Tough Stuff

AAVE and whether or not you (or Kombucha Girl) should use it

If you're a TikTok regular, you're sure to have scrolled past Brittany Broskior "Kombucha Girl", as you might know hera time or two! As much as the internet loves her iconic TikToks and relatable humor, Brittany found herself in a bit of hot water recently over a certain something: AAVE.

Now you might be thinking, "what's AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), and why is Brittany Broski in trouble for using it"? Well, we've got the scoop, as well as some insight from a real expert on the issue.

What happened
On July 31, Brittany got some criticism on Twitter for frequently using phrases "periodt" and "chile" in her TikToks, and she defended herself by saying that these words and phrases were a part of Internet culture.

Why people are upset
Brittany faced some backlash over her TikTok because many of her followers brought it to her attention that many of the phrases that she chooses to use online are actually AAVE, and that it can be insensitive and/or a form of cultural appropriation. Brittany did end up apologizing for what she said and explained that she wasn't as educated on the issue as she should have been.

While Brittany did apologize, the conversation on Twitter raises some important questions on how the use of AAVE by non-black people can be harmful, both online and in day-to-day life. To discuss further, we sat down with Rachel Weissler, a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Michigan, for her thoughts on the matter. 

What is AAVE?
AAVE stands for African-American Vernacular English. It can also be called African-American English or African-American Language, and was once even known as something called Ebonics. It's believed to have originated from African slaves who were brought to the South in the early 1600s; these men and women were brought to America and had to learn to speak and understand English without being taught or even being allowed to read, and this was the start of what's now known as AAVE. Regardless of what we call it, AAVE is the "systematic language variety that's common among many African-Americans in the US." We say *many* because not all Black people use AAVE! However, it is a dialect or language variety that originated from people of African descent.

Why is it offensive to use AAVE if I'm not Black?
In the same way that Black people are often discriminated against because of the way that they look, they can also be discrimnated against for the way that they speak. AAVE is a part of Black culture, and, for some Black people, it's their natural way of speaking that they learn as they grow up. When a non-Black person uses AAVE, it can be seen as a form of cultural appropriation because a non-Black person may not face the same consequences or discrimination when using AAVE. 

As Rachel explains, "It's not appropriate to use a language variety that's not your own." An example of how AAVE has been appropriated can be seen in Brittany's response that it's just "Internet culture" or "stan culture." For non-Black people, terms like "chile," "periodt," "bougie" and other words may just seem like the punchline to your favorite meme, but in reality they come from a real culture with a real history. And to top it off, many of these memes and phrases were coined or made popular by Black artists or comedians, but these creators never seem to be given credit for them. Imagine if you had submitted a project, done all of the work for it and then someone else got all of the credit. Not cool, right?  

So I can't say (insert AAVE term) anymore?
Take a second to think about why you want to use AAVE. Is it because you're trying to be funny with your friends? If you're using it to be funny or it's not how you would speak at the dinner table with your family, then it might not be for you. Can you quote a meme here and there? Sure, no one is going to stop you. However, the main takeaway is that it's important to be aware of the origins and meaning behind the terms that you use and to know how using them may be harmful or insensitive to those around you. 

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by Paris Johnson | 9/17/2020