hipster racism

This is a good article. The tone and subject matter border a bit on what I find annoying about stuffwhitepeoplelike (the overly self-aware self/race-loathing), but a lot of it hits pretty close to home.

I just saw this exchange on twitter:

[radleybalko] Acoustic covers of rap songs? Racist. And most jokes. And visiting ethnic neighborhoods. You're keeping a list, right? http://t.co/lJKvvcDZ
[@GeeDee215] @radleybalko eh, i think she's referring to the mocking tone that those covers so often take.
[@jbouie] @GeeDee215 @radleybalko right, quite a few of those covers come with a weird sense "isn't this so quaint?"
[@radleybalko] .@jbouie @GeeDee215 Sure. But it's hardly racist. It's like when a punk band covers a country song. Or a bluegrass band does Slayer.

The problem here, as I pointed out on twitter, is that it's not quite the same thing because the phenomenon is far, far more pervasive than a bluegrass band doing a quirky cover. There's practically an entire genre of white people being oh-so-hilariously not-black.

I had a conversation recently with someone about the similar/intertwined phenomenon of white girls throwing gang signs and acting mock-gangsta (as observed in the above jezebel article). I was finally able to narrow down what it is about this that makes it so incredibly annoying. Basically: it's racist as shit. But it's a very insidious and clever sort of racism. It's racism couched in the language of self-deprecation. Ha ha, look at me! I'm so not black! It's hilarious self-deprecation, so it's okay, right? But it's not, really. All it is, really, is a clever re-hash of overt mockery of an Other -- in this case, black people and culture. And this whole phenomenon is inextricably linked with the mock hiphop/gangsta thing. It was sortof funny, possibly, the first time a white person covered NWA with an acoustic guitar, you know, in 1996. Maybe. Now it's a horse that's been beaten to a pulp. A racist horse!

I'm not saying anyone that has thrown a gang sign or imitated Tupac (i do a really good tupac impression*) is a sheet-wearing cross-burner, but you should think about what you're doing anyway and maybe not do it.

* No I don't.

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  • http://twitter.com/IAmRoot Roger X

    I respecfully disagree with you.  Dave Chappelle would often put on whiteface and mock white people on his show. I laughed my ass off. Am I now a racist for thinking he was funny?  Which “other” am I a part of?  I think it is the open cultural tweaking of ALL stereotypes that helps cultural (including racial) progress in this country. It’s the context that matters. Music and humor are contexts meant to explore any and all ideas, and should be scrutinized, to be sure — but the de facto position “these white hipsters singing hip hop are mocking black people” is short-sighted when it’s cultural tweaking – EVERYBODY is an “Other” of some form or another.  Exploring otherness in a humorous, even as you say, mocking way, is not on its face racist– in fact I contend, again, it is necessary for ending “Other”ness.  It may be in poor taste, it may deserve to be discussed, called out.  But you can’t say, in effect, that one group of people has no freedom to tweak any cultural stereotypes… without hurting the marketplace of ideas and setting back the grand, open discussion of society about 50 years.  We’ve moved beyond that simplistic point of view. It’s more nuanced now. It’s getting better. We need to keep sticking with that.

  • http://womenshealthnews.wordpress.com/ RachelW

    I think saying “Dave Chappelle did it, too” pretty well ignores the power dynamic and predominant directionality of racism being explored here. See also: http://derailingfordummies.com/complete.html#playfair 

  • Freeman

    The same herd girls flashing gang signs today would have been dying their hair black and trying to act all Pat Benetar, if they grew up in the 80s.  Thug culture just happens to be this generation’s version of cool.  If it’s doing anything for culture relations, it’s helping it—granted, in a twisted sort of way.  But black culture is no longer the “other” that the dominant culture defines itself against.  It’s now the cool thing to embrace and racism is becoming the un-enlightened “other” to be rejected.  Flaws?  Sure.  Progress?  Definitely.  I still remember a time when MTV wouldn’t play any black artists.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/U2VHFV2LOEN3RXJLDSU4VPGQCA Scissor

    Actually, you know where the real racism is? In this article. In the same old, “This is our thing and your skin color means you can’t be part of it” racism that’s always existed. That’s where the racism is.