Friday, April 8, 2011

Hipster Racism

New article at Angie's request.


  1. any of us know people who fit this description?

    I want to say so badly that I do, and I in fact have probably met people or had experience with people like this, or indeed am friends with people like this, but, at the same time, I'm not sure. Or maybe even I have been guilty of this myself!

    It would be nice to see a more detailed analysis of this subject, with actual sources and an investigation to write about. I guess that's why I want to ask about our own experiences, cuz this article seems a little lacking it what could be fruitful topic.

    I also feel like i'm becoming more of a softy the older i get! I'm no longer filled with blind, red-hot rage towards hipsters. (....mostly.....) Part of this is becuase any conversation about hipsters almost always becomes so vague and shadowy because the word hipster is becoming more and more useless as a label for anything. is it the kids in MGMT? Is it the kids in the former Those Transatlantics? Do they live in the mission? in oakland? in Brooklyn? Do they hang out at Kaya or at the U-cup? JESUS, WHO ARE THEY!?!?!

    Your mom's a hipster.

  2. Eh, if we dodge the word hipster (which I agree is essentially meaningless), I think the real problem here is in the defense. Everyone (or at least almost everyone) says fucked up things sometimes, I know we all have. The problem comes when folks can't recognize their error & accept being called out gracefully, and instead build a self defense argument based on irony or anti-political-correctness.

    I think hipsters or whatever we want to call them are people who are aware/educated enough to recognize what's wrong about what they're doing (from fucked up comments to gentrification), but are too lazy or (I think more often) too proud to change that behavior, & so use savvy concepts to self-justify.

  3. We can argue what the word “hipster” means outside of the context of this article—and find that it has perhaps lost its currency—but the author does provide his or her own definition for us to work with:

    “Hipsters are a driving force behind gentrification, driving out low income people and people of colour. They consistently co-opt and appropriate elements of other cultures, piecemeal, and often without any cultural sensitivity or respect. They regularly draw upon the work and legacy of people of colour, usually without crediting them, and most of their contact with people of colour comes in the form of the service personnel serving them their food, cleaning their wine bars, and picking their organic produce.”

    Smith also identifies hipsters as those people who, in addition to what was already mentioned, feature themselves as members of a “jaded and urbane and oh-so-witty” culture that bristles at political correctness or racial sensitivity. Basically, as Smith says, they get “it” and we don’t. (A sentiment that reflects the term’s connection to wannabe-vagabond beat poets and “road” authors from the mid-twentieth century.) I’m going to follow Smith’s definition when deconstructing her argument, but I accept that it’s probably incomplete.

    If I’m being honest, I think this article is far too harsh. I’ve read other authors who’ve made the claim that humor should never take on racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. because in doing so, it normalizes those evils—it makes them seem funny instead of destructive. After all, how threatening, dangerous, or problematic can something be if one is able to laugh at it? In this way, comedy mobilizes hatred while intimating that such hatred is acceptable. (Kathleen Rowe talks about this phenomenon in relation to sexism in her book The Unruly Woman.) I agree that situationally, this is true.

  4. The author's got a working definition of what a hipster is, but I personally still need more. I need at least one sentance that starts out "for example..." in order to wrap my brain around the argument. I need that working definition to be based on real, concrete situations that Smith has been a part of or has read about or has heard about, etc. I can create a working definition of anything I want if I don't use examples or base it on some kind of observation and/or citation. But maybe I'm just here trying to atone for my own anti-hipster rants by being extra critical to the arugment. It just seems to easy to say, "yeah, we know what you're talking about!"

    I feel like WE (the people in this book club) have done this, especially and perhaps exclusively when we're able to hear each others' voices (on the phone or in real life). I feel like we are often guilty of saying otherwise fucked up shit to each other when we're together, but in a humurous way becuase we all assume we're "down." We switch to a different tone of voice, usually trying to imitate a "total dude" and then proceed to say something fucked up. I KNOW i have done this, I must have. Am I just trippin??

    And if that's it bad? Or has it fallen/does it fall into the situations where it's not bad that chris alludes to. ("...situationaly, this is true.")

    Angie, are their hipsters in madison? is their gentrification?

  5. And, for the record, I'm growing to hate Blogspot.

  6. God damn it! I'm trying to post the second part of my comment, which I thought I posted earlier, but apparently did not happen (despite Blogspot's telling me it had). That's why I now hate Blogspot. Let's try again:

    To me, a homophobic comment is homophobic not just because someone uses the term “faggot,” for instance, but also because they either use it insensitively or with the intention to inflict pain or intimidate. The matter is further complicated if, once advised that the comment/joke was offensive, the person displaces blame in the “you’re-the-one-with-the-problem” way, as Trevor mentioned. That is, the use of the term in a joke is not, but virtue of the word itself, bigoted. That’s my way of saying if I heard that word used, I would consider more than just the word—I would consider who’s using it, in what context, for what reason, and to whom.

    I’m not going to argue that Smith ought not to be offended by hipsters who say insensitive and racist things simply because they want to be ironic or satirical. But what about someone who isn’t a hipster? I know I’ve made jokes before that, on their face, would be terribly offensive, not because I believe what I’m saying is true but because I’m commenting on the ridiculousness of such beliefs. All of us (MPFSers) have made this species of joke and we’ve done it with each other.

  7. I wouldn’t say any of us is a hipster, either, so where does that leave us in relation to Smith’s argument? In reality, comedy has a long-standing tradition of being used to make social commentary. Smith seems to be unaware of this (or unwilling to discuss it—a rhetorical blunder that undermines the credibility of her argument). I do not believe the absolutist assertion that humorous comments that satirize racism (which Smith seems to focus on here) are ipso facto racist. They have the potential to be, of course, and one always walks a fine line.

    That’s why it comes down to sensitivity. I still think humor is a strong tool one can use to oppose bigotry—not by normalizing it but by exposing its audacity—but we should always be aware of how our comments and jokes affect others. A joke isn’t funny just because we say it is.

  8. I agree that we all do this. I also think we should consider who tells these jokes. In this article its hipsters, which is vague, but in everyday experiences I mostly hear young white men using such irony as humor. For example, the white guys I work with who claim to be anti-racist, will often tells jokes of black stereotypes, when the black folks I work with NEVER do. I know many different people tell jokes of ironic racial/sexual stereotypes, but i hear it most from people who are not apart of the group being used as humor.
    Maybe amongst us these jokes can exist without coming across as offensive (since we know each other well) but outside of our circles such humor will more often than not come across as racist, regardless of our intention.