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Wednesday, March 05, 2008


One of the many things that regularly drives me into a state of foaming-at-the-mouth apoplexy is how American black slang of roughly the past twenty-five years or less has crossed over into common parlance, no doubt thanks in large part to white folks' love of hip-hop culture. But while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it's downright ludicrous and embarrassing to see the apple-cheeked spawn of suburbia going about speaking of "dissing" one another, "droppin' it like it's hot," "getting their drink on" and other such displays of wannabe sepia coolness. That shit is amazing to me, having grown up at a time when much of what we descendants of slaves and other "low" types contributed to society was considered vulgar, offensive, and flat-out worthless, the exceptions being our music, crazy styles of dancing, humor, and fried chicken.

Proto-wigger, circa 1928.

When rap and hip-hop culture really began to work its way into the mainstream fabric of American life — an hilarious and unintentional act of cultural revenge/subversion, if you ask me — I was in my second year of college (Fall 1984-Spring 1985) and began to notice white people spouting terms like "word up" and "word to your mother," among others, and I wondered if it was the resurgence of such collegiate lingo as "twenty-three skidoo" or "It's the bee's knees." Having finally had enough of pop music radio thanks to the oversaturation of the disco era and the nightmare of the early-1980's insinuation of soulless MTV-style music-as-product, I missed much of the early hip-hop, my knowledge of such stuff being pretty much limited to having heard "Rapper's Delight" exactly once in 1979, followed in short order by Blowfly's pornographic attempt at the form, "Blowfly's Rap." I didn't know "Planet Rock" from "Rock Lobster, but that would change as my fellow students shook their collective booty to Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, and others, all while the genre's vernacular was disseminated, absorbed, and implemented across the nation, causing the rise of the white boy who would be black.

"Yo, Mistah Deejay! Rock dat shit, mah wigga! Muthafuckin' Red Hot Chili Peppers, son!!!"

My fondest memory of the early days of this phenomenon was during a mid-1980's summer stint as a counselor at Westport, Connecticut's Camp Mahakeno, when one of my under-ten charges began to execute a sequence of spastic "moves" that were allegedly break dancing steps. A portable radio tuned in to one of the area's pop stations blasted "Jam On It" and the kid began a wild St. Vitus' dance that looked for all the world like he was possessed by a tequila-fueled Pazuzu, limbs flailing in all directions and displaying about as much rhythm as a demolition blast. I asked him just what hell he was supposed to be doing and he answered, "I'm breakin', Buncheman!" When I asked him where he learned to perform this borderline-epileptic display he responded, "I learned it on the street, man!" As I nearly pissed myself laughing (which he did not appreciate) I said "What street? The Post Road?" and told him to get up off the ground and rejoin his fellow campers in their current activity (which was making lanyards, or some shit). The kid ignored me, flipped over onto his stomach and began doing "the worm," at which point he propelled himself nuts-first onto an upturned rock. As he writhed in the dirt, practically vomiting from the physical agony, the other children exploded with howls of derisive laughter and pelted him with clods of dirt until I put a stop to it (admittedly well after I really should have stepped in).

First there was Hitler Youth, now this.

I see unaware and awkward white niggers, or "wiggers," all over the fucking place nowadays and I wince when I witness their behavior. But while I find them annoying enough in the world at large, I really find it irksome to be in the midst of several of them while I'm at work. As I've mentioned in other posts, I'm one of the older employees at the design gulag, the average staffer ranging somewhere in their early-to-late twenties, just the right age to be among the first generation to have the hip-hop argot be a part of their lives since infancy, rather than having it enter their consciousness as a something happening organically in whatever urban region they grew up in (like my buddy Hughes, a Bronx-born and raised Irishman who is far "blacker" than I'll ever be, yet somehow isn't a wigger), or merely through TV or the radio; hip-hop is a part of their speech, the once-reviled "Ebonics" now an accepted part of the lexicon.

I can make a statement in conversation with some of my white co-workers and hear them answer with a "true dat," be greeted with a " 'sup, B?" and a host of other terminology that makes me feel like I've been trapped in a post-modern TWILIGHT ZONE story where everyone in the world is a character in the AMOS 'N' ANDY universe except me. All of it is done with no intent to offend or offer ironic content, but it does put me off and strikes me as silly. And I'm curious to know if the same people would affect this way of acting if dropped into the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant, near the old Slave 1 theater. Somehow, I think not.

And do not get me started on "yiggers..."

Or would that be "Chiggers?"


Senter said...

I first stumbled on this group back in '82-'83 while visiting my cousin in Queens. Their knowledge of hip-hop was marginal (read: only the hits) and a couple of sad scrawls on the corner lamppost with a semi dry El Marko constituted their graffiti prowess. But man, these kids thought they were straight outta' The Queensbridge Projects! I instantly despised them, ashamed that I shared the same skin color and a fondness for this new sub-culture. I mean, I even hated the Beastie Boys when they were first around. And ever time I hear some rich celeb like Justin Timberlake start saying "Yo dawg" I wanna drink a '40 of Clorox. What Hath Puff Daddy Wrought?!

Mickie said...

Didn't some recent movie like "Another Teen Movie" parody this phenomenon by having white kids act like Japanese samurai?

Also, at the risk of really sounding "racist", how about the fact that the "Valley Girl" accent has been usurped by "Spanish as first language" accent among teens?

Jim Browski said...

Well, I would call these "wiggers" stupid or dopes, but they would take it as a great compliment.
Now if I could just convince people that being phat is a good thing!

Anonymous said...

This was hysterical - I love the photos. I love the Beastie Boys, and somehow they don't seem to be as annoying to me as wiggers. Are they wiggers? - Cristina

Anonymous said...

This was hysterical - I love the photos. I love the Beastie Boys, and somehow they don't seem to be as annoying to me as wiggers. Are they wiggers? - Cristina

Bunche said...

I remember the Beastie Boys from as far back as the hilariously idiotic "Cookie Puss" single and took that recording for what it was, a goof. Then "License To Ill" happened and they put forth an intentionally meatheaded persona that even they swiftly realized was obnoxious, so from there on they improved by leaps and bounds, "Paul's Boutique" being particularly exceptional.

But are the Beasties wiggers? I say no, because of their sincerity and love for the form, plus their obvious talent and intelligence. Plus they're actually from NYC, unlike the vast majority of wiggers.

Nicole said...

SENTER:Not everyone is lucky enought to have a fat Pilot paint pen or a slick Sharpie in their pocket when the writing opportunity arises. Quit Picking on El Marko.
I totally missed the point, didn't I?

Kevie said...

I've always liked to imagine that there's a think tank based somewhere around 125th St. that works around the clock coming up with the cool black expressions du jour. When their work inevitably gets co-opted by whitey, they have to go back and come up with a bunch of new stuff. "Shit, the white people are saying "dawg" now! You know how long I worked to come up with "dawg"? Fucking Randy Jackson!"

Most of us whiteys do this to at least some extent. I'm embarrassed to say I'm not immune to throwing out 'urban' expressions, always hoping on some level that nobody calls me on it. It's a way of trying to appear more confident than I am.

It's odd that there's such a compulsion to assimilate bits of black culture, to ridiculous effect, the 'wiggers' being only the most extreme example. Meanwhile none of these guys is in a hurry to leave the comforts of suburbia. Kyle Baker had a great line: "Black culture is in, black music is in, but black people will never be in."

Stopheles said...

I'd like to think that I don't count as a 'wigger,' even though I used to record hip hop and sure as hell listen to a ton of it. I don't use the latest slang (I think "dis" might be my most commonly-used 'urban' slang, and I don't use it all that often), don't cock my cap sideways, don't wear my trousers at child-molester-in-prison-level bagginess...and sure as hell don't flash bogus gang signs.

If I'm a wigger for liking hip hop to the extent that I do, Bunche is some bizarre version of a Norwegian Oreo (and I don't think that's the case).

Anonymous said...

Are those WHITE KIDS wearing FUBU shirts?

Someone needs to explain to them what FUBU stands for - preferably with a heavy stick.

Anonymous said...

@stopheles and bunche (fuck the rest of the world, we're talkin here). i still do record hiphop. i've loved hiphop since i first heard push it and wild wild west by kool moe dee back before i was 10 and living in kentucky (not to mention pump up the volume by m.a.r.r.s). Bunch, you've known me for a good while now, and I ask you in all sincerity, am I a wigger? then i look back at the post's and i see a whole lot of "dude, please use your powers of innate africanity to absolve me of my new found and suddenly glaring insecurity", well fuck that noise. I am who i am, and i be who i be, i like hiphop because listening to it, and making it feel good. Good memories, and a great creative outlet. I like the anti establishment vibe, and i like the scene better than a bunch of unwashed white dudes in ripped up thriftstore clothes punching each other in a circle. anyways, this whole post makes me feel wierd and sceevy, and i guess i just want to say that though i understand your viewpoint and sentiment (and for the record, the only gang signs i ever threw up were in the name of comedy, because spelling blood with your fingers is hysterical), broad generalizations never work out Dawgs. and it's 2 am on a work night and i'm an idiot so i'm cutting myself off there and we can discuss over beer and perhaps one of the old hiphop standby's.
oh and to remind the rest of the viewing audience, this is between me, bunche, and stopheles. (and how come whenever anyone brings up whiteness in hiphop, it's always the beastie boys. what about 3rd bass? is dj shadow hiphop? is fucking CAP from style wars hiphop? how about crazy legs, he's not black. or wierd al yankovic, amish paradise is straight ballin son. what what. man, now i'm really cutting myself off.)
-Big Mike

Oz said...

I use some of these phrases when feeling frisky, but it's meant (due to my obvious, glaring whiteness) to be satirical. Some people don't spot the snarky gleam in my eye, or comprehend any satire at all, so on these occasions it's merely treated as an even weaker attempt at wiggery than the real thing.

While I'm at it, 4 out of 5 consumers of hip-hop are white teenage boys from the suburbs, I'm told. So there's a case to be made for hip-hop (or at least its mass-market success) not as the rough truth of the streets but as the new minstrelsy.

SENTER said...

Big Mike - I hear you. I was recording hip-hop back in the mid 80's and always got a lot of shit from white folks calling me a wigger. I didn't dress the part, didn't talk with an affected accent (trust me, my Bronx accent was bad enough) but I still got wierd looks from the Wonder Bread crew. And with the number of really good white graf artists at that time (Zephyr, Revolt, Seen, JA, Smith, Sane, etc) it's painfully obvious that white folks had a major say in hip-hop's growth. As for being from Kentuky, Eric B & Rakim said it best... It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at.

Collie: C'mon... El Marko's were the "tools of the toy". But I never had the kick ass "5 finger uni's" that were all the rage!

Anonymous said...

Mah chitlified bruthah!

Love your exigesis on wiggers. Remarkable phenomena. I think I take exception to your dismissal of early slave aspects in American culture. Of course, I am from the North. I did learn "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" along with "Happy Talk" in elementary school.

Those pictures you found are much more frightening because those kids are for real. There's money to be made for something like Wigger Tours that run kids through Bed--Stuy, stops at a colorful grease pit and then back on the bus.

-Professor Brown

Dec said...

I think i'll let 'The Wire' speak for me...


Anonymous said...

there was a time when black men had their hair processed and set their doo like a italian it all yin and yang`s

Bunche said...

True, and I wasn't down with that either. That hair-straightening shit was a classic case of self-loathing.