PC Culture

There’s Always Time for Identity Politics

Recording artist Bhad Bhabie, 2018 Billboard Music Awards, Las Vegas, Nev., 2018 (Steve Marcus/Reuters)
On ‘blackfishing’ and outrage.

And now let the name of Danielle Peskowitz Bregoli be forever added to the Annals of Very Bad Stuff. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Bregoli, also known as “Bhad Bhabie,” also known as the “Cash Me Ousside” Girl, also known as more or less exactly what you expect from parents who drag their troubled kids onto the Dr. Phil show, is making the ritual-denunciation rounds after having gone a little too hard on the bronzer and, hence, “blackfishing,” i.e., attempting to look like a light-skinned black woman instead of the 50-shades-of-cracker white girl from Boynton Beach, Fla., that she is.

Who could have seen that coming?

Bregoli became a public figure when her horrifying mother did what we all do with sensitive family problems — try to exploit them for fame and money — in an episode of Dr. Phil with the memorable title, “I Want to Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried to Frame Me for a Crime.” Go ahead and focus in for a second on the 12th, 13th, and 14th words of that title: 13-year-old. On the show, Bregoli made a point of affecting to speak like a young black woman, albeit a young black woman who exists only in the mind of a barely-a-teen Palm Beach County doofus who might have watched 8 Mile a few too many times. Way back in 2016, this was.

Bregoli became a viral sensation back before the world gave us all an unwelcome reminder of what viral really means, and the next steps were more or less inevitable: lawsuits, rehab, drug charges, probation, a record deal (first single: “These Heaux”), reality shows, and a very lively social-media presence. If the news reports are to be believed, in 2019 she earned about what the average Fortune 500 CEO does.

She turned 17 a couple of weeks ago.

The particulars of Bregoli’s offense against racial sensitivities are familiar enough: She is the Rachel Dolezal of millionaire teenaged social-media goofs. Rachel Dolezal was the Elizabeth Warren of Spokane, Wash., trying to build a political career as a representative of a minority group to which she does not belong. Bregoli’s racial aesthetic is more in the mode of Ariana Grande, a Boca Raton drama kid (Annie, Beauty and the Beast) who made it big on Nickelodeon and went on to a career as a pop singer, somewhere along the way transforming from Italian American to someone who might easily be taken for black, or the Kardashians, the “ubiquitous Armenians,” as Rick Brookhiser calls them, who have from time to time been criticized for adopting black hairstyles and other acts of “cultural appropriation.”

The irritation is easy to understand. We may make far too much of “privilege” and the rest of the simple-minded swill that makes up that kind of discourse, but African Americans are not wrong to feel exploited by a celebrity who is black(ish) when it is time to push music but surely white when pulled over for speeding. The policing can be a little silly and at times hysterically wrong: National Review’s Peter Kirsanow was criticized by a writer in The Root for flaunting his white privilege (Kirsanow is black), and some knucklehead who writes for Salon tells an amusing story about National Review’s cleverly publishing unflattering reports about white poverty in the South written by “its one black writer,” meaning me. (I was raised by wolves and self-identify as a man holed up in a three-room suite at the Villa d’Este with a pillowcase full of gold Kruggerand, the complete works of Wallace Stevens, and complete immunity to the coronavirus.)

I myself would think that, the times being what they are, Danielle Peskowitz Bregoli’s makeup regimen would be pretty low down on my list of interests (she says the same thing), but it is very difficult to get inside somebody else’s head and understand their sensitivities. I notice myself getting a little irritated by political figures and pundits from comfortable backgrounds who pretend to speak for the middle-American poor, whose lives and communities they know nothing about save what they learned in sociology classes at Haverford or read about in the New York Times. But if we go enforcing a rule against fake rednecks, then the country-music airwaves are going to fall silent.

I hope that it is not the case, but the story I expect we will one day tell about Danielle Peskowitz Bregoli will have less to do with her skin coloration and more to do with her age, the very young age at which her parents — along with everybody else who thought, correctly, that they could make a buck off her teenaged pretenses and pathologies — began to exploit her.

I hope she saves her money.

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