Awkwafina leaves Twitter amid criticism over AAVE appropriation

The Asian-American actress was met with continued backlash after responding to critics of her "blaccent" use on-screen

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Awkwafina is taking a break from Twitter after addressing critics who said the Asian-American actress did not take enough accountability for appropriating a Black vernacular throughout her rise to mainstream stardom.

“I’ll see you in a few years, Twitter – per my therapist,” Awkwafina wrote on Saturday, calling the social media app an “ingrown toenail” and assuring her fans she would still be active on “all other socials that don’t tell you to kill yourself.”

“To my fans, thank you for continuing to love and support someone who wishes they could be a better person for you. I apologize if I ever fell short, in anything I did. You’re in my heart always,” she wrote.

In a near-350 word statement published earlier on Saturday, Awkwafina, real name Nora Lum, formally responded to the backlash surrounding cultural appropriation claims that have followed the 33-year-old for years as she has gained industry acclaim for roles in popular films such as Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell, and Oceans 8.

Awkwafina’s statement began with: “There is a sociopolitical context to everything,” acknowledging that Black people are “disproportionately affected by institutionalized policies and law enforcement policies” while Black culture is “stolen, exploited and appropriated by the *dominant* culture for monetary gain without acknowledgment nor respect.”

The rapper and actress then commented on the ubiquity of Black culture in the global mainstream, saying it manifests into the widespread us of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) among “the ‘internet Tiktok slang generation.’” She also referenced the popularity of hip-hop, which she said “has now anchored itself as a mainstream genre in music history.”

“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,” Awkwafina continued. “Acculturation” is defined primarily by psychologists as “the process of acquisition of cultural aspects of a dominant culture by members of nondominant cultures.”

According to racial justice and wellness activist Taylor Rae Almonte, cultural appropriation differs from acculturation because it is not an equal cultural exchange, instead functioning as a form of “colonialism” when a marginalized group’s culture is acculturated outside of its “original cultural context.”

“When cultural elements are copied from a marginalized culture by members of a dominant culture, these elements are used outside of their original cultural context,” Almonte wrote. “Often, members of the originating culture expressly state they do not condone being used in this way because the original meaning of these cultural elements are lost or distorted.”

Awkwafina wrote that as a non-Black person of color, she “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.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 12: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was converted to black and white. Color version available.) Awkwafina attends the 2021 AFI Fest Official Screening of Magnolia Pictures’ “Swan Song” at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 12, 2021 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

“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,” she added. “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,” Awkwafina wrote. 

The actress’ statement was critiqued by Twitter users who said she avoided accountability for profiting off of her “blaccent” use to build a successful career as a non-Black person of color.

One response read: “this is not an apology. this is, in fact, the opposite of an apology. this is a denial of harm. saying nothing would have been better than this. saying ‘blaccent’ is bad, but i never did it, im better than that,’ despite ample evidence of the contrary, is a slap in the face.”

“For all of the big words in Awkwafina’s posts, there’s little to show she’s done a thorough analysis of the impact of her behavior, especially thru a systemic lens. Putting it on ‘all Asian Americans’ and on her being a good person with good intentions does not absolve her,” another user wrote.

“Black people are not your experiment. we are not pairs of shoes to be tried on in a quest to figuring out identity. our culture is not an antithesis to american whiteness and certainly not a page in your book of exploring what it means to not be white in america,” another wrote.

Before breaking into the mainstream, Awkwafina firmly stated “I refuse to do accents” during a 2017 interview with Vice when asked if there were any movie roles she would turn down as an Asian-American woman in Hollywood.

During a September interview with CinemaBlend about her latest film, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Awkwafina was bluntly asked about criticisms circulating around her AAVE use in multiple high-profile roles. She appeared to struggle to formulate a complete answer.

“Um, you know, I’m open to the conversation,” she said. “I think it, you know, it’s really something that is a little bit multi-faceted and layered, and so yeah.”

As of Feb. 6, Awkwafina’s list of recently liked tweets features several comments of support from mostly non-Black people. She appears to have already left the app, with her bio currently reading: “UNTIL 2024 ALL ACTIVITY IS MONITORED BY MY (amazing) SOCIAL TEAM – HAPPY YEAR OF THE TIGER!”

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