This Michael Mark Cohen essay about ‘douchebag’ as a white racial slur has come my way a few times recently. Whatever you think about the argument, it could be a useful resource to start conversations about the intersectionality of white, male, upper class privilege.
Here’s how Cohen puts it:
For the time being, this is the vernacular critique of whiteness that we’ve always needed, and its been right before our eyes all along. The term douchebag, again used as we already use it, has the power to name white ruling class power and white sexist privilege as noxious, selfish, toxic, foolish and above all, dangerous.
What got me thinking about this again today was sitting in a Bruegger’s watching a ‘preppy’ white guy parked in a running Jeep Grand Cherokee 4 X 4 on his cellphone for at least 15 minutes, and he was still there when I left. As anyone who drives with me knows, I’ll barely let my car idle between turning the key and moving, or stopping and shutting down. Idling, in almost any instance, is bad for the environment, our health, and wastes expensive fossil fuel (8 facts and myths about warming up your car). This well dressed guy, sitting in a behemoth that probably cost north of $30,000 and manages an around town mpg rating in the low 20s, clearly cared about none of those things.
But, I don’t think this particular automotive behavior is significantly classed or raced in America. If anything, being obsessed with environmentally conscious behavior is maybe a bourgeois affliction. The term I thought when I walked past this guy, tempted to knock on the window and ask him what the hell he was thinking, was this: Merica (urban dictionary). I realized, however, that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use the term (what is the correct version, anyway?) except to denigrate or celebrate what I think of as working class, white culture. I grew up in that culture, in a town that has advertised “Redneck Games” on the webpage of its visitors bureau. If that’s not ‘Mercia, I don’t know what is.
So, I checked, and Cohen’s article doesn’t make any mention of “merica” or its other forms. I’d hypothesize it’s use would correlate with ‘cracker,’ ‘hillbilly,’ and ‘redneck,’ or the other terms that Cohen correctly points out also discriminate by class. Google Correlate didn’t show any search results, but this post at floatingsheep (Welcome to ‘Merica (Or is it ‘Murica?)) maps Twitter use of the two terms, and argues that the more sarcastic ‘murica is preferred by coastal elites who may be eager to differentiate themselves from the yokels in flyover country. At the same time, I’ve been to fireworks shows and sporting events where people in the middle of a good time shout ‘Murica!’ to advertise and celebrate their fun.
So, what’s the function of ‘merica/’murica? Is it for elites to denigrate America’s working class? Is it to celebrate ‘middle America’ fun? When I saw that douche in the 4 X 4 guzzling gas and a large coffee, was ‘Merica a reasonable response?
Let’s settle it with some enraged comments on the internet!