Representations of Blackness by White Women: Linguistic Practice in the Community versus the Media

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Fix, Sonya

Use of African American English features among whites with significant social contact with African Americans may signal familiarity and alignment with African American loved ones and peers. But larger cultural ideologies surrounding the use of an ethnically-marked language variety by a phenotypic outsider may cause a performance to be judged inauthentic, especially by those outside of speakers’ immediate intimate social networks. This paper examines the linguistic practices of urban white women from Columbus, Ohio with life-long affiliations and alignments with African Americans, and compares them to popular media depictions of “white women who act black.” Metalinguistic commentary from fieldwork suggests that the practices of these real-life speakers are assumed to match the social and linguistic practices of current popular television figures such as Buckwild from the Flavor of Love, and Rita, a character on the 2003 NBC sitcom Whoopi, both of whom create an iconic white female embodiment of blackness through use of selective syntactic, phonological, lexical, and discursive features of African American English. These media performances have generally been labeled as inauthentic. Qualitative and quantitative comparisons between AAE features used by these media personalities and speech data gathered from the white women with African American ties in my subject sample indicate hyperperformance on the part of the media personas that surpasses the “real” community members.

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