Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wiggaz and Dirty Dreads. On How Race Still Matters


For centuries black people tried to look as white as possible, they often still do. Many use skin clearing creams, relax their hair so to have straight hair, favorite mixed-race looking people in the media, etc. Since the 90’s we can see another phenomenon, white people who want to be black, or at least who adopt symbols and styles that are perceived as black in the Western world.

Some white people adopted e.g. what they think is hip hop culture and with it adopted styles considered African-American. Certain haircuts, clothing and accessories such as jewelry are all part of a style that many consider first as black. Some other white people try to have dreadlocks even if their soft, thin and straight hair makes it hardly impossible to have knots in their hair (other whites with curly hair can have neat dreads though). Some white people love reggae music and styles and are therefore also wearing the symbols of the Rastafarian movement and sport the Pan-African colours.

The sight of such a white man adopting black style looks to many as ridiculous, just as ridiculous as a black man sporting a goth style. My opinion on this was at first that it actually is a positive sign. It means that black and white cultural manifestations are mixing and that you don’t have to act or look this or that way because of your race. Be goth, be rasta, no matter the colour of your skin. However, there is much more … which still makes this phenomenon rather problematic. Let me explain this below.



When black people adopt white styles, it’s because they want to fit in. They don’t want to offend the majority, they don’t want to be perceived as different, they want to be normal and thus want to be conform to the norm. A girl with relaxed hair is actually something positive from a conformist perspective (and I don’t say ‘a white perspective’, because in many African societies black styles are not considered ‘good’ either. African societies often internalized white perspectives on blackness).

On the contrary, when white people adopt black styles they do this to be non-conformists. Their motivation is to be different, to be anti-establishment, to be special, to even be perceived as some kind of outlaws. Some have dreadlocks but have dirty hair. In their rasta style they are actually emphasizing stereotypes, prejudices and myths and are interpreting rasta as a bump style. Others might have big golden chains and diamond earrings but they interpret hip hop culture also in a stereotype way, ignoring the political and social conscious elements of hip hop and openly focus on the bling bling elements. They try to actually overcompensate their whiteness by stressing on a black myth, which makes them look ridiculous.

In this sense being black still means that you are by definition not normal, that you might be some kind of outlaw. Because of your physical appearance you are automatically set outside conformity and you should do some effort to fit in. Speaking the language and adapting to the local culture is not enough, you have to change the black body. Black styles and cultures will not help you to be considered normal you should adopt white styles, i.e. relax you hair, clear your skin and do not wear too flashy clothes. You even have to overcompensate your race by being cleaner and smarter than your white counterparts. The blacker you are, the more you should work on that.

On the other hand, whites who want to be outside society just have to mimic black stereotypes, to mimic a black myth that isn’t even real but fits the prejudices. These white people are not even being like blacks, but they are making a buffoon version of blacks, exaggerate the difference by being dirty or overtly superficial and materialistic. Although most of white people who do imitate that style think of themselves as anti-racists, they are (mostly unconsciously) accentuating racism and keeping race as a social marker alive.




13 comments:

  1. This is a well thought-out opinion on this issue. i have to admit i had never given it much thought before. good observation!

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  2. "Wiggaz" are everywhere! Even overseas.

    I had a couple of "wiggaz" as students. I couldn't really blame them. All of their friends are blacks. One kid's brother is half black and thought of himself as black too, because society (and "white people" according to himself) look down on him and his brother. So he didn't like white people either, despite being white.

    I do have a problems with Africans at the school using the N word. They're not black Americans. They can't use the N word just like white kids can't. They don't know the full impact of the word.

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  3. First off I love this topic… And everything I read in the first 3 paragraphs is true. I try to wrap my head around why we want to be like each other. I sometimes think imitation is the biggest form of flattery. Then I think some takes it to a level of coonery and buffoonery. But what you say is true we have all at one point tried to be like the other.

    And yes when Black people adopt a white style they do it to fit in. And I must say in some cases it is needed just to get your foot in the door. But there comes a time when you have to say the hell with this. This is not who I am…and become a better you. If that makes sense.. But thanks for dropping that knowledge on me about the African societies… I had no idea.. But when did it become that our hair was not the norm? I always wonder why our hair is considered bad. And everyone else’s hair is considered good!! I never thought that..but I know many people who do. Man I must say you have given me a lot to think about. But when I think of not wanting offend the majority.. I think of just to the purpose of becoming a success in the work force. But we are different so to speak and then again we are not. Man this can be debated big time…

    Right you are when white people adopt a Black style they do it for totally different reasons. It’s really not about flattery its exactly like you said it is..it’s about being anti-establishment. And has very little to do with wanting to be like us. But then there are those who want that as well. But the thing about that is…when they are around their peers they can turn it on and turn it off. I have seen this many times and it puts a bad taste in my mouth when I see it. So in all reality they are not being true to who they claim they are.

    Being Black to some means you are not normal. But to me i'm normal and everyone else is not. I guess for me i just stopped letting what others think of me determine how i act. And how i feel about myself...i'm no longer a child. I'm a man with a brain and i know how to use it. I may not think the way others do...but it's who i am. I've learned to think outside of what i was taught growing up. Because all that was taught was others perspective of what the world is all about. Being Black should never be a bad thing. It should never mean you have to water down who you are to make others happy. Are others doing that for us...i think not.

    Stereotypes are just that!! If someone thinks wearing big gold chains makes them Black...then they have major issues. If someone thinks because they hang out with white people and speak their language ..then they are Blind as well.You can never be anything other than who you are. If you are Black you are Black and be proud of that. You will never ever be white no matter how many white people you befriend. I guess for me i never understood the fascination with white people. But i do understand where all this stem from. There are many Black people on this site that has adopted the so called white way of thinking. And the sad part about it is that they don't even realize they don't have real self love.

    I love this article and i can't wait to read more of what you have to offer. You write from the heart as well from experience ...i can tell that. And thank you for exposing ignorance on both sides...

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  4. Thanks all! I just wanted to add that I don't have any problem with white people who love hip hop or reggae or other black styles, I know many of them and have a lot of love and I know white people who have very neat dreadlocks ... my post isn't against those people of course ... My critique is against the buffoons, those who think that being dirty is actually being rasta or (as negroamor4u just wrote) those who think that having a big golden chain makes them 'black' etc.

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  5. Sibo I think it was understood. You expressed yourself perfectly. And just to add to that some may think that I have problems with white people. And I don't I’m just aware of whom I’m dealing with. And I just don’t give them or anyone else power over my thinking, self esteem, my quality of life...anything. I believe in self love first…if you don’t love you and where you come from…then you don’t know love. And I truly love being BLACK!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I love my people…all who are Black no matter where they come from. And even those who don’t love me back…. We are all human and should all be treated equally. That is my main issue with this world…equality!!!!!! As I said should be... great article man...thanks

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  6. Only problem is dat u said black ppl relax their hair to have "whit ppl hair". Not really true; most of us just try to get the curly knots out of our hair otherwise known as kitchens.

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  7. I know a lot of afro-punks and goths who are proud of who they are and where they come from no matter who they're around. They just happen to like the rock genres. I don't believe that if you are black or white that you have to listen to a specific genre of music or dress a specific way. There are no "How to be black" manuals out there that we have to abide by. I, myself listen to all types of music but stay true to my myself always. But you do make a great point that there are many people out there who feel they need to fit in. It's sad really.

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  8. Interesting article.

    I think there are some nuances that should be considered though.

    I think your article is probably targeting more those white kids from upper-middle and upper class backgrounds who are adopting black, working class cultural traits to make a “statement”. We’ve all seen the little blond from the OC or Greenwich, CT who tries to pretend that he/she knows all about the “mean streets” when the closest they’ve ever been to the ghetto is when they drove through it once on their way to yoga class.

    However, I do personally know white people who have grown up in working class urban areas. I don’t think it would be fair to label them as “wiggers” just because they’ve absorbed by osmosis the speech patterns and aesthetics of the people (mostly black) who have surrounded them since childhood. None of them are trying to be something they’re not; it would actually be far less authentic of them to start talking and dressing like valley girls or prep school students (even though these are perceived as “white” cultural groups).

    The same goes for Afrrican-Americans like me who grew up in the black middle class. I don’t speak with a “black” accent, nor do I wear hip-hop gear. It wouldn’t be authentic for me to do so. I can relate to my brothers and sisters in the black working class in so far as we both have experienced being black in America and continue to struggle together against prejudice. But to pretend to understand that I “know all about what they live” when I grew up with two professional parents in a detached home, went to a private school and never even saw a project until I moved to Chicago, would be not only fake, but insulting. The cultural codes and manners that I absorbed in childhood were not “adopted” to make me more “acceptable” to white people, it’s simply what I am.

    I love my blackness and I love that black people can be so many things and come from so many backgrounds and still unite as one people.

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  9. I am Hispanic and I totally understand all the resentment of black people towards those who oppressed them in the past. What I don't understand why do they feel the need to discriminate against Hispanics. I have been discriminated by blacks more times than any other ethnic group. I have lived in Los Angeles, In San Antonio Texas, and in Chicago, and everywhere I went I was always discriminated by them. I don't hate black people because I know they are not all racists as a matter of fact I have come to realize that in order to continue living with a peaceful heart, I have to hate the actions but not the race because MOST of the black people I interact with on a daily basis are awesome, curteous, well educated. I guess we Hispanics are perceived as a less deserving ethinic group. Can anyone give me any idea as to what is going on?

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  10. To "Hispanic Anonymous":
    I only recently found this site and I love it! To me,it's one of the most UNIQUE blogs on the Internet; where African descendants and continental Africans can come together and speak of our mutual experiences.

    I say all this to ask, is your individual experience as an Hispanic in the United States who has had bad relations with Blacks part of the topic of "Wiggas?" I'm not sure about the degree of "sticking-to-the-topic" the moderator of this group demands, but I didn't understand the purpose of your post----in adding to the understanding of why Whites co-opt Black Style.

    But since you posted your feelings, a possible answer of the WHY you've experienced bad relations with Blacks in the US----particularly in the cities you've named----I suggest you do a search on You Tube and download the entries about the unending attacks on perfectly innocent Blacks in California, by Latino gangs. It's actually kinda "Ku Klux Klannish", when you think about it.There are also newspaper and magazine articles about how The "Sureno" and "Mexican Mafia" gangs have sent out the decree to attack African-Americans who are found living---or even walking in many Hispanic neighborhoods in California, especially Southern California. VERY RACIST.

    Anyway, sorry to the group for going off-topic.

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  11. @Wiggaz and Dirty Dreads
    Here in Montreal I see this often. The amazing thing is these kids have no real clue what it is to really live in "The Hood". Yet they dress the part, call each other niggah, which is also interesting considering most don't even speak English.

    I'm going to go on a limb though and say that while it might be about rebelling many do appear to really want to identify with the culture. Unlike the average white American or Anglo Canadian they do have their own distinct culture (Quebecois) which stands apart from the rest, yet they still integrate the language of hip hop into their own French . It's not all that surprising, considering African Americans have always been cultural leaders in the US. Virtually no American music is untouched by the influence of some form of music that originated with the African in America. Likewise American fashion as well as language is heavily influenced by the Black American. Sports is another area where the Black influence is apparent. In fact any arena where we haven't been forcibly excluded, overtly or covertly, has our mark on it. All that to say, I don't blame them for wanting to emulate us. We should only be so lucky as to fully realize the things we are capable of, for ourselves.

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  13. i mean i'm white listen to rap.. i like to smoke weed i have dreads.. and i grew up in the hood around it all. did you ever think maybe people are just products of their enviroment

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