Jezebel's Guide to 'Hipster Racism' Examined: Is 'Thug' Off-Limits?
Jezebel's Lindy West has just weighed in on hipster racism, joining the ranks of many who have recently felt compelled by Girls to comment on cool kids' ostensible obsession with all things white.
Now, most of the author's "complete guide" is pretty solid. Basically, West makes the argument that ironic racism -- people pretending to say or subtly implying racist things instead of actually saying them -- has replaced the more overt bigotry of the past.
Some examples cited by West include Navajo panties, white people getting upset that they can't use the n-word for "literary" reasons, and white people thinking that American racism in the U.S. is over because Barack Obama is president.
We totally buy these examples, and and fully agree that this kind of thinking is as smarmy as overt bias.
Here's the only section that seems like it needs a bit of clarification, the "Tee-Hee, Aren't I Adorable?" sub-category, which includes:
"things like wide-eyed acoustic covers of hip-hop songs, suburban white girls flashing gang signs, and this Tweet from Zooey Deschanel: 'Haha. :) RT @Sarabareilles: Home from tour and first things first: New Girl episodes I missed. #thuglife.' See, it's hilarious, because we aren't thugs -- we are darling girls, and real thugs are black people who do crime! Oh, hey, can I call you back? I need to sew more ric-rac on my apron. I hope a black person didn't get into my ric-rac Kaboodle and steal all of it! JK, LOL. RIP, Whitney."
Now, I had a convo with the Voice's (amazing, talented, and totally awesome) Maura Johnston about this (via Gchat, of course), because I was confused whether indie covers of hip-hop songs are outright racist.
(For example, I feel like Anya Marina's cover of T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" is ironic because she's tenderly singing a song about materialistic fucking, not because of race.)
She suggested that a lot of covers are racist because they privilege the predominately white rockist perspective -- that this take on the song is more "musical." This makes sense, and I'm totally down.
What I would have liked to see in Jezebel's take is a little bit more nuance -- examples of how to pull of covers without racially offending. Right now, though, it reads a little like a weird prescriptive.
A good example of white covers not being racist, Johnston tells me, would be Weird Al.
"'White and Nerdy' is sort of a great example of how to be a white person covering a hip-hop song and not be a dick or do a version of anyway, because he respects the form and is actually a good rapper. And yeah, part of the joke is that this nerdy guy can lay down these rhymes but at the same time, he's not like 'Well i'm going to make this MORE MUSICAL.'"
But here's what I'm not 100 percent down with: the notion that "thug" is somehow off-limits. What the author does not make clear is whether "thug" is inherently racially loaded -- whether it is offensive regardless of context (as the n-word is). "Thug," which comes from Hindi and Urdu origins and means "thief," can be used in a way that is racially offensive, but I think a conversation needs to be had as to whether it is actually a pejorative term toward a certain group of people in all cases.
If that's the case -- and the definition of "thug" can't be disentangled from racism -- then no, it shouldn't be used. If it's just that linguistic shifts in American English have made it offensive in some contexts, however, then we should avoid those situations.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.