A California aquarium has apologised after unwittingly appropriating African American vernacular to describe the voluptuous body of a female sea otter.
Monterey Bay Aquarium tweeted a photograph of Abby, an otter who serves as an adoptive mother to baby otters who have been abandoned.
“Abby is a thicc girl,” the conservation centre and tourist attraction tweeted.
“What an absolute unit,” it continued. “OH LAWD SHE COMIN.”
The tweet attracted more than 40,000 likes and was retweeted over 11,360 times.
However it also attracted criticism, prompting the aquarium to issue an apology acknowledging it had used “problematic and insensitive” references.
In particular, several terms referenced originated from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and specifically reference Black women’s bodies. Using them in a sea otter meme without that background makes insinuations we never intended. We need to do better. 3/4
— Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) 19 December 2018
“If you follow our feed, we often reference popular memes to talk about the ocean. In this case, the memes used had connotations we were unaware of until now,” the aquarium said.
“In particular, several terms referenced originated from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and specifically reference Black women’s bodies,” it continued.
“Using them in a sea otter meme without that background makes insinuations we never intended.”
Among those criticising the tweet was Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical physicist and activist for equal access to sciences.
She voiced concerns that using language associated with black women’s bodies to describe an animal was dehumanising.