Awkwafina’s non-apology for using a blaccent is the problem

People think that trying to explain why they commit harm towards Black people—rather than simply admitting they’re wrong—is enough. It’s not.

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 Matt Winkelmeyer/WireImage,)

After dodging questions for years about her cultural appropriation of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) via the use of a “blaccent,” Nora Lum, popularly known as Awkwafina, recently issued a passive statement on Twitter that did more addressing than apologizing.

“There is a sociopolitical context to everything, especially the historical context of the African-American community in this country,” Lum began in her four-page non-apology. “[A]s 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.”

“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.,” she added. “It never has, and it never was.” And just like that, Awkwafina announced she was going to be leaving Twitter.

Talk about a hit and run. She really thought she was doing something.

I would like to be surprised, but I’m not. It’s very typical of famous non-Black people who do something problematic to say a bunch of something that equates to nothing. Rather than simply confessing that she was wrong and apologizing for her ways, she chose to explain, justify, blame and distract. Four pages of words and not any of them was the word “sorry.” Perhaps that’s because such an admission would deflate her entire career—one that benefited from a racist trope that continues to hurt the very community she was mocking.

We live in a country that loves Black culture but hates Black people. They love when Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian and other non-Black women rock cornrows—but then discriminate, marginalize and disrespect Black women who’ve originated them for decades. The music industry loves rewarding racially ambiguous and/or non-Black musicians for embracing Black sounds and aesthetics (looking at you Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars and countless others)—but continues to deny actual Black artists who do the same. It’s trendy when they do it; it’s ghetto when we create it. Just look at how young white TikTokers capitalize and profit off Black creativity every day.

Awkwafina benefited from a society that found her funny for mocking their flawed perception of Blackness—while Black female comics like Tiffany Haddish were often questioned if she was perpetuating stereotypes for her dialect. Again, everyone loves Blackness until a Black person embraces it. For Awkwafina to humbly admit that she was a part of that problem and apologize for it would be for her to admit that her career climb was a scam, one that benefited largely from acting like she was something she was not—another wannabe whose infatuation with Black stereotypes caught up to her.

She’s not the first, and sadly won’t be the last. We will never forget how white Australian rapper Iggy Azalea got her first massive No. 1 hit rocking a Southern blaccent that definitely didn’t come from down under. Who could forget Becky “Buckwild” Johnston from VH1’s iconic Flavor of Love, Ariana Grande’s blackfishing and accent switch-up in the pink trap house music video for “7 Rings,” and more recently, Olivia Rodrigo’s Instagram Lives of her doing the damn most? Blaccents are being used as accessories by non-Black people to access a dangerous brand of coolness and identity that benefits them.

Let’s be clear: Capitalism is at the root of all of this mess.

If Awkwafina didn’t use the blaccent in her role as Peik Lin in the hit film Crazy Rich Asians, we probably wouldn’t be talking about her right now. Her breakout moment came from a character who was mimicking a hip-hop persona that clearly wasn’t authentic or considerate. It was a savvy way to score cheap laughs and allow her to create a character that white critics thought showed her range, talent and star power. She made money, got cast in more roles and has become one of the most sought-after Asian actresses in the industry. But in all honesty, had she been Black, the same things would have never happened; Just ask most of the Black actresses in Hollywood right now.

For Nora Lum to be doing more explaining than apologizing says a lot about how she’s not truly in solidarity with Black people—and more so invested in herself. It was fun for her to mock an accent (and get paid to do so), but when it was time to admit harm and show empathy, she fumbled. Moments like these reveal how hard it is for Black people to find true solidarity within other communities of color. It often feels as if we’re collectively alone in navigating how to pick up the pieces when other groups offend us.

Awkwafina’s non-apology (and quick exit from Twitter) proves that she’s not willing to truly “listen and learn,” but just overexplain and dip.

Ernest Owens is the Editor at Large of Philadelphia magazine and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. The award-winning journalist has written for The New York Times, NBC News, USA Today and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and

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