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Hipster Racism: ‘Irony’ and the Lingering Cultural Capital of Racism

May 24, 2012

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)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. NDN Love permalink
    June 5, 2012 1:39 AM

    Maybe it is just Hipster over sensitivity. Because although I can see the flip and faux racial spin. I just don’t see why anyone truly cares what any of those people say.

    • Brittani Haywood permalink*
      June 5, 2012 9:07 AM

      I don’t necessarily agree, but I appreciate the comments. I’m glad this could be a conversation starter.

  2. Gabriella permalink
    June 5, 2012 6:22 PM

    Maybe It’s just growth pains from an expanding sense of unity? But “hipsters” or “white people” or “internet journalists” or whomever might be making a comment on or against any gender/race/sexual orientation should take into account whether or not that comment is helpful, true, or conducive to any type of discussion from which either party are likely to derive anything positive. I don’t think there is any reason to comment on such personal and deeply felt subjects otherwise. As for people who feel shitty when someone makes an ignorant racial comment like “I don’t get why I can’t use the N-word”, why not just say “It makes me uncomfortable when you evoke hundreds of years of the subjugation of my ancestors with that word.” Seems like a solid answer to me…

    • Brittani Haywood permalink*
      June 5, 2012 8:29 PM

      Thanks for the comment. I definitely see the value in having that conversation, but it does imply that everyone involved be open to it as well. I hope discussions spurred by stories on this sub culture (which is not a blanket term simply for white americans by any means) will help further that openness.

      • Brittani Haywood permalink*
        June 10, 2012 5:33 PM

        Thanks so much for commenting! I really appreciate you joining in the conversation.

  3. thui permalink
    November 14, 2012 3:45 PM

    Hipster racism is epidemic, here’s a great example: “Banh Mi Love You Long Time” is the name of a new bike-powered ‘vietnamese’ popup dinner event.

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