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Student op-ed: LGBTQ community harms blacks by culturally appropriating black English

A member of the Syracuse University LGBTQ community believes it is harmful that her peers culturally appropriate AAVE, aka African-American Vernacular English.

Kit Radley writes in The Daily Orange the theft of such terminology comes from the drag scene.

“I grew up on the phrases ‘slay’ and ‘queen’ without really knowing where they came from,” Radley says. “I automatically assumed that it was just ‘gay slang’ that people within the community used. I was only partially right.”

Indeed, those terms originated with black LGBTQ women and black drag queens, so one might surmise others in the LGBTQ demographic would be permitted to use them. But Radley says there is an “undeniable amount of harm that results from taking and commodifying another culture’s language.”

When other communities, like the LGBTQ community, start to use phrases from AAVE as informal buzzwords that are sometimes seen as “less intelligent” than standardized English, it steals part of a culturally significant language from Black people while simultaneously pushing the narrative that AAVE is not as articulate as standardized English.

But wait — gay folks endear themselves to certain AAVE phrases … all the while getting the message across that it sounds stupid?

Alas, this alleged “imminent problem” has no “clear-cut solution,” Radley says, due to the large number of LGBTQ (and other) individuals who have made certain AAVE words mainstream.

Radley concludes a possible solution is for “all parties involved” to get together for a confab and come to “some form of agreement.” She says if Syracuse led the way, it would show it wants to become more of a “welcoming and accepting school with a loving community.”

Interestingly, Oxford Dictionaries defines “cultural appropriation” as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society” (emphasis added). African-Americans outnumber gay Americans by roughly seven to ten percent.

(Black) Academic John McWhorter noted six years ago that what modern progressives now view as “appropriation,” everyone else sees as “fundamental human nature.”

A common argument is that to mimic an oppressed group’s gestures is wrong because you haven’t suffered their oppression. But this implies that, for example, the speech patterns and gestures of black women are all responses to oppression. Surely that is a reductive portrait of what it is to be a black woman or any human being.

White Rachel Dolezal gliding around “identifying” as oppressed is one thing. White gay men imitating a few mannerisms of black women out of admiration is quite another [emphasis added].

Read the op-ed.

MORE: College accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ after ‘mostly white’ choir sings black spirituals

MORE: ‘Studies’ prof says cultural appropriation is like theft of intellectual property

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.