What’s wit ‘da British ‘Wigger’: Why is white Britain acting Black?
Definition of the topic
The past twenty years has seen the term ‘wigger’ commonly used throughout popular culture. Predominantly used in hip-hop but also referenced in film and media. The definitive meaning of the term is unclear. In straightforward thinking a wigger is a white person pretending he is black (Urban Dictionary, dates various). On-the-other-hand the Oxford English Dictionary concludes that a wigger is not specifically a white person but a ‘non-black person who identifies with aspects of urban African-American culture’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 2009).
It is uncertain if wigger is a derogatory term. Deriving from the word nigger, regarded as one of the most controversial, offensive and racist words towards black people, one would assume it was. But in the lyrics of MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know, it is stated that ‘now we got white kids callin’ themselves “nigger”’ (KRS-One, 1995), implying that white youths are deliberately associating themselves to the word. Yet, Eminem contests the motives for him being named a wigger where he claims ‘cocky Caucasians… think I’m some wigger who just tries to be black ‘cause I talk with an accent and grab on my balls’ (Eminem, 2000).
Within a peer discussion the query was raised that a wigger is generally an American expression. This is perhaps arguably true through its use and association with American hip-hop as discussed in the book: Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop: wankstas, wiggers, wannabes, and the new reality of race in America. The book examines the influence of hip-hop as a ‘language, body language, fashion, style, sensibility and worldview’ (Kitwana 2005 p.xii /preface) amongst white kid in America. However it is clear that in Britain the word and culture is also widespread.
This dissertation intends to find out the reason why certain white people in Britain are adopting a culture deemed to be black. Why is the experience of black culture so appealing to white people in Britain? Is it the ‘growing visibility of successful people of colour’ or ‘the decline of white privilege’ as Kitwana (Kitwana 2005 p.35/36) debates or is it because ‘black people set the trends’ and ‘set the style’ (Lee 2000).
Rationale for the dissertation
Race continues to be a significant aspect in our society. It is widely known that discrimination towards certain sectors of society is still customary. Is someone imitating another’s culture offensive? Are white people deliberately stealing black culture, perhaps merely as a fad, or is this progression where race is evermore irrelevant?
It may well be that sociological racism is stronger than ever-before. Alternatively it may be a celebration of multi-centralism where the boundaries of race are transparent apart from the colour of skin. Whatever the conclusion, this is a topic that a society needs to understand. As a designer, someone aspiring to work in fashion or the media of communications one needs to understand this so not to be prejudice and stereotypical.
The Aims and Objectives
1. Define the meaning of wigger.
As it has been explained the clarity of the definition is unclear. Through visual findings and primary research the first thing to establish is what people perceive to be a wigger.
2. Identify examples of the black culture a wigger associates with.
Whether the findings in the first objective result that a wigger is someone who emulates ‘urban African-American culture’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 2009), someone who copies their black idol seen within mainstream media or someone who just acts the way they do as a result of a multicultural society they live in; this objective will show evidence of these findings.
3. Discuss the appeal of black culture for white Britain.
Kitwana talks of hip-hop culture, which was initially a black thing, as a voice of the voiceless. He talks about the economic hardship in America; he discussed the society and discovers that ‘The true story of America in the post 1970's era is the tale of how we as a nation have abandoned our young’ (Kitwana 2005 p.9). Is the situation of the American society that Kitwana discusses similar to that in Britain? Is it the ‘attention to detail in the art of dressing’ (Tulloch 2004 p.86) or the ‘atmosphere bent on free expression’(Tulloch 2004 p.109) within black clubs? Is it the emblems of gold and liberation of sex seen in hip-hop? Or a sign in an evermore multi-cultural society where race irrelevant?
4. Analyse the influence the media has when portraying black culture.
Whatever the research findings are to why white individuals in Britain are adopting aspects of a black culture, it is certain that the media has influenced this phenomenon. This objective aims to analyse the influence of the media through music, fashion, film, art and commerce.
This dissertation is a study of a predominately visual culture. Given the opportunity to create a visual dissertation it is this chosen structure that will be applied in the final outcome.
A recent visit to the Chris Ofili exhibition at the Tate Britain, London, is the main source of inspiration for the proposed visual structure. His paintings in the 90’s displayed his observations on black culture and hip-hop. The works themselves can be interpreted as visual dissertation. The exhibition then consisted of a film, program and accompanying book (Nesbitt, 2010), which explains the work in written format. This exhibition format, both visually and written, will be referenced in the final submission for Wat’s wit da British wigger: Why is white Britain acting black?
Please see hard copy provided at the formative to Ian Bromley. This is a PDF document on a compact disc.
Embracing the digital future that Ravensbourne is striving for the progress map takes the form of a blog. This can be viewed with the following link:
Nesbitt, Judith (2010). Chris Ofili. London: Tate Publishing (division of Tate Enterprises Ltd).
Tulloch, Carol (ed). (2004). Black Style, First Edition. London: V&A Publications.
Kitwana, Bakari. (2005). Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America, First Edition. Jackson: Basic Civitas Books.
Unknown (2009). Concise Oxford Dictionary. [Electronic database] Oxford: OUP
Urban Dictionary (various). Wigger [online] Place of publication unknown: Urban Dictionary. Available from: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wigger
KRS-One. (1995) MC's Act Like They Don't Know [audio recording in MP3 format]. New York, Duck Down Productions.
EMINEM. (2000). The Way I Am [audio recording on MP3]. USA, Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records.
Films, videos, DVDs
Lee, Spike (2000). Bamboozled [Feature Film DVD]. New York, USA. New Line Cinema.
Exhibitions/ visits/conference attendance
Chris Ofili. London: Tate Britain. 8th May 2010
'Black people are not the only social group to turn heads on the street, but it is their attention to detail in the art of dressing that has highlighted style performance across the country. They have used clothes, shoes, accessories and hairstyles - the whole gamut of dress - to create different styles and fashions for different purposes.' (p.86)
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'The night-life in black clubs, blues and house parties gives full vent to black aesthetics. In a space where the decibel level makes body language the most effective means of communication, clubbers have the opportunity to indulge in their dress fantasies, in an atmosphere bent on free expression.' (p.109)
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'…dress has become a particular form of aesthetic poignancy. Thus, in the twenty-first century, it has reached an aesthetic moment where heredity and traditions of style, accumulated over more than 50 years, have culminated in a dynamic cultural entity moulded in part by the politics of race and ethnicity, as well as the desire to develop personal style from a wealth of influences. From this comes the ability to evoke visual pleasure in the observer, bringing psychological reassurance for the wearer and a consequent sense of pride.' (p.89)
UrbanImage.tv/Wayne Tippetts (p.70)
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'One could say that to check the style and fashion of black people in Britain is to see how they have confronted the tenets of difference to present a sense of 'truth' to their individual life experience.' (p.89)
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'Hair has long been a symbol of oppression and resistance, as well as a mark of freedom and individualisation, and still remains a sensitive issue.' (p.92)
'What I dream about is being white'_ _ _'In the hidden world of de-racialization anything is possible'_ _ _'I can easily be smoking weed and be doing nothing or walk into Waitrose and hold my head up high'_ _ _'He's fair and good-looking and I'm dark and ugly'_ _ _'I've always wanted to look like barbie… I think she is the perfect woman'_ _ _'De-racialization surgery is thriving across the world'_ _ _'People are trying to adapt to each others society'_ _ _'In Asian society, the fairer your skin, the more beautiful you are'_ _ _'I just wish I was white, not black'_ _ _'What I dream about is how to look white'_ _ _'Its not more caucasian, its more mainstream'_ _ _'Whiteness equals power, equals glamour, equals success'_ _ _SO WHY WHEN MOST OF THE WORLD IS THRIVING FOR WHITENESS DO SOME YURN TO BE BLACK?DO WHITE PEOPLE WANT TO BE BLACK?DO YOU GET PEOPLE DE-RACILIZING THEMSELVES IN THE OPPOSITE FASHION - GOING BLACK NOT WHITE?DOES WHITE REALLY EQUATE TO POWER, GLAMOUR AND SUCCESS? MAINSTREAM BLACK CULTURE, FOR EXAMPLE HIP-HOP, PORTRAYS THESE ELEMENTS. ARE THEY 'ACTING WHITE' AND SO IN-REVERSE ANYONE 'ACTING BLACK' IS ULTIMATELY EXAGGERATING THEIR WHITENESS?