“How my hair look?”
Linguistic authenticity and racialized gender and sexuality on The Wire
This article builds on research in queer linguistics and linguistic scholarship on race in the media to examine the semiotic representation of race, gender, and sexuality in The Wire, often considered one of the most “authentic” media representations of Blackness. Based on an analysis of the entire series, the article argues that this authenticity effect is partly due to the show’s complex African American characters, who reflect a range of gendered and sexual subjectivities. The analysis focuses on three queer Black characters on The Wire who are represented as both “authentically queer” in their social worlds and “authentically Black” in their language. However, the semiotic authenticity of the series is linked to its reification of familiar stereotypes of Blackness, especially hyperviolence and hypermasculinity. Thus, these characters both contest and complicate traditional representations of queerness and gender while reinforcing problematic representations of Blackness for its largely white, affluent target audience.
Keywords: African American English, authenticity, Blackness, gender, masculinity, queerness, race, representation, semiotics, television
This article is currently available as a sample article.