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”)

On Loving And Defending Black Names…Until They Get A Bit Too Black

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If you’re Black and you have a Black friend who happens to teach at a predominately Black school, you can safely assume that at least once every few months, you two are going to have a good laugh about some of the names of the students in the school. If this friend is like my teacher friends, this laugh might occur once a week, and you might also regularly joke that kids with those names might as well have been named “Nochance.”

This is not groundbreaking news. There is nothing we (Black people) love to talk about more than the experience of being Black, and one of the lighter parts of this Black experience is the well known tendency some of us have to give our children ridiculously creative names. And by “ridiculously creative names” I mean “names that basically just attach multiple vowel sounds to popular cognacs.”

I even play a variant of this game while watching NFL games. A player will be introduced, and I’ll guess where he grew up by the type Blackness associated with his name.

(For instance, “Jockitchneous Jenkins” definitely hails from the South, and “King-Knowledge Fire Shabazz” definitely hails from a northern urban area.)

It is a game that’s unapologetically classist. We’re aware that lower-income Black people are much more likely to give these types of names to their kids than middle and upper class Blacks. We’re also aware that, unless this kid happens to be a rapper, stripper, or professional athlete, this name will likely have a net negative effect on their job prospects, dating life, credit, and Sam’s Club membership applications.

This has no effect on our amusement, though. We still think the names are hilarious. And, whenever we happen across one of them, we gleefully forward it to as many people as we can, indirectly taking credit for discovering another hilarious example of what those type of Black people frequently do. Happily expert curators of coonishness we are.

But, when the name is just a tad less Black—i.e. “Shamika” instead of “LaShamikalalize”—and we learn that a person making judgments on the name happens not to be Black, it’s an issue. A huge issue. 

Now, I realize this isn’t exactly a perfect analogy. There’s a big difference between joking about a name and using a prejudice about a name to discriminate. Also, Black people have more leeway to make jokes about other Black people because, well, we’re Black too. I will not suppress my chuckle the next time I happen across a “Tyranraneousrex Jackson” or “Cirocla Jones” and I won’t hesitate to call someone out for actively discriminating against Black names.

But, I’ve also come to realize that I’m such of a hypocrite about this that even my hypocrisy is hypocritical. Black sounding names are fine, and worth defending. But, names that sound a bit too Black, a bit too ghetto, a bit too embarrassing, somehow aren’t. Basically, lower class Black people—the ones who could likely use the most help from their educated and higher-income brethren—are the ones we reserve the most ridicule for.

The irony of writing something like this while being named “Damon Young” isn’t lost on me. While my name isn’t super Black, I think most people would assume that a man with my name would likely be Black. It is, without question, a safe Black name. A Black name worthy of defending.

The Black community would form like Voltron if we learned I was denied a job because of my name. But, if my mom got drunk while delivering me and named me “LaDameriousness” instead, the only defense I’d get from any of y’all n*ggas is when you happened to be on the basketball court with me.

(Which would be the only place I’d ever be because, with a name like LaDameriousness, it’s my only shot at success.) 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Are You A “Namist?”

***Hello, people of VSB.com. Please welcome star of “Shit Diva Dudes Say To Bougie Black Girls” and my ace boon goon Gem Jones as she makes her VSB guest post debut***

Recently in a GroupMe convo with friends, someone mentioned Quvenzhané Wallis, star of Beasts of the Southern Wild and youngest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Before I could remark about having never heard of this film, or show praise for this child’s high accolade at such a young age, I immediately focused on her name. “Wait, is her name really Quvenzhané?”

I googled her to see if this wasn’t some errant rumor. My follow up response to my search was, “Why is her mama’s name Qulyndreia?”

This certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve seen an “ethnically creative” name that caused me to form a serious side eye. I mean, I’m an NFL fan – seeing names like D’Brickashaw, Jacquizz, Knowshon, De’Anthony and LaQuinton are commonplace. I have also come to regularly expect texts from my brother containing a list of students he works named LaDravious, Dan’kevien, Markevius, Jonquerrius, Marionique, Jamorrious, and LaPhil. My reaction is always the same: “What is with the egregious use of apostrophes, La- prefixes, and -ious/eous suffixes?” My brother and I have even gone so far as to attempt to conjugate and combine the most common names into as many remixes as possible just for fun. And then, of course, there are the infamous (and possibly nonexistent) Orangejello, Lemonjello, and Le-a.

I think some of these “unique” and “uncommon” names are just too over the top and I don’t like them. But it wasn’t until being introduced to Quvenzhané that I considered my reaction was judgmental. I was so distracted by a name that I failed to acknowledge and credit the person to whom the name belonged. I felt bad about it.

Does this make me a namist?

We all have our prejudices and make assumptions based on superficial knowledge. We might even justify our opinions based on our experiences, especially if said opinions are more “rude! LOL” as opposed to “you’re becoming Rush Limbaugh” on the “how f*cked up is your way of thinking?” scale. They’re not right but if kept at bay they don’t have to be harmful. We also have our preferences, our likes and dislikes. We’re perfectly entitled to them and don’t have to explain them to anyone. But sometimes the line between preference and prejudice is so thin and we can cross it before we know it.

This is where I’m a bit conflicted about my feelings about names – do I harbor some deep rooted prejudice against “Black” names?

On the one hand, I just think some names are ugly and silly. A person named DaRealyst? Really, doe? Kids with names that belong one a bottle – Tequila and Hennessey – and not on a playground? Why? It’s like the parents were having a “most likely to spell the Eiffel tower as ‘ifold tower’ and become a twitter trending topic” or “most likely to be THAT eye-witness interviewed by a news crew with an absurd story that starts off with, ‘what had happened was…’” naming contest. Why do my people have to stand out with names that make no sense?

On the other hand, who the hell cares what I think? Who am I to say someone’s name is acceptable or not? There isn’t some set standard or criterion to measure an appropriate name, other than it just sounds/looks weird to some. But yet I’m guilty of asserting an arbitrary bias on others. People have the right to be as creative as they please, right? Do names have to have a deep meaning or translation to be legitimate?

Sure, there are studies to suggest “Black sounding names” are more likely to be passed over in the job market. There’s even a study that correlates unpopular/uncommon names with criminality. But so what? Should parents be restricted to certain types of names because of possible discrimination (discrimination that may come regardless of name)? Should negative perceptions guide one’s decision on what to name their child? How important is the perceptibility of names? Do our names define who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going? Are names more than an ID?

Perhaps this is just a Black burden. White people don’t have to answer these questions or have to defend their names. They can have seemingly unorthodox names (with an explanation as simple as, “my mom ate an apple once, while reading about Adam and Eve”) without suffering consequences more severe than others simply thinking the names sound strange and weird. But Black folks know different. Their differently composed names can warrant much harsher scrutiny – even from their own – that goes beyond aesthetics. Assumptions of class, education, and potential for success are often made.

I don’t think I’m wrong to find Quvenzhané, LaDravious and any name with a stupid ass apostrophe to be unappealing, just as I don’t think it’s wrong to find people’s art, fashion sense, or faces unappealing. I don’t like what I don’t like. But I do worry that my dislike of these names are just a symptom of a larger problem. I worry that my preference for more subtle names is really a prejudice, and I am subconsciously reducing people’s worth based on their name. I don’t mull over what kind of person I think they are or where they come from (her name is Twerkeisha so she must be a low budget stripper or have remedial parents only 13yrs older than her), but I’m worried I might actually be doing something worse – dismissing them all together without bothering to scratch the surface. And being that judgmental makes me uncomfortable.

(But Qulyndreia??? Really???)

***You can find Gem Jones on Twitter, where she straddles the line between ratchetness and respectability***