I remember the first time I tried it. I had heard about other people doing it, and I knew that a few of my friends used it from time to time, but I thought it was stupid at first. I looked down my nose at people who occasionally did it at parties or in social situations.
I watched some of the best black writers in the world succumb to it, but I considered myself better than that. I was stronger than that. I was an educated man who didn’t fall for peer pressure or groupthink. I was too good for that.
Then I tried it.
Like most people’s first time, it was late at night, I was home alone and I thought I’d try it just to see what the fuss was all about. “I’ll only use it this one time,” I reasoned with myself, but that’s not how addiction works.
The first time I used it, my fingertips tingled, as if God were giving me a high five, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I had never felt that high before, and I knew I was addicted.
Hello, my name is Michael Harriot, and I’m addicted to the word “wypipo.”
I was just a casual user in the early days. I’d do it once or twice a week just to have a little fun. It made me feel like I was one of the cool kids because everyone was doing it back in those days (2016). Before I knew it, it became a habit. I’d sprinkle a few in essays and do a few lines in news pieces. It made me feel funny and rebellious. Plus, I liked the way wypi—no, I must be strong—I liked the way Caucasians got upset about the word.
Even though it bothers some people, I didn’t consider it a slur because not all white people are wypipo. There is a specific kind of person it refers to—which is why I didn’t take full responsibility for my actions. My addiction wasn’t all my fault.
What else was I supposed to call the people who saw 233 black people die from police shootings last year but called Black Lives Matter a “hate group”? How was I expected to refer to the people who watched young white males commit more mass shootings than all other groups combined but who sat at home worrying about ISIS and Muslims? You give me another name that fits the ones who watched the rising online white supremacy movement radicalize a man and inspire him to kill nine people in cold blood at a Charleston, S.C., church’s Bible-study meeting and say, “You know what probably caused this? That flag.”
How about a name for the white women who all screamed that they were “with her” but sneaked behind the curtains of the voting booth and cast ballots for Trump? How about the pussy-hat wearers? The Confederate flag wavers. The Beckys mad at Beyoncé. The people who voted for the “kill Obamacare” candidate who are now outraged that he is going to kill Obamacare. I found something that so adequately described them all and I wasn’t supposed to use it?
Plus, I live and work in an environment where people use it all the time. I’m not a snitch, but I’ve seen other people at my job using. They might not be as bad as I am, but all I’m saying is—if they had tested me before they hired me, perhaps they would’ve known about my problem.
Things finally hit rock bottom a few days ago. I was in New York for three days straight, staying at an Airbnb in Harlem. When I hopped off the plane in Atlanta, I drove straight to a Walmart parking lot just to watch the wypi ... just to watch them walk into the store in their flip-flops and shorts (because there is nothing more enduring than white people’s dedication to wearing shorts in the winter). As I sat in my car getting my fix, I rolled up the windows, turned up the music, and whispered the word over and over again.
I knew I needed help.
Yesterday my co-workers sat me down and had an intervention. I knew it was coming, and I am thankful for their help. They promised that they would stand with me as I go through this 12-step rehabilitation program. So you might be seeing less of the word on The Root in the coming weeks. I can’t promise that we’ll stop using it all the time.
Don’t worry; we are not going cold turkey. Maybe we’ll use one in the evening to help us relax, and at company parties. Everything in moderation—as they say. We will search for other terms to wean ourselves off our addiction. I prefer my creation “Y.P. Pull,” but some feel it’s too formal. So if you see us using terms like “the taupe population,” “un-African Americans” or “people of no color,” now you know who we’re talking about.
As I embark on this journey, please do not think I am getting soft. I remain ever vigilant against those who whine about the offensiveness of Leslie Jones’ comedy and the people who want to make America great again. We are all still watching the Birkenstock and Umbro wearers, and if something crazy happens, like ... well, you know how they do, I can’t promise I won’t start using again.
I’m just taking this one day at a time.