Time To Throw Some Acid on the "Basic Bitches" Debate Once And For All

The Basic Bitch.  We've all been introduced to her by now.  You have heard of her--and you, and you.  You may have accused someone of being basic or (the horror!) been called basic yourself.  The interwebs have been expounding on the word for some time now, and at this point it has progressed into a full scale war focusing on class, race, and privilege.  I have a treaty to offer this war which should end it completely, but first let’s take a look at the buzz around basic. 

The debate really flared this past week when BuzzFeed ran a piece in which Anne Helen Petersen suggested that "basic" has been transformed from an insult used on the streets of Harlem to signify a black girl who dresses or behaves in a certain (distastefully perceived) way to now refer to a white middle class girl who dresses or behaves in different yet equally distastefully perceived ways:

From the black perspective: 

“If you’re a black girl and your weave is red, green, purple, or blonde, you’s a basic bitch.”

“If you bend your ass over in all your pictures just to make it look big even though you ain’t got one, you’s a basic bitch.” - LilDuval

From the white perspective: 

“She (and it is always a she) cherishes uninspired brands — a mix of Target products, Ugg boots over leggings, and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes— and lives a banal existence, obsessed with Instagramming photos of things that themselves betray their basicness”

 

She took this evidence to suggest that “basic” has become a way of insulting someone’s class as reflected through their clothing and/or behavior, and also asserted that since it almost always is used to refer to females that it is another example of “casual misogyny.”  Then Kara Brown at Jezebel countered with a piece arguing that the over-analysis of basic is basic itself because its a direct result of how the white female middle class would react to the proliferation of the term:

"When someone calls you basic, all they're saying is: I think that the stuff you like is lame and I don't really like you. And it's not because they have latent doubts about how they fit into the cultural quilt of the world. It is because they simply do not like the same shit that you like…If you will allow me to get very, very real for a minute: this hysteria over basic is really just a bunch of privileged white girls caring too much about what other people think...Truly, has there ever been a whiter problem than worrying about your level of basicness?" 

Brown’s overall point is that, like most trends that originate in black, urban environments, the word “basic” has been completely Columbused (i.e. forcefully reappropriated) by the white middle class and reworked in meaning to fit a white middle class context.

Let’s step back for a moment to think about the word itself. Going back to its actual meaning before it suffered all of this Internet-age perjoration, basic simply meant either “foundational” (our basic rules of society) or “common” or “not complex” (the dish was made with some basic ingredients). Now, however, it has been warped into “distastefully boring, generic, unoriginal.” 

But hold the phone! I am aware that based on Brown’s argument, I am myself being basic by over-analyzing it yet again. (But Brown puts out a pretty weighty analysis herself…is that meta-basic? I’ll stop there.)

I’d like to propose to Petersen, Brown, and everyone, that we end the debate here.  Sure, it’s fun to endlessly unpack the cultural, racial, and classist etymology of a particularly popular word, but basic has been so thoroughly dissected that there’s not much left. I actually agree with both women from different standpoints. I do think that Petersen is right in arguing that “basic” has underlying connotations of classism as exhibited through judging someone’s taste, but I also agree with Brown that only a white middle class woman like Petersen or myself would think that deeply into it—at its core it still just means “I think you’re lame.” (“Lame” by the way, used to mean injured and can’t walk properly, like a horse, but it didn’t suffer the same debate that basic currently inspires because luckily horses are animals and therefore incapable of purchasing pumpkin spiced lattes)

So Is it wrong to say that different classes and races have different ideas of what “lameness” looks like? Is there a type of “coolness” or “uniqueness” that crosses these divides? I still stand with Oscar Wilde who said, “It is absurd to divide the world into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious.” And “basic” is just an updated form of “tedious.” Personally, I’m just sick of hearing the word being used in its current meaning, so I’m going to go super nerd here and take it back into a definition that fits it the most:

Let it be known that from now on “basic” is going to hereby mean “having a pH greater than 7”

Sound familiar? For those of you who didn’t immediately understand that, think back to high school chemistry.  You have your acids (lemon juice, vinegar, wine) and you have your bases (baking soda, ammonia).  The bases are also known as “alkaline.” They range the pH scale from 1 (super acidic) to 14 (super basic) and have the power to cancel each other out.  Don’t you remember the volcano experiment? Build a funnel and put baking soda inside, pour on white vinegar and watch it hiss as steam in the form of carbon dioxide as it neutralizes (not completely but you don’t need the specifics). The really strong bases NaOH (sodium hydroxide, or lye) for example, can eat through flesh and were used in olden times (and Breaking Bad, remember episode 1?) to dissolve corpses. Cute. The really strong acids, like HCL (hydrochloric acid) are highly corrosive as well and can eat rust off of steel, and so on.  Here are some new ways in which you can refer to someone as “basic.”

“You’re so basic, you can neutralize HCL”

“Look at that basic bitch, cleaning floors and shit” (And because we are referring to ammonia in this case, it’s not classist! boom!)

“That bitch is so basic she might as well be a battery”  (Because, alkaline. If you want to get extra meta you could use an example of a girl drinking alkaline water from Whole Foods as “basic” on both levels.  Woah)

“That guy is so basic you could mix him with sand and water and make mortar” (True)

And so on.  

The other fun component to this is that the human body, though almost a neutral pH of 7, is ever-so-slightly basic in its normal state.  Our own blood has a pH of around 7.4 and ingesting too much acid in the form of soda, alcohol, and what have you, disrupts this natural balance (hence the growing trend in alkaline water).  So, if you look at it that way, we are ALL at least a LITTLE basic, and should probably just go easier on each other.  Sure, everyone WANTS to be an acidic bitch, because that’s way cool, ya know? But we can’t always live up to the hype. What I’m really saying, is that a perfect world would be colorblind, class non-specific, and full of chemistry nerds. Now go forth and be basic bitches!

Look, I even made fun memes to illustrate this new definition.  If you like 'em, pass 'em on, you acidic bitch, you. 

Tags: #Women

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