If you’re a white middle class student, please stop talking like a roadman

It’s just embarrassing now


We’ve all met someone at uni who’s white, lives in Windsor, has their own horse and a villa in the South of France to boot, yet uses words like “wagwan” or “gyaldem” on the reg. You’re not a big man from South London, your name is Harry or Hettie or Harriet or something of that ilk and you just got a little too emotionally attached to Top Boy and love that “road” aesthetic for clout.

Seeing a group of white middle-class people using words like, “endz” or “bruv” will never cease to make a Black person even slightly uncomfortable, so here we are, asking you to cut it the fuck out.

But why shouldn’t I say stuff like wagwan if I’m white?

These words were not made for you, and you likely aren’t even aware of the history behind most of them. Many of these words like “wagwan” are slangs derived from Caribbean pidgin dialects like patois, spoken within black communities here in the UK. If you’re feeling a little called out right now then maybe it’s time to think how you make Black people feel when you talk as if you’ve had to deal with “the struggle” when all you did is watch Attack The Block when you were 16 and think your area is “a bit rough”.

The issue with being a privileged white person using the language of a marginalised group is directly related to power. If you know that you are largely immune to the negative social tags that come with being non-white or working class then you must be aware that using these terms is problematic. You get to use them without anyone doubting your intelligence, your employability or your background. You’re using these words for the clout while ignoring the struggle faced by the groups that started them. You can’t say “wagwan” and exploit this culture while the importance of black lives up is still up for debate. It’s harmful.

The word “gyaldem”, for example, is from Caribbean creole used to refer to a group of girls and has been since incorporated with black communities in the UK through the creation of “mandem”. White middle-class people using these terms, trying to co-opt black culture for clout, is ignorant. Especially when you remain silent when innocent black people are being killed.

It’s embarrassing to watch white people use these words

When you speak like this in front of us, it’s really off putting. Surely there are other ways you can talk to Black people without automatically assuming all we can understand is slang words. Just because I can understand what it means doesn’t mean I can’t engage in a conversation without having to use it. It’s reductive and your prejudice is made clear when you do it.

Being from a white, middle-class background you have the utmost amount of white privilege and have likely never had to experience “the struggle” of being a Black person in the UK and having to work a lot harder than Erin from Bath just to get into a Russell Group uni her dad probably already works at. Don’t cherry-pick trendy elements of marginalised communities while also ridiculing them or failing to be aware of their histories and contexts. It’s clear when this is done and it’s tacky.

Co-opting the language of marginalised groups is always problematic because you lack the experiences those words are built on. I feel uncomfortable when I observe wealthy white individuals say “rah” and “wagwan” because it has the impact of reducing a culture to a personality trait.

More often than not, these are the same individuals that question the academic and intellectual competence of the black people they interact with.

It’s classist

White middle-class students attend unis and poke fun at working-class and BAME students for their backgrounds because it is very different from theirs. Then they adopt their speaking patterns and dress sense when it becomes trendy. It’s a double edged sword.

Frowning on other people’s backgrounds doesn’t make you “cool”, it just makes you look like a snob. Trying to co-opt working class culture for clout by wearing vintage Adidas from UO and hoops and attending “chav” socials for a laugh is gross and you should stop. Despite it seeming like “a bit of fun”, making jokes about people’s backgrounds makes you the worse person. 

Despite thinking these cultures are on-trend, your lack of respect for people who are or were once oppressed is incredibly rude to think it’s now considered cool to look down on people who are of a lower social class to yourself.

‘Roadman’ itself has racist connotations you need to be aware of

If you refer to black youths in tracksuits as “roadmen”, even if you secretly aspire to be like them, then I think it’s time you check your privilege. The term roadman has negative connotations towards black youths as many people automatically jump to the assumption of a drug dealer or being anti-social. After all, that’s the stereotype drawn upon in middle and upper-class societies of those from underprivileged backgrounds.

White boys need to stop acting like it’s an aspirational term because you are probably less likely to be stopped and searched because of walking down the street in a tracksuit. Claiming that you’re from “endz” because you think your area is a bit rough, so you behave in a certain manner is again very harmful to Black people and those of a lower socio-economic background. What you see as “endz” and “the ghetto” is what has been gentrified by the government.

Basically just watch what comes out of your mouth, ‘cos you’re not Stormzy and your mum’s probably calling you for dinner. (It’s cottage pie tonight).

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