Defining “Bougie”

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Our I Love Bougie Black Girls Teespring campaign seems to be going pretty well. We’re ahead of schedule with our goal, and the idea behind the shirt seems to be pretty well-received.

(There are only eight days left, btw, so go to Teespring and cop an $11 men’s t-shirt, a $13 women’s tee, or a hoodie.)

But, there has been some confusion about what exactly “Bougie” means in this context. For many Black Americans — especially those from the South — Bougie doesn’t have the most positive connotation. So, to clear things up, here’s a bit of background and detail about my definition.

In Dec of 2011, comedians Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard joined with actress Juliette Lewis to create “Shit Girls Say”, a short YouTube webseries based off a Twitter account with the same name. The video went viral. By the next month, dozens of imitation videos had been created, including one (“Shit Bougie Black Girls Say”) written and produced by me — and starring a friend of mine — based off of a blog post with the same name.

The video was pretty well-received with over 750,000 views. Through the dozens of emails, calls, and texts I received about it, one theme was continually repeated:

“You were in my head. How did you know what to say?”

My answer was simple. To create “Shit Bougie Black Girls Say” I used my “cheat sheets” — the urban and highly educated Black women I personally knew. Despite the fact that these women hailed everywhere from D.C. to San Diego, so many of them shared enough of the same patterns, idiosyncrasies, and inclinations that they formed their own distinct subculture. It just hadn’t been given a name.

Hello, Bougie.

(Interestingly enough, the Bougie moniker was an accident. I meant to use the most common spelling of that word (“Bourgie”) when creating the video, and mistakenly left the “r” out. This mistake proved to be advantageous. While the difference in spelling is minor, the R-inclusive “Bourgie” are a completely different type of Black people than the ones I’m talking about. “Bourgie” describes a certain upper-middle to lower-upper class lifestyle more dependent on and defined by activities, ancestry, and legacy than actual income. These are the brothas and sistas whose great-grandparents were Alphas and Deltas, whose Jack and Jill cotillion was their prom, and who “summer” places where people who use “summer” as a verb “summer.” Basically, think of Whitley Gilbert.)

While women were the initial focus of this designation, I soon realized that most of the “urban and highly educated” young Black men I knew—myself included—also shared many of the same characteristics, despite a reluctance to actually own up to it. We’d endlessly chide our girlfriends, wives, and homegirls about their irrational love for Thai food, their tendency to intentionally over tip, and even their deification of Olivia Pope. But we scour Groupon for the restaurant with the best Thai chicken satay with the same intensity they would—making certain to leave a 30% tip after dining—and, although most of us won’t admit it, we’re fans of Scandal too.

To an outsider, many of these shared traits may seem superficial. And, considering the fact that most Bougie Black People (BBP) don’t exactly come from legacies of wealth, socially irresponsible. But, closer inspection reveals that they’re largely rooted in a race-conscious pragmatism that allows them to be upwardly mobile while still staying connected to “regular” Black folks.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Shit Bougie Black People Love: #12 Gentrification

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If you ever ask a Bougie Black Person to explain his feelings about gentrification, he will pause, start to speak, pause again, and exhale before saying anything. He may even add a prolonged sigh. And, if lucky, you might even see him roll his sweater sleeves up and put his thumb to his chin.

This will give you the impression that the BBP is carefully choosing his words. Which he is. This subject obviously causes him much ambivalence and consternation. It may have even given him acid reflux. After all, while the BBP may be successful, he’s not very far removed from regular Blacks. A few of his cousins are still in the hood. As well as his barbershop. Naturally, he wants to make certain he answers this question with as much nuance as possible.

He’ll use words like “well” and “actually” and “white motherfuckers.” He may also use words like “displacement” and “Starbucks” and “property tax.” And, although he’s only been to Brooklyn once — and learned much of what he knows about Brooklyn when Mos Def was on Bill Maher — he’ll make sure to use Brooklyn as an example of the ills of gentrification. He may even say something about how they’re “tearing down basketball courts” to “make room for bike lanes and places you buy yoga pants and shit” and he’ll say this with disdain.

Then he’ll say “But…”

And then the truth will come out. He’ll admit gentrification has some benefits. He’ll mention a specific neighborhood, and he’ll talk about how the Whole Foods he buys his crustless quiche and couscous from was a crackhouse seven years ago. It wasn’t, of course. No one needs 20,000 square feet of space to do crack. But he’ll say it.

(read more at Shit Bougie Black People Love)

Shit Bougie Black People Love: Washington, D.C.

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Every population has a Mecca. A place worthy of praise and pilgrimage. A hallowed ground where all things begin and end. For Muslims, the Mecca is, well, Mecca. For crackheads it’s Home Depot parking lots. For Black basketball players and fans it’s Rucker Park in New York City. For White basketball players and fans it’s wherever the hell in Indiana Hoosiers was filmed.

And, while Atlanta is seen as the Black American Mecca, the D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia (DMV) area stakes that claim for Bougie Black People (BBP).

When you mention the DMV to a BBP, watch their eyes sparkle, their cheeks rose, their skin blush, and their hair stand. Feel their blood pressure rise when namedropping places like Busboys and Poets, Park, Bohemian Caverns, Oohh’s and Aahh’s, and Sequoia. Listen to how those who don’t currently live there say things like “That’s where I need to be.” while those who do live there make sure to tell every BBP within earshot that “This is where you need to be, man.” Pay attention to how a population drenched in snark and cynicism speak of the DMV with a sincere reverence reserved for season four of The Wire.

To understand why exactly the DMV is so revered by BBP is to understand both BBP and the DMV’s predominate culture.

First, this area is one of the few places in the country where it’s not uncommon to find entire communities full of Black people making at least 75 grand a year. This is largely due to the preponderance of important sounding and largely inessential government-related jobs found here—occupations with titles like “Search Optimization Control Specialist,” “Director of Afro-Latino Coalition Initiatives,” and “President of the United States.”

These types of jobs check each of the BBP’s boxes. They’re usually not accessible unless you possess an advanced degree, making it an immediate BBP status marker. They sound important enough to justify the six figure student loan debt needed to receive that advanced degree. And, it’s the only place on Earth where one can get a good job with a degree in Afro-American Studies.

Also, most government-related organizations have certain quotas that need to be filled, making them particularly friendly to Black people. Since BBP are Black, this benefits them.

The DMV also serves as a hub for several incubators of current and future BBPs—Howard, Hampton, Morgan State, and all the other DMV HBCUs that don’t matter enough to be listed individually—breeding grounds where BBP culture is first indoctrinated. Only Atlanta has a comparable base of prospective BBP, but Atlanta also has Katt Williams. And worms.

When you consider that most of the country’s BBP were able to attend school through Stafford, FAFSA, and Sallie Mae—all federal programs—D.C. is basically the Magwitch to the BBP’s Pip.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that the current real (Barack and Michelle Obama) and fictional (Scandal’s Olivia Pope) benchmarks for BBP life have direct DMV ties. This by itself would be enough to draw BBP to the area. There’s no higher compliment you can pay a BBP than calling one a “younger, nerdier Barack” or a “shorter, browner, hungrier Michelle with Olivia Pope’s calves,” and they’d migrate there just for the hope of somehow being Obama-ed by osmosis.

Most importantly, while certain major cities have their own unique currencies, D.C.—and, by extension, the entire DMV—trades in power and connectivity. People who migrate to D.C. aren’t looking to become rich and/or famous in the same way a person drawn to LA, NYC, or even Chicago might be. There, it’s about “making a difference” and “affecting change”—ultimately, the self-affirming power to influence other people’s lives: the BBP’s most potent aphrodisiac.

That this particular type of power is often gained by being a bit savvier, a bit more competitive, and a bit more socially intelligent than the rest is also key, as your potential for growth is directly tied to your tendency to make better, smarter decisions. BBP would not be BBP if they didn’t possess these skills. The BBPs attraction to D.C. is largely based on the concept that this is the part of the country where their particular skill set is most appreciated.

Yet, while the DMV is filled with BBP, it’s also filled with enough regular Blacks to help BBP still feel somewhat connected to the community. Perfect for BBP looking to impress socially conscious parents or convince friends that he’s still “not all that far removed from the hood, you know.”

All of this combines to produce a place where BBP began to migrate to because it’s BBP friendly. And where BBP continue to migrate to because…

1. It’s filled with enough BBP to feel comfortable

2. It’s filled with enough regular Black people to scare White people.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Shit Bougie Black People Love: Intentionally Overtipping

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If you talk to enough BBP in your travels, you’ll soon find they tend to share a hyper-awareness about two things.

1. Mattering

Told their entire lives that they’re a little smarter, a little funnier, and a little cooler than their peers—basically, that they’re uniquely special motherfuckers—much of a Bougie Black Person’s existence is predicated on the idea that merely existing isn’t enough. Being a cog in the system or a worker bee won’t cut it. They’re destined for bigger and better things. Not only do they have to matter, they’re supposed to.

2. Blackness

There are no other types of Black people more in tune with, aware of, and (surprisingly) in love with the concept of Blackness than Bougie Black People. Not regular Blacks. Not militant Blacks. Not Black scholars. And not even Blacks from Memphis. They are conscious of what “Blackness” means, the arbitrary variables often used to craft that definition, and the fact that this definition needs constant assessing and recalibration. Although they’re often comfortable navigating non-Black worlds, they’re intentionally, almost painstakingly cognizant of how Black people are perceived by non-Blacks. If one ever needed to know the “level of Blackness” of any person, place, or citrus fruit, a BBP would be the best person to ask.

This consciousness largely stems from the fact that BBP’s inherent self-consciousness about being a BBP puts them in perpetual thought about their own Blackness. By extension, this leads to frequent thought about everyone’s and everything else’s Blackness. (Even certain White people’s level of Blackness is a popular topic of conversation among BBP¹)

When you combine this need to matter with an obsession with Blackness, you’re prone to find some very peculiar behavior. One such behavior occurs whenever Bougie Black People go out to eat at a restaurant.

At first glance, their behavior doesn’t seem any different than any other people eating crab-stuffed curry grape leaves at the city’s trendiest Greek/Jamaican fusion tapas hookah lounge. They sit, drink water with lemons, order and eat their food, and have conversations about Willow Smith, yoga mats, and gentrification.

All normalcy changes when the check comes, though. While most other demographics tend to tip between 10% and 20%, BBP trend a bit higher, regularly tipping somewhere between 25% and 40%. This increase also has nothing to do with the service. Short of squatting and shitting in a Bougie Black Person’s salad, there’s not much a server can do to fall below the 25% baseline.

Now, overtipping has obvious benefits—better service, better karma, better chance of impressing Bougie Black Girls enough to earn the elusive Bougie Black Girl head, etc—but the BBP’s primary motivation for partaking in this practice has nothing to do with any of that.

Black people are generally regarded as terrible tippers. Whether this perception is actually true is irrelevant.² Also irrelevant is the chicken/egg argument of which came first: Blacks receiving shittier service (and becoming shitty tippers as a result) or Blacks tipping shittily (and receiving shitty service as a result). What is relevant is that this perception follows Black people everywhere. Bougie Black People—already hypersensitive to all things Black—are very aware of this, so they overtip to send four separate but somewhat overlapping messages to the (usually White) server.

1. “Yeah, you thought you were getting $7, didn’t you, racist motherfucker? Well, here’s $11. How do you like them apples?”

2. “Don’t worry. I’m not like the rest of them. Here’s proof.”

3. “So what if the bill was $40 more than I expected it to be. I was recently promoted from Mid-Atlantic New Media Practices Diversity Initiator for Exxon Mobile to Mid-Atlantic New Media Practices Diversity Manager for Exxon Mobile. I can afford both it and the 35% tip. Bitch.”

The last message, though, is most important.

4. “I know how you probably feel about Blacks and tipping. This will reverse it.”

The Bougie Black Person’s belief in mattering is so steadfast that they believe a 30% tip left by one of them will be enough to neutralize every thought his server has ever had about Blacks being poor tippers. And, if this particular server has never possessed that thought, the overtipping serves as a preemptive measure to counteract any future thoughts.

Unfortunately, doing this could lead to another unfortunate thought: Black people can’t do math.

¹Unfortunately, this is limited to White men (who just have to be romantically linked to a Black woman to be considered more “Black.”). A White women, however, can be mayor of Detroit and sleep with the entire Wu-Tang Clan and still not earn any Black points.

²It is true, though. Irrelevant, but true.

 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Bougie Black Person’s Guide To The Perfect Level Of Blackness

"Don't let the $195 tie fool you. It's not a game with my Blackness."

“Don’t let the $195 tie fool you. It’s not a game with my Blackness.”

So, after a day’s worth of thinking, writing, and talking about what makes a name “Black,” if there’s a right and wrong degree of Blackness for a name, the etymology of Barkevious, and fried chicken, I spent the evening wondering how the demographic most hyper conscious of and sensitive to race—Bougie Black People (BBP)—manages to find the perfect level of Blackness with everything else they care about.

Actually, this is a lie. I spent no time “wondering” about anything. As an admitted BBP—and expert arbiter of BBP best practices—I know exactly how to find the sweet spot between “not Black enough” and “a tad bit too Black.” And, while this determination is dependent on a complex labyrinth of experience, observation, education, and proximity to Black Girls Run, I’ve decided to hide most of the work for you all today and just show a few of the results.

Woman with Perfect Level of Blackness

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Despite having absolutely no idea who this woman is, where she’s from, what she does for a living, and whether she “dated” Stevie J, a quick glance at a few context clues in this picture lets us know she’s perfectly Black.

She’s brown-skinned, a perfect complexion for a Bougie Black Man who doesn’t want to catch heat for being colorstruck but also doesn’t want his girl to break up with him because he didn’t think Dark Girls was all that good. She has creatively natural hair, a style signaling “I love Zumba and Thai food!!!” Her earrings let you know that while she shops at Gilt.com, she’s not above rocking something copped from a vendor outside of a GoGo in Silver Spring. And, she’s wearing a scarf on what looks to be a 60 degree night. A not Black enough Black girl would have gone for a windbreaker there, and it would be too cold for a bit too Black girl to even be outside.

Show with perfect level of Blackness

Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell

Bell’s show manages to be smart and Black enough to impress other Black people when they learn you’re a fan, but not so Black that the content either goes over non-Black people’s heads or scares the f*ck out of them. Both The Melissa Harris Perry Show and Key & Peele would seem to have a perfect level of Blackness as well, but Totally Biased stands alone for two reasons.

1. It’s not as popular as those other two shows. This makes it more exclusive, and nothing says perfect level of Blackness better than arbitrary exclusivity.

2. W. Kamau Bell isn’t light skinned.

Food with perfect level of Blackness

Shrimp and Grits

Grits add character. And, by “character” I mean “Blackness.” Adding shrimp to the grits instead of ox tail or pig burps, though, let’s everyone know you’re making a conscious choice to eat “better” while also letting everyone know you’re still Black enough to consider eating seafood to actually be a sign of eating “better.”

Rapper with perfect level of Blackness

Phonte Coleman

Phonte, displaying a perfectly Black sideeye

Phonte, displaying a perfectly Black sideeye

The former Little Brother frontman/current Foreign Exchange frontman is authentically Black and produces authentically Black content with realistically Black themes–which makes him too Black for not Black enough people. He’s also a uber-talented rapper who doesn’t rap on his albums anymore—which makes him perfectly Black for those seeking that perfect level of Blackness.

Sporting activity with perfect level of Blackness

Co-ed Kickball

BBP striving to find the perfect level of Blackness need to stay in relatively good shape. Form fitting clothes make it easier for cops to see you’re not carrying any weapons, but it’s hard to comfortably wear form fitting clothes with a beer belly. And while cross fit and insanity may do the trick, it can be awkward always having your cat lick your thighs while doing ab workouts.

So, you need to do something outdoors. The special shoes only purchased at special stores needed to compete in marathons and rock climbing contests make them not quite Black enough, though, and any sport that Blacks with names like Lebron and TayShawn are able to play professionally is far too Black.

Co-ed kickball, however, finds the perfectly Black sweet spot. The sport contains a ball—making it a bit too Black for the not Black enough—but you have to buy a special Kickball ball that seems to only be sold at Target and select Rite-Aids—making it not Black enough for the bit too Black.

White person with perfect level of Blackness

Tina Fey

Finds the perfectly Black sweet spot for two reasons

1. Not quite Black enough Blacks won’t appreciate her relationship with Tracy Morgan—lieutenant jester of the bit too Black Blacks.

2. Bit too Black Blacks just don’t think 30 Rock is that funny.

City with perfect level of Blackness

Washington, D.C.

For years, Atlanta has battled D.C. for the perfect level of Blackness moniker, but Atlanta has worms (and by “worms” I mean “Momma Dee”), so D.C. wins by default.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)