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The Evolution of Black & Bougie

In 2016, hip hop artist Migos exploited the term “bourgeoisie” to create a rap song with the lines, “My b—ch is bad and boujee,” meaning his woman was materially successful wearing designer clothes and riding in expensive vehicles but still holding on to her “hood” roots. The terms bougee, boujee, and bougie are all slang for the word bourgeoisie.
The term bourgeoisie has a long history in this country’s culture. According to UWire, College Press Releases and Wire Service, the term refers to the values and ideology of the middle class, with emphasis on their material interests and conventional values. In a negative sense, it signifies an empty materialism, a lack of values beyond the blind consumption of commercial goods. The term also divides the haves from the have-nots and their behavior within society. The bourgeoisie look down on the poorer classes of people and use their subjective critique of that class as a reason to keep them oppressed. It is strongly associated with capitalism and was used by Karl Marx to debunk the prevalent economic system, especially in the United States. The lifestyles of the two different classes have nothing in common and the bourgeoisie class is determined to keep it that way.
Emulating white society, Black Americans after slavery made the same distinction within the race. Initially, the difference was based on skin color. Lighter Black people were considered the bourgeoisie class within the race. For the most part, they attempted to make the same distinction as white people did but based on skin color. They set out to separate themselves from the masses by adopting the social values of the white community. By the turn of the century, the distinction was expanded to include education and profession. Doctors, lawyers, and even schoolteachers were considered the bourgeoisie class in the Black society. Their first goal was to separate themselves from the past to achieve this new status. They rejected the spirituals and adopted European classical opera as their choice of music. They looked upon Africa in the same light as whites, as a backward, heathen country. Their trips abroad were to London, Paris, and Rome, never to Ghana, Nigeria, or any other African country.
Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier in his scathing attack, wrote in his book, The Black Bourgeoisie, “That the bourgeois type Negro blinds himself to the condition of his people and is satisfied with token solutions to the problems. He is usually the handpicked Negro who benefits from token integration.” 
Frazier concludes that bourgeoisie African Americans lost their roots in the traditional Black world while never achieving the acknowledgment they so desperately sought from the white world. In other words, they lived in a lost world of make-believe and in doing so, alienated their fellow Black Americans.
What is wrong with being called bougie today? It depends on the word’s context, but bougie today has a different meaning. Many middle to upper-class Black Americans can afford the nicer things in life. Today’s bougie Black community knows how to mix in various groups without yielding to a façade of being better than those around them. They exude grace within the various circles they place themselves without disrupting the group’s norms. However, they are also aware that their presence could ignite a breeding of discontent or even jealousy from those who believe that to be bougie equates to being rich when in reality—one does not have to be rich to have bougie experiences. Those considered bougie might not have the immediate money to engage in the various bougie events; however, they plan or budget to make it possible. 
Within the context of gender, bougie often means a female has expensive taste or leads a sophisticated lifestyle; the term can also be applied to men. Depending on the age group using it, bougie often doesn’t come with negative undertones.
In reality TV (hip-hop and Housewives shows), where ratings are king, it’s common to see extra flamboyance or bougie-ness gone too far. 
Also, within pop culture and social media, bougie becomes more evident on TikTok or Instagram, where wealth, extravagance, and sophistication are shown off. But much of this is tied to social media influencers paid by advertisers to promote their expensive products. 
In an article for Family Orbit, Lauren May wrote: “The term ‘boujee’ is especially important in the African American community due to the hardships that many experience while growing up. It speaks of a desire to move on from a poor upbringing and to become financially comfortable. It’s usually used in a positive way these days, which adds to its appeal.”
And while many younger generations may not understand the term’s history in the Black community, we can help them appreciate the need to save money, budget and invest so they too can “Movin on Up” like The Jefferson’s or be like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and drink orange juice out of a champagne glass.

Frederick Williams is the author of four novels, has ghostwritten three autobiographies, and has edited numerous works, including “The Color of Strength: Embracing the Passion of Our Culture.”

Fred worked on Capitol Hill for Senator Birch Bayh as a legislative aide. He assisted in the drafting and management of the first Senate legislative proposal to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. He also assisted in the creation of the African American Studies minor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He designed and taught a number of classes to include African American Political Thought, African American Politics, African American Literature from Phyllis Wheatley to the Black Arts Movement, Politics of the Civil Rights Movement, and a course on Novelists of the Harlem Renaissance.

Fred teaches creative writing courses for Black Writers on Tour in Los Angeles, Calif., and for the Zora Neale Hurston Festival Education Day in Eatonville, Florida. He also teaches writing courses at Gemini Ink in his hometown of San Antonio. Fred was named one of the four recipients of the “Men of the Year Award” by San Antonio Magazine. He also received the 2011 Arts and Letters Award from the Friends of the San Antonio Public Library.

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