“Mau-mauing” refers to a process that Tom Wolfe described in his essay, “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers”. In it, members of minority groups use guilt to force majority members to give them money and power.
Brothers like Chaser were the ones who perfected mau-mauing, but before long everybody in the so-called Third World was into it. Everybody was out mau-mauing up a storm, to see if they could win the victories the blacks had won. San Francisco, being the main port of entry for immigrants from all over the Pacific, had as many colored minorities as New York City. Maybe more. Blacks, Chicanos, Latinos, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, American Indians, Samoans–everybody was circling around the poverty program. By the end of 1968 there were eighty-seven different groups getting into the militant thing, getting into mau-mauing.
…Black people began to realize for the first time that the white man, particularly the educated white man, the leadership, had a deep dark Tarzan mumbo jungle voodoo fear of the black man’s masculinity. This was a revelation. For two hundred years, wherever black people lived, north or south, mothers had been raising their sons to be meek, to be mild, to check their manhood at the front door in all things that had to do with white people, for fear of incurring the wrath of the Man. The Man was the white man. He was the only man. And now, when you got him up close and growled, this all-powerful superior animal turned out to be terrified. You could read it in his face. He had the same fear in his face as some good-doing boy who has just moved onto the block and his hiding behind his mama and the moving man and the sofa while the bad dudes on the block size him up.
So for the black man mau-mauing was a beautiful trip. It not only stood to bring you certain practical gains like money and power. It also energized your batteries. It recharged your masculinity. You no longer had to play it cool and go in for pseudo-ignorant malingering and put your head into that Ofay Pig Latin catacomb code style of protest. Mau-mauing brought you respect in its cash forms: namely, fear and envy.
What makes mau-mauing interesting is that it is not only pragmatic. In fact, most of its appeal comes from the ability to triumph over an adversary, even if in trivial ways. Much as diversity guarantees that one group will be on top and be resented by the rest, mau-mauing relies on one group being on top and the thrill one gets from setting that group into a lower place:
…The Flak Catcher is still staring at them, and his shit-eating grin is getting worse. It’s like he knows the worst is yet to come … Goddamn … that one in front there … that Pineapple Brute …
“Hey, Brudda,” the main man says. He has a really heavy accent. “Hey, Brudda, how much you make?”
“Me?” says the Flak Catcher. “How much do I make?”
“Yeah, Brudda, you. How much money you make?”
Now the man is trying to think in eight directions at once. He tries out a new smile. He tries it out on the bloods, the Chicanos, and the Flilipinos, as if to say, “As one intelligent creature to another, what do you do with dumb people like this?” But all he gets is the glares, and his mouth shimmies back into the terrible sickening grin, and then you can see that there are a whole lot of little muscles all around the human mouth, and his are beginning to squirm and tremble … He’s fighting for control of himself … It’s a lost cause …
“How much, Brudda?”
Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram–they keep beating on the floor.
“Well,” says the Flak Catcher, “I make $1,100 a month.”
“How come you make so much?”
“Wellllll”–the grin, the last bid for clemency … and now the poor man’s eyes are freezing into little round iceballs, and his mouth is getting dry–
“How come you make so much? My fadda and mudda both work and they only make six hundred and fifty.”
Oh shit, the cat kind of blew it there. That’s way over the poverty line, about double, in fact. It’s even above the guideline for a family of twelve. You can see that fact register with the Flak Catcher, and he’s trying to work up the nerve to make the devastating comeback. But he’s not about to talk back to these giants.
“Listen, Brudda. Why don’t you give up your paycheck for summer jobs? You ain’t doing shit.”
It is ego-warfare at its most primal. And yet, this is how most people behave. We see this in the LA riots, Ferguson, Baltimore, even American foreign aid. If you have more than others, they will use guilt to induce you to give it to them. But their actual motivation is to humble you because they resent you for having risen above the rest of humanity which, quite honestly, normally dwells in poverty, filth, dysfunction and misery because of its own inability to act forcibly toward a positive end result.