“No one ever means bougie as a compliment. It’s never ‘Oh, you’re so bougie!’ It’s ALWAYS a negative trait.”

I guess this starts with a confession: I’m a black nerd. A Dungeons & Dragons playing, Magic: the Gathering crushing, comic book loving, occasional Dream Theater listening nerd. I’ve been thinking about some of the “iterations” of blackness (no worries, this isn’t another round of my Ontological Blackness series). I know how so many folks, within and without of the black community, like to define blackness by some sort of standard of ghetto crackery. But class plays as much a role in defining a culture as anything else, and there is the burgeoning folks whose blackness strays to something more middle class. And for our troubles, we enjoy a different epithet: Bougie.

We’re the folks who get compliments like “You speak so well” or “You’re a credit to the race.” We enjoy that tension of being accused of forgetting where we’ve come from vs. remembering where I’ve come from … but wanting to get the hell out. Look, my soft bougie behind wasn’t built for the streets. Me trying to “be real” would only end up with me being real dead, real quickly.

It’s rare that I’ve actually been labeled bougie. Mostly I’ve escaped that because 1) I’m England born, with Jamaican roots and therefore excused due to cultural differences; and 2) I’m given room because I’m just so much the weird one to family and friends and just about any community I’m dropped into.

Bougie, as an epithet, strikes me as a reaction to the idea of betraying community, a term to keep us in line as we’re policed by other bougies projecting their black insecurities. The Blacker than thou crowd demonstrating their superiority by shaming us back in line. It’s bad enough when I don’t live up to people’s idea of true blackness from inside the culture, but then it can also come from those outside (which strikes me as “you’re not black like the hip hop guys I see on MTv”) which then borders on the ridiculous.

This all points to a class fall out issue as I maintain that we have more a class problem than race problem in country. A middle class white guy has more in common with a middle class black guy than a trailer park living white guy. And don’t get me wrong, I’m barely clinging to middle class as it is. But the “policing” does serve a positive role: it’s a reminder to not separate. It’s a call for all of us to remember that we share the same fate as we are bound by community.

It all comes down to what “being real” actually means. Being real doesn’t mean clinging to some sort of ghetto aesthetic and value system. Allow me to say that me doing down would make me a minstrel, not being real because that’s not close to who I am or what I’m about. And as I look at many hip hop videos, I see enough minstrels to last us for years. No, it boils down to be personal authenticity. Putting on airs, if that’s my attitude, I can take my bougie ass to the back of the bus.

*Bougie as in the short form of Bourgeoisie, taken to mean that someone has a bourgeois personality. By rights, bougie should be “bourgie” – but I can’t stand the r, and if we are going to bastardize the term I would rather bastardize it phonetically. A variation on bougie is siddity.