Hipster Racism: ‘Irony’ and the Lingering Cultural Capital of Racism
In articles popularized by Think Progress and Jezebel earlier this month the notion that racism has become primarily an underground enterprise is becoming a conversation piece. The idea isn’t a new one. Racialicious author Carmen Van Kerckhove named hipster racism one of top race and pop culture trends back in 2006. Renewed talk on the topic comes as many discuss the HBO hit Girls and it’s treatment of ideas of privilege.
In that time the conversation has shifted from privilege to a sort of gentler coded language fueled by seemingly clueless comments and yes the insidious idea that not wanting to be racist makes everything you say somehow acceptable. The most common argument, made compellingly by Lindy West at Jezebel, is that those using irony as a way to ‘pretend’ to say or imply racist things has replaced explicit expressions of bigotry past. Anecdotal examples often include those who become upset they can’t use the n-word for “literary” reasons and the idea that American racism is over because Barack Obama is president.
Since as a country it has become unacceptable to say racist things in a public forum racism has gone underground. Ironically saying offensive things you’re supposedly too smart to believe is the new norm. Turns out pretending and meaning are the same thing.
Here are a few strands of “ironic racisms” that have become new again in the past few months.
Criticism of Girls a show set in NY that features virtually no minority character major or otherwise can seem overblown. A product of a story of privilege is that it takes a privileged point of view. What you don’t expect is that a writer of the show, Lesley Arfin, shares the same limited viewpoint. In response to criticism she responded by tweeting:
She tweeted an apology two days later stating, “Without thinking, I put gender politics about race and class. That was carless. The last thing I wasn’t is girls vs. girls” and then deleted the apology. It’s not the first time she’s been caught in a similar scandal. On her website she posted guide to being a groupie in which she states, “That Which Shall Not Be Named: You Know, ‘dropping off the kids’ or ‘taking Obama to the White House.” Classy.
Jessica Coen the twenty five year old Gawker editor offended many when she trotted out this little ditty in the same week Jezebel wrote their hipster racism article. Not surprisingly it looked like the company was a bit tone death.
When A. J. Daulerio another Gawker Media employee posted a short, but whiny post about the backlash to Gawker’s new comments system. In it he proclaimed, “Change is disruptive. Change makes old things go away. Boo, change. We’ll deal,”. In the end he concluded, “I’m just trying to build sturdy branches for us to chat on. Let’s go be a fun family of talking birds on branches in the comments and have a meaningful Native American Chit-Chat. Come, come.” Not only is that metaphor hard to follow the inclusion of three black birds with feather headbands did little to help.
Luckily a member of Native Appropriations responded with a quick and witty rebuke.
Sarah Silverman. This example doesn’t require much more explanation, but I’ll provide a popular one. The comedian use of racial and sexual epithets is a huge component of her act. Most notably she got in trouble with the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and other watchdog groups when she told a joke on Late Night with Conan O’Brien about trying to get out of jury duty: ““My friend is like, ‘Why don’t you write something inappropriate on the form, like “I hate chinks”?’…I didn’t want them to think I was a racist, but I did want to get out of jury duty so I wrote ‘I love chinks’—and who doesn’t?”—and refused to apologize.
This fresh take on an old conversation may seem repetitive, but the fact that it’s happening within a generation that prides itself on it’s tolerance may lead to more than just words.
What are your take on the idea of hipster racism? Hysteria, an epidemic, or something in between?
(Photo credit: ben5000 Flickr)