Why, people, must you misunderstand wypipo?

“People blackfacing with their emojis: What’s up with that?”

That was a Facebook status I had recently posted. At the outset, I knew the post had the potential to spiral out of control, but I was genuinely curious.

Shortly after I posted, people began putting in their two cents on the topic. For the most part, it was an echo chamber as can be expected with most social media these days.

Soon, the conversation turned from emojis to GIFs and whether it was acceptable for white folks to use GIFs depicting Black folks.

Someone said that “wypipo” don’t often comprehend that some GIFs are culturally unique. His point was that white people using GIFs of Black people doing uniquely Black things is a form of “digital cultural appropriation.”

It was an interesting perspective that I thought contributed to the conversation.

But a few moments later, an onslaught of replies came in by white people claiming that the term “wypipo” was politically incorrect, racist, racially insensitive, divisive, and to the detriment of race relations in America.

I was admittedly boggled by these characterizations. I’ve always consider the term “wypipo” to be tongue-in-cheek, maybe a little snarky, but I never saw it as racist.

If you are unfamiliar, “wypipo”—a phonetic version of “white people”—is often used when talking on social media about problematic, insensitive, and rude attitudes displayed by white folks oftentimes as they relate to racism and white supremacy.

Similar terms have emerged recently in the digital lexicon of people of color, terms like “Becky” for example.

Popularized by Beyoncé, “Becky” has emerged as a name for a white woman who, according to this article from The Root, “uses her privilege as a weapon, a ladder or an excuse.”

It’s a term that is generally reserved for those white women who utilize, underappreciate, and remain willfully ignorant of the challenges white supremacy places on Black women and Black people.

“Becky” is someone who weaponizes her privilege. In this way, it’s a defensive term rather than one whose sole purpose is to offend.

Terms like “Becky” and “wypipo” do not perpetuate a racial divide; rather, they highlight an existing one. They are a sarcastic reply to a system that seeks to devalue and undermine people of color. They are defense rather than offense. They are words uttered by people who have been wronged. They are expressions of frustration.

Conversely, words invented by white folks to characterize people of color have had only one purpose: to cause harm and to assert white supremacy.

It’s a common theme that arises when looking at names invented between the oppressed and the oppressor.

OFFENSE DEFENSE
kike goy
nigger honky
faggot breeder

By reading the chart above, you will notice that the words in the left column carry more weight than those in the right. To notice this inequity is to realize the power dynamics at play when assessing the harm certain slurs cause.

Through that lens, any way that “wypipo” might reinforce racial tensions is far outweighed by its more egregious impetus: white supremacy.

To assert that there is some sort of double standard at play is to ignore the power dynamics.

If you are white person who is offended or troubled by the phrase “wypipo,” don’t be mistaken: the perpetrator behind your frustration is not in fact the speaker of the word but rather the system of white supremacy from which it derives.

Instead of jumping down the throat of the Black person who says “wypipo,” take a step back and try to appreciate why someone might use such a term. (Hint: it’s not to offend or oppress you.)

Uncomfortable conversations about race are can potentially be the most productive conversations about race. In this new digital age, we are communicating in different ways and with change comes new challenges and learning opportunities. Memes, GIFs, emojis, as well as words like “wypipo” are giving us new ways to discuss race. It’s important we work to understand these new forms of communication, however awkward it may feel.


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15 thoughts on “Why, people, must you misunderstand wypipo?

  1. Thank you again for such a thought provoking post. I’d never heard that term or Becky before so the “introduction” and following discussion were enlightening. As always.

  2. This is a great article, and I do think it is absolutely the case that white people have a much harder time seeing the power structure because it is literally set up so we don’t have to. Choosing to turn a blind eye or wishing for a more equitable system without action is the prerogative of those already in the favored group. For this reason it is plainly obvious to me that arguments about ‘reverse racism’ etc are hot garbage. However, I am a little more ambivalent when it comes to cultural appropriation. For example: I grew up a middle class white boy in the 80s and 90s, I was blessed to have parents that believed in progressive ideals, and I went to public schools that were to some extent integrated (by which I mean there were more than 10% black students). If you had asked me I would have said any person, regardless of race, gender, creed, religion, are entitled to the same rights and should be treated equally under the law. But I mostly stuck to my own. It was not until I fell in love with hip hop culture in the late 80s and early 90s that I began interacting with more black kids (because of common interests), going to the same social events, etc. Suddenly, this idea of fairness and equality under the law wasn’t some abstract concept I believed in, it was an actual presence that directly affected the lives of my friends. Was my participation in rap battles, tagging, wearing certain clothes, appropriation? Would I have had the same perspective on these issues were it not for this? Would I have made friends of many races and backgrounds if I had stuck to what was culturally appropriate for a white boy in Oregon? I realize there is a difference between participation, appropriation, and exploitation, and perhaps a more distinct delineation of each of these needs to be drawn. But I also realize that the best way to combat racism and xenophobia is to have some cultural bleeding so that ‘them’ becomes ‘us’. Ultimately, I also realize this is the experience of a white man, and much of the reason for this response is to get feedback from people who’s experiences has differed from mine.

  3. OK, now that you have a derogatory term for my race, I can continue to call you niggers without any sense of guilt. Cheers!

    • Only if by “without any sense of guilt” you are okay with the use of a historically laden term associated with hundreds of years of murder, rape, ownership, family deconstruction and pretty much every indecent and immoral treatment of a people based solely on skin color. And if that is the case, no one’s use of any other word for your race really makes any difference anyway.

  4. Congratulations, this is how racial slurs are made. You’re just a bigot by another name, hiding behind willful ignorance.

  5. “Goy” is a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, and as such predates “kike”—so it’s hard to see how it developed in defense of anti-Semitic slurs.

    Regardless of power dynamics, referring to other people in ways they object to is rude. I would hope you extend to others the same courtesy you expect from them.

  6. There so doubt the author is clearly well-read and articulate.

    For this reason, it becomes dangerous to use this intellect to contort one’s arguments to fit into a “non-offense” or even “non-prejudice” category. Smart people are astonishingly good at bullshitting. That’s what this article is an example of.

    I often hear “black people cannot be racist, only prejudice” as if that distinction is somehow virtuous. It’s not.

    Basically the argument is this: I get to be rude, offensive, divisive, belligerent, and ignorant because my version of this behavior is somehow less bad than when committed by white people.

    It’s important to recognize institutional racism and interpersonal racism as different in impact, but the same in their ability to stop progress.

    This is not about “white feelings”, it’s about being open to acknowling these behaviors don’t actually help anyone, including us (yes I am a POC, mixed race with black).

    This is about us being BETTER than that. There is too much on the line to be lured by the appeals to being a Petty King/Queen.

    • That is such an insightful comment. Don’t let people off the hook for rude, anti-social behavior. Racism and white privilege are such big things to try to combat and undo. The whole wypipo concept elevates pettiness and snark and degrades the ability to have serious conversations.

  7. Nigger is just slang for Negro, which means black so it must not be a racist word right?
    Creating a slang word like wypipo just perpetuates tension between black and white.

  8. I guess, as a white woman, I don’t particularly like the term Wypipo because, like any other term used to group, it lumps me in with a slew of white folks that I want absofuckinglutely nothing to do with. I will have no truck with their beliefs, attitudes and ignorance (see the comment from the charming Joe Spina above) and yeah, it does offend me when a discussion blows up due to similar atricous comments, and THEN the wypipo comment gets thrown. I get the why behind its use but don’t lump me in with fuckwits like Joe- you will NEVER hear me use that term or allow it to be used around me. THAT offends me. My race is no more a definitive marker of who I am and how I act than my size 7 feet are.How I was RAISED, now…and indeed, where I was raised, that certainly is. I’m not super-sensitive- as a Scot, there are PLENTY of jokes and suchlike about us that I can laugh along with- and some of the wypipo memes ARE funny. Some are decidedly not. It doesn’t FEEL tongue in cheek on many posts and memes, I can tell you that.
    Having said that, rethinking certain situations and events to consider whether white privilege is a factor is never a bad thing. It’s there, there’s uttery no questions, and it feels like it is so much worse in the USA than here in the UK….though it’s still very much alive and kicking here, too, more’s the pity.
    The term ‘Becky’- well, it’s certainly super appropriate in many situations. Seen plenty of Beckys on social media. But if that word is applied to every white woman by dint of her skin tone, how is that okay? I guess THAT’s my beef with the word wypipo… I cannot possibly walk in the shoes of a black person, I am never going to suffer the injustices so many do because they are black. I am white. I can’t change that and wouldn’t- I am who I am. But I CAN be part of change for the better and I’ll always strive to do that, and raise my family to accept people for who they are and how they behave.

    • I’m not partial to the term either. Or any term that seeks to group and, seemingly, dismiss many people on a simplification (be it race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.). So the first time I read the article, I appreciated what was said but was still a little put off. So I read it again, thought on it, read it a few more times and thought more on it. Finally, for me, the significance of the distinction between defense and offense terms, and their place in the power structure of systemic white supremacy, started to make sense. As a white Southern woman, I am certain that the potential damage from being called a Becky or referred to as Wypipo, (and the frustration those terms stem from) is pretty much limited to my personal feelings. My place as a white person in the power structure, through no effort or fault of my own, protects me. I am as certain that the offense words (and the hatred they are rooted in) have caused and will continue, sadly, tragically, to cause actual damage to jobs, families, lives. The evil here is a system that makes race an issue at all, not those who are forced to “make the best” of it. Until we white people dismantle and destroy the structure we are standing above others on, it sounds petty, to me now, for us to complain about how those below us on the structure are forced to defend themselves. As the song says,”Hate the game, not the players.” My perspective from here in the US South is that the game is rigged, and some players are just doing what they can or have to do to keep their sanity, communities and lives.

  9. There is absolutely no difference between labeling one term as offensive or defensive. All you are saying is, “Someone was racist towards me, so I’m going to be racist too!”

    As a gay man, there is no way in hell you would ever catch me calling someone a breeder. Don’t think you can just talk your way around this. The purpose of these slurs is to give someone a derogatory label based on… skin, sexuality, race? And just because they’re not a minority that makes it okay?

    All you are doing is justifying your hate speech towards another human being. Calling someone out on being rude? Fine by me! “Wow, that straight man cut me off at the super market? That fucking breeder!” Totally not okay. I don’t care how you justify it.

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