Awkwafina made a public statement on social media surrounding the controversy around her use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and criticism that she has used a “blaccent” in past roles.
On Saturday, Febr. 5, Awkwafina (born Nora Lum) released a lengthy statement on Twitter, her first activity on the platform in over two years. The actor wrote in part, “There is a sociopolitical context to everything, especially the historical context of the African American community in this country.”
The 33-year-old continued, writing, “It is a group that is disproportionately affected by institutionalized policies and law enforcement policies — all the while having historically and routinely seen their culture stolen, exploited and appropriated by the *dominant* culture for monetary gain without acknowledgment nor respect for where those roots come from, the pioneers of its beginnings and the artists that perfected and mastered the craft.”
“It is a problem we still see today — though some may pass it off as a convoluted mixture of the ‘internet TikTok slang generation’ that liberally uses AAVE,” the “Farewell” star wrote, before adding, “to add that hip hop — a genre of music that is ubiquitous and beloved across the country — has now anchored itself as a mainstream genre in music history.”
Throughout the course of her career, Awkwafina’s accent and use of AAVE has come into question on numerous occasions across social media, as well as in articles including a 2018 story for Vulture by Lauren Michele Jackson. The controversy involves several of her roles, ranging from Peik Lin Goh in “Crazy Rich Asians” to Constance in “Ocean’s 8,” all the way back to “Tawk With Awkwafina” and her early career as a rapper.
Awkwafina acknowledged that “linguistic acculturation, immigrant acculturation, and the inevitable passage of globalized internet slang” can tiptoe the line “between offense and pop culture.”
“But as 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, what is deemed appropriate or backwards toward the progress of ANY and EVERY marginalized group,” she said. “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.”
The comedian, who won a best actress Golden Globe in 2020, looked back on her “immigrant background” growing up in Queens with her Chinese American father and Korean mother, as well as the role that television and movies, her classmates, and her “undying love and respect for hip hop” played in developing her own identity as an American.
“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,” she said. “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. We do this first by failing, learning, acknowledging, hearing and empathizing...And i will continue, tirelessly, to do just that.”
After years of criticism, Awkwafina struggled addressing the controversy when confronted with a question about it during an interview with Reuters in September 2021 ahead of the release of Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
“I’m open to the conversation,” she said at the time. “I think it really is something that is a bit multi-faceted and layered.”
Just three hours after releasing her statement on Saturday morning, she also penned a goodbye message to Twitter, advice she said she was given by her therapist.
“To my fans, thank you for continuing to love and support someone who wishes they could be a better person for you,” she tweeted. “I apologize if I ever fell short, in anything I did. You’re in my heart always.”
"To Clarify: I am retiring from the ingrown toenail that is Twitter," she added in a subsequent tweet. "Not retiring from anything else, even if I wanted to, and I didn’t drunkenly hit someone with a shoehorn and now escaping as a fugitive. Also am avail on all other socials that don’t tell you to kill yourself!"