Racism is Vintage & Vintage is In
Updated: Jan 12
Racism is Vintage and Vintage is In
Hello, Today I am writing a true confession. A confession about something that festers and boils in the pit of my soul. For those of you who know me personally, you know that I am constantly screaming about my distaste... for uninformed white hipster culture. If you are a hipster, whether confessed or closeted, this post concerns you, and rather than turn away, I encourage you to read on. If you're not a hipster, awesome, but please keep reading because maybe you can lay down some truth on your hipster friends, because we all know you have at least one.
Hipsters represent everything I find irritating about popular American culture. We live in a world where those who have traditionally been in charge (read: white, cis-gender, middle/upper class people, mostly men) are beginning to feel their power and influence wane. We are beginning to see American defined as something other than blonde hair, blue eyes, American pie, and the white picket fence. And that scares the shit out of white people.
America is becoming a lot browner, a lot more multicultural in general, and many white communities are having a crisis of culture because their identity is not necessarily the status quo anymore. Of course, there is no single way to be white, and different white communities are handling the changing demographics in different ways. Some have embraced it, but many are struggling to figure out how they fit into this new paradigm. This fact is very much apparent within white, urban, 20-30 something circles.
We see these groups grasping for something and trying to insert themselves into a national conversation which sees them as increasingly irrelevant. Within their lifetime, young white people have witnessed non-white people gaining access to powers and privileges that in the past had been reserved only for the wealthiest and most racially privileged among us. In the past, middle class whites were mostly competing with upper-class whites, but now white people are competing with everyone, regardless of race. The idea of people of color accessing and in many cases, out pacing their white counterparts in terms of 21st century opportunities is still relatively new for a lot of folks.
The culture is changing and suddenly, being white and cis-gender isn't enough of a guarantee. Suddenly, it's hip to be a person of color, it's cool to have one's culture proudly displayed, its popular to say 'Black Lives Matter' and it's finally (more) OK to identify as gay, queer, non-conforming, and to demand that feminism be intersectional. Suddenly straight white people are being told to listen more and talk less. Suddenly being an upper middle class straight white person is, well... boring.
"I got too turnt! Hod my head-dress, I gotta puke in the port-o-potty real quick!"
Firstly, I think we need to define what a 'hipster' actually is. There's the Wiki definition which is describes them as "a contemporary subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers that's associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, Apple products, liberal or independent political views, alternative spirituality and alternative lifestyles."
One of the biggest aspects of hipster culture, in my view, is their liking of 'indie' music, magazines, movies, and blogs. They use the word 'mainstream' to define anything that is too popular among their peers, and therefor not 'cool.' While highly educated and financially able to live a life of comfort, most hipsters forgo the classic symbols of their middle class upbringing and instead appropriate the symbols of lower class people as a form of camouflage so they can more easily navigate spaces where their whiteness may otherwise be unwelcome. Hipsters are also defined by their liking of non-white cultural motifs such as aspects of Native American and African tribal cultures as well as nostalgic motifs such as 60's or 70's style clothing.
Hipsterism, despite being defined by "progressive" political and religious ideas, is actually a culture of exclusion. If you like the wrong music, or the wrong movies, or the wrong bits and pieces of popular culture, you are not welcome in their circles. Don't believe me? Tell a group of hipsters that you think Kim Kardashian is a smart business woman, or that you don't think the Beatles aren't all that great, or that you're not a fan of Bernie Sanders, and see if you get invited to the next ironic costume party. Try telling a hipster that you find his use of the nigger offensive. Try challenging the white hipster girl who says things like, "that's ghetto!" See what happens if you ask her to explain exactly what she means by that.
Challenge them, then watch as they pounce with weak justifications like, " You know what I mean!" Or, "why can't I say the word 'nigger'? I hear black people saying it all the time. That's just reverse racism!"
"I'm not racist, I'm just being subversive. If you're mad it's because you're too sensitive. Relax!"
But the only real thing you need to know about hipsters is that they lack cultural understanding and are incapable of acknowledging problematic, often offensive behaviors.
It is a subgroup that chooses to engage in willful ignorance about cultural ownership in exchange for elevated social capital among like-minded groups.
Hipsters of this ilk believe that being a modern liberal-progressive is enough to absolve them from having to take responsibility for their actions. Despite feeling like they're 'woke' they act like their colonial ancestors, and feel entitled to take anything that catches their eye and refuse to be told they can't have something that belongs to another race or culture. They feel entitled to pick and chose the elements they like from Native culture, like headdresses, or Mexican culture with Dia De Los Muertos images, or drums from various African cultures, as a way to express their own individuality. And if a member of one of these communities protests, they will simply roll their eyes and say, "Ugh, Native /Mexican /Black people are soooooo sensitive! God, at least we're paying attention to them..."
In fact, the worst thing you can call a hipster is racist, because breaking their self-constructed illusion that they're progressive, post-racial, and woke, is actually worse than whatever racist behavior they may have engaged in.
In their view, being called racist is worse than actually being racist. Hipsters will take a Dunun Drum from West Africa (they wont know it's call that, they'll just call it an African drum) and play it in a grassy field, and say the drum and its beats are apart of their cultural/personal expression. But they won't confront the political and social challenges many African nations face, or the struggle African immigrants face when coming to the US. They wont talk about how European invasion set the stage for the historical destruction and genocide, some of which is still, palpably, happening today. They have no interest in discussing how many African nations have suffered in the post-colonial era and they certainly wont bring up how their Dutch, French, English, etc. ancestors were responsible for unspeakable, unfathomable atrocities that have reverberated for over 600 years, affecting the lives of black people all around the world to this very day. That is all too messy. They just want the drum. But, they wont buy an authentic drum from a West African craftsman. They want to buy the drum from Urban Outfitters for $49.99 because that's WAY easier and doesn't require them to actually talk to a black person, or confront the culture they are appropriating, or force them to feel any guilt about what they are doing. There are a million places you can go to learn more about what cultural appropriation looks like, but I figure, since we're talking about it now, I'd give a quick rundown of what it is (and isn't).
"Dude, that burrito truck in the Mexican neighborhood off the highway is incredible, everything is so good! But I gave them 1 star on Yelp because they're all, "Ariba Ariba!" I don't speak Mexican, learn English!"
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group.
It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from what they had originally.
America is essentially a nation of appropriation, that is part of our 'melting pot' culture. But hipsters take America's lack of general sense about cultural ownership, and turn it into a fashion statement, and a commodity to be bought and sold. They turn other people's cultures, religions, beliefs, and histories, into 'cool' and 'uncool' based on what is trending. Essentially they want to decide which race or culture is "in" this season.
"This year, orange is the new red, chard is the new kale and Mexican is the new Indian. Get rid of that Sari, and put on your sombrero and ironic mustaches!"
Cinco De Mayo is, like, the Mexican St. Patrick's Day!
The issue with this mentality is that it makes people and their identities disposable. When some hipster tosses a $5 head-dress bought from a gas station gift shop in the garbage after wearing it at Coachella, they're demonstrating exactly what white culture thinks about Native culture. It's a costume - interesting for a while, but after a few Whiteclaws, it's ultimately inconvenient garbage. For a white guy who walks around in a shirt that says 'Thug Life,' it's just a shirt that ironically references cool street culture. But because he's white, he will never have to confront the deeply negative cultural and racial ramifications of the word 'thug'. Want to know who they called a thug? Trevon Martin and Mike Brown - two young black boys shot in the street by people who see black children and automatically think 'criminal,' regardless of what they're wearing. But for the white boy in the 'Thug Life' t-shirt, he isn't seen as a criminal, he wont be shot, his body wont lie in the street for hours. No - he's just being goofy, quirky and ironic.
"Hey bruh, I gotta stop thuggin' by 2, I need to meet my trust fund manager at my dad's office."
A lot of times, when called out, hipsters will vigorously defend their appropriation with comments like, "I'm 1/18th Cherokee," or "I have black friends!" But what they are really trying to do is shut down the conversation by presenting information that one, can't be verified, and two, shifts responsibility to someone else. "My black friends never complain, if you have a problem with what I've said, why don't you go talk to them about it... they'll back me up!"
Racist hipsters believe having even the slightest connection to the culture they are appropriating (a mysterious Native ancestor, a black friend, a second cousin adopted from Korea, an ex who was half Latina) gives them ownership rights to everything having to do with that culture - and by extension - the divine right to bastardize it for a fad or for profit.
Some of you at this point are probably saying: "I hear you, white hipster racism is the worst! But what about non-white hipsters? They exist, right?" Yes. They exist and non-white hipsters can be guilty of the same things as white hipsters when they adopt symbols of other people's cultures in the pursuit of being on trend. But many people from minority communities have their own culture that is deeply rooted in their everyday life. People of color are often too busy carrying out the rituals and expressions of their own culture to have any desire to start adopting the rituals and expressions of other cultures. While many minorities will adopt symbols of white culture (black women getting extensions, immigrants learning to speak without an accent, etc.) that isn't appropriation, it's assimilation to the dominant culture and for many people of color, assimilation is a matter of survival and safety, not fashion.
Minorities generally have a defined sense of what their culture is, because historically, white people have isolated non-white people into their respective racial and cultural boxes. Traditionally, minorities have their side of town and white people have theirs. But more and more, we see average white people wanting to come take a tour in places that they used to consider beneath them.
Suddenly, they want to visit the Mexican neighborhood's dank taco truck. They may think it's dirty and full of "illegals," they may treat the chef as below them, but the trip is worth it because they can get a sick Instagram pics - and that pic will never disclose that they joked about the "beaners" on their way home.
Now, they're interested in apartment hunting in the hood, because a white person renovating the old building in the projects can only improve the neighborhood, right? It was a crack house anyway (according to the Realtor who has 20% riding on this sale). When they purchase the property, it will never be disclosed that they reported innocent 12 year old black kids for playing outside, convinced they were involved in "suspicious behavior."
Suddenly the Reservation isn't invisible and they visit the gift shop off the highway and buy something beautiful to add to their eclectic $4,200 a month loft in the Bay Area. Of course, when they flip over the "Navajo inspired" pot and realize it was made in China, they'll just peel off the sticker and make up a story about a "medicine man" gifting it to them after smoking peyote at Burning Man.
They will visit the barrio, the ghetto, the Reservation, and Chinatown, stay for a while, take whatever looks good, then leave. When they bring their trinkets and photos back to show the other white folks, they will claim that they have discovered something brand new. But, as with all fads, eventually they'll get tired of this stuff, and the "Navajo" pot they loved 5 months ago will end up in the landfill with the rest of the plastic headdresses, and Miley Cyrus twerking videos, Buddha necklaces, and Lil' Wayne Halloween costumes.
The fact is - nobody, no matter their race, likes to feel like their culture is being misunderstood, bastardized, stolen, appropriated, or exploited. No one likes to see a meaningful aspect of their culture end up in the garbage. It's not reasonable to expect people of color to simply stop being offended when faced with white people who want to buy and sell cultural identity like Happy Meal toys. When someone does appropriate, either by accident or intentionally, it is up to the appropriator to readjust their thinking and behavior. Failing to do so IS racist.
It's not even all that hard... Here's a script, use it when you get called out!
You: *Did/said something racist/problematic*
Your Friend/Acquaintance: "Um..what you did/said is racist/problematic and it's kind of pissing me off... can you not?"
You: "Oh shit, I'm so sorry! Thanks for telling me - that probably wasn't easy since we're homies. But I swear I wasn't trying to be a dick. I'm gonna remember this and try not to make stupid mistakes like this again - can you forgive me and maybe give me some ideas on how I can celebrate this tradition/culture in a chill way?"
Your Friend/Acquaintance: "Psshh, obviously! No harm bro, I know you didn't mean it like that. We all make mistakes. But I couldn't let you walk around being a racist/problematic ass, not everyone likes you as much as I do! If you're really interested in [insert] culture, here are a few organizations I really like, and a dope ass artist who would really appreciate your business! OK - now, let's take a tequila shot!"
You: "Thank you for educating me. I wont do it again. Two shots of Patron please!"
(And just for the record, only people who care will call you out - so if you're being called out, especially by someone close to you, listen! They're giving you a gift. I get that it's hard to be criticized, especially if you thought you were making a joke, or if it's a misunderstanding, an accident, or something you didn't realize was a problem.
But if you apologize, say you won't do it again, and that you appreciate the opportunity to learn, people will immediately forget whatever it is you did and things will go right back to the way they were. If you lash out, double down, or pass the buck, people will remember not only that you said something super shitty, but that you had a huge fit over the whole thing too. To me, that's far worse than having to apologize for a stupid off color joke. I forget who said it, but someone wise once said "no one ever choked to death from swallowing their pride." All this isn't to say that people of different races can't enjoy the pieces of each others cultures. In fact, we should be actively celebrating each other's heritage, stories, histories, struggles and triumphs. But it's impossible to understand another culture if you don't actively engage with people on an honest and authentic level. Just having the 'thing' you want from Urban Outfitters, or H&M, or the New Age market without understanding what it is, where it comes from, and why it's significant, is not showing appreciation. It's just mindless consumerism of mass produced decorations for a low enough price that you don't need to care about it. But that thing you wont care about in a month may have importance to someone who does know what it is or where it comes from.
This is not a post to demonize white people in general, and I hope people don't see it that way. And it all leaves me with more questions than answers. Is this willful ignorance of people who just like pretty things and don't care where it comes from, what its meaning is, or who it offends? Is it this cultural crisis I mentioned earlier? Has the 20 -30 something culture completely failed at becoming the post-racial generation like they always predicted? Or am I just getting old? Do you think if we (POC and our allies) make enough noise about problematic and racist behavior, these hipsters will hear us and think about what they are doing? Or is apathy cool? Is racism 'ironically' cool too...
Racism is vintage, and vintage is in.