In order to empower “a culture of controversy prevention,” administrators at American University (AU) prohibited the school’s Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from calling its badminton fundraiser “Bad(minton) and Boujee,” a pun on the popular Migos song “Bad and Boujee.” AU officials told the frat that them using the word boujee might be seen as “appropriating culture.”
“Which culture?” asks Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. “Latin? French? Marxist? Urban hip-hop? Maybe their own?” Administrators weren’t clear. But as Rampell notes, the term boujee comes from the Latin “burgus,” which described a castle or fortified town.
This evolved into the French “bourgeois,” for people who live in town rather than the countryside. Town dwellers were more likely to engage in commerce and craftsmanship, and so rose over time to achieve middle-class incomes. That’s why Karl Marx later used the term to derisively refer to the class that upheld capitalism.
Over time, “bourgeois” morphed into a more generic description of middle-class (and eventually upper-middle-class) materialism and obsession with respectability. More recently, “bourgeois” was shortened to the colloquial “bourgie ,” alternately spelled “bougie” or “boujee,” used disdainfully to describe upper-middle-class or high-end tastes (driving your Prius to Trader Joe’s after yoga class, for example).
The “boujee” variation is common when referring to middle-class or upwardly mobile blacks, as in the Migos song. That’s hardly this spelling’s exclusive usage, though, as is evident from its entries in the crowd-sourced slang glossary Urban Dictionary. So, in a way, “boujee” is indeed an appropriation — or rather an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. That’s how language works. It’s fluid, evolving, constantly taking from other tongues, dialects and usages.
Did administrators really consider all this? Probably not, considering their refusal to articulate who was appropriating what from whom and emphasis on “controversy prevention.” More likely, they just heard “frat event name after rap song” and decided to act out of that bureaucratic favorite, an abundance of caution. As Freddie de Boer notes on Facebook, the AU situation nicely illustrates how students, regardless of their ideology, “are powerless in the face of a relentless pink police state that renders every unruly impulse anodyne and unchallenging through an architecture of limitless conflict avoidance. Neither the black bloc nor the alt right can possibly defeat the army of chief litigation officers who have machined the controversy-avoidance mechanism to perfection.”
But back to bourgie. Google defines it as “exhibiting qualities attributed to the middle class, especially pretentiousness or conventionality.” Yet the term is used differently in different subcultures—the people and milieu that Ke$ha calls bougie are different than those that the guys of Migos do, to keep in the musical vein. And they’re both shades off from the “Bourgie, Bourgie” folks sung about by Gladys Knight and the Pips in their 1980 disco hit, or those conjured in The Submarines 2008 indie-pop “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie,” or Discobitch’s 2009 “C’est Beau La Bourgeoisie,” or Jacques Brel’s 1962 “Les Bourgeois,” or Prince’s 2013 “Da Bourgeoisie.”
I’ve heard white Midwesterners use bougie to describe anything associated with hipsters/liberals/The Coastal Elite, and liberal coastal hipsters use it to describe anything that might be quintessentially suburban or “basic.” Sometimes bourgie might be a big-ass McMansion, sometimes a pumpkin spice latter, a snotty attitude, a $10 burger, Manuka honey lozenges, Sheryl Sandberg-style feminists, picnicking on a first date, or ordering first-date food that’s too fancy. So, yes, the term might mean certain things in American black culture that it doesn’t among lower-class white Ohioans, leftist academics, or French techno bands, and vice versa. But whether you spell it bougie or bourgie or boujee, the underlying concept is the same; it’s simply that the precise contours of bougie shift based on your perspective.
With that in mind—and in the spirit of an interracial, equal-opportunity orgy of the bourgeois—I present you with a few of my favorite songs about white bourgie-ness (a culture I can be confident I’m not appropriating). Enjoy!
Father John Misty – The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment
Okkervil River – Singer Songwriter
LCD Soundsystem – New York I Love You
The Rolling Stones – Play With Fire
Billy Joel – Uptown Girl
And, for fun…
Jacques Brel – Les Bourgeois