Is arriving at a party on time a "never" for you? Do you know someone who has a Mercedes or a Porsche, but no eggs in the refrigerator? Are you familiar with the morning stocking cap routine?
Do you turn up your polo collars? When you arrive at a party, do you shrug off all compliments with the current expression, "don't even try"? When you are desperate, do you say "pressed"? Or do you say "all about it," which is the old "together," meaning well-done. And in the post-mortem on the scene, are you likely to say, "That party was to die"?
If you find yourself in these descriptions, and you are black, then you are a "bourgie."
The preppy craze now has a black counterpart. Just when most blacks thought the expression "bourgie," which was a stinging criticism in the 1960s, had died a sweet, natural death during the torpid late '70s, a 23-year-old from Alexandria has revived the notion of the acceptable, even inspirational bourgeoise.
"Yo . . . hasn't this preppy mania, button-down collar, khaki attack gotten under your skin? If so, then don't you think it is time to take a look at ANOTHER group that is being overshadowed by this 'Preppy Madness' -- THE BLACK BOURGEOISE (boo-zhwa-zee), better known to most of us as the BOURGIE," trumpets the poster of Christopher White, the entrepreneur of bourgie and the nouveau definitions. On the full-color pinup, White is wearing Nike running shoes, Olympic jogging pants, a Ralph Lauren tennis jacket over a pink Lauren shirt, and a Gelati bicycle cap, his body slouched with nondirection.
The poster waxes righteously: "First, let's get one thing straight, you don't have to be a High-Flying urban 'Jetsetter' driving a Mercedes, or an 'Uppity Snob' attending a prestigious private school to be bourgie. So what is bourgie?"
The answers come tumbling out of White, a recent graduate of Hampton Institute, who had his posters created and distributed with his own funds. "Never let your penny loafers run down, or your collars fray. Also the preppy bourgie doesn't dance the 'gator," says White, sitting on the floor of his parents' split-level home. Where preppy might be scruffy, bourgie is clean. "Everything is precise, crisp, kind of in place. A lot of blacks dress very preppy. But they don't think they are preppy because they equate that with white," says the bourgie expert.
This morning he is dressed in faded Levi's ("the European cut doesn't fit most black men"), an unpressed white shirt ("with my complexion it looks good") and toying with a basketball ("the black man's answer to golf").
"Blacks have always been fashionable," says White. Some common ground does exist between the preppy and the bourgie, but there are differences. "Preppy is tradition, the navy blazer and gray slacks. Bourgie is what's in style today, someone who is in the fast lane, is fashion conscious and keeps up. It's inbred in us when we are young, and when we have had to overcome knowing that we are disadvantaged by being twice as good," says White.
Like any good bourgie anthropologist, White has developed five types:
The International: Think Andrew Young. A traveler, to Paris and the Ivory Coast; collects African art and batiks; likes international products with labels like Gucci; likes foods with foreign names, and wears African accents, such as amber jewelry and West African kente cloth scarfs. "This person is in a whole different world . . . He may like couscous, but he also can get down with ham hocks and things," says White.
The Preppy Bourgie: Think Christopher White, his BMW parked in the driveway, WHUR-FM on the radio.
Aren't bourgies wearing what everyone is wearing? "What it is, blacks are always changing what is new. I'm saying bourgie because it is a black word, and bourgie is style. What is bourgie today, will not be bourgie tomorrow."
The New Wave: Think Eddie Murphy of "Saturday Night Live," or Patti LaBelle. Dark wraparound glasses, like the ones Murphy dons for his Stevie Wonder imitation but which are seen here at the 9:30 club; headbands; a few burgundy, violet or gold streaks in the hair, gold dust on the face, metallic leotards and genie pants.
The Bama Bourgie: Think of a nameless friend, someone who just can't get it right. The "country" tag becomes Bama, short for Alabama. "No one goes around saying, 'I'm a Bama.' It is someone out of sync with the norm," instructs White. "Someone with stacked shoes, a blow-out, wide-legged pants. He was wearing that when it was new and probably getting a lot of compliments for his apparel. He probably never wanted to switch. We all panicked when we had to cut our 'fros. He doesn't care. And a lot of people are nondescript." The Borderline Bourgie.
The I Will Not Admit it Bourgie: Think Marion Barry.
In the black community, Bourgie has a long history. In fact, White argues that it predates preppy, which itself has been around forever. Examples of creativity, legend and flamboyance go back to Sheba, Nefertiti and Nzinga, and work through all the contemporary Eckstines, Hollidays, Calloways, Rosses, Poitiers and Jacksons. "All that Lisa Birnbach author of "The Official Preppy Handbook" did was expose something that was already there," says White, "and I wanted to do the crossover."
At one time, bourgie hurt. The types were ridiculed by sociologist E. Franklin Frazier in his classic study, "Black Bourgeoise," as assimilationists, living in a make-believe world striving for white values inside black skins, trying so hard to prove themselves to white power that they forgot their less fortunate brethren. In the 1960s, many blacks who were light-skinned, had curly hair and the curse of freckles, were accused of being bourgie, and White deliberately selected himself -- dark and smooth -- for the poster to avoid that color-struck trauma. Also, he says, the 1980s bourgie has a firm sense of racial identity.
But, since money is still part of the prerequisite and fashion is still considered frivolous by some, White anticipates criticism. When he appeared on his first television call-in show the first caller was a woman who was so angry at the bourgie fad in times of "black emergency" that she said she was thinking of stopping her daughter from going to Hampton next year. White looked like he wanted to say, "Stop it, Momma," but in his best airy accent, he told her it was a novelty. The revivalist wants bourgie to be fun. "More than anything, it's feeling good about yourself," he says.
After White earned his marketing degree, he worked for eight months as a salesman for Xerox but decided to shortcut his time as a corporate bourgie. While planning an advertising, marketing and public relations business of his own, White decided to fill the black novelty void with his "Are You Bourgie?" poster. He invested $1,500 of his savings, had 1,500 posters printed, and delivered them to stores like the Disc Shops at Mazza Gallerie and Connecticut Avenue, and to a informal network of friends on college campuses. They sell for $3. Though he says he is selling a greater number on predominately black campuses, the posters' best buyers are blacks on white campuses. "They are inundated by preppy. They want something to relate to them," says White.
The 1980s bourgie, according to White, likes basketball, roller skating and badminton. The bourgie wears leather jackets, culottes, knickers, gold jewelry, Cartier watches with black bands, wool caps (but really wants a brown bowler), and crisp designer shirts that look fresh out of the box. The female bourgie prefers curls and waves in the self-explanatory wedge or mushroom hair styles.
And in White's composite, all bourgies read Essence, GQ, The Jet, Ebony, Time and Black Enterprise; understand the signficance and swagger of the late Joe Louis; have a library that includes "The Invisible Man," "Native Son," "Black Like Me," and "Tar Baby"; and prefer movies like "Sounder" over "Truck Turner." The bourgie likes cocktail parties and picnics, drinks Scotch, brandy, chablis and Perrier, and listens to music as diverse as Kraftwerk and Earl Klugh.
White is still creating new categories, which he hopes will go into his next poster: a bourgie princess named Sharon Denise Washington; the Cosmic Bourgie, represented by Earth, Wind & Fire; the Pioneering Bourgie, like Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson; and the Corporate Bourgie. "The corporate bourgie also has to play a role," says White, openly admiring their dapperness and flexibility. " 'Yes, Mr. Dillworth, I'll get that done right away for you, sir.' Meanwhile, he goes back to the brothers and says,'Man, Mr. Dillworth gets on my nerves.' It's double identity. Tremendous acting," says White.
Where do people like President Reagan's HUD Secretary Sam Pierce fit? "Who is he?" asks White. He is told. "Busted," he says, the bourgie expression for incorrect.