The Black community has ignited some of the hottest trends in music, fashion, and social media. Gen Z and TikTok have been credited for viral trends such as “whew chile,” “it’s the ___ for me,” and “SKSKSKSK.” Yet, the fuel behind actually making these go viral is not Black youths who have created much of the vernacular and trends, but instead non-Black TikTokers.
Should non-Black people not use these words?
I believe so.
The reason is simply that it furthers the alienation and otherness that Black folks feel, especially when engaging in their own culture. It’s important for non-Black people, specifically Gen Z, to understand the implication of engaging and profiting off Black culture and African American Vernacular English (AAVE). The forced movement of Black bodies, catalyzed by slavery, from Africa to North America, contributed to an intermingling of speech and birthed a fully developed dialect of AAVE.
So, what is internet or Gen Z slang?
Internet lingo is often AAVE with a mask, creating the assumption that it is acceptable for everyone to use. But it is not. When non-Black folks appropriate AAVE (often combined with a blaccent and/or digital blackface), they further perpetuate the stereotype that when Black folks use their own dialect, it is unacceptable. However, non-Black people can achieve fame and thousands of likes through its use.
As both a member of the Black community and Gen Z, I feel it’s my duty to share the grievances of a community that has experienced the most hate, oppression, and inequity. As a Black, Queer woman, it troubles me to see my people labeled as “unprofessional” and “ghetto” for engaging in the culture they created and for others to be deemed as “creative,” “novel,” and “original.”
We need to hold each other accountable.
While JUV attempts to educate folks about Gen Z trends, we need to take each and every opportunity to acknowledge the originators of Gen Z trends and the potentially problematic impact. As the most diverse generation yet, we have to do better.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at email@example.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.