Recently, a friend of mine called me“bougie.” In case you’ve never heard the term, Urban Dictionary defines bougie as “aspiring to be a higher class than one is.”
Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been called bougie. And generally, being called bougie doesn’t offend me because it calls me out for daring to dream, for striving to accomplish something. I have, after all been called other, worse things. And I don’t particularly care much what other people think of me. But being called bougie does rather irritate me because it inherently asserts that I have no right to dream, to achieve, that who I was at birth is who I should be at death.
The word bougie seems to stem from a screwed-up thought process that defines a place for everyone, a place they must always remain. I remember as a kid, when I talked back, I would be told I was “out of place.” And that was often a punishable offense. The idea that one can be out of place is disturbing because it seems to immediately call for the out of place object (in this case a person) to be put back in its proper place. Thus, the pepper is eternally returned to the side of salt.
Today our LGBT youth who do not know their place is in secret, dark places, who dare to push themselves into the open, and declare themselves, are railed against, thrown into the street by the very people who brought them into the world and thus are morally obligated to love and shelter them; our youth are beaten and driven to suicide, and killed, all because they did not know their place, these bougie gays who thought they had a right to be seen, to hold their heads high in equality.
Labeling someone bougie is also an act of erasure. This occurred to me after more than 100 days of watching Trump and the GOP try to roll back anything from the Obama administration, most notably Obamacare and now the Paris climate accord.
President Obama, in the eyes of Trump and the GOP, was just another bougie Black who didn’t know his place and thus pushed himself into places he didn’t belong and right on into the White House. Dismantling Obamacare and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, simply because it was Obama-driven, is just their pathetic attempt to forget he stepped out of his place. They want nothing more than to erase him and his accomplishments as if he’d never existed, hadn’t done, hadn’t pushed himself where they didn’t want him, into places they think he didn’t belong.
Just as the Trump administration has scrubbed all LGBT references from the White House website. Just as they are working to strip our public schools of their ability to teach our children because those kids whose parents cannot afford $40,000 a year for private school, should not be encouraged to overstep and push themselves where they do not belong—what more effective way to derail a future Obama than to make sure he, or she, never learns enough to dream, to push?
There’s a lot of talk of white privilege, which I think is nothing more than a left-over, a remnant, like the Confederate flag, from the days when they had power over us. Today that power is mostly concentrated in the ability to stifle, to erase, those of us who are other, less than, who don’t know our place.
I see and recognize that white privilege exists and that those who have and exploit it think it is their birthright, but I don’t have to—No, I refuse to—bow down before it and let it, them, clip my wings and tell me how high I can fly.
My first book, What Binds Us, was turned down everywhere I submitted it. There was no market for a book like this, I was told. As a result, it sat in a drawer for seventeen years, until I gained the courage to submit it again. On August 1, my third full length novel (my fifth book) will be released. In large part because the world has changed, but also because I learned to step out of my place, to scream louder than anyone’s attempts to silence me, to erase me, and everyone like me.
A character in one of my unfinished manuscripts, when accused of being bougie, snaps, “Like Michael Jackson, I may have been born a poor black boy, but like Michael Jackson I intend to die a rich white woman!” His statement, though exaggerated, sums up a fundamental truth: Who we were, does not limit who we can become.