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Man! You Are Bougie!

The Urban Dictionary’s entry for the word “bougie,” sometimes spelled boujee or bourgie, means: “Aspiring to be a higher class than one is. Derived from bourgeois, which means middle-upper class, the term was traditionally used as a despised word by the common people. So, in modern-day English, someone who is “bougie” creates an air of wealth or upper-class status that can be true or simply acted out. This term has meant different things aside from this definition. In the 1960s, it also implied a desire to be “white.”   It originated as a slang term in the African American community. It was used to disparage wealthier or upwardly mobile people who put on “airs” of being above others, usually other Black people. Bourgeois people were seen to be socially pretentious and preposterous, using exaggerated social norms that copied upper English or French society. The racial connotation is still in use, but simply put, it can mean that one is attempting to copy the lifestyle of the upper class in dress, words, and actions. The way someone speaks may also indicate the desire to mimic or parrot the ways of the upper class. Speaking in upper-class tongues may be an indication of this or at least of one’s upbringing. In communities of color, there is opposition to this class or racialized acting as it tends to create a make-believe world of affluence. The Bill Cosby Show once featured a Black family with an ethnic upper-class sounding name, the Huxtables, which is …

The Urban Dictionary’s entry for the word “bougie,” sometimes spelled boujee or bourgie, means: “Aspiring to be a higher class than one is. Derived from bourgeois, which means middle-upper class, the term was traditionally used as a despised word by the common people. So, in modern-day English, someone who is “bougie” creates an air of wealth or upper-class status that can be true or simply acted out. This term has meant different things aside from this definition. In the 1960s, it also implied a desire to be “white.”  

It originated as a slang term in the African American community. It was used to disparage wealthier or upwardly mobile people who put on “airs” of being above others, usually other Black people. Bourgeois people were seen to be socially pretentious and preposterous, using exaggerated social norms that copied upper English or French society.

The racial connotation is still in use, but simply put, it can mean that one is attempting to copy the lifestyle of the upper class in dress, words, and actions. The way someone speaks may also indicate the desire to mimic or parrot the ways of the upper class. Speaking in upper-class tongues may be an indication of this or at least of one’s upbringing. In communities of color, there is opposition to this class or racialized acting as it tends to create a make-believe world of affluence. The Bill Cosby Show once featured a Black family with an ethnic upper-class sounding name, the Huxtables, which is an old Anglo-Saxon name. It comes from when a family lived in the village of Huxtable in East Buckland in southwestern England. The French term “Bourgeois,” was used to describe individuals who live around cities instead of the open country. City dwellers were often considered above the “lowly” country people as they were engaged in businesses and craftsmanship. The area that the mythical Huxtables lived in was Brooklyn Heights, one of the most racist upper-class sections of New York. The plot of the show seemed to indicate a desire to fit in and be as “white” as possible as a way to overcome racial segregation and hatred, much like the idea of “moving on up” in the other “bougie” sitcom “The Jeffersons.” White TV producers tried to push the idea that to overcome white supremacy, Black people needed to act in upper-class settings. This idea was patronizing at best and racist at worst. 

There are middle and upper-class Black families, but the pretense that one was expected to follow was exaggerated to ridiculous proportions. Many have claimed that some in the Black middle class have “lost their minds” in trying to live in a way that goes beyond what the upper class even does. Bourgeois changed into “bougie,” which was used to describe people who were overly concerned with the placement of utensils on dinner tables, fine clothes, fancy cars, an obsession with material things, and an overemphasis on airs of respectability. The opposite of being “bougie” is being called “ghetto.” Being called “ghetto” is a negative term used to describe someone who is a criminal or very poor with little or no education. Both terms are used to gaslight people into something they may or may not be. 

In terms of being “bougie,” it can be the ostentatious show of wealth and opulence that seeks to attract attention, admiration, or envy by gaudiness or obviousness. Are there people like this in real life? Obviously, there are, and one could argue that it also takes on forms of white supremacist mimicking. During the colonial period of America’s history, Native Americans were considered “civilized” if they learned English, supported slavery, and put on English attire. Similarly, African Americans were given some respectability if they copied the ways of whites in language and diction. Lighter-skinned Black people often felt superior to darker people and so darker people had to use exaggerated language to speak in an English tone that was excessive and denoted being an acceptable “Negro.” Hence, “bougie” had a class and racial dimension over time. Today, many young people use the term more mildly, but not all see it that way. 

According to Michael Eric Dyson’s book, Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle-Class Lost Its Mind? Dyson laid bare the class separation in the Black community in Bill Cosby’s notorious attack on unfortunate poor Black people when he got an NAACP award in 2004. Bill Cosby bemoaned that the “knuckleheads” in the Black community had poor parenting skills, had poor academic performance, were sexually promiscuous, and were involved in criminal behavior. For his remarks, the NAACP bourgeois audience giggled and celebrated his negative words in true bourgeois fashion. Dyson pointed out that Cosby’s remarks were a display of the bougie attitude that expands the social gap created by a white supremacist society. Dyson called these bourgeois people the “Aristocracy,” which is made up of counselors, doctors, educated people, brokers, social equality pioneers, performers, and others who look with scorn upon poor Black people who make up what he calls the “Ghettocracy.” Dyson said the bougie has engaged in attacking the poor for their difficulties, as opposed to addressing the social inequalities that create the ghettos in the first place. Ironically, Bill Cosby became a criminal himself. 

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