Have you ever noticed this phenomenon?
You got to understand that I'm not paying for sh*t. (rapping) Woo boy, it's a white boy summer.
Kiomi, get yo ass in here.
You gonna roll up to that wedding, you gonna be like, "bok bok bitch."
I be trippin.
Blaccent is essentially right there in the name.
It's a portmanteau of Black and accent.
So Blaccent, or what I'm thinking of as vocal Blackface, are kind of interchangeable.
They're both instances of people who are not Black adopting African American English orAfrican American vernacular English.
Seems like it's been in show business for decades!
(singing) Mammy, mammy.
So why do people keep using it again and again and again?
Let's get a Historian’a Take on why entertainers use Blaccent.
(singing) You ain't nothin' but a hound dog cryin' all the time.
(singing) You ain't nothin' but a hound dog.
Elvis’s recording of “Hound Dog” is super interesting for a couple of reasons.
The first is that it is a cover, which is probably news to a lot of folks because a lot of folks think of it as sort of an original Elvis track, but it's actually a cover of Big Mama Thornton, her version of “Hound Dog” that actually preceded it by a few years.
(singing) You ain't nothin' but a hound dog (singing) Been snoopin' 'round the door.
And then the second thing that makes it interesting is that it launches a young Elvis Presley onto the international stage in a major way, and he becomes lauded as sort of the king of rock and roll.
Whereas Big Mama Thornton is largely forgotten by mainstream audiences as being one of the major architects of rock and roll.
During this time, radio was largely segregated, and it meant that Black musicians and white musicians were rarely, if ever, played on the same radio stations.
So we start to see the first all-Black radio stations at the tail end of the 1940s and into the 1950s.
And the first Black radio station was WDIA in Memphis.
(radio) The place where the blues began in Memphis, Tennessee.
WDIA invites you to join us in asking the man upstairs to smile on us today.
So even white artists like Elvis were huge listeners to stations like WDIA and these race music stations, and they were being influenced by the new culture and the new sound that they were being introduced to.
A lot of people, when they heard Elvis thought he was Black, didn't they?
At first, yes.
He was playing Black music, he's a white guy.
Yeah, but see at first he was playing more like rockabilly.
He wasn't really getting into the things that he started to do later.
But when he started to do that, then he started turning heads, including mine.
The real issue at hand here is that there was an imbalance of power.
So while white artists were busy sort of adopting, covering, and appropriating Black artists’ songs, and seeing huge profits from these covers, Black artists were largely not seeing the same profits, not seeing the same success, and not having the access to the music industry that white artists were.
Early rock and roll was invented by Black people.
Folks like Chuck Berry were duck walking and swiveling their hips before Elvis ever came on the scene.
Nat King Cole, he's being run out of town, beat up by mobs.
(singing) Though near or far.
Whereas Elvis, who's making young white teenagers swoon, is seen as a sex symbol, someone who's edgy, someone who's ahead of his time.
So there is a double standard.
Wait a second.
So Elvis sang like Black musicians and became the king of rock and roll.
But it looks like the trend of white people speaking like Black folks started even earlier.
One of the earliest examples of vocal Blackface was definitely the radio show, Amos ‘n’ Andy.
(radio) Andy, wake up, wake up!
Didn't answer the telephone... (radio) You come in here and wake me up like this.
It premiered in 1928 and it was wildly popular and successful.
Millions of Americans tuned in five nights a week to listen to these two white actors who got their start on the minstrel and vaudeville stages basically perform as Black men.
There was this sort of racial tension and anxiety caused by the Great Migration, millions of people fleeing from the South in order to escape restrictive laws and racist laws, as well as class tension and anxiety caused by the Great Depression.
And so people were looking for ways, particularly white people were looking for ways to reinstate or reaffirm their control on the racial hierarchy of this country.
And I think that made the show, Amos ‘n’ Andy, even more appealing to these audiences.
So appealing that they made spin-off movies: "The Kingfish is coming over to talk over a big proposition."
Cartoons: "Wake up!
Even a TV show: "Well, boys, it look like I's a big winner."
The Amos 'n' Andy Show actually led to the first all-Black cast of a television show in history.
And I think that complicates the ways that we have to look at its legacy.
These actors who were on the show were instructed to maintain the Blaccent and maintain the sort of caricature of the earlier radio program, because that's what made it successful.
And the producers of the show thought it was more authentic.
How do you do there?
By forcing these actors into sort of a narrow role, they were essentially forced to adopt this really stereotypical version of themselves and reflect back to white audiences what they expected more than what was actually authentic to the Black experience.
"Where's that husband of mine?
He didn't come home last night.
He left this note saying he was going away to make his fortune and he'd send to me later."
In some ways, it gave opportunity to Black actors who were looking to express their talents and in other ways, it perpetuated the violence and the racial stereotyping of the original program.
But Professor Bainbridge, this was the 1950s.
Surely we've made some progress since Amos 'n' Andy, right?
Don't sleep 'cause she might disappear, you saw that?
She came back, though.
She like she likes you."
The continuing controversy around Awkwafina and her use of Blaccent has a lot of different moving parts, and it started very early in her career.
(rapping) My v*g make your girl panties cream, yo v*g spreads hepatitis C. But she adopts sort of an African American accent while she's rapping.
And then after that, she becomes better known for her acting than her music.
But even in television and film, she's still adopting this very particular African American vernacular English while she's performing.
And she's largely performing funny characters, comedic characters.
"You gonna roll up to that wedding, you gonna be like, 'bok bok bitch.'"
Seeing her gain success for using Blaccent was extremely problematic, but I also think she got more critiques specifically because she was a woman of color.
And I think that people are more likely to hold women of color to a higher standard than they are other groups.
But it sounds like a lot of people on the internet speak with a Blaccent now When someone says, like, period, sis, whatever, snatched, all that, that.
It's very much like internet culture.
I think the argument that internet lingo or teen speak is synonymous with Blaccent is actually quite harmful and can be really a slippery slope because in some ways it normalizes adopting and appropriating Black accent or adopting an appropriating Black culture as just being the norm.
While some folks are saying, well, it's internet lingo, it's internet speak, they're also becoming huge TikTok, celebrities and influencers off of doing these actions.
Eleven, ten, nine... (rapping) Bad bitch, photogenic.
Bust down, flooded Patek iced out, automatic.
When a Black person does adopt, say, you know, AAVE, they're seen as ungrammatical, less professional, less desirable, and less likely to be hired.
That double standard is literally costing people their jobs.
So what can we do about it?
I'm not a fan of dragging people online, but I do think holding people accountable could look a lot of different ways.
Going back to Awkwafina, one of the ways she could have credited the Black community for sort of some of the innov ation that she was, you know, taking credit for with her Blaccent would have just been simply saying, sorry.
I don't profess to be an Awkwafina historian, but I think it's important for us to think of gentler ways that we can engage with each other and engage as communities of color because we do have a shared destiny and also a shared sense of politics that makes it really important to think about solidarity.
So I wonder if they're just other ways of engaging.