Awkwafina is being cancelled for speaking with a so-called blaccent. I do not think this is fair. While there has been a long history of exploitation of the African American culture which continues to this day, I believe the voice that Awkwafina uses is a genuine reflection of her upbringing in Queens, just as my voice, my vocabulary, my accent, are uniquely my own. Adel is allowed to sing in with a smoky, soulful black woman’s voice, and before that Amy Winehouse, with much success, and are left alone. Awkwafina has never been.
As Asian-Americans, our authentic voice is a reflection of all the challenges we have had to face to find our place, and many of us are still in that process. Our voices are American. Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, I consciously took on the y’alls of the deep South but also adopted the punctilious and precious vocabulary of the Southern upper class from my prep school. When I was an senior at Harvard, I met a Korean-American freshman from Alabama’s gulf coast. He went to an impoverished public school, and his English was the language of deep-South African-Americans. Later, after a two semesters, his accent was a flatter, shortened, and clipped accent somewhere between Mobile and the Mid-Atlantic, and I wonder where his journey has taken him. He was not appropriating.
He was surviving.
I speak a more standard American accent now, peppered with y’alls on occasion, a New York f-bomb here and there, and mid-Western you bet when the spirit moves me. This is my journey. I have not appropriated anything, and I believe that Awkwafina has not either. Her cancellation is another manifestation of the othering that Asian-Americans face. Leave her alone.