Social justice activists and supporters have been targeting Asian celebrities and influencers for—what they believe is—“taking away” elements from black culture and profiting from it. Recently, TikTokers have called Asian-American TikToker Nina Lin a “culture vulture” for using African American Vernacular English, also known as AAVE, in addition to her troublesome usage of the “N” word. As cancel culture often goes, even when Lin publicly apologized for uttering the word, and defenders stressed that she was raised in New York City, which contributes to her “blackness,” TikTokers still condemned her. Coming from an empathetic lens and learning the context in which non-black people are coming from so that we can continue promoting civil dialogue, build alliances between BIPOC and non-black people, and advance causes to better our community as a whole should be a priority. 

First, we need to educate ourselves about the sensitive nature and history of certain words, phrases, and ultimately culture. AAVE is a variant of English and is mostly spoken by African Americans. It includes words and phrases like “tea” (gossip) and “go off” (to carry on). Activists have described AAVE as one of the most prominent features of black culture. When the media labels AAVE as “Gen Z ” language, activists claim that it erases the true history of the lexicon. Sometimes, they even go as far as to say that non-black people should not say these words. Although I understand their sentiment, this is an ill way of looking at language and culture altogether. Making them more exclusive and cancelling those who adopt new languages and cultures does more harm than good for embracing diversity. 

Non-black minorities and Caucasians who are exposed to AAVE will most likely adopt parts of it into their regular language. Naturally, when black and non-black people engage with one another, they imitate each other, shaping their personalities, identities, and language around their commonalities. In psychology, this is called mirroring, where an individual unconsciously copies another person’s speech, behavior, and gestures. Being raised in a small town in South Carolina, I witnessed this phenomenon between friends (black and non-black people) and family, and I too incorporate some of the vernacular in everyday conversations. We mimic each other because we want to bond with the people around us—not to erase their ethos. 

It’s disturbing that there is a collective witch hunt that targets and bullies Asians to do away with their so-called  “blackness.” If we are going to change ourselves, then what are we changing ourselves to? An anime character? Acting “white”? Thankfully, black TikTokers have stood up to this nonsense and protected Asian allies. For example, Freek Da Gemini said that speaking “ghetto” is not an “only black person thing” and that Lin “sounds like she’s from the hood,” implying that she has a “blaccent” because of her environment. More importantly, he highlighted that the “N” word is used as a pronoun and not in a derogatory manner in some cases. Now, I’m not encouraging the use of the “N” word. What I am saying, however, is that we need to understand where non-black people are coming from first and confront them civilly instead of jumping on the cancel culture bandwagon.

We need to change how we view language and culture and allow people to show appreciation. When we were little, we were all taught to be compassionate and understand upbringings different than our own before we make assumptions. We should not forget this. If you’re surrounded by those who you like and immersed yourself in that environment, you are going to emulate those around you, regardless of your skin color. That’s why I ask black people who recognize Asian allies to speak up for us because their opinions and viewpoints matter significantly given their position in the social justice movement. If we do not address this now, cancel culture will only continue to create further division.