Ever since Norman Mailer penned his essay "The White Negro" in 1957, white people who act black have been alternately studied earnestly and ridiculed by society at large. Mailer called such people "hipsters," while later they were called "beats," "mods" and "rockers." Today, they are known as "wiggers" and near-universally mocked.
Many blacks resent whites appropriating anything from their culture and wiggers' apparent adoption of stereotypes. Middle-class whites just plain see them as funny — think the "Icy Hot Stuntaz" Internet phenomenon from a few years back.
According to a spokesman from the Houston Police Department's gang crime division, there are a few white Bloods in black gangs, but no predominantly white Blood crews in the city of Houston. What white gangs do exist in Houston, the spokesman said, are either racist skinheads, prison-based gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, or outlaw bikers.
"The White Negro"
Nationally, nonracist, non-biker white street gangs are most often found in ethnic enclaves in Chicago, and there are reports of white Bloods in New York City's Staten Island. And apparently there are also some in Bacliff, just a couple of miles south of the wholesome family fun on the Kemah Boardwalk.
Baz Dreisinger is an assistant professor of English at City University of New York and the author of the upcoming book Near Black:White-to-Black Passing in American Culture. After looking at the MySpaces of several people who claimed 4th Street affiliations, she expressed horror.
"These guys represent the nightmare scenario of modern-day blackface that is based on nothing genuine and everything commercial," she says.
In researching her book, she says, she had never come across anything specifically like this, but that it nevertheless seemed to typify the age. "I feel like the whole phenomenon of the quote-unquote wigger is endemic of our times."
The MySpaces of the 4th Street members put her in mind of Kid Rock and Eminem, to a certain degree. Like them, along with Southern white rappers like Haystak (a 4th Street fave) and Bubba Sparxx, the 4th Street kids equate their poverty-stricken upbringings in or around Bacliff's trailer parks to black poverty in the projects or the 'hood.
"Look at Kid Rock; what's he representative of? The same exact thing: I'm not straight outta Compton, I'm straight outta the trailer," she says. "He's the perfect example of that. Or even Eminem, he's like taking the white identity and saying, 'I'm so poor and white I might as well be black.'"
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In her view, there's a crucial distinction. There are about 50 black people in Bacliff. "You have to differentiate these people from people like Eminem or even Kid Rock, I suppose, because they grew up in mixed environments," she says. "They were around black people, they were in the 'hood, they were among those people that they claimed to identify with. But if you are in an all-white place and you claim to identify with something you have only ever seen on television or rap videos, what kind of identification is that? It's an absurd fantasy."
To her, they are merely identifying with a modern-day outlaw, which happens to be a gangster rapper.
"What are their other options in terms of media models? They could admire rockers, but that doesn't have the same cachet," she says.
The whole thing reminded her, she said, of a quote from American literature critic Leslie Fielder: White Americans are "born theoretically white, we are permitted to pass our childhood as imaginary Indians, our adolescence as imaginary Negroes, and only then are expected to settle down to being what we really are: white once more."