The comedian and actress Awkwafina issued a lengthy Twitter statement Saturday addressing criticism in the press and on social media that she has used a “blaccent,” or Black accent, and elements of African American language and mannerisms in her career.
The Queens-born Asian American star, born Nora Lum, explained her view of the racial dynamics at play.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
The statement represents her most significant response to criticisms she has used a “blaccent” throughout her career: from her early hit NSFW parody rap song “My Vag” to her more recent acting roles in the big-budget films “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Ocean’s Eight.”
The issue is broadly part of the ever-evolving debate around cultural appropriation, or the act of adopting customs from another culture without the proper level of respect or acknowledgment.
Awkwafina, 33, has achieved critical and mainstream success in recent years. She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for the 2019 film “The Farewell” and last year joined the Marvel Universe with her role in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
Yet during press for Shang-Chi last year, she struggled to answer a question from Reuters about her “blaccent.”
What her full statement says
In her 351-word statement Saturday – her first tweet in more than two years – Awkwafina noted the injustices Black Americans face, as well as the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in different contexts, including on social media and in music.
“There is a sociopolitical context to everything, especially the historical context of the African American community in this country,” she wrote. “It is a group that is disproportionately affected by institutionalized policies and law enforcement policies – all the while having historically and routinely seen their culture stolen, exploited and appropriated by the *dominant* culture for monetary gain without acknowledgment nor respect for where those roots come from, the pioneers of its beginnings and the artists that perfected and mastered the craft.
“It is a problem we still see today – though some may pass it off as a convoluted mixture of the ‘internet TikTok slang generation’ that liberally uses AAVE, to add that hip hop – a genre of music that is ubiquitous and beloved across the country – has now anchored itself as a mainstream genre in music history.
“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 (person of color), 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. 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.”
In two follow-up tweets, Awkwafina said she planned to retire from Twitter and offered a vague apology.
“I apologize if I ever fell short, in anything I did. You’re in my heart always,” she wrote.
“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!”