SNL Is Accused Of Cultural Appropriation In A Sketch About Gen Z Slang

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Update: In response to the backlash against SNL, co-head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Michael Che posted a statement on Instagram. “I’ve been reading about how my ‘gen z’ sketch was misappropriating AAVE and I was stunned cause what the f— is ‘AAVE’? I had to look it up,” he wrote in a now-deleted post. “Turns out it’s an acronym for ‘African American vernacular english.’ You know, AAVE! That ol’ saying that actual black people use in conversation all the time…” Che received some backlash for appearing to defend the show and the sketch, rather than examine the harm done by appropriating Black vernacular. He has since removed his post entirely.

This story was originally published on May 10.

This weekend’s Saturday Night Live episode was already fraught with controversy. Hosted by tech billionaire Elon Musk, SNL has been facing backlash for weeks now over their choice to elevate a COVID conspiracist billionaire.

Then, to make matters worse, Musk — masquerading as a comedian — participated in one of the show’s more offensive sketches of the past year. In a segment called “Gen Z Hospital,” SNL attempted to make light of Gen Z slang, but what transpired was a deeply problematic routine that appropriated African-American Vernacular English, or AAVE.

During the sketch, a group of friends dressed up as stereotypical Gen Zers — pastel-colored hair, over-the-shoulder fanny packs, absolutely no skinny jeans, the whole nine — were in a hospital waiting room, desperate to hear news of their “bestie” who got into a car accident while doing tricks on Instagram Live. The entire sketch then shows the cast members as Gen Zers speaking to Musk, who played the doctor (heaven forbid), in a distinct vernacular: they described their “bestie” as taking an “L,” hailing her as a “real one,” and then managed to shove the phrases “bro,” “bruh,” “no cap,” “stan,” “go off, king,” “sis,” and “cuh” into a matter of minutes. When their bestie died, the sketch ended with an “iconic” Supreme-branded urn, memorials given in the “It’s the __ for me” format, and a group selfie.

Of course, the writers of this sketch saw this as a fun exercise in mocking an entire generation, but what they did was rebrand AAVE as Gen Z slang, and this did not go over well — particularly with Black people online.

“Love the relabelling of AAVE and a few assorted BLACK LGBTQ+ phrases as ‘Gen z’ speak,” one Twitter user wrote on Sunday. “Love to see the erasure in real time.”

AAVE — a vernacular rooted in African and Caribbean Creole English dialects — was created in Black communities that were enslaved generations ago as a means to communicate with one another. Some words, like “lit,” “bae,” and “slay,” have managed to enter the mainstream, often because they are popularized by Black musicians. And while appropriation of these terms has become so widespread, it’s entirely different when a for-profit platform that reaches millions of people across generations uses an entire language for comedy.

“This is why black people (AA) want to gatekeep aave,” another person tweeted. “Aave isn’t some funny internet language created by some teens on TikTok nor is it slang, it’s a whole dialect with its own rules. Black people have been literally speaking like this during slavery of course-more words have been added and changed but still aave is apart of black culture.”

For as long as AAVE has been co-opted by the internet — specifically by white communities, both queer and cis — Black history continues to face erasure. “Sis” and “fam” and “cuh” are not terms that originated on TikTok for white people to appropriate in jokes. These words and phrases came from a history of resistance. And Black people were criticized for generations for not using “proper” English until people on the internet adopted our language.

The origins of our language are being steadily erased, quickly stolen, and co-opted for mainstream comedy. AAVE has been repackaged as cute. But attributing AAVE to an entire generation of young people — over and over again — will continue to hurt Black communities in this country.

SNL has yet to make a statement regarding their use of AAVE. Neither has Elon Musk, who participated in the sketch. But, does this really surprise anyone? After all, they once had a noted racists host the show, too.

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