Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Racism is Vintage and Vintage is in (And other Hipsterisms) UPDATED 2/15


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 hatred of Hipsters, and 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 are 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 that is irritating about American youth culture, and what is wrong with our culture as a whole. We live in a world where white people 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.

"It's cool, man. It's just a joke! I love black people. I fucked a black girl once."

America is becoming a lot browner, a lot more multicultural in general, and white people are having a crisis of culture because their identity is not necessarily the status quo anymore. This crisis of culture has sent the white youth grasping for something. Why? Because the idea of guaranteed prosperity, privilege and success, that was promised to them, isn't working out. Suddenly non-white people are getting access to powers and privileges that in the past had been reserved only for upper middle class whites. Now, they aren't just competing with other white people, they are competing with everyone and the odds are stacked against them. Now, being white isn't ENOUGH of a guarantee to earn them what they believe they deserve or to get them to where they want to go.

**And just to keep some heads from exploding, I am not speaking about all white people, I am talking about HIPSTERS specifically, and I will get to non-white hipsters later.

"I look SO cultured right now. This headdress makes me look interesting and original."

What is the definition of a 'Hipster?' 

"A contemporary subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the late 1990s. The subculture is associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibilityApple productsliberal or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism and alternative lifestyles."

"I live in a upper class neighborhood, but I dress like I'm homeless because it expresses who I am."

What is a Hipster Really?

A hipster is a middle to upper middle class, generally of white (European/Scandinavian/Caucasian) descent. Hipsters are generally suburban or urban teenagers, twenty or thirty-somethings who lack a personal cultural identity. When asked what their heritage is they respond with, "I'm like German or Polish or something like that..." They are also associated with PBR, vinyl records, fixed gear bikes, and a hodge-podge of 'thrift store' style clothing which often upon closer inspection is actually just as expensive designer brands. 

Orange: Unwarranted self importance

One of the biggest aspects of Hipster culture is their liking of 'indie' music, magazines, movies, and websites. 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. Hipsters are also defined by their liking of non-white cultural motifs such as aspects of Native American and African tribal culture as well as nostalgic motifs such as 60's or 70's style clothing.

"Lol, the Holocaust, HILARIOUS! It's fine though, I went to a Bar Mitzvah when I was like 12."

Hipsterism, despite being defined by "progressive" political and religious ideas, is actually a culture of exclusion. If you like the wrong bands, 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 didn't think Twilight was that bad, or that you love tabloid magazines, or that you bought a SUV instead of a fixed gear bike, and see if you get invited to the next party. Try telling a hipster that you find his use of the N-word offensive or that he doesn't in fact know anything about 'ghetto' culture. Then watch him and all of his friends pounce on you saying something to the effect of, "I am just subverting what, is like, our preconceived notions about racial slurs. I mean why can't I say the word 'nigger' if I hear black people saying it all the time? REVERSE RACISM!" 

"I'm not racist, I'm just being really subversive. If you're mad it's because you don't get it!"

But the only real thing you need to know about hipsters, is that they are, as a culture, defined by their lack of cultural understanding, their inability to see how offensive appropriation is and their willful ignorance about cultural ownership really is. They are defined by their inability to engage in a real discussion when someone of a minority race takes issue with their behavior. They believe that being a modern progressive is enough to absolve them from having to take responsibility for their actions. They don't want to be told they are wrong. They don't want to be told that 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 then throw away anything they don't want or anything that doesn't support their narrow world view. 

They want to take the African drum and say it is apart of their culture, but they don't want to confront the poverty many African nations face or the struggle African immigrants face when coming to the US. Or the genocide happening in the Congo. That is all too messy. They just want the drum. But, they don't want to buy an authentic drum from an African craftsman. They want to buy the drum from Urban Outfitters because that doesn't require them to actually confront the culture they are appropriating or force them to feel any guilt about what they are doing. 

What does a Hipster Look Like?

There is a huge variety of hipsters, so here are some examples. Below is a very helpful guide for those who are not familiar with the general breakdown of Hipsterism.  It is a little dated, but it still works.

I think the 2006 and the 2008 versions are still around....

* Now, I think I should say this now, before fashionistas around the world start calling for my head. Let's be clear, just like Dave Chappelle said about ho's at the club, you can't assume someone is a certain way just because of the way they dress. So no, not everyone who likes to dress like a hipster, is a hipster. Hipsterism is a way of thinking and behaving, not necessarily a style, but they generally go hand-in-hand.

So, What's Wrong with Being a Hipster Anyway?

"Instagram that ish..."

Nothing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a hipster. We live in America (well I do), and if you want to be a hipster, you have 100% freedom to do just that. You are free to dress, and act any way you want. But, understand that having the freedom to do or say something, does not give you immunity from criticism. And when you walk around saying and doing things that offend others, especially minorities, you are going to hear about it, and it might not be pretty. 

What is So Offensive About Hipster Culture?

Besides the undeserved and unwarranted sense of self-superiority? Well, hipster culture is very much defined by its cultural appropriation. What is cultural appropriation?

"The burrito truck in that Mexican neighborhood is really good, it would be a lot better if they'd just speak 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.[1][2] It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and artreligionlanguage, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.

"It's funny because I'm not ACTUALLY an Islamic Fundamentalist, I'm really a rich white girl."

Now, America is essentially a nation of appropriation, that is part of our 'melting pot' culture. But hipsters take America's general lack of sense about cultural ownership, and turn it into a fashion statement, and a commodity to be bought and sold. They turn it into 'cool' and 'uncool' based on what is trendy. And to the white girl from Chicago, those adorable Navajo print bags she bought from Urban Outfitters are just 'things,' not a part of someone's cultural identity.

"Pocahontas is my favorite Disney movie! Actually it's the Little Mermaid, but I SAW Pocahontas..."

And when you toss that head-dress you bought from a gift shop on the ground after a long day wearing it at Pitchfork Music Fest, you are just demonstrating how white culture finds other cultures disposable. When they are done appropriating, they just toss everything aside, get out of their 'costume' and back into the clothing that allows them to walk back into their grandmothers house. 

To the white guy who walks around in a shirt that says 'Thug Life' it is just a shirt that makes him seem like he knows about street culture, while never understanding what that life really means. The white boy, whose parents worry every time he travels from the suburbs to the city has no idea what life on the streets is really about. He has never even met a person from a lower status than his own that wasn't serving him dinner. When he sees a black man on the street, he crosses to the other side, or clutches his iPhone a little bit tighter. He does all of that while wearing a "thug life' t-shirt and the irony isn't lost on him. It is that willful ignorance that offends people.

"Hey guys, I have to quit thuggin by noon, I have a brunch with my trust fund manager."

A lot of times, Hipsters will vigorously defend their appropriation with comments like "I'm 1/18th Cherokee," or, "I have black friends!" What they are really saying is, "it doesn't matter what I'm doing because this head-dress, or this shirt, is apart of my culture too" In actuality, that couldn't be further from the truth. They believe having even the slightest connection to the culture they are appropriating, gives them the right to bastardize it for a fad or for profit.

"I don't know how much Irish blood I actually have, but I have red hair and I like Guinness, so...."

What About Non-White Hipsters?

Non-white hipsters are guilty of the same things. But a black hipster is going to be able to get away with a 'Thug Life' shirt in a way a white hipster never will. A native hipster can wear a head-dress, and chances are, they are going to have the cultural understanding to back up their fashion choice. A Chinese kid can get away with getting a Chinese symbol tattoo, whereas the same tattoo looks ridiculous on a white kid. See where I'm going with this?

Many people of minority races have their own culture that is deeply rooted in their everyday life. They 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. That is, of course, not true across the board, but I think it's a fair generalization. However, that does not excuse hipsters from minority communities from being equally as insensitive as hipsters everywhere. But to be fair, I searched google high and low and was unable to find any image of a minority hipster being nearly as offensive as the pictures you see in this post.

"Hehe, hey man. Do these glasses make me look Japanese? Let me show you my Kung Fu!"

Minorities generally have a defined sense of what their culture is, because historically, white people have isolated non-white people into their respective racial/cultural boxes. The minorities have their side of town and white people have theirs. And every now and again, a white person wants to come take a tour on the other side of town. Maybe they will go to little Mexico, or maybe they want to go to Chinatown, or maybe the Ghetto, or maybe to the Reservation. They will stay for a while take whatever looks good then leave. When they bring their treasures back to show the other white folks, they will claim that they have discovered something for the first time. However, they will eventually get tired of their trinket and it will end up in the landfill with the rest of the plastic headdresses, and Harlem Shake videos, and Hollywood Korean film remakes, and African drums, and Buddha necklaces, La Calavera Catrina tattoos and Lil Wayne Halloween costumes.

Ok. That is perhaps a bit of hyperbole and not true for the vast majority of people. But I hope you can see the point I am trying to make. Nobody, no matter their race, likes to feel like their culture is being misunderstood, bastardized, or stolen, or appropriated, or exploited. When people feel that way, it is not up the the person objecting to get over it, it is up to the appropriator to readjust their thinking and behavior.

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. But it is impossible to understand another culture if you don't actually engage with those people on an honest and authentic level. Just having the 'thing' you want from Urban Outfitters, or H&M or the boutique thrift store, or the New Age market without understanding what it is or where it comes from is not showing appreciation. You're just buying something mass produced for a low enough price that you don't need to care about it. And that thing, might have importance to someone who does know what it is or where it comes from.

"Cinco De Mayo? It's just like the Mexican St. Patricks Day."

So What's Your Point?

This is not a post to demonize white people in general, and I hope people don't see it that way. But I do feel like this subject needs more discussion. And it all leaves me with more questions than answers. I just want to know if it is willful ignorance of people, who just like nice things, and don't care where it comes from, what its meaning is or who it offends? Or is it this cultural crisis I mentioned earlier? Is the youth/20 something culture failing to become that post-racial generation we all believed we would be, or am I just getting old? And, if we make enough noise about their appropriation, do you think the hipsters will hear us over their vinyl records and their African drums and think about what they are doing? 

Or is apathy cool? 

Is racism 'ironically' cool too?

Racism is vintage, and vintage is in.

"It took me forever to dye my skin. But I wanted to be really authentic with my costume this year." 

(Pictures are not mine. Google) 

1 comment:

  1. Well thought out article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.