Wigger Please is a documentary feature film chronicling the cultural stereotypes of white Americans embracing hip hop culture. Currently in production, the filmmakers are interviewing rappers, actors, artists and writers who have had their political or personal perspectives influenced by their experiences with hip hop or black culture. For information on the project, contact [email protected]
It's hard to come up with an ethnic slur that has less of a sting than "whitey."
A prevalent yet unsubstantiated Internet rumor passed along by Rush Limbaugh and others has it that Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, used this term at some point in a speech, and the Obama campaign is concerned enough to have posted an online rebuttal.
I've got to ask, though. Are there really white people out there so ignorant of history, so unaware of the nuances of language and so threatened by minority grievances that they take genuine umbrage at the term, "whitey"?
It has no ugly history and hints at no particular stereotypes. Like the term "honky," of which it is an even milder cousin, "whitey" resonates with frustration, not oppression -- a taunt, perhaps, but not a threat.
The only way white people can work up a snit over "whitey" is if they fail to see that context is everything in measuring the wallop of informal ethnic terms. This requires them to set up a false equivalence between prejudice -- making negative assumptions about people based solely on external characteristics, which all races and ethnicities are guilty of -- and racism -- prejudice in action.
It requires them to imagine that "whitey" marginalizes, diminishes and therefore harms them.
And if they're really that dumb, then I guess they deserve to be insulted.
No More Dap for Blacks
by Adam "DNA"
PUBLISHED: JUNE 12, 2008
Once, 125th street ran with the dull thud of black men giving each other fist pounds as they greeted each other in friendship. Now, all that can be heard is that regular city noise you generally hear in New York, and maybe some Reggae music.
“Me and my friends don’t even give each other pounds anymore,” said Darryl Wilkins, a 24 year old bank teller. “We just kind of nod at each other.”
Millions of white people saw presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama give his wife a fist pound before his victory speech last week, and decided to greet each other in a similar manner. As a result, black Americans across the country have eschewed the gesture in protest.
“What, I’m supposed to greet my homie the way Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Hutchinson (R-TX) greet each other? I don’t think so,” Wilkins added as he shook his head.
Some black leaders are trying to preserve the pound, pointing to its long and fruitful association with the black community. The Rev. Al Sharpton has suggested the Federal Government institute a “dap tax” that white people would have to pay for using the gesture. The “dap tax,” Sharpton says, would be instituted in lieu of reparations for slavery.
“You can give each other dap, you just have to give us the dollars,” Sharpton told reporters at a press conference in front of a Gray’s Papaya yesterday, where he was scheduled to have lunch with Bill O’Reilly.
The Center for Disease Control issued a statement warning that the influx of amateur pound-giving could result in an epidemic of hand borne diseases.
“The knuckles are, in fact, the most germ-friendly part of the body,” said CDC spokesman Jeremy Fowler. “People who have just started giving each other dap should really be careful that they don’t end up getting very sick, and should consider partnering with a veteran.”
Unfortunately, now that black Americans no longer give each other dap, there are few experts around to teach whites how to perform the gesture safely. 45-year old Adina Washington, an assistant curator at the Museaum of Afro-Caribbean Blackness in Brooklyn, says it serves new dappers right if they hurt themselves.
“First Jazz, then rock and roll, and now this?” Washington said, pounding her desk for emphasis. “What’s next, colloquialisms like ‘word,’ or ‘bling bling?’ Next thing you know, white people will be doing the Soulja Boy.”
“DNA” is a guest contributor for Blackline. He posts regularly on his blog at TooSense.net.
I'm a member of the diversity council in my company - one of few white folks - and I'm often called on for my opinion. Now granted I've done over 10 years of diversity work, but why are you assuming the guys on the regional councils are naive?
I'm also a member of a diversity organization that holds an annual 4 day conference, and we always try to find a frame to discuss whiteness. Last year was most successful. Again, white folks are in the minority, so the four or five women launched a workshop we called, "Everything you ever wanted to know about white people, but were afraid to ask."
It was a hit. We were asked pertinent questions, not jabs, and the most interesting question, that actually stumped us, was "what about being White brings you joy?" Everything we named was either a class thing or was about avoiding what People of Color face all the time (being stalked in stores).
I think you are way too isolated as a white guy - WACAN is forming an on-line dialogue for folks who've attended the White Privilege Conference - there were 900 folks, and probably 300 or more white folks, and all of them that I met have done their own work and are savvy. You really have to reach out more to realize you aren't the only cool white person around.
DiversityInc partner and cofounder Luke Visconti responds:
Comparing average business white men to people who have sought out WACAN is apples and oranges.
Yes, I'm assuming a company that doesn't even apply for the DiversityInc Top 50 has low quality training and "diversity councils" with very little structure and business planning. That's based on my eight years of experience running the Top 50 competition, benchmarking hundreds of companies and presenting to hundreds of "diversity councils."
Most white people in corporate America have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to "diversity" and succumb to making statements that express ignorance to a degree that is detrimental (i.e. "it's all about parenting" or "those people don't value education").
Your mention of being "cool" is interesting. "Cool" has nothing to do with this. If you think you're "cool" and find yourself speaking in "vernacular" or shaking hands in any way but the (white) traditional way, you may want to think again.
Cheney talks trash
The sordid history conjured by the vice president's joke about inbreeding between poor white people.
Things are getting complicated. In the same week that a black man clinched the Democratic nomination for president, the current white, Republican vice president was forced to apologize for making a crack that played on the myth that poor white folks like having sex with their cousins.
It probably wouldn't have been a big deal had Dick Cheney not singled out West Virginia, the bluest of the red states. He was talking about having Cheneys on both sides of his family and, he said, "we don't even live in West Virginia." As director John Waters said in 1994, talking trash about "white trash" is "the last racist thing you can say and get away with." After all, there's no political action committee for hillbillies. (And no, the National Rifle Assn. doesn't count.)
It turns out that West Virginia officials did protest the vice president's remarks. Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd lamented Cheney's evident "contempt and astounding ignorance toward his own countrymen." But he and other politicians were clearly more offended by the targeting of their state than with the fact that Cheney was propagating the old canard that poor white Southerners were biologically tainted by inbreeding. That a generally humorless vice president would dare make such a joke in an election year shows how acceptable it really is to disparage lower-class whites from the South and beyond. But why?
Think of it this way: If a black politician made fun of poor blacks, or a Latino official made fun of poor Latinos, he'd likely be roundly denounced as a sellout. Indeed, politicians and all other upper-middle-class Latinos and blacks are generally assumed to bear a responsibility to improve the lot of the most downtrodden among them. So why do privileged white people like Cheney have greater license to distance themselves from poor whites? Aren't they also responsible for helping to lift their brothers and sisters up the socioeconomic ladder?
The term "white trash" seems to have emerged in the 1820s in Baltimore. It was slang, used by both free and enslaved blacks, to put down the poor whites with whom they sometimes found themselves in economic competition. Middle-class and elite whites then borrowed and popularized the term for their own purposes, one of which was to solidify their racial dominance.
That process started with the ideology of black inferiority, which emerged as a justification for slavery, and the concomitant ideology of white supremacy. In pre-Civil War Southern society, the presence of poor, uneducated and uncouth whites presented something of a problem for the advocates of slavery: They were living, breathing proof that whiteness and superiority were not the same.
By the 1850s, poor whites found themselves caught in the debate over slavery. In 1854, abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe argued that "white trash" were the victims and byproducts of slavery, in which the planter class monopolized tillable soil and left poor whites struggling to survive. For their part, pro-slavery advocates retorted that the source of the white underclass was not slavery but the tainted blood that ran through these depraved people's veins.
In other words, in order to maintain the idea of white supremacy, white elites had to de-racialize their poor -- remove them from the group. They were "white" in skin color only. Just as the one-drop rule -- which held that any person with any amount of African blood would be considered black -- kept the white racial category "pure," so did the creation and disowning of "inferior" whites. "The term 'white trash' gave a name to people who were giving 'whiteness' a bad name," said Matt Wray, a Temple University sociologist and the author of "Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness." "It meant that they were behaving in ways that didn't suggest that they were the master race."
By the turn of the century, eugenicists were studying poor rural whites and documenting their social dysfunctions. They eventually made the fatuous connection between Southern white poverty and "consanguinity," or shared blood -- which meant incest. The accusation stuck, and many poor whites were labeled feeble-minded and became the victims of the forced-sterilization programs that began in the 1920s.
Cheney was probably not fully aware of the whole sordid history he conjured. But his casual joke suggests not only that political correctness does not apply to all groups equally but that there are corrosive, nonracial social divisions in this nation that are easily ignored and even tolerated. For too long, we've spoken of social tensions almost exclusively in terms of race. Perhaps the nomination of a black man for president will let that story line fade so that we can finally focus on the ever-present, easy-to-miss issues of class.