Dabbing was a meme in Black culture that I never felt like I got the chance to enjoy. By the time I was aware of it, it was so ubiquitous that podcast and television show hosts the McElroy brothers used it as a frequent punchline. It was no longer a symbol of black humor and black joy, but yet another internet meme, repeated to the point of meaninglessness.
If that's ever happened to you, you owe it to yourself to follow AAVE Struggle Tweets (@aavegonewrong), an account that collects, and mocks, badly misused African American Vernacular English.
Wynona, who runs the account and who requested to use her first name out of privacy concerns, is an afro-indiginous woman from Texas. Over Twitter DMs, she told Motherboard that she and her friends had been talking about the way that black speech has been memeified online for a while, and started taking screencaps of the worst examples. She decided to make a Twitter account dedicated to the topic after a friend suggested it to her.
"I kind of expected to get 1-2k followers at most. Now we’re here, barely a week later, and as I’m typing this I have 73.4k [followers]," Wynona said (at the time of writing, the account has over 100,000 followers) . "I knew it was something that people were interested in and there was enough 'content' to make it and have something new everyday."
The story of non-Black people appropriating black speech, dress and trends is essentially the story of popular culture in America. Since the advent of rock music, white people have taken aspects of Black culture without acknowledging its origins. It isn't that sharing one's culture with people outside it is inherently wrong, but it's important to allow the people who created these pieces of culture to share in the success. All too often, the Black people who are making our popular culture, like the fourteen-year-old who created the Renegade dance that went viral on TikTok, are forgotten instead of celebrated.
Wynona said that the internet has just accelerated this process of forgetting, especially in terms of black speech, and in particular the contributions of trans women to the culture.
"I think it’s very important to establish that a lot of the AAVE we see today that is considered trendy ('wig' 'sis' 'tea' 'snatched' to name a few) comes from Black trans women," Wynona said. "So it’s very disheartening to see non-Black people inside and outside the community reject these women for being trans, but use their lingo."
Black people have historically been shamed for speaking and writing in AAVE rather than standard English, which only compounds the issue. What people often don't understand about AAVE is that it's not just “slang,” but a legitimate English dialect with its own consistent grammatical rules.
"The main problem that non-Black people don’t understand is that they are seen either as silly or trendy for these words, but Black people are seen as uneducated, trashy and 'ghetto,'" Wynona said. "We need to break down the system of educators and peers asking black people to 'speak properly.' That is the problem. The Internet just spreads this further and waters it down to where people think 'chile' means chill or the country Chile, not child."
Following AAVE Struggle Tweets as a Black person is a mixture of pain and joy. Sometimes, the grammatical pretzels that people twist themselves into are simply incredible (you can't put a "periodt" on anything!). But other times, watching a brand account fall completely on its face by trying to use AAVE makes me feel for every black person that has to see it, especially the ones who work at that company.
Watching institutions that are trying to cater to black people alienate them instead makes me want to lay down and stare at the ceiling. Wynona said that one of the most heinous misuses of AAVE that she's seen so far came from the twitter account of the University of Limerick, a university in Ireland.account.
"It’s funny, but mostly embarrassing," she said. "If the university I was attending posted that, I would block them immediately. No hesitation. It’s just so interesting how institutions and brands try to market themselves to the current culture, but fail to make any real connections."