Over the last decade, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus, and several other celebrities have been accused of cultural appropriation. But the latest celebrity on the chopping block for co-opting Black culture is Nora From Queens star Nora Lum, popularly known as Awkwafina.
Since releasing her viral YouTube rap single “My Vag,” the actress has been accused of code-switching and race impersonation, and ahead of the Season 2 premiere of her Comedy Central sitcom, Awkafina’s seemingly pseudo Black accent — or blaccent — has become the center of controversy.
Awkwafina is accused of appropriation after her Black accent becomes the center of controversy on social media.
Awkwafina’s notorious blaccent made an appearance in Crazy Rich Asians, Jumanji, and Ocean’s 8, which subsequently raised a few eyebrows. Although the comedian has previously attributed her hip-hop aesthetic and use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) to her upbringing in Queens, N.Y., social media pointed out that Nora was raised in Forest Hills, a suburb that is only 2 percent Black.
Black Twitter has had beef with Awkwafina’s blaccent for years now, but things went way left for the Nora From Queens actress after an interview with VICE from May of 2017 resurfaced on social media. When asked if there were any roles she wouldn’t accept, Awkwafina vehemently affirmed that she would never use an Asian accent on screen.
“I've walked out of auditions where the casting director all of a sudden changed her mind and asked for accents. I refuse to do accents,” she explained in the interview. “And I think like — so far, like a lot of the parts I've gone out for have been really real characters and being Asian is not part of their plotline.”
Awkwafina clarified that she would play a part written for an Asian character if “it’s done in a genuine way,” but she refused to sign up for a role that would make a “minstrel” out of her community. Although her comments were meant with integrity, they have only come back to bite her in this whole cultural appropriation controversy.
But what are minstrel shows?
Along with being accused of hypocrisy, others criticized Awkwafina for using the term “minstrel” in the wrong context. One user tweeted, “No because someone made a really good point about how Awkwafina also hijacked the term 'minstrel' when Asian culture has never had minstrel shows.”
Although Asian hate has totally been a thing for decades, history proves that minstrel shows are in a league of their own. By definition, minstrels shows were shows performed by white actors in Blackface who comedically perpetuated racist stereotypes. The shows came to be in the 1800s but didn’t lose popularity until the mid-70s and have left a long-lasting legacy on American culture.
Another user explained, “The point is that minstrelsy as a term specifically refers to the ‘humorous’ degradation of Black people. Yellowface, Asian hate, Asian racism all exists, it just isn’t minstrelsy.”