Jezebel's Guide to 'Hipster Racism' Examined: Is 'Thug' Off-Limits?

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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.'"

Agreed.

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.


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6 comments
fburns2012
fburns2012

The obsessive hand-wringing of the left over what's "acceptable"when it comes to race never ceases to amuse.  And as for hipsters, well,if they're mocking something then that something has to be pretty okay,since hipsters are about the most pathetic form of human being on theplanet, with the only possible exception being wiggers.

Jack Foreigner
Jack Foreigner

I get the idea, but I also think it's all rather much ado over not much at all.

Yeah, "white" covers of "black" songs are done in such a way as to sound more like what many whites tend to appreciate as being most musical, thereby implicitly suggesting that black music isn't as musical...but so what?

That's only like black churches using Black Jesus iconography.  Big deal.

Might as well fault people for wanting things in a more familiar format: fault folks for being human, tending to stay within their comfort zones.

Yawn.

Itzli ehekat
Itzli ehekat

"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."

Really? For people who are victims of overt and covert racism on a daily basis, turning on the tv and watching predominantly white actors, experiencing racial profiling by police, knowing that jails are disproportionately filled with young men of color, etc. On top of all that you still want someone to take the time to teach you and others how to "pull of[f] covers without racially offending"! Is there no responsibility for privilege here? How about taking time to learn about issues affecting people of color and how whiteness can be used to attempt at leveling the playing field.

Dana Perin
Dana Perin

Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problemwill be solved when the third world pours into EVERY White country and ONLYinto White countries.

Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY Whitecountry and ONLY White countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with allthose non-Whites.

What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would besolved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY blackcountry and ONLY into black countries?

How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACEproblem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kindof psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocideagainst my race, the White race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agreethat I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-White.

Anti-racist is a code word for anti-White.

HipsterApproved
HipsterApproved

Oh come on...a white person covering a black person's song is racist? That's just ridiculous.

I also don't think 'thug' is a racist word either. To me a thug is a criminal. Any race.

There is one example I can think of. The book 'Stuff White People Like'. If you read the book, the author Christian Lander says there are wrong kinds of white people, and blacks, Asians, and Hispanics can be 'white' by how they act. I believe the term he should have used was 'hipster' instead of 'white'. So the title would be 'Stuff Hipsters Like'. It IS a very good book if you have not read it...

zukgod
zukgod

@Dana Perin Re: genocide - I don't think that word means what you think it means.

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