Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I'm Not Bourgeois

(Encyclopedia of Marxism) Bourgeoisie - The class of people in bourgeois society who own the social means of production as their Private Property, i.e.. as capital. Proletariat - a class of people who have nothing to sell but their capacity to work.

The order goes something like this;

Aristocrat - those born to power or wealth

Bourgeoisie - business owners

Petite Bourgeois - small business owners

Proletariat - workers

Wikipedia lists Bougie as; in urban pop culture among the working class of African-Americans a term used to refer to middle-class Blacks as sell-outs.

Today, for the 13,000th time, I was referred to as Bougie. As usual it came from an underachieving family member of someone that I was trying to help. I was explaining the difference between "doing well" and "doing good" to a seventh-grader. " think you're better than everyone else" was the response of an older sibling. Followed by "You think that every n****' in the hood gotta' act and talk white". During a time when we may have our first Black President in the history of this country and so many people still cling to past definitions of what being Black is?

"Oh, he's not really Black" is another typical response. Why? Because if he is perceived as Black and having overcome the same obstacles as you, you may be asked to do the same? Going by this definition, the best golfer in the world isn't Black? Halle Berry wasn't the first African-American to win a Best Actress Oscar? Mariah Carey doesn't hold the record (as a Black woman) for having the most number one singles? Frederick Douglas should be discounted for not being ALL Black? Dorothy Dandridge, Lenny Kravitz, Slash (rock band-Guns&Roses),Kimora Lee Simmons, Duane "The Rock" Johnson, Vin Deisel, . If Obama wasn't considered to be Black, there would be no stink in the media alluding to the racial implications of his presumed Presidency. As Spike Lee said in an Interview magazine interview; We need to step up. Not just the doctors, lawyers , teachers and engineers. All of us - janitors, factory workers, mail carriers, even the men on the corner...!

But I'll take "bougie". It's not offensive to me (even though it seems to have been the intent). Merriam Webster defines bourgeois as 1: of, relating to, or characteristic of the townsman or of the social middle-class 2: marked by a concern for material interests and respectability and a tendency toward mediocrity 3: dominated by a commercial and industrial interests : capitalistic.

Going by definitions one and three, sure, I'm bourgeois. I'd consider myself more urbane than urban. I work for myself and I am planning on opening a new business in the coming year. But going by the second definition - isn't it usually people from the hood who seem to always have better goods than any sensible person of the same means? Aren't people whose families are from the hood (and who will probably be there for generations to come) more worried about "Keeping it real", and getting some form of respect? Isn't the dismissal of anyone who achieves as being "not really Black" more common in one tending toward mediocrity? In the pejorative sense, the affectatious (my word - I don't know the proper and accepted variant of affectation) lifestyle of the hood is more in keeping with being "bougie". In the complimentary or aspirational sense, "bougie" can be seen as not thinking that one is better but actually being better than the other. So, thanks for the compliment.

Someone had to pay- People who have made it out of a bad situation have had to work. Most athletes have been training their whole lives to be the best in one solitary profession. Even with all of the preparation and sacrifice, many fail to make it to the highest levels. Entertainers are turned down more often than they gain approval. In both of these cases we usually only see the finished product and not all of the hurdles overcome by these individuals. Ask most successful business owners where they started and they will give a litany of their past failures. The difference? The successful people refuse failure. Racism - no problem, just another obstacle to overcome. No seed money - I guess it's best to keep my current job and just "stack" until I save enough to make a down payment. No one believes in me - so, I believe in myself. Accepting ones current condition as the final destination is what keeps the ghetto being the ghetto. Someone at some point has to take a stand against mediocrity.

Maybe one's parents or grandparents paid the price. This was mostly the case with me. My maternal grandmother's grandparents scrimped and saved enough to buy the land on which they were once sharecroppers. As it turned out, the land had marginal oil deposits. The land was also designated for the government program of paying farmers not to grow crops. In this case, making early sacrifices had unforeseen financial benefits generations later. My grandmother saved her share of the payments to go to nursing school (becoming a member of the first class to integrate the local college). She worked at the local Black only hospital and saved her money. Her husband (my grandfather) became a plumber, rail worker and longshoreman (a practice common at the time) and saved his money. They recognized a need for hotel rooms for the blacks who were visiting with their relatives in the nearby hospital (It was during segregation and Blacks weren't allowed to stay in most hotels). They added a studio apartment to the back of their house and rented the room out on a nightly basis. That one room turned into two. The two rooms turned into two adjacent houses. Those houses turned into a half a block. That half a block turned into an apartment complex and fifty-seven houses in three states. Yeah, I had a little bit of a head start. I've had opportunities that others haven't. I was given homes that I didn't build and fields that I didn't clear (but isn't that a Biblical blessing of those who do the will of God?). I may not have bought many of my possessions but I've earned all of them. My head start was only possible because someone paid the price. Nothing is ever free.

I'm not bougie. I was never ghetto - even when I lived in the ghetto. When one is bougie (in the most commonly used sense) they pretend to be something that they're not. (You see it all the time - overdressing for the occasion, bragging about things that are nice enough to have but not esoteric or nice enough to brag about, their over-articulation being an affectation of intelligence, wasting money to show how rich they are instead of spending money to enjoy what they've earned, carrying a huge wad of cash in their pocket (hint: if you can carry a large part of your life savings in your pocket, you don't have any money) and flashing it for all to see. Most bougie people seem to confuse money with class. Most bougie people who do this will end up where they began - wondering what happened and who they can blame.

(Image ;Yes, that my man Stymie - Little Rascals)


Conservative Black Woman said...

My sentiments exactly!!!!

Invisible Woman said...

I agree with your summary of bougie. I come from what folks would call a bougie family and the things I've seen in their circle are laughable and sad at the same time. We are all 1 or 2 generations from the cotton fields and a head rag, ya know?

Being called bougie cause you have respect for yourself and speak the queen's english is something else entirely, tho.

brightstarr said...

I've been called this as well. But personally folks can call me whatever they want, it doesn't change who I am. Never feel as though you have to explain yourself for being accomplished. I'm also from the ghetto but never adopted the ghetto mentality. I don't believe in acting "black" or acting "white." However, I do believe in acting like I have some sense. We've come too far as a people to continue this whole jigaboo dance to be accepted by our own people. Just do you and keep it moving.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

God has a special place for you and what you do. I know personally I would have to go back at the kid and set him straight. Like I said when I open the school I'll give you a call because God didn't bless me with your skills.

Thanks for defining the words so I must be Petite Bourgeois since I own a small business.

I really commend you for your work keep going. Hopefully we can build something that can change the mentality of our people.