Further musings on whether we were racist to use the term ‘wigga’ in a Trebuchet article….
Wigga. The word certainly gives one pause. We need to be very careful though about confusing racism with terminology. The most devious of racists are very careful about the language they use, and would never be caught using an objectionable term in a published piece. Would that stop them being racist?
We know what the term means – ‘wannabe nigga’, and that of course that it is loaded with a great deal of political, racial and emotional issues.
Nevertheless, we don’t see censorship of language as a panacea to the world’s ills, and get more than a little bit frustrated by the tendency in the media age to judge a person’s character by ever-smaller slices of the language they use. The word ‘nigga’ has been co-opted by African Americans as a system of self-identification many times, in just the same way as homosexuals will in certain contexts refer to themselves as ‘queers’, ‘faggots’ or ‘homos’. It’s not the words which are offensive, but the way in which they are used.
The words ‘mate’ or ‘pal’ said with malice can be more offensive than any affectionately-used insult. Language is a tricky, mutable thing, and we need to get beyond the currently fashionable trend for the ‘pearl-clutchers’ of the internet confusing ostensibly offensive terminology with genuinely offensive attitudes or actions. By ‘pearl-clutchers’ we refer to the habit of certain internet users to broadcast their outrage at the language used by other (usually celebrity) users, and to conclude that this proves incontrovertibly that the, usually celebrity, user is a racist, sexist, xenophobe etc.
It picks up followers/friends, to be sure, but it is not by any means the best way to judge a person’s intent or character.
So, ‘wigga’. A piece of mildly derogatory terminology, itself derived from a word which is actually derogatory, but used to refer to a slightly deluded fashion-victim who has cherrypicked aspects of African American visual stylings, without having experienced directly any of the circumstances which led to the development of those styles.
An existing term, with an existing meaning, used in a mildly ironic way with a certain degree of self-awareness is not racist, it is merely piquant.
Illustrations by Dan Booth not to be reproduced without his express prior permission.
Words by Sean Keenan, Trebuchet Editor