On a recent episode of The Project, TV personality and self-appointed King of Mykonos, Nick Giannopoulos, shed a unique light on the interplay between comedic discourse and racial slurs, discussing the relevance of the term ‘wog’ in 2017.
Defined in Australia as an immigrant from Southern Europe, the word is bound by semiotic imagery of hotted up cars, Adidas tracksuits and clubbing with your cousins.
As Giannopoulos discussed the use of the phrase in contemporary Australia, Peter Hellier questioned, “What is the status of the word in 2017? Is it still offensive?”
In Australia, the term ‘wog’ originated as a racial slur, widely diffused following a surge in immigration from Europe post-WWII. Characterised by dark features, accents as thick as their hair and lunches with scents so pungent they permeated back across the Atlantic, ‘wog’ was the term used to identify and isolate Mediterranean migrants in a divided Australian society.
Since migrating in the 1940s, my Yia Yia and Papou reflect on the term as a phrase they only came to understand was riddled with racist undertones long after the first time they heard it. ‘Wog’ was just another one of the slew of words they were yet to comprehend. My parents, however, cite the time ‘wog’ was used to target people as one of the few negative chapters in their Australian story.
The 1980s, however, marked a shift as ‘wogs’ became recognised as Caucasian Europeans and the phrase adopted a ‘tongue in cheek’ connotation in Australian colloquial discourse. That, or Australia found new races to vilify.
To answer Peter Hellier’s question, the term ‘wog’, in contemporary Australia, has fetishised being of Mediterranean descent. But that doesn’t make it less offensive or accessible.
The way it has materialised in entertainment has contributed significantly to the lax culture that surrounds the use of the phrase. In rap music, racial slurs targeted toward African cultures have been reclaimed and appropriately used solely by people of that race, but ‘wog’ didn’t take this path. ‘Wog’ materialised as a punchline at the end of listless, ironic jokes, repeated by a cross-section of cultures. ‘Wog boys’ and ‘Superwogs’ alike united to amplify the prejudicial stereotype and reclaim it comedically. Question is: did the joke stop with wogs or not?
The phrase has been used both by me and towards me, mostly in an endearing light. As one of the only ethnic girls in my high school (#northshorelife), it was almost a badge of honour that amplified my pseudo-exotic edge — the Messina salted caramel white chocolate in a vat of Connoisseur Vanilla. Frankly, the one time I was called a “greasy wog” did nothing but make me reconsider my skincare routine. I wondered though, in the few times friends have called me a wog as an endearing epithet, how well it would go down if I turned around and used ‘nip’ or ‘kike’ in the same “friendly” light.
People (mostly white) have rationalised the use of the term by citing the Caucasian race bracket that wogs fall under. It’s a European slur that can be claimed by all European people. This fails to remember its racist origins for people who are specifically Mediterranean.
Using the term ‘wog’ falls in this blurred middle ground. It doesn’t bear the same stigmatised use as slurs inclined towards African, Asian and Latino cultures, yet it doesn’t hold the same endearing connotations as terms like “Yankee” or “Pommie”. ‘Wog’ faces a complex duality, both as a pejorative in nature as a ‘pet’ name of sorts.
Either way, you’re welcome to wear the tracksuits, you’re welcome to smash kebabs. But as far as the status of the word in 2017 is concerned, leave the phrase to us.