Who You Calling a Bama? People from D.C. know "bama" is just another word for fool.

Chris Costa may have been branded a racist recently. Or maybe not. It’s hard for him to tell at this point. The only thing Costa knows for sure is that two weeks ago, he was fired from his job at Buca di Beppo in Dupont Circle. And that the firing was connected to him using a word folks don’t hear much outside the D.C. area: “’Bama.”

A 32-year-old white guy, Costa says he was training to be a waiter at the eatery when things went awry. “I was trying to do my thing,” he says. Sitting in a booth at the end of his shift, Costa was shocked when two enraged coworkers burst out of the back and began screaming at him. He had set a table wrong. “I think I used too many spoons,” Costa recalls. Apparently, standards at the Italian restaurant chain are so high, his two fellow employees—who he calls kids in their early 20s—couldn’t abide it. “They’re just all up in my face,” Costa says. Spoon placement wasn’t that big a deal to Costa, so he yelled back. “You two are acting like a bunch of ’Bamas!”

The phrase hushed the room. “What is that?” one of the infuriated colleagues asked. Costa didn’t feel the need to explain. “You’re just acting like a ’Bama,” he said. “Fuck you, man,” said one of his co-workers. “I’ll take you outside!”

It never came to that. Costa managed to defuse the situation, and everyone went home. He forgot about it.

Two days later, Costa arrived at work, only to be ordered to clear out. The reason why? “I heard you called him a ’Bama,” a manager told him. The manager asked if it was a racial slur.

A confused Costa explained he wasn’t being a racist. Later, when he thought about the people he had called ’Bamas—a blonde white guy and a light-skinned Salvadoran—he was even more confused. (A supervisor at the restaurant confirmed that the incident happened but had no further comment.)

What had happened, apparently, had only a little to do with race, and a lot to do with geography and local culture. As an insult, ’Bama originated in the District’s black community—but it doesn’t only refer to black people, and unlike a certain word starting with “N,” it’s not the kind of thing white folks shouldn’t be throwing around. If you’re from around here, you probably already know ’Bama is just another way of calling someone out; a ’Bama is a fool, a punk, a herb, someone who simply doesn’t get it.

Unfortunately for Costa, it seemed the people in charge at Buca di Beppo didn’t know any of that.

By the time Costa got fired for using it, ’Bama had been around for quite some time, and its meaning and use had changed. Most likely, the word was first used to put down recent arrivals to D.C.’s black neighborhoods from southern states—especially Alabama, says cultural anthropologist and long time Smithsonian staffer John Franklin. “It’s had currency over several generations,” Franklin says. It was a way of calling someone a black hick: “There was some disdain for people who didn’t live in the city and weren’t sophisticated.” The word had particular weight during the Great Migration, when many African Americans left the rural South for northern cities. Then, the point was to differentiate the newer arrivals from the longtime Washingtonians—who worried that the countrified Southerners flooding the District would reflect badly on the whole community. It was, essentially, the way D.C.’s black residents called one of their own a redneck. (Around the same time, German Jews who had already been in the U.S. for a few decades coined their own slang term to put down their less sophisticated Russian and Polish cousins—and thus, “kike” was born, only becoming a generalized ethnic slur afterwards.)

Eventually, ’Bama lost most of the geographic connotations it once had, and melted into just another piece of regional slang. Even white kids like Costa learned what it meant, picking it up by osmosis from the culture around them. Costa says his own definition of ’Bama is that it refers to a person who is “stupid.” He spent most of his life in the Baltimore-Washington area, and says he and his friends grew up using “the B-word” all the time.

If Costa had taken a job at Marvelous Market in Georgetown instead of Buca di Beppo, he might still be working. Dressed in orange T-shirts and black slacks, the predominantly black staff there on a recent Saturday seems to have a good handle on the word and its nuances. “We might see him and he not dressed like us, we might be like, ‘He a ’Bama,’” says 27-year-old D.C. native Kimberly Kenner. Saying the word seems to make her crack up. She hunches her shoulders and a big smile lights across her face.

Whether you’re a ’Bama is strongly linked to your sense of style. (Or lack thereof.) When Kenner challenges Jirard Goudeaus to define the word, the lanky, dreadlocked 22-year-old, who grew up in LeDroit Park, paints a picture: “Say you got a suit on but you got some sandals and socks,” he says—that’s ’Bama. So is “wearing T-shirts that come down to your ankles.”

But it’s not just a matter of clothing. “I mean, you can be a ’Bama for anything,” explains Goudeaus. It can mean being rude, ignorant or awkward. “Someone comes in and starts gettin’ real loud and gettin’ to cussin’,” says Kenner, “that’s ’Bama.”

That sounds close to Costa’s situation. And when Goudeaus hears about the incident, he’s amused. “They didn’t know what the word meant,” he says of the Buca di Beppo bosses. “That’s irony,” he says, upon being told Costa was suspected of racism. Both residents say ’Bama has nothing to do with race or even being from the South. They say a white person can use the word, though it might sound a little funny.

“D.C. people got they own lingo,” says Kenner. “If you ain’t hip to it, you can be left behind.”

And maybe that’s it. Maybe Costa’s coworkers had the distinct feeling of being left behind, and that somehow felt as offensive and dirty as racism. As one of the nation’s most rapidly gentrifying cities, D.C. would seem to be on the battlefront of an urban American feud. And maybe it’s not between “black and white” or “rich and poor.”

Maybe it’s between the non-’Bamas and the ’Bamas. The people who get it, and the people who don’t.

That fight plays out all over the city, all the time. And sure, it overlaps plenty with the other ones (especially those having to do with race, which in D.C. also tend to be the ones having to do with wealth). But it doesn’t have to.

What defines the terms of the ’Bama vs. non-’Bama battle is a little more diffuse. You might be a ’Bama if you wear sandals with your suit. But you’re definitely a ’Bama if you move to the District and suddenly set about trying to make it conform to whatever image you have of the way life should be, without paying any attention to the way life actually is here already.

If ’Bama refers to anyone in D.C., categorically, it’s to those newcomers who refuse to adjust to the life and culture that has sustained the District for years, existing alongside—but not necessarily a part of—the federal city. Yes, lower crime rates and nice parks are great, but so is knowing how to get along, how to subscribe to the collective conventions that make District life easier. You don’t turn on a fellow worker at a service job, or steal a bench from the homeless (as happened last year on Capitol Hill), or freak out about the nostalgic tunes piping from ice cream trucks (as some Hill East residents did earlier this spring). If you do—that’s just ’Bama.

When Alex Joseph, 30, who’s been in D.C. for a year, tries to join in on the Marvelous Market conversation, he’s outed immediately. He defines ’Bama as “a sorry person.” Evidently, that’s not quite right. Goudeaus and Kenner scoff at him. “He’s a ’Bama for not knowing,” says Goudeaus.

Our Readers Say

classism is the worst of all ism. Why?It keeps the divide going and helps Willie Lynch dick stay firm.
And then there was the guy who was proud to be called a "Bama," Jerry Washington who played blues on WPFW for years and I was there every Saturday to listen to his music and his jokes.
"They call me the Bama," he said. When he died in 1994 it was big news in DC. Google his named and you'll see the NY Times obit.
Chris Costa is a weirdo. I met him way back and he definately has anger management issues and issues with people of color. Just saying, most people try to avoid him.
I grew up in DC so over the last decade i begain to notice that the entire city is BAMA'S.When the city started changing with the new development,BAMA'S took over...look Fenty for example.
This guy is a whack job I agree, met him a few times and he could DEFINITELY use some anger management and other forms of help. I would keep your distance, could snap like a rubber band!
Chris Costa is definitely fine with "people of color". That is a complete non-issue.
I was born and raised in DC.
I've lived here for 50 years.
Let me set this straight.

A 'Bama" is a country bumpkin, black or white, from a southern state like AlaBAMA.
Doesn't know how to match his clothes.
Speaks with a thick drawl etc.
Doesn't know the ways of the city.
that nigga Chris crazy
Why is this a story?
This whole article is ridiculous. I'm proud to be a bama.. aka a graduate and supporter of the University of Alabama. Go Bama! Roll Tide!!
haha @Fitsum...you just summed up the ridiculous aspect of this event, with that comment.It's a shame it's gonna go over many a head.
well...in the l960s and 1970s...at Cardozo HS and Shaw Jr. High, in Washington, D.C. a "Bama" was a person from the south who dressed in "funny" colors...ie wearing purple and pink or red, orange and pink or whatever. It was a word used for fun...had nothing to do with intelligence. Another word that we used was that country folk were considered "country bumpkins," compared to "city slickers."
It does a disservice to Bamas to lump them with the new newcomers. They are not selfish, self-centered, and wanting everything their way. They are just country. Can't think of an equivalent word to summarize suburban gentrifiers.
chris costa is a good person so far as i have known him. let's not get all mean and attack him. anyone can pick apart what one person has done and make him/her seem like a good person or bad person- it just depends on how we want to spin it. regardless, we all deserve respect- whether bamas, non-bamas, the newcomers, or the displaced. i would ask that newcomers engage in more community service at least so that we can try to move beyond this other-ness. ask not what your taxed-without-representation gentrified district can do for you...
This incident is SO preposterous! How are you going to fire someone and not even know if the person used a racial slur or not? Just because the ignorant people at Buca Di Beppo didn't know what the word meant doesn't mean it was a racial slur. And why didn't this ignorant manager just google the term? I have read other people's posts. Even if this guy has anger management issues, that fact is that Bama is not a racial slur. Any one of any race can use it.
What is a bama? An ignorant word some ignorant person from DC came up with.

As if native Washingtonians have the goods on class and culture. Have you seen Solbiato or Coogi?
White people from DC know not to use the word Bama. come ON.

Bama is not a polite word to use in a workplace. That's the issue.

My elderly neighbors use the word "Country" in front of white people.

I remember guys in the 1980s having Bama Days at Howard where they dressed like goofy white nerds- thick glasses, black shoes (a real no-no in the white adidas 80s), button down short sleeve shirts. Sometimes they'd slick down and part their hair- when I saw it they were making fun of white people, really, people without their definition of soul.

Anyone else remember Bama Days or just me?
All this discussion and column inches, and not a single mention of Huggy Low Down????????

C'mon, ba-- er, C'mon, man!
He's a textbook example of borderline personality disorder.
'Bama is a term that transcends region; I'm from Cincinnati, lived 20 years in NYC, and folks both places use the term 'Bama. No, it's not racial, although I haven't often heard white folks using the term. To be 'Bama is to be ignorant, country, out of style, or otherwise wack - no matter what color you are.
@ #8 hahahahaha!!

BAMMA of da week, week, week, week, week!!!!!

and should be spelled with 2 Ms not 1!

somebody who is straight corny, tries entirely too hard, gooses girls, smokes and drinks everybody's shit but brings absolutely nothing to the table, talks too much and too loud, uncool, wishy washy, COUNTRY, unloyal, ANYTHING and WRECKLESS in nature, spirit and being; JUST A FUCKED UP INDIVIDUAL!!



@ SEis4ME #16

you must be a YOUNG BAMMA!!

Real DC dudes used to set the trends, from AF1s in 82, GEORGETOWN, Linia Piti suits, Britches, DIAMOND stud in left ear, Racket and Jog, Houstons, Hugo Boss, PEOPLE'S AFFAIR, SIR RODNEY, Tyson's and MADNESS!

Up until recently with the local young fashionistas who graced us with urban fab...SHOOTERS, ALL DAZ AND HOBO.....so fall back champ, COOGI is a southern thang and you ain't gotta clue!!

Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name whereof is called Bamah unto this day. - Ezek. 20:29
Youngins seem to be embracing the bama nowadays.
IE: Bladensburg High "bamma" day.
Costa is nuts plain and simple he was telling people he was going to kill them
Growing up just outside DC, 'Bama was used by a few of the heavy metal white kids as a put down about particular black kids. To me it has had a bit of a racial edge, though clearly others here didn't grow up with this. Bucca firing people while not knowing the word in question is shoddy.
Wow. Never known the term 'bama to be used as anything other than someone that's countrified.

Oh, well. At least white folks can be happy that a black guy got fired for "being racist." What a joke.
To all the sad human beings who chose to cowardly attack my character anonymously,I say unto thee...BAMA.BAMA.BAMA...
Wow! Too bad the young man was fired. I was introduced to the term before I lived here. When I attended Virginia State University, my college classmates who were from DC called anyone a 'bama' who did not have a sense of style or were not up on the trends and things that city folk are used to.
Wow, the whole point of the article is how ridiculous it is to be scream at, yelled at and belittled for something so asinine as putting too many spoons on a table. I like to eat at Buca di Beppo, but if there managers do not know how to treat their employees, I will not go there again. Screaming and yelling at people is no way to manage and it shows lack of respect for each human being. They truly are BAMAs and they need to go to manager training to learn how to communicate....
To make the story more juicy they should point out that Chris Costa used to be a skinhead. This is true, just ask him.
For the record: some of the descriptions given above for bama, bamma, or BAMA are spot on, and other are drastically misguided. The use of the term and its very definition have evolved just like everything else has over the years. Almost anything that is deviant for socially acceptable norms in this particularly area can be considered by the "long-time" inhabitants of this area as "bama".

Some examples of being bama, bamafied, bama-ass, etc... are:

Wearing clothes that don't match and are in no way aesthetically pleasing. (lack of swagger)

Thinking that because you live in the city now you have rights and privileges above and beyond other long-time inhabitants.

Pretending to know the meaning and proper usage of the term bama when you do not have a clue.

Not listening to Huggy Low Down on the Tom Joyner Morning Show on Friday mornings at 8:40am to get and idea of what the definition of bama is.

Growing up, we had an Alabama newspaper come to our junior high school to do a story on Bama day. Bama day, which was a major in most junior high school and high schools in the 90s, was a day to wear your ugliest outfit, mis match clothes, and just silly gear in general. We were so proud to show Alabama what we did on Bama day. None of us, ever correlated it with people from Alabama.. to me, it is just someone who is awkward and can't dress. Just Dc jargon for a loser. Well, the day after the story published in Alabama we started getting the hate mail. Telling us that we were racist, that we were ignorant. We were just kids in 7th to 9th grade having fun. But the hate mail was just awful. Now that i'm older, I understand why the Alabamans got mad and I don't care.. its a part of my life as a city girl and if people don't understand it the hell with you,YOU BAMA!
Huggy Low Down's "Bama of the week! Week! Week!" It begs the question: How many White people listen to the Tom Joyner Morning Show?

I'm not from here, but I'm Black, from the South, and have been here for almost 2 decades now. Attended HU. So I've known about that term for years now. Funny how White people are just now "discovering" the word and making it all shiny and new again. LOL! This whole article is hilarious. "Bamma" is yet another DC-based Black slang term that is confusing the White folks.

Look, y'all can use it, OK? Just make sure you say it right, when it's right.



It wouldn't surprise me if there were more to this story than the one side that City Paper presents. Chris Costa has a crazy temper. This isn't the first time he's gotten into a shouting match with fellow employees.
Who the hell is Chris Costa? Everyone else on this thread seems to know of him. Should I?
These folks definitely aint from DC.
We had a bamma day in high school where everyone just looked as trife as possible. Next article: break down trife.
Right or wrong, for what it's worth, I heard Bama all the time in Michigan, but never heard it uttered by someone white. Until this article, I had never thought about whether if I would be upset if someone white called me a Bama. I can't say, however, that I would somehow co-mingle the gravity of its use with that of the N-word.
I grew up just across the District Line in Bladensburg, MD in the 70's and 80's. Pretty much everyone in my neighborhood was a "bama". NBA brand sneakers, high-water pants, trying to look cool with a comb in the back pocket, trading metal valve caps for grape now & laters, feathered hair or nappy-headed. This talk about race and the word bama is bogus. A bama is simply someone who can't dress, has a weird sense of style ... maybe who acts a little country. That's it. Oh, I'm white. But I still know all the words to La-Di-Da-Di.
Ayy NOODLEZ, you missed one

"BAMA" as I learned it and as it was applied to me as a child was always, and I do mean always, proceed by these other 2 words: "...ass nigga." For the full effect, "'Bama-ass nigga." So for me personally, they weren't kind words. I've NEVER had a white person address me as Bama but if they did, I would definitely receive the term as a racial slur. Hey it was a racial slur coming from "my own people" so it's only natural, and wrong, not to think otherwise. This is why slurs of any sort of SO completely dangerous.
"Bama" started in DC in the early 1960s. It is derived from Alabama. It was used to describe people just up from the rural south. Someone described as "country" that might not be hip to fashion in the north, slang, and music. It was used to describe people who dressed in bright (loud) colors. It was never used as a racial slur.
Living in Atlanta, Georgia, I can recall using the word to describe persons who spoke with too much Southern drawl in their speech, or to someone from the bordering state of Alabama. Ever since the rise of the senator from Illinois, it has now affectionately been referred to as G`Obama!!!
A term that means to lift up the 1st President of these United States, with known African ancestry in his bloodline. GO BAAMMAAA!!!!
It's possible for white people to listen to the TJMS.

It's possible to find humor in Huggy Low Down's treatises on life.

It's also possible for white people to be bamas. Just ask Glenn Beck.
I grew up in suburban VA outside DC. In the mid to late 80s, we used the term Bama to refer to the black kids that beat us up on the bike path, punched us in the locker room, stole our skateboards, etc. Not as a catch-all term for all black people, but for the bullies that gave us skatepunks a hard time. Nowadays me and my friends from N.VA often address each other as Bamas. I guess we are Bamas for co-opting the term. Bamas Til The End.
A bama is a dude that sleeps on will's couch and he be all like "I missed da metro pick me up yo" What?!
This is funny these Bammas trying to figure out what Bamma means.
I really love threatening people, honestly. Not quite sure how this dumb ass newspaper published my story, but it was fun. All the Bamas watch out!
As a white guy growing up in Brandywine, Md. in the 60's I definitely knew what a bamma was. At that time and place it meant a countrified black person. It was funny for me to hear that insult thrown around and I never saw it causing any fights or anything. BTW....loved listening to Jerry Washington "The Bama". He was proud to be a bama.
#54. i did not write this.
this guy owes me money and writes bad checks on purpose.
Someone that I know from the DC area (male) called me gallery... He said "u up gallery"? What does that mean?
And for the record, Only a bamma would spell bamma with one "m". If you're from and/or grew up in the DMV, you would know that...bammas...

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