W.M.A. stands for "White Male American" In Pearl Jam - The Illustrated Story, Eddie Vedder explained: "I think I'd probably stayed at the rehearsal studio the night before and it had been a couple of days since I had a shower and I've got my old shoes on and I don't look too great, a little grunge on my teeth or whatever. And I'm sitting there with this guy who's of a darker color than me, and along come these cops, they run around with their bikes trying to look cool. So here they come, they're heading straight for us. And they just ignored me and [started] hassling him. Compared to me, this guy looks as respectable as f--k. But they started hassling him, and that just blew me the f--k away. So I started hassling them and one thing led to another... I was just really wound up by it. I had all this f--king energy rushing through me. I was mad. Really f--king angry. I got back to the studio and the guys had been working on this thing and I just went straight in and did the vocals, and that was the song."
The liner notes for Vs. show newspaper clips telling the story of Malice Green, a black man who died after being arrested.