Hip-Hop Fridays: "Wiggers" - Stealing Black Culture Or Bridging The Racial Divide? by Steve Echeverria Jr.

Meet Bear Creek High School freshmen Josh Owenby and Trever Beidinger. They're probably the biggest pair of wiggers this side of River City. And the label doesn't bother them a bit.

Beidinger, 13, is sporting a pair of black Phat Farm sneakers, baggy blue denim Fubu pants and an Ecko baseball jersey. He tops his getup with an old-school Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap.

Owenby, 14, is swimming in a dark-and-light blue South Pole sweatsuit with matching Fubu tennis shoes. He said he got into hip-hop two years ago.

"I saw all these rappers on BET and MTV, and they seem to be getting all the girls," said Owenby, who likes to download music from rappers DMX and 50 Cent.

"Sometimes at school, people will say, 'Those are black people's clothes. Why are you trying to be black?' " he said, adding he gets the most criticism from his white friends. " 'You're white, you wigger.' "

Welcome to the world of wiggers, a hybrid of the word "white" and the N-word that -- depending on who you ask -- either reflects a white respect of black culture or is a demeaning label for poseurs stealing black fashion.

Whatever the case, Beidinger and Owenby are continuing a historic white fascination with black music and fashion that goes back to when the Cotton Club exposed uppercrust whites to Harlem jazz.

Truth is, wiggers are everywhere. White kids acting and dressing "black" are at the malls, music stores and nightclubs. But who are they? Where did they come from? And why do they do it?

Some call them race traitors, poseurs and just plain confused. Others are amused and even flattered.

The consensus among blacks and whites alike is that wiggers, or wiggaz, are white, affluent teens and twentysomethings who adopt the language, mannerisms and dress of young, urban blacks.

Whites have always loved black music and culture, including jazz, blues and rock 'n' roll. But the question of today's youth's fascination with black culture is whether it's a culture clash or an exchange.

There are Web sites addressing the issues, including wiggaz.com, which is dedicated to studying these so-called hip Anglos. The home page displays a bald white man -- dressed in a New York Yankee baseball jersey and visor -- hunched over turntables and flashing a peace sign.

"There are certain mysteries in life that need to be investigated and explained," said Mark Vukadinovich, the site's 27-year-old creator. "Wiggers defy explanation."

A full-time law student from Orange County, Vukadinovich created the Web site in June after his friends joked about their presence at a local mall. The site features several pages with photos of hard-looking white teens flashing hand signs and wearing flipped hats. The site also features a glossary of wiggerisms and a guest book. It takes a somewhat humorous, if not flip, approach to the lifestyle. In some instances, visitors can't tell whether Vukadinovich is making fun of wiggers or giving them props.

And Vukadinovich said some visitors carry their own prejudices to the site. The majority of guest-book writers are European rap fans, racists and white hip-hoppers.

Still, wiggaz.com has been featured in Maxim magazine. And a Danish hip-hop radio station has interviewed its creator.

"More than anything, I want people to see the daily strife that wiggers go through," Vukadinovich said, his tongue apparently planted firmly in his cheek. "We need to call attention to that lifestyle and stop ignoring it."

Perhaps the best way to understand wiggers is to visit their natural habitat. Walking into Tower Records in north Stockton one weekday afternoon, Ashlee Lockman and Laurel Gordon wore the female version of the wigger uniform: low-cut jeans and pastel-colored tops that reveal their belly buttons. They giggled while talking about the latest Chingy album and the Bad Boys II soundtrack.

"You know what a wigger is?"

They laugh.

"No one's ever said it to me," said Lockman, 14, revealing a smile full of braces. "Sometimes they use it joking around. But they use it to (diss) people, too."

The two future Lincoln High School freshmen said they had been into hip-hop since grammar school. The pair watch MTV and BET religiously for the "fashion and beats."

"My mom doesn't say much about (liking hip-hop culture)," Lockman said. "I kind of took after my brother."

They giggle, turn and walk away.

For Trever Beidinger, it's not an issue of race. It's just what's "in" right now.

"I don't care what people think," Beidinger said. "Clothes should be for everybody. People should dress however they want to. Some people say I dress nice for a white boy."

T.J. Jones and James Spivey, who are both black, were at the Sherwood Mall recently and take a different point of view. Wiggaz make them angry.

"I clown 'em," said Jones, 19, who's originally from Oakland. "(Whites) are biting our style because they ain't got no style. They trying to look as good as us, but they can't."

Mamie Darlington, who teaches black studies at University of the Pacific, was unfamiliar with the term "wiggers" but said she is familiar with "white kids who act black."

"I've seen these kids together, and it's kind of amusing to me," Darlington said. "I don't see it as negative. It's good to reinforce that black and white kids are more alike than different."

David "Davey D" Cook, a Bay Area hip-hop journalist and activist, says the term is offensive. First, he said, there's the suggestion of the use of the N-word. Second, "you're attributing certain behavior rooted in stereotypes and negativity.

"You get a white kid who has adopted a certain slang and dress, and suddenly to people he's a wigger." The flip side is that when a black person acts intelligent, they are accused of acting white, he said.

Those mannerisms come to mean some type of value on the socioeconomic level, Cook said. People want to be part of it.

"The root of it is people want to be powerful, so they imitate people who are powerful," Cook said. "Hip-hop has allowed a cultural exchange, for better or worse."

But the older generation, esconsed in decades of separatism, wants to continue to divide people among race and class. "They're comfortable stifling the potential we can all reach," Cook said.

Darlington observes that adopting a different cultural lifestyle is "a natural tendency for teens."

"It's an identity issue," she said. "They're at a development stage. They want to be accepted by their peers. We know identity is important. Why not embrace things that have positive aspects instead of dividing kids between race and class?"

The fashion, language and behavior is often projected as fun and romantic, but people who actually live the ups and downs of an urban black lifestyle don't see it that way, Cook said.

White youths need to make a deeper connection with black culture beyond the music and fashion, he said. People dress that way because they have no choice.

"Walking around with baggy pants is not a fashion statement for some people. It may be a necessity of things," he said.

The message may be working.

"White people don't care what they say about black people," said Owenby, the teen who has adopted black fashion as his own. "It's like they don't care what our (white) ancestors did to (blacks)."

Cook acknowledges there is something different about today's white youth.

"This generation, generally, is comfortable being influenced by people outside their ethnic background," Cook said. "But just because you have a Fubu outfit doesn't mean you understand the culture."

Vukadinovich said he's surprised more whites than blacks are offended by his Web site. "Especially in America, we don't have a cultural identity, so it's natural to take somebody else's," he said.

Blacks give his site mixed reviews.

"Some appreciate the humor, others don't. You see this kid who never shared an experience you have. And some people are offended, some think it's funny," he said. "Obviously, a white person can never appreciate what it's like to be black. So when they see someone trying to do it, it seems comical in a way. But they're opening up a debate across culture, and that's good."

Darlington said it's common sense.

"People are more alike than different. We need to celebrate the similarities," she said. "The whole issue of separating people is the real issue."

Steve Echeverria Jr. is a staff writer for Recordnet.com. He can be reached by e-mail at: sechever@recordnet.com

Friday, August 15, 2003