Our society increased the need to communicate virtually during the past few months. Of this, a lot of communication was through social media. For many young queer folx like me, Twitter and Tik Tok are great distractions in unprecedented times.
As I consumed more social media, I noticed the very language used online in many different community forums was similar across my many intersections. A lot of this seemed to originate from African American Vernacular English, Black Culture, and Black Trans Queer Folx telephoned through to modern pop culture. According to the 2018 Huffington Post, some of 2018’s hottest slang words on social accounts included “Go off” “Salty” and “Secure the Bag”. This underappreciated language is much larger than ‘slang’. It is a dialect that contains evolved experiences of Black Americans.
“Many of the words and phrases that blew up on social media this year come from Black Twitter, American Black culture, and African-American Vernacular English (AAVE)”; yet those who use these terms may be unaware of and ignorant to the AAVE and the way they’re using it. People tweet out words like “Finna” “Lit” “I’m Weak” “I’m Dead” across social media outlets as colloquial terms. They misinterpret the dialect as slang, instead of a vast system of verbalized and unified resistance.
What is AAVE?
African American Vernacular English is both a dialect and a language. The background of AAVE is controversial. Due to the vast expansion of the African Diaspora, some believe AAVE comes from creole backgrounds; In contrast, others believe the dialect evolved in the southern plantations, from plantation owners’ American English.
While the origin of AAVE remains up for debate, it is used quite frequently throughout Black communities using native tongue per location. This powerful dialect stems from Black enslaved ancestors and their struggles through American oppression; it is a nuanced adaptation to maintaining a unified culture separate from the Euro American manuscript.
Black English is a fantastic report of oral histories and lived Black experiences. Unfortunately, for those outside those parameters, it may never make sense and may lead to misinterpretations, in many cases, misappropriations.
When society appreciates Black English as an independent language distinct from slang terms or miseducated speech, it can be beautifully appreciated and valued. When overused and misused beyond repair, we blur the line between respectful appreciation and blissed-out ignorance.
As shown in this Tik Tok by Ca’Leah Ayedzi (she/her), many non-Black communities, such as stan twitter or White gays overuse their interpretations of AAVE.
ADDRESSING THE HARD TRUTH: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION
While the subculture of Black and queer intersecting spaces have blurred the understanding of who is able to use this specific intersectional dialect; at the end of the day, phrases are taken out of context and deemed ‘ghetto’ in black mouths, but hilarious or ‘iconic’ in White or non-POC queer mouths.
There is no free pass to abuse a powerful dialect.
Therefore, misappropriation of the AAVE dialect is cultural misuse and performative allyship for the uneducated.
Misappropriations of AAVE in Queer Circles
In addition to AAVE’s usage in pop culture, it is commonly used by many fold in queer communities, oftentimes without proper accreditation to a subculture within the LGBTQ+ community.
AAVE and other attributed Black ‘slang’ hold a long history in contemporary queer culture. Ballrooms, house culture, and predominantly QTPOC communities hold spaces that protect Black + queer intersections. They are landmark areas for the introduction of AAVE into the queer culture. Black queer folx brought their culture and language to safe spaces for all, which in turn sparked interest in non-Black outlets and carried on the dialect to other communities without proper accreditation to the subculture that created it.
Popular queer media such as the 1991 underground ballroom documentary ‘Paris is Burning’ and current TV series Pose on FX highlight some of the most influential intersectional pieces of AAVE in queer spaces. Popular phrases used in queer culture such as “Read” or “Reading”, let’s have a “Kiki”, “Throwing Shade” and others are illustrated in these two works, and seen throughout the contemporary queer social circles today.
The popular term “Yaas Queen” stems from the 1980’s ballroom subculture. Through misappropriation, people quickly introduced this term – and subsequently the dialect- to the mainstream culture and associated it with musical artist Lady Gaga and White gay culture. This is a familiar process that often goes over the heads of many queer folx. The same could be said with Madonna and her interpretation of “Vogue”.
‘Voguing‘ a popular dance created in the 1980s Underground Ballroom culture. It has specific ties to the BTQPOC intersections. Unfortunately, through misappropriation and misinterpretations, many associate the style of dance to Madonna and mainstream 80’s culture.
AAVE does have a special place in queer culture. It will always have a special place in queer culture; but first, we need to recognize and address it as a Black historical nuanced resistance language and not just a pop culture slang machine.
Oprah Magazine said it best: “Defining cultural appropriation isn’t easy. Typically, it’s used when members of a dominant group borrow the customs of another group, often one that’s experienced oppression in some way. Drawing the line is tough. But it becomes offensive when a powerful group trivializes the work of a minority without giving credit where credit is due.”https://www.oprahmag.com/life/a23601818/queer-cultural-appropriation-definition/
Many terms and colloquialisms that are universally used are specific to the Black language but are used out of context and misappropriated. However, if approached thoughtfully, AAVE can be used to bridge better communication between Black and queer intersections and lead to an increased appreciation for Black culture and its uniqueness in mainstream culture.
The disconnect between White and Black LGBTQ+ communities has led to many misappropriations and disconnect from the original framework. Through increased communication between these groups, racial unity within queer communities will overpower the current disconnect.
How can we appreciate AAVE?
We must first work within our own intersections to create solidarity and understanding. Dismantling our vocabulary and the connotations behind frequently used terms is crucial work for BQTPOC allies.
“Make Sure You’re Doing Your Part to Dismantle the Prejudiced Systems That You Benefit From and Question Prejudices That are Instilled in Society and Unlearn Them”Black Tik Toker Ca’Leah Ayedzi (she/her), Metro Vancouver, BC
By analyzing how culture, language, and oppressive frameworks intersect to discredit POC communities, we expand our complex knowledge by supporting and appreciating other cultures.
In the same way that queer privilege does not absolve racial privilege, crediting the subculture communities who influenced queer culture goes past performative allyship by focusing on the power of intersectionality.
Continue to uplift those Black, Queer, Trans People of Color. Black Trans women like the amazing Marsha P. Johnson, Laverne Cox, and Poses’ Elektra as well as many others, are just a FEW examples of the amazing people in a larger subculture that to this day, seldom gets the recognition they so deserve.
Send gratitude, appreciation, and thanks to Underground Ballroom culture, Houses, and the safe spaces that saw Black English evolve into a very sacred part of the queer community. This is necessary for appreciating AAVE, Black culture, and Queer culture.
Continue these conversations. Don’t stop fighting. Educate yourself and others on the histories of your most-used colloquial terms, and don’t be afraid to rethink the need to use Black English in your own conversations.
Amatulli, Jenna. “Here’s The Real Origin Of The Word ‘Yas’.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 4 Sept. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/heres-the-real-origin-of-the-word-yas_n_578ce747e4b0fa896c3f4306.
Borge, Jonathan. “40 Popular Slang Words, Explained.” Oprah Magazine, Oprah Magazine, 13 Dec. 2019, www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/g23603568/slang-words-meaning/?slide=11.
Brammer, John Paul. “Half of the Slang You Use Came from This ’90s Documentary.” Oprah Magazine, 18 Oct. 2019, www.oprahmag.com/life/a23601818/queer-cultural-appropriation-definition/.
Khera, Taneesh. “Where Did African American Vernacular English Come From?” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, 3 Feb. 2020, www.dictionary.com/e/united-states-diversity-african-american-vernacular-english-aave/.
Shakeri, Sima. “These Were 2018’s Hottest Slang Words – But Should You Use Them?” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 31 Dec. 2018, www.huffingtonpost.ca/2018/12/30/2018-slang-words-appropriation_a_23629985/.
Stephens, Justine. “The United States Of Accents: African American Vernacular English.” Babbel Magazine, 2020, www.babbel.com/en/magazine/african-american-vernacular-english.
Tremeer, Eleanor. “Is It Cultural Appropriation To Use Drag Slang And AAVE?” Babbel Magazine, www.babbel.com/en/magazine/cultural-appropriation-drag-slang-aave/.