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Did pop star Doja Cat moderate ‘alt-right’ chatrooms?

Day to night to morning, it’s hard to keep with Doja Cat’s many cancellations in the moment.

The artist’s rise from profoundly weird SoundCloud novelty rapper to Billboard chart topper was never without its controversy. Now there’s another one, this time involving alt-right vernacular and racist chatrooms.

The 24-year-old “Say So” singer, whose real name is Amalaratna Zandile Dlamini, has a black, South African father and a Jewish-American mother. This bit of biography makes recent developments just about as strange as that one video where she dresses like a cow.

The same internet that birthed Dlamini’s fame started to turn on her on May 22, when videos allegedly showing the artist on Tiny Chat appeared online. Tiny Chat is believed by some to be a hub of alt-right and racist discourse — others maintain that it’s just a platform for high-level trolls.

So, why did we think it was Dlamini, a black Jewish woman, on these chats? Apart from the fact the person in the videos looks and sounds a lot like her, the artist had previously made her chatroom tendencies known to Paper magazine, claiming she frequented these platforms in spite of the abuse she regularly encountered there.

“People would pick on me and use horrible, horrible language, just the worst, and I just didn’t understand why people were so crazy on there,” she told Paper. “So I became the person who would make offensive jokes and do things sort of out of the box.”

This subversive tendency can be seen in Dlamini’s work as Doja Cat, but a revelation made later in the weekend escalated the controversy. She wasn’t simply using an allegedly alt-right chatroom; she appeared to use the alt-right’s own language in her work.

After the videos of Dlamini on the chats surfaced, Twitter users bearing the hashtags #DojaCatIsOverParty, unearthed a deleted 2015 track from the artist. The song is titled “Dindu Nuffin,” and many were quick to condemn it as racist.

For those unfamiliar, “Dindu Nuffin” is a slur deployed to mock black victims of police brutality. It’s a corruption of “Didn’t do nothing,” which users on 4Chan’s “Politically Incorrect” forum originated. Many noted that Sandra Bland’s death preceded the track’s posting to Soundcloud, where it was later deleted. Dlamini would have been 18 at the time of recording and not yet a household name.

On May 25, Dlamini posted an apology to Instagram, explaining that she “shouldn’t have been on some of those chatroom sites,” but noting that “I personally have never been involved in any racist conversations.” Dlamini also wrote that the questionable song was not a commentary on “anything outside of my own personal experience.” As a black woman, she said the phrase had been used to hurt her and the track was an ill-considered attempt to “flip its meaning.”

On the morning of May 26, Dlamini hopped on Instagram Live, admitting that she is “not perfect” and confirming that, before she had traction as a musical artist, she was a moderator on Tiny Chat. She also concurred with Twitter users who identified men present in the leaked chat as incels and members of the alt-right.

“I learned that there are racist people who come in and out of the chat,” Dlamini said. “They’re there. They happen, and then they’re banned. The idea that this chatroom is a white supremacist chatroom is… I don’t understand it in any way.”

She also stated that “Dindu Nuffin” was “maybe the worst song in the world” but was “in zero ways connected to police brutality.”

Dlamini called speculation that it was made in response to Bland’s death “the most awful rumors that I’ve encountered.”

This is not Dlamini’s first brush with controversy. Her online presence became a source of trouble for her in 2018, when Twitter users revived tweets from 2015 — the same year as the deleted track — that refer to rappers Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt as “f——ts.”

After defending her remarks, Dlamini apologized and scrubbed the internet of the incriminating tweets. Dlamini’s mea culpa was quickly accepted by the fandom, with the hashtag #WeAreSorryDoja trending on Twitter shortly after her statement on Instagram.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at [email protected].

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