A racist witch hunt has been staged in recent weeks against Asian-American rapper-actress Awkwafina for her use of what has been called an African-American or “black” accent in her performances.
The artist (real name Nora Lum, born in 1988 in Long Island, New York), daughter of a Chinese father and a Korean mother, has been the subject of controversy since her song “My Vag”, a comic and vulgar rap, which went viral in 2014.
Lum has since become a multi-talented artist, producing several hip hop albums, appearing in films (including Ocean 8 and boobies rich asian) and an award-winning TV series and more. She won the Golden Globe for Best Actress for The farewella satellite prize (also for The farewell) and received dozens of nominations, including for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance in a Motion Picture.
Lum’s success has been hampered by claims that the multi-talented entertainer has engaged in “cultural appropriation” for his notable use of an accent in his speech associated with African-American urban culture (a ” blaccent”).
“Awkwafina’s current success is based on questionable forms of cultural appropriation,” claims a 2020 Vice News article on the subject. “Questionable” in the eyes of whom? According to the publication, Lum “became known for her brash speech inflected with dark slang and rude raps, ultimately catapulting her to a role on MTV’s Girl Code in 2014.”
The campaign came to a head this week after the artist posted a multi-page statement on Twitter addressing the appropriation allegations. “There’s a sociopolitical context to everything, especially the historical context of the African-American community in this country,” she says.
Lum acknowledges that while black people in America have “historically and consistently had their culture stolen…by dominant culture,” she never intended to “make fun, belittle, or be mean” to anyone. Lum credits her way of speaking to the “movies and TV shows I watched, to the kids I went to public school with, and my undying love and respect for hip hop” (emphasis in original).
Of course, what Awkwafina should have done was tell his critics to get lost. There is no satisfaction for the race-obsessed crowd. Inevitably, no sooner had Lum posted those comments than her Twitter feed, followed by the entertainment media, lit up with accusations that she had failed to show proper contrition for her actions.
“Awkwafina could have just said, ‘You were right. I used a blaccent to make a name for myself and it was wrong. I apologize with all my heart and I will do better from now on,” said Britni Danielle, whose Twitter profile describes her as a “writer. Editor” with bylines to “Essence, Glamor and the Washington Post”.
Comments by Danielle and others were picked up and featured in media publications. “People don’t buy Awkwafina’s ‘Blaccent’ apology,” reads hip-hop website Okayplayer. In short, the braying for Lum’s head only increased following his perceived “no apology” on the matter.
Apart from the current media spectacle, what are the stakes of the debate on “cultural appropriation”? First, there is no distinct ‘black’ or ‘white’ discourse. Such claims are historically the property of far-right racist and fascist theorists.
As explained in a 1997 statement (“Who is promoting Ebonics and why?”) published on the WSWS: “From the point of view of science, the assertion that all language is ‘genetically determined’ and based about race is quackery. Against racial theorists of all persuasions, biology has long established that the genetic differences between supposed racial groups are far smaller than those existing within each group. Moreover, language does not does not originate in genes, but in social interaction.Languages develop and change.During human history, ancient languages have died out and new languages have taken their place.
What about comments like those of Mikki Kendall, author and “diversity consultant” on CNN? Kendall states that “‘Blaccent’ is a term describing the false accent that racists and culturally appropriates use when impersonating black people.” Kendall introduces her own stereotypes, saying that while black people “don’t all have the same [accent]“, do whites and other non-blacks in a way. “These two groups always use the same accent when impersonating black people,” she says. This is incomprehensible nonsense.
The effort to separate the means of expression according to racial or ethnic criteria when applied to art is equally destructive. “Distinct genres of music have specific (sometimes ethnic) roots,” the WSWS has previously noted on the issue of “cultural appropriation.” But, we note, “it never stopped the mixing and changing of styles and trends, which is an utterly healthy and often quite spectacular characteristic of pop music in particular”.
What manner of speaking would be acceptable to the puritanical, repressive mob of anticultural appropriation? Art itself would be rendered dead on arrival if artists were forced to submit to the pre-approved standards of their given genre or art form, or national origin. A kind of racialized “code system” establishing what can and cannot be shown, written or performed is being created in the entertainment industry. This has a sinister logic.
Money is inevitably involved in disputes over cultural appropriation. CNN includes commentary from Nsenga K. Burton of Emory University. According to Burton, “[c]Cultural appropriation…is when you appropriate someone’s culture for financial gain and influence without acknowledging the origins of that cultural practice or reinvesting your financial gains back into the community from which the culture was taken.
As the WSWS has commented in the past, “an entire cottage industry” has been dedicated to creating “diversity” and “racial equity” in the business world. It comes with self-flagelling “self-help books… for the alleged benefit of white people” and “corporate leadership seminars and diversity workshops.”
Add to that the lucrative business opportunities available in social media. According to a complaint from Okaplayer, “Only white influencers made Forbes’ list of highest-earning TikToks,” published in January. “With their TikTok influence, white influencers have pulled beauty campaigns, record deals and multi-movie deals,” he says. Okayplayer adds that the Forbes list of influencers “collectively hauled in $55.5 million last year, a 200% increase over 2020.” How to get a slice of this lucrative pie is the big question.
Amid threats of armed conflict against Russia, a nuclear-armed power, and ruthless efforts to end all public health measures in the pandemic, proponents of racial identity politics have absolutely failed. nothing progressive to say. They are engaged in a selfish, money-driven campaign. Awkwafina is just collateral damage.