the second she got legitimate fame. She knew exactly what she was doing and didn’t give a crap about how black ppl felt. She’s problematic AF and anyone making excuses for her is as well. Also her liking tweets from white ppl telling her she had nothing to apologize for…says everything.
I know we have to hold people accountable for their actions. But we have to remember that she is an Asian woman in a male dominated white industry. I think if she wants to learn and grow, that’s great. And I do believe it’s important for her to continue to work because representation matters. We need more famous Asian women in this industry so young girls see themselves and feel like they can also be an actress in Hollywood, which in turn will open more and more doors for BIPOC.
Sorry, but that’s a weak excuse. How many other Asian actresses got their start doing blaccent? That’s not being an Asian actress in a male dominated industry, that’s Nora being a vulture, benefitting from mocking black culture and walking away after she’s made it. How can she learn when she hasn’t even apologized? What you’re saying is the opposite of holding her accountable.
Sorry but we absolutely don’t need more Asian women becoming famous by approprating and mocking black culture. We need more Asian women but not culture vultures.
I don’t recall anyone stating Nora shouldn’t work but rather that she should acknowledge her past behavior was problematic and apologize. Instead of her accepting accountability for her choices, she wants to deny and deflect. Some NBPOC aren’t doing Nora any favors ignoring Black people who are loudly explaining their respective issues with her past behavior + non-apology or are leaning in to anti-Blackness to defend her.
Also, the thing I hate about the blaccent convo is that there are too many non-Black folks who think Black people all sound the same. We do not. We are not a monolith. Her blaccent was an affected minstrel act.
You and MellyMel said it all and said it well.
It’s not just the blaccent that got her noticed she was also making rap music some of which went viral thus got her in the door. She completely appropriated African American culture profited off of it and then dropped it when her agents told her too. It’s messy and I also avoid her projects.
Whether her blaccent was intended with malice isn’t the issue though. Right now, she’s at a pretty stubborn non-ownership stage. All she’s gotta say is: It was racist. I’m sorry. I didn’t see it then but I see it now and I will do better. Then, show that with words and actions. I mean this is a simplification but I’m just over the denialism. If we agree that our country is built on systemic racism, then why wouldn’t it come out in individual’s words and actions? Recognize it in yourself and be better. And yeah we call it unconscious bias but unconscious bias is still racist, even it’s an agreed upon lesser degree than full on using the n-word. It’s still detrimental to actual people.
I worked for a very long time in a Brooklyn HS and many non-black kids would take on a blaccent and even white teachers would sometimes while trying to fit in, which was pretty cringe. So I do get how it came about and as a teen growing up in queens it was probably pretty normal for all the kids to be doing that and I’m sure kids are still doing it. But part of growing up is seeing that and maybe saying yeah that’s kind of f*cked up and racist and maybe I was kind of f*cked up and racist but I don’t want to be that anymore and I’m not gonna trade on that cultural cache anymore. It seems like her actions are showing that? And she is talking around that. But just own it. It’s just like I want to shake people sometimes. Admit you did something racist and move onto being better. People are just terrified of being called racist when really a lot of people do a lot of racist things. Stop putting all this energy into denying it and put energy into being better. Honestly, I can’t speak to her experience, so maybe what I’m saying isn’t fair idk?
Also, where exactly in queens did she grow up? And what HS? It better not be Forrest Hills lol.
Edit: holy holy. I just looked it up and she did grow up in Forrest Hills, which if you know queens you know queens. Are there different less white areas of Forrest Hills that I don’t know about?
More edit- she also went to LaGuardia which is 9.8% black. So now I’m feeling even less generous. I can’t speak to what her social groups were like growing up but Forrest Hills and LaGuardia just don’t really mesh with what she’s trying to say here.
More more edit: sorry, after more research, the demo for Forrest Hills queens is 0.1% African American. Again, queens and nyc is a big diverse place and you can travel to other neighborhoods and create social circles out of many diverse people. Being generous, that is what she is referencing so maybe I’m making this into a bigger thing. But when she makes her statements about growing up in Queens, Forrest Hills is not what I was picturing. Like Jay-zee shouts out Queens and also very specifically the Rockaways. Awkwafina is shouting out Queens but not very specifically Forrest Hills and there’s a reason for that.
This context matters a lot. She is delusional with the idea that everyone believes she is doing a “New York” accent. This reminds me of how Grimes talks about her upbringing.
I went to Lag in the 90’s. The school was WAY more diverse back then. It’s only more recently that it got less so due to changes in their entrance qualifications that were problematic and also because of gentrification. Not sure when she went to LaG, but if it was before 2010, I can tell you, it was much more diverse.
That may be the case for LaGuardia HS in the 90s. I don’t know. Would def be interested in the exact numbers. I think she’s wrong though and that she should do a real apology bc it was racist. If it wasn’t racist, she’d still be doing it.
@regina george- LaGuardia HS was more diverse in the 90s from what I looked up and you’re right. So me calling out the school’s current diversity numbers in the comment above really had no bearing on this and was wrong.
If anyone gets a pass for this it’s those teachers doing it – while in the class only. If that’s how they are effective, sure do it while there, even if it’s cringe.
“unconscious bias is still racist”
Exactly. And when we care about the oppressed we show some willingness to examine our biases and do better. Not find 17 different ways of saying she did not intend to offend.
This is yet another example of a non-Black person using that culture for attention and then dropping it when it no longer suits them. I am white and cannot speak to what this is like for the Black community, but I imagine it’s hurtful to have your culture used in that manner when it’s convenient for people, when oftentimes your own, real culture is looked at as less-than by certain parts of society.
I’m sure Nora didn’t *intend* to hurt anyone, but I think it’s clear that she did and it seems like she has been notified of this for years. A true apology and some personal accountability would’ve been ideal here. A simple apology admitting that what she did was wrong and hurtful and that she can see that.
As a side note, I really think Twitter is the worst, lol. The drama is ridiculous and it is probably better for everyone’s mental health to not be on it. I’m glad it never appealed to me because it seems like a stressful nightmare of a place.
You have made the most clear analysis of what the issue is. She used the way she spoke as a way to differentiate herself, it helped, and once she was recognized she was able to suddenly drop it.
If is truly how she spoke day to day and was trying to change that, then the “blaccent” would not just disappear one day.
Agreed, @Case! This is the biggest issue here. A non-Black person exploiting this accent for her personal gain, and being able to drop it when she doesn’t need it anymore. It’s exploitative and I’m constantly shocked that people defend this kind of thing. When analyzed under this lens (like putting on and taking off a costume, performing minstrelsy), it’s clear how dark and insidious cultural appropriation is.
@Jamie, great point that she wouldn’t have been able to drop it so easily if it was her natural way of speaking.
Gah, this one has got me really angry today!
This is a really well done, informative tik tok video essay on this topic
That video was completely on point. The author is so right: Awkwafina because famous by being an Asian woman speaking the way White America believes that most Black folks sound like. She was imitating the access of a caricature of Blackness, a verbal black face, if you will.
“I think she started doing a blaccent when she was younger because, in her mind, it sounded cool and she heard other people talking like that and she thought it was okay.”
The problem is she never said that. If she had said that, people would be more understanding. The “apology’ wasn’t even an apology. She tried to show that she recognised why her act was problematic but she’s still not willing to acknowledge that she perpetuated a stereotype that has aided her career and was cultural appropriation and downright enabled white supremacy.
It’s problematic that her reaction to being called out on Twitter was to block those accounts (before leaving Twitter entirely). Many of the people she blocked are black themselves and were trying express their own feelings about her accent.
If she wanted to reflect and learn from her experience, she would have. Instead she shut down and became defensive.
Also, she hasn’t tweeted since late 2019 and just came back for this non-apology. She’s getting rightfully dragged.
I disagree. And let me say this: her “comedy” has always been laced with misogynoir. She hates black women. That’s clear from the caricature of black womanhood she plays at. This is a woman who made a joke about Serena Williams being ugly because she has dark-skin. She made a living and name for herself doing this. And when she no longer needed it she dropped it. Nora Lum grew up in a predominantly white upper class area of NYC. Her town of Forest Hills has a 2% Black population. Her school was 9% Black – in NYC! So yeah I see malice. And I see opportunism. And I see someone who after saying all that word salad never said “I’m sorry”. And then proceeded to “like” comments on Twitter of folks telling her what she did was okay. And most of those folks were white.
I can’t stand her. She’s so self conscious and hammy with her sub-par acting, and yeah, her blaccent is offensive.
What’s missing from her statement are an apology and accountability which is why many Black folks on twitter are still calling her out + dragging her for her choices.
It’s Black folks she mocked and it’s up to us to accept an apology when she does actually apologize.
To all of you who are (erroneously) defending or making excuses for her, I’d like to just say that if a Black actress had alleged that she grew up in a mostly Chinese-American neighborhood (that was actually majority white), and all of her friends were Asian, and THAT’S why she spoke with a stereotypical Chinese accent all the time, HEADS WOULD ROLL. We’d all, rightly, look at her like she was crazy and she would find it almost impossible to get work. And yet, here y’all are, on the seventh day of the worst Black History Month in recent memory, defending someone who calls herself Awkwafina. Fix it Jesus. I don’t know why I continue to be surprised that people will always go out of their way to dismiss the feelings and complaints of Black people. Talking about, “she didn’t mean any harm” or “you have to understand the neighborhood she grew up in.” Give it a rest. Matter of fact, if you’re not Black or here to amplify the voices of the Black people who have been calling her out, you should be quiet and stay out of Black folks’ business.
Being Black in America is being gaslit ALL THE TIME.
A reminder: it’s not for non Black people to accept her non apology and tell Black people that they should give it a rest because “she’s trying to learn”. And saying that an Asian woman should do better and apologize is not anti Asian rhetoric.
Hard agree with everything Kaiser wrote.👍🏼
Sorry to weigh in on something and someone am clueless about. But what does it mean when she says “yo vag is frightening like Serena Williams.” Huh?
I remember once when Eva Longoria, a friend of Serena’s, was on Chelsea Handler’s show and Chelsea went on and on about being terrified of Serena and her being so scary. Eva did tell Chelsea she wasn’t scary at all. This trope is so disgusting!
This. I don’t know why anyone in this day and age still thinks it’s okay to call a black woman “frightening” and “scary” like Nora and Chelsea. Seems malicious to me…
I don’t know this woman but she probably should step away from social media for a while. It may not be out of malice, but it is stealing. We gotta stop stealing damn near everything in popular culture from black people and then tell them to get over it. No. Have you ever been stolen from? Had even an idea copped by someone and see them get accolades from it? It’s really annoying, more so angering and we (non black people) all need to check ourselves about it imo.
So she never actually apologized, liked the mostly white tweets supporting her and blocked the mostly black tweets calling her out, all during the first week of Black History Month? Maybe instead of respecting hip hop she should try respecting black people. But it never seems to be the right time to recognize black people’s humanity. There’s always some excuse.
Someone rightfully said she could have saved her faux-pology until March.
Real allyship on this site is paper thin… especially when it’s Black women telling you all (with receipts) that something is wrong
Agree. The litany of excuses white “liberal” women are making for Nora’s racist antics are disheartening but ultimately unsurprising. If you don’t see why Nora’s minstrelsy is a problem you are an anti-black racist. End of story.
As a black woman, a lot of the above comments hurt my heart. Why are her actions being viewed through the lens of intent? We don’t do that when men are being called out for misogyny. This hits like being the only woman in a room full of men and one of them defends another by saying, “Honey, you have Roger all wrong. He doesn’t mean any harm.”
I’m not suggesting that she was trying to cause harm. But I hope at some point she will look inside herself to see why “making a minstrel out of [her own] people” didn’t sit right with her at a time when she was profiting off a different kind of minstrel act.
And why did it work? Well, for the same power structure reasons why a cisgender man in a dress used to be seen as hilariously entertaining when a woman in a man’s suit might garner no more than a yawn.
Not having grown up in that area I just assumed it was a local/regional accent for people of certain generations.
Oh well…now I have a better perspective.
A few years ago, a friend who is a Marine was complaining about the newer government rules regarding sexual harassment, specifically around the fact that the latest rules and training emphasized that even if the guy didn’t intend to offend or sexualize the actions or body of a woman, he could still be penalized for harassment. The Voting Rights Act, sex discrimination and other laws associated with racism are being weakened because the victim now has to prove that the perpetrator intended to do harm. For racism and sexism, intent has to matter less because it’s almost impossible to prove what was in the offender’s heart at the time of the infraction.
Awkwafina proved through her actions regarding Asian accents that she understood that, specifically in America, donning the dialect or mannerisms of a marginalized group, specifically for public entertainment or profit, further dehumanizes and ‘others’ that marginalized group. For myself, as a Black woman, watching her earlier acting made me uncomfortable, in the same way that watching Asian American actors being forced to don an exaggerated Asian accent in films, made me uncomfortable, because it is exploiting the other for the comfort of whiteness.
We’re not talking just about code switching here (which isn’t unique to New York or any other particular region of the US). We are specifically referring to the usage of AAVE in a non-Black person specifically for the enhanced comfort or entertainment of white people for profit. Black people have been telling her since the beginning of her career that her blaccent was offensive. Only now, when she has enough fame and recognition of her own, is she choosing to completely drop the blaccent. Why? Is she no longer a girl from Queens? Or was the blaccent are part of her act to stand out and get noticed? Even if it was, why not offer a sincere apology? Why is this insincere apology acceptable from her, when non-apologies have been called out against so many others?
Finally, why are the concerns of Black folks so easily dismissed on this issue? Why is it so easy to remark that she wasn’t being malicious, so it’s no big deal? Why do you get to decide what’s offensive for Black folks?
Most of the responses on this post are reasonable. I haven’t seen her comedy. This is about a lot of the behaviors around cultural appropriation and the things being called ‘brownface’ and ‘Asianfishing’ in general.
A lot of the behaviors around these discussions are just….disturbing and not right. It has become an issue where any reaction to either the woc accused of it, the white woman accused of it, or the poc not liking every reaction to it, is seen as justified. The toxic behaviors are coming from all races too. Other Asian people have been vile about it, other racial and ethnic groups been vile about it, and perhaps most telling of all, white people have been vile and weaponized it against women they already want to get away with being politically incorrect about. It’s just not worth anyone’s mental health or life, and it needs to be spelled out what kinds of reactions to witnessing (or suspecting) appropriation/fishing are not justified.
-These issues do not justify wishing death on someone, or calls for any other kind of violence.
– These issues don’t justify transphobia or homophobia
-These issues don’t justify racial abuse (including calling another poc white and other stereotypical garbage for not seeing some things as being any more harmful or that different from a cis man in drag, or voicing our aversion to seeing certain things being treated the same as brownface and racial slurs)
– These issues don’t justify misogynistic abuse, or downplaying/making fun of the risk of girls and women going through that self-harming or having a mental health crisis.
– These issues don’t justify a man abusing his wife.
– White people: these issues are not yours to pick up and play with when you dislike a woman, and then abandon when it’s a useful man or a woman who presents herself in a way you approve of.
All of the above behaviors are usually worse, both in intent and in impact, than seeing someone partaking in something from outside of their culture. I don’t want to make people feel like they should pretend to be ok with culture vultures at all. Those are all just some things that need to be taken into account.
I don’t know that this is appropriation really; if this is what the people she grew up around talked like, it would be natural to pick that up as part of her lexicon. I’m not necessarily sure that she’s attempting to retire it as part of growth, or whether she’s tired of explaining herself. I get why people are in their feelings about that, but language is constantly shifting and changing and growing. Where she grew up and was socialized into language is a rich blend of languages and code switching and cultures, it all becomes a part of your own. I don’t know if this is cultural appropriation so much as a bunch of people gatekeeping language.
I just want to slightly qualify my post – I think it might have been better to use an example, so let’s use correcting someone’s grammar. Total microagression. Why? Because there isn’t a right or perfect way to use language, just socially conditioned ones. If you say a word “incorrectly” to me, I’m not going to correct it. I understood what you meant, and we are communicating just fine, in which case, we are both sort of using language perfectly.
Again, not discounting any of the wonderful and important points people raised about appropriation. I just think there is another side of the coin (which is almost never the case when it comes to systemic racism).
You’re using a whole lot of terms here that you clearly do not understand.
My goddaughter is bi-racial — white mother, black father, and identifies as black. Throughout her 38 years on this planet she’s been criticized by blacks for not talking black enough, or trying to “talk white”. She’s spoken to clients over the phone who said she didn’t “sound black” and was “so articulate” when they found out she was black. She’s gotten it from both sides. She is a very intelligent, funny, determined woman who has had to walk a cultural tightrope all her life while trying to honor both sides of her background. It’s been tough.
We’ve come to a point in time where there has to be a well thought-out respect for other cultures, and not use their accents or mannerisms sarcastically as a means of getting cheap laughs. The Canadian comedian Russell Peters used his East Indian background mercilessly to make fun of his parents’ accents and culture in his comedy routines until his father died, at which point he stopped out of the pain of losing him.
I find lampooning anyone’s culture, accent, etc. for cheap laughs pretty offensive. On the other hand, I find admiring someone’s culture, learning their recipes, immersing ourselves in their history, etc. fine. The key is respect, don’t demean.
This is a complicated one imo. Now there is more intermingling of different races than I think ever before. So I think it’s hard sometimes to know what is acceptable or not. And everyone has different views, which adds to the confusion. I’m white and I’ve worked with and been married to African Americans from the city with urban slang and dress. So I kinda started dressing more that style and am used to hearing the slang. I don’t use the slang. I feel whites sound silly using black slang unless you’re someone like Eminem. whereas with me, I would just sound stupid. There’s a difference between living and being friendly with minorities and the slang slipping into your usage vs. adopting it intentionally to sound “cool. “ I think that’s the difference.
I’m Asian American, and I 100% agree that minstreling is racist. Nora/Awkwafina should apologize, take ownership, and do better.
I am frustrated by all these comments about taking on the accent of your neighborhood. As an Asian American, there’s no “appropriate” space for us.
We’re either fresh off the boat Asian accented caricatures, nerds, or painted as stupidly socially awkward and “other”. See Pitch Perfect or The Boyz for examples. That’s pure systemic and overt racism.
But what about taking in an accent of where you live? What if you grow up in an urban area? As a new immigrant, America is known for literally cowboys and hip hop. There is an entire Asian American subculture (Kpop and others) dedicated to hip hop, that’s essentially a love letter to black culture – just like there’s an appreciation for martial arts on the African American side.
I agree with you 100% as an AA too. It seems we can’t do anything correct. If I spoke with an Asian accent – I am not American. If I speak perfect English- I still get – wow your English is perfect; how long have you studied.
Re Nora’s case. I get she grew up in Queens and had no I’ll intention and in her mind – she could have been doing it out of admiration. However, she needs to apologize because it’s not hers to use when she feels like it for comedy.
The appropriate way to have resolved this was for her to truly listened and acknowledged her wrong doing. But she keeps on NOT listening and making all kinds of excuse. If she would have properly apologized and do better even the first time- it wouldn’t have become this big.