The Common White Girl: Classist or Racist Caricature?

Earlier this month, I had my “white girl card officially revoked” by a friend on Twitter.

common white girl twitter friends

The joke was that I had spelled “frappuchino” incorrectly, which is an infamous overpriced drink sold at Starbucks (a place that one of my teachers in high school joked was where people who “don’t like the taste of coffee drink fake coffee,” namely the sugar-laden frappuchinos) that girls that fall under this “common white girl” stereotype are said to enjoy by independent Twitter accounts and Urban Dictionary, which states that a “common white girl” is “any white girl in America who is obsessed with any of the following: Leggings, Uggs, Starbucks, Autumn, iPhones, Instagram, Twitter, Selfies, or the movie Mean Girls.” (Urban Dictionary). Here’s a video that has girls acting out other things that “common white girls” are known to say on a regular basis:

As a person of color, I have never thought twice about the fact that people group me into this stereotype that is the “common white girl” that is documented by various Twitter accounts that originated from 2009 to 2010 (according to their Twitter profiles), the most famous of which I have included here:

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.22.12 AM

I’m not sure how or when I began to identify as a “common white girl” myself, or if I began to identify as one because the label was thrusted upon me by my suburban middle-class peers in high school. This caricature of the average white girl was concocted on Twitter and Tumblr, where teenagers lurked, and is not mentioned by media in any way or form nor does it have its own Wikipedia article. To me, the idea of the “common white girl” was that she was not race-based, as the word ‘white’ in her name suggests, but she is just a middle and upper middle-class girl of any race who enjoys these pleasures that Urban Dictionary describes.

Scrolling down the Urban Dictionary “common white girl” listings, I found that a second definition fit my idea of a “common white girl” better, as it stated that the “common white girl” is “any girl, generally of any race or ethnicity, who are obssed with the following: iPhones/iPads, Fall, Leggings/Nike pants, Bath and Body works candles, Bath and Body Works soap, Target bikinis, Sports bras…” and the list goes on (Urban Dictionary). I have to admit, I enjoy all of these things that both definitions include, and I guess by the second definition that I am indeed a “common white girl”—albeit one who has apparently had her “white girl card” evoked.

This humorous anecdote and topic reminded me of Danah Boyd’s section in It’s Complicated where she states that “How American teens use social media reflects existing problems in society and reinforces deep-seated beliefs” (Boyd 159). In this section entitled “Inequality,” Boyd writes about how teens’ beliefs about race and class offline are brought into their online worlds. She goes on to state that “class politics intertwine with race, adding another dimension to existing social divisions,” making me wonder whether the idea of the “common white girl” is drawn along racial or class lines (Boyd 163).

My research project will thus be one in which I look at how teens on Twitter use the term “common white girl” or “white girl” and figure out if the term is one that is based on race or if it is based on economic class. I will also look to find other caricatures and stereotypical phrases like “common white girl” that may describe other racial or class groups regardless of gender (however, I will not be looking at the spin-offs of “common white girl” that include “common black girl,” “common Asian girl,” and “common Hispanic girl” that are also nested underneath the search term “common white girl” on Twitter). I’m interested in seeing if teens self-segregate (a term that Boyd mentions that psychologist Beverly Tatum used in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) online by class or by race, and if the joke accounts and figures that they make follow suit (Boyd 166).

Additionally, I would like to explore this topic further in light of the Jurgenson essay we read last week (“The Disconnectionists”). In his essay, Jurgenson states that we are in the “golden age of personal authenticity” no more, which makes me wonder if girls who do not fit the archetypical “common white girl” ideal (either because they do not identify as white or are not middle class) try to conform to this stereotype in order to fit in with their peers at school or online (Jurgenson). Jurgenson writes that people are “generally uncomfortable admitting that who they are might be partly, or perhaps deeply, structured and performed” makes me question the authenticity of the enjoyment of “common white girls” with things that Urban Dictionary suggests that they enjoy, and that is what I will explore as well (Jurgenson).

I feel like the best way for me to research this topic and publish my findings will be in a series of recorded interviews in conjunction to a broader research paper/blog-style publication that I will create on medium.com. I’m not sure if I will keep the recorded interviews and publish them (say on radiolab.org as podcasts that I can embed into my medium.com article) but I would like to record my interviews to be able to have a more personal feel. I think that I will choose my subjects at Harvard who I can interview during term-time as well as younger teenagers who I will interview in the middle-class suburbs that I live in at home during Thanksgiving break. For my interviews at Harvard, I think that I will ask the e-mail lists of race/ethnicity-based groups of women (ex. Fuerza Latina and Asian-American Women’s Association) if there are any members who are in these groups (and are presumably not people who identify as white) who would like to be interviewed. I would like to have my initial interviews on campus done by October 29, but will conduct additional interviews in my hometown in the week of November 29.

Other research I will do will be primarily on Twitter, analyzing publically accessible tweets to search for other racial/economic stereotypical caricatures that teens perpetrate as well as try to figure out where the bulk of the “common white girl” stereotype—and other stereotypes I will hopefully encounter- come from. I’ll also look for evidence on Instagram, Tumblr, and Vine, as these are other social media platforms that younger teens are gravitating towards. I will collect these Tweets/pictures/short videos by screenshotting them and saving the hyperlinks to them, and analyze them piece by piece (and make subcategories within my findings). This will be done during the month of November as well so that I have the last week of November and the first week of December to compile my findings. I will then create the medium.com post around the time of December 4-9.

Though I was unable to find any scholarly work on this topic, I hope to be able to find some through Jstor or searches on Google Scholar and add my findings to the knowledge of teen Internet use that Boyd really pioneered in “It’s Complicated.”

Boyd, Danah. It’s Complicated. Yale University Press, 2014.

“Common White Girl Screenshot.” 2014. JPG file. https://twitter.com/girlposts

Common White Girl. Perf. Thatsojack. YouTube, 2013. YouTube.

 

“Common White Girl.” Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, n.d. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=common%20white%20girl.

Jurgenson, Nathan. “The Disconnectionists.” The New Inquiry, November 20, 2013. http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-disconnectionists/.

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