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Whitey-Blacky: Authenticity and Appropriation in Flavor of Love The field of linguistic anthropology has long engaged itself with how we index and form

identity through language. Much scholarly work has been dedicated to African-American Vernacular English (AAVE/AAE), a speech variety that is spoken by many African-Americans in the United States. Beginning with its rise to mainstream popularity in the mid-1980s, hip-hop music has brought AAVE and the so-called ghetto identity with which it is often associated to white audiences, who often adopt these to mark an alignment with the culture. Often, this adoption becomes a problematic appropriation when racially marked styles are employed as part of an exaggerated, inauthentic performance. Perhaps in response to this threat, hip-hop culture and African-American culture in general have adopted standards of authenticity and identity to keep these performances from being seen as accurate representations of their culture. Popular media, and especially television, provide an especially powerful discursive space which engages these issues of representation and performance. In a society where powerful ideologies of race and gender dictate the privilege of identity, television becomes a space where notions of authenticity can be explored, expanded, and contested on a public stage. This paper looks at the popular reality television show Flavor of Love, which first aired

on the VH1 cable network in 2006, running for three seasons and spawning four additional spinoff shows. The show follows the basic format of many reality dating programs: twenty women live under one roof, completing challenges and activities in a competition to win the love of one man, Flavor Flav. What distinguishes Flavor of Love from many similar dating shows

is race: Flavor Flav (or Flav) is a black man and a former member of the rap group Public Enemy, and the majority of the female contestants are black women. Most dating shows at the time, such as ABCs The Bachelor, featured mostly white casts. Thus, the show has been a subject of interest for the media and academia alike for its engagement of race and identity in a world where they are often ignored. In this paper, I will focus on the relationship between two contestants on Flavor of Love 2, Becky Buckwild Johnson and Darra Like Dat Boyd. Throughout the show, Like Dat, a black woman, takes issue with Buckwilds style of speech and demeanor, which we construes as racially offensive and inauthentic. Buckwild is one of the shows few white contestants, and is known for her crazy, exaggerated personality. She often repeats the catchphrase Its time to get BUCKWILD! Buckwilds speech on the show contains many elements of AAVE, and this is the primary point of contention between her and Like Dat: Like Dat believes her identity is fake, while Buckwild contends that is not. I Start to Talk Like Them: Discourses on Language Variation From Like Dats perspective, Buckwilds speech is a form of what Ben Rampton (2000) identifies as crossing. He describes crossing as the use of a language or variety that, in one way or another, feels anomalously other to one or more parties in an exchange (2000:54). Crossing has a distinctly performative element to it in that it is a departure from the speakers expected or ordinary speech patterns. This suspension of the ordinary creates a heightened sense of the social relationship between speaker and interlocutor, and often raises questions of the speakers intent and authenticity in employing this othered language style. One of the

crossing practices Rampton (1995) studies is the out-group use of prestigious minority codes (Cutler 2003:214). In this mode, speakers use language varieties associated with a culture or identity that is not their own but to which they very much wish to align themselves. Viewed from this angle, crossing is closely aligned with Alan Bells (1984) concept of out- group referee design. In his work, Bell argues that a speakers language variation is mainly explained by their audience, a concept he terms audience design; in other words, what speakers most take into account in interaction is hearers (1984:159). Out-group referee design is a type of audience design wherein speakers shift from the language style of their in-group to that of an out-group which is not part of the conversation but which holds some social authority or prestige for the speaker (Bell 1984:188). As with crossing, out-group referee design sees a speaker claim a style and identity that is other, and in both processes the degree to which this otherness is recognized can cause conflict. As Bell points out, when the usually absent referees surface in the immediate audience, there can be trouble (1984:190). Of course, the limited lens of television keeps us from knowing for certain what Buckwilds ordinary speech is outside of the show, nor her typical speech audience. However she identifies as her hometown Rancho Cucamonga, California, a town that the 2010 U.S. Census lists as having a population that is 62% white, and only 9% black. It is unlikely that Buckwilds social in-group in Rancho Cucamonga, and by extension, her everyday speech audience, are authentic speakers of AAVE. Whether or not Buckwild uses AAVE outside of the show, the absence of a referee in her audience design seems quite likely. And, as Bell predicts, Buckwild does indeed run into trouble when Like Dat, who also uses many elements of AAVE in

her speech, is suddenly present to question her authenticity. We can see this in the following exchange between Buckwild and Like Dat: ~Standing in front of BWs bed~ for real though yo I gotta ask you a (mad) question thats been stressin my head for a hot min[ute man] ~Lying on bed; leans back on elbow~ ?[wha]ts up yo?] ~Sweeps hand up and down while shaking head~ = >your (shit) just like this here, this shits just like ?Buckwild? thats you ?for real?< <thats me all day>= =?like thats your raisin and the whole nine and shit? <thats me all> >cause I got a question to ask yo (.) no dis[respect I got a question to ask you] < ~Begins to nod and shake head rapidly~ [no I I feel you .I feel you.] > I come from where [white girls be all stone cold black] like< <[I feel youI absolutely feel you]> (interview) A lot of people when they first start talkin to they dont believe Im real, I mean @Im just bein me@ Im so glad you asked me straight out= =I mean (.) you know (interview) ~Shaking head~ Buckwild man, you tryin to put on an act like its miss (.) whitey blackey and, Im havin trouble believin that shit Like Dat believes Buckwilds speech is inauthentic, and appears to be calling out Buckwilds style as an out-group referee designthat is, she is arguing that Buckwilds use of AAVE is an act attempting to win Buckwild prestige. We must then ask of the nature of this prestige. What is Buckwild trying to gain by her performance of blackness through AAVE, and by what standards of authenticity and realness is Like Dat judging her? Keepin it Real: Discourses of Authenticity

The issue of realness comes up often on Flavor of Love. Contestants spend much of their time either attacking others or defending themselves in debates over who is real or fake. In my data, another contestant, Krazy, is accused of being on the show to gain fame, and not because of her love for Flav. In the episode, Flav throws a party with several of his famous famous friends, all of whom are, like Flav, closely affiliated with hip-hop. At one point, members of the rap group Three 6 Mafia challenge Krazy to name a Flavor Flav song, and when she cannot, accuse her of being fake and a phony [26]. Though Krazys lack of hip-hop knowledge should not automatically invalidate the realness of the emotional connection she claims to share with Flav, Three 6 Mafia and other castmembers apply the standards of authenticity for hip-hop identity to other aspects of personal identity as well. However, this is not uncommon: in his studies on hip-hop, Kembrew McLeod (1999) explores how discourses of authenticity are used to police and preserve identity in cultures that are increasingly threatened by mainstream assimilation. Use of the model for what constitutes real in hip-hop extends beyond its immediate artist and fan base. McLeod explains: Because hip-hop culture is firmly rooted in African-American culture, it comes as no surprise that hip-hops emphasis on authenticity is similarly emphasized by certain members of the African American community (1999:147). Though Buckwild does not make any specific claims to hip-hop authenticity, Like Dat judges the authenticity of her style by a music culture that is intimately linked with blackness. Through a study of hip-hop media, McLeod finds several key social dimensions across which authenticity is judged. He identifies which qualities align with realness and which align with fakeness (Table 1).

[Mcleod 1999:139] Like Dat uses several of these factors to support her arguments against Buckwild. After Buckwild claims that her language style is not fake, and that she naturally changes styles depending on her environment, Like Dat counters her, saying, When Im around my friends, this is me, my voice dont change, my demeanor dont change, my tone dont change [49]. This corresponds to the social-psychological category in which staying true to yourself is real and following mass trends is fake. Like Dat also questions Buckwild on social-locational grounds. Where Like Dat proudly claims a ghetto identity associated with her hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey, she dismisses Buckwilds home of Rancho Cucamonga , mocking it and saying That aint no ghetto (Fix 2010:57). Again we see Like Dat using hip-hop authenticity markers to judge a more general black-indexing identity. As McLeod states, authenticity claims are a way of establishing in-group/out-group distinctions(1999:146). As Buckwild attempts to co-opt a black ghetto identity associated with Like Dats in-group, Like Dat attempts to deny her entry by establishing Buckwild as definitively part of her out-group. Ghetto Is as Ghetto Does : Discourses of Performance and Identity

The threat of assimilation McLeod identifies that drives hip-hop cultures focus on authenticity is closely linked with the threat of essentialization (Cutler 2010; Cutler 2003; McLeod 1999; Bucholtz & Lopez 2011). The hegemonic race and gender ideologies that dictate the subordination of blacks to whites and women to men also dictate the dissemination of hegemonic images of black masculine and feminine identities (Richardson 2007; Jordan-Zachery 2009). The true diversity of black experience and expression is filtered by and through the dominant white culture to construct narrow conceptions of blackness, representing what Stuart Hall (1989) describes as the essential black subject (Fuller 2007:1). Black feminist politics has long concerned itself with the ways in which systems of gender, race, and class oppressions intersect and interlock to form a social hierarchy which positions middle-class, heterosexual, white femininity as normative, subordinating black femininity to both white femininity and all masculinity; as Hill-Collins plainly states, these ideologies typically relegate black women to the bottom of the gender hierarchy (2004:193). Much scholarly work has been done to explore how images of black women in popular culture serve to reify and reproduce stereotypes of black femininity (Perry 2008; Richardson 2007; Jordan-Zachery 2009). In her book studying how cultural images of black women affect social policy, Julia Jordan-Zachery (2009) identifies different constructions of black womanhood as they have changed over time. More recent images include the welfare queen and the urban teen mother, who are often associated with laziness, childishness, promiscuity, aggressiveness, and ignorance (2009:46). Using a similar framework to Jordan-Zacherys, Imani Perry (2008) looks at how the reality television has compounded the problem, as reality shows use selective casting, editing, and production to construct an exaggerated and artificial environment that is nonetheless presented to the public

as reality. Perry critiques both participants and producers on shows like Flavor of Love, its two spinoffs, I Love New York and Flavor of Love: Charm School, and The Maury Povitch Show for how they exploit hysterical racial stereotypes for individual gain without considering how they may encourage and justify the marginalization of black women by audiences who view their performance as ideological truth (Perry 2008:93). Where Perry and others see black-centered reality television as a site where harmful

stereotypes are re-inscribed in public discourse, some have identified its potential as a discursive space in which black women can animate diverse and complex identities that eschew the restrictive standards of whiteness (Dubrofsky & Hardy 2008; Fuller 2008). Dubrofsky & Hardy (2008) compare shows like Flavor of Love to white dating shows like The Bachelor, where contestants rarely discuss authenticity or identity. The imperative to not-perform on white reality T.V. shows is rooted in the privileged ideology of whiteness as a normative, unmarked, racial identity that is does not need to be claimed as it is defined only as the absence of race (Dubrofsky & Hardy 2008:378). In other words, to perform a white authentic self for the camera, the contestants must ignore the very notion that identity is performed. In contrast, shows like Flavor of Love require contestants to claim an authentic identity, and the women discuss the realness or fakeness of other contestants almost as much as they do their relationships with Flav. In the episodes I transcribed, countless assessments of personality and authenticity were made. In addition to the conflicts involving Buckwild, Like Dat, Krazy, and New York, Flavor Flav sends his male friends out into the part to test his girls [13]. When the friends report to Flav later, they comment on how Buckwilds personality is

rehearsed [38], whereas Like Dat is gangsta [40]. While Perry and others might argue that Like Dats gangsta or ghetto personality is a purely reductive and harmful display, Dubrofsky & Hardy would posit that Like Dat animates a rich and multidimensional identity that challenges the flat stereotype of the aggressive ghetto girl. Though Like Dat is sometimes loud and boisterious, she is just as often sensitive, calm, and empathetic. After Buckwild becomes upset, Like Dat comforts her and convinces her to stay despite her irritation with Buckwild. As the women prepare the house for the party, Like Dat is more willing to help out than many of the others. When one contestant, Deelishis, has had too much to drink, Like Dat takes care of her. Though Like Dat engages with a widely-stereotyped ghetto identity, she reclaims it as a complex performance, one which black women are not often allowed on reality T.V. Of course, the danger Perry sees in hyperbolic performance being taken as truth is still

present in shows like Flavor of Love. Dubrofsky and Hardy acknowledge that the potential for a rich discursive space is threatened by the fact that contestants must still engage with racial stereotypes, even when challenging them (2008:386). For black reality T.V to avoid becoming a televisual ghetto where only certain performances of race are allowed, (Dubrofsky & Hardy 2008:386) both viewers and participants must recognize that it constitutes the complication of a perceived reality, not reality itself. In other words, reality T.V. shows us that black women must necessarily engage with their othered status under hegemonic white femininity in order to construct an authentic identity. The performances we see may not necessarily be real, but

the process of constructing an authentic identity within, against, and beyond restrictive ideologies certainly is. When viewed through the race and gender politics of reality T.V., Like Dats concern

with Buckwilds behavior reveals itself to be about more than fakeness; Buckwilds performance appropriates, misrepresents, and falsifies the process of identity that is vital for black women on and off the screen. As a white woman, Buckwild enjoys the privileges of being racially unmarked, yet adopts a racially marked linguistic style that is not her own. Buckwilds AAVE use and exaggerated, so-called ignorant persona index a black female ghetto identity that seems inauthentic and mockable. Where Like Dats performance of ghetto animates a stereotype into something more complex, Buckwilds performance reifies it as a caricature. You Cant Re-Do That Shit: Discourses of Appropriation Now that we have explored the discourses at work in Like Dats reaction, we can move to an understanding of the social implications of Buckwilds behavior as they pertain to race and identity. A significant body of academic work exists on the topic of white appropriation of AAVE (Bucholtz 2011; Cutler 2003; Cutler 2007; Fix 2010; Bucholtz & Lopez 2011; Chesley 2011). As discusses in McLeod (1999), the increased move of hip-hop from subculture to mainstream began in the mid-1980s and has continued into the present, allowing white youth secondhand access to a culture and language style which they might not have experienced otherwise. Cutler points out that white hip-hoppers who use AAVE are not trying to pass as black; rather, they are asserting various alignments- whether positive, negative, or ambivalent- towards African Americans, hip hop culture, and mainstream White culture


(2007:527). Buckwild is noted, and indeed, rewarded, on the show for her humorous, boisterous, and exaggerated personality. In many ways, her character is similar to that of Flav himself, whose outrageous antics earned him the title of hip-hops greatest hype man (Fuller 2008:3). Buckwild may well be attempting to align herself with the crazy, entertaining style of people like Flavor Flav, who she describes as pretty much the blackest man in the universe, I mean besides his gold teeth [60]. So what is problematic about Buckwilds speech, and why is it inauthentic? After all,

some white speakers of AAVE can be viewed as authentic even though their language style marks a race that is not their own. Sweetland (2002) presents a case study of Delilah, a woman who has grown up in a predominantly black, working class neighborhood and speaks AAVE fluently and, as decided by the black community that is her in-group, authentically. Delilah uses AAVE grammar in a manner that is consistent with that of a native speaker, and yet, Sweetland is surprised to note, narrowly limits her use of AAVE phonology and lexicon. Sweetland posits that her careful selection of AAVE features to employ indicates her sensitivity to the appropriation of AAVE by other white youth, who inconsistently employ only a few of the most socially significant and stereotypical linguistic features to index a persona of hip-hop cool (Sweetland 2002:518). In other words, Delilah avoids using these elements precisely to avoid being associated with the fakeness of other white AAVE users like Buckwild. Though Buckwilds language comes across as inauthentic to Like Dat and, indeed, to a

majority of viewers, it is useful to look at what makes her AAVE use seem fake while Delilahs is unquestionably real. In a piece that uses Buckwild as a case study, Sonya Fix (2010) analyzes


her language quantitatively, looking closely at the phonological and morphosyntactic features of her speech. She finds that, despite Buckwilds claims that her speech is authentic, uses a rather limited set of AAVE features at rates superceding most of the community speakers, making her usage a a linguistic hyper-performance (Fix 2010:64). Perhaps most telling is the fact that Buckwild loses her AAVE and reverts to a more standard form of English when she becomes upset at Flav for letting New York stay in the house, a marked shift that causes Flav to ask her, angrily and incredulously, where the fuck did your accent go? [93]. What sets Buckwilds performance somewhat apart from the white hip-hoppers trying

to be cool is the fact that her performance is more consciously exaggerated and comical than that of a white fan striving for hip-hop prestige. Though Buckwild does engage with some elements of hip-hop culture, she does not seem interested in positioning herself as a rap fan, or even a particularly cool person. She seems to be adopting a cartoonish, outrageous version of a ghetto identity rather than the more authentic one that Like Dat and others claim. Thus, though she claims that her identity is authentic, we may suspect that she is aware of the hysterical stereotype of blackness that it indexes. In other words, just as we view Like Dats identity through the lens of conscious performance, so too must we consider that Buckwild recognizes and engages with the metadiscourse surrounding her behavior. She must, on some level, know what she is doing. If we assume a self-awareness on Buckwilds part, we must then ask why she is

performing an identity that she knows seems exaggerated and fake. After all, she acknowledges in an interview that Like Dat is not the first person to question her authenticity, saying, A lot of


people when they first start talkin to me, they dont believe Im real [10]. Her performance may fall under what Mary Bucholtz and Qiuana Lopez (2011) term linguistic neo-minstrelsy. Where traditional minstrel performances show white actors using blackface and parody African-Americans, neo-minstrel performances involve actors using a sort of linguistic blackface in which a white nerd character employs exaggerated hip-hop styles and mock AAVE (much in the way Fix and others identify) to index valorized stereotypes of African-American mens style, including coolness, physical toughness, and sexual self-confidence (Bucholtz & Lopez 2011:682). While a traditional minstrel character targets blackness in his parody, the neo- minstrel character constitutes a typifying performance of a typifying performance in which the white character targets blackness while the white actor targets whiteness unsuccessfully imitating blackness (Bucholtz & Lopez 2011: 682-3). Generally, the white characters imitation is temporary, and he returns to his white identity with a newfound racial and gender authentication conferred by [his] experience, while leaving hegemonic racial arrangements intact (Bucholtz & Lopez 2011:702). Buckwilds performance could be seen as a version of neo- minstrelsy. A look at her Twitter account, @BeckyBuckwild, shows a bio that says My religion is fried chicken and many tweets that seem similarly humorous. Buckwild may not be attempting an authentic black identity, but a doubly parodic one which mocks stereotypes both of whiteness and blackness. Though we may be tempted to claim that this animates and makes more complex racial stereotypes, much in the way Like Dats performance does, the fact that Buckwild is white negates the complexity of the performance. By indexing hyperbolic blackness on a white body, Buckwild is merely redrawing the sharp boundaries dominant racial ideologies imagine between normative whiteness and othered blackness. Again, we see whiteness


represented as a normative racial state and blackness as a collage of stereotypes. Where Like Dat challenged this notion by resisting the narrowness of stereotype, Buckwild reinforces it by reproducing them. I Dont Think of Myself as a Color: Discourses of Colorblindness This paper has explored how normative, hegemonic whiteness subordinates blackness

as an othered identity. What we finally explore is how whiteness perpetuates inequality through the popular discourse of colorblindness. In his word on white appropriation of hip- hop, Jason Rodriquez (2006) identifies a colorblind ideology that is often used by white hip- hoppers to justify their actions. Under this rubric, white people claim they are enlightened individuals who dont see race, and thus are absolved of the thorny and often problematic issues of race and power raised by being a white person who identifies heavily with a culture that is deeply rooted in the African-American experience. Buckwild makes many reference to colorblind ideology in defending herself against accusations of appropriation, saying things like I dont think of myself as a color, and Im not tryna act black, Im just tryna act like me [60;77]. These claims are, of course, severely at odds with her inconsistent and over-the-top use of AAVE, a linguistic style that immediately marks blackness to even those audiences who do not hear it in their everyday lives. Put simply, it is impossible that Buckwild is unaware of the racial identity she is indexing in her speech. This, Rodriquez argues, is the core contradiction of colorblind ideology: white people appropriate the symbols of a culture that is rooted in a racial experience that is not their own and then justify this appropriation by denying their racial coded meanings (2006:663). When Buckwild claims that I dont think of myself as a color, she


is proving the privilege of colorblind ideology: white people can claim not to see race because their race is generally not seen. Colorblind ideology does not heal racial divisions; rather, it emphasizes them by asserting the privilege of normative whiteness through a denial of the very inequalities it produces. What Time Is It?: Conclusions It is admittedly a tricky task to attempt to cull conclusions on reality from the artificial

environment of reality television. We must take care to remember that reality T.V. is a product, one that is carefully packaged to entertain and provoke mass audiences. However, while we should not view it as a private window into the lives of others, we can use the screen as a lens through which discourses on identity, public representation, and performance are magnified, and their shape made more visible. Nothing on Flavor of Love could be called definitively real, or fake but the conversation on realness and fakeness is key to our understanding of how raced and gendered individuals form and perform their identities. Moreover, we should not attempt to categorize shows like Flavor of Love as singularly good or harmful for the groups it purports to represent. Rather, we must cast a critical eye on the personal and social politics their heightened, and yes, often hyperbolic, environments reveal. Human social behavior cannot be divided into categories of real or fake, performative or non-performative, right or wrong, and explorations of identity should never aspire to this mere taxonomy. We must instead try to map the contours of identity to find how it maps our social world.


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