Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Sunday, November 21, 2010
I recently reblogged a post entitled “Hipster Racism,” which was essentially on how white hipsters perpetuate racist language in an “ironic” way. The post was good, albeit a little underdeveloped, but hipster racism is something that I’m passionate about discussing and addressing—seeing as I, myself, am a black “hipster,”—and I figured that posting it wouldn’t be too big of a deal.
I feel as if, though, I should develop my own thoughts about race and hipster culture—not so much about “hipster racism,” per se, but more on how I feel the hipster lifestyle (in general) cherishes, values, and supports whiteness and white homogeneity.
The hipster lifestyle has two major cruxes: non-conformity, and privilege. These two aspects of hipster culture are what define it.
Non-conformity is essentially a way to break away from the status quo; apparel, music, and lifestyle choices are consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) made in response to the current temperature of society. Non-conformity is the reason why many “hipsters” characterize themselves as “liberal” and “progressive,” because progressive and liberal ideals are supported by progress, challenging “normality,” and responding to or against what is considered “mainstream.” These progressive attitude within hipster culture, however, rarely ever translate into systematic or societal changes. The hipster culture can essentially be described as an aversion to rather than a counter to mainstream culture; a disdain for mass consumerism, but never a need to change it; condemnation of poverty but never any real motives or actions to combat it; disliking racism rather than a desire or action to stop systematic oppression, and so on and so forth.
Coming from that understanding of hipster-culture, one can essentially make the connection between hipster culture and privilege. Because hipsters have the luxury of generally being affluent, white, and in many cases “male,” they have the ability or the freedom to dislike certain aspects of society but never any real motives or intention to stop them. The privilege in this is that hipsters for the most part see issues but never have any apparent impetus to change them. This form of privilege can be represented by the stereotype of the smoking, apathetic, whining hipster, who see issues, but never feel any responsibility to stop them; their privilege is that they have the time and ability to whine about systemic inequalities, but never feel any sort of responsibility to change them.
So, in describing and recognizing the two main bedrocks of the hipster-lifestyle, non-conformity and privilege, it makes sense that hipster-dom is essentially (and in its broadest form) a lifestyle for whites. This isn’t to say that white people don’t care about societal issues, or are apathetic, selfish, spoiled people. But, issues of non-conformity and privilege are essentially only luxuries that most white people for the majority have the luxury to exercise. The hipster lifestyle is—in many and most ways—a “White-only” lifestyle.
The issue of non-conformity is the first way in which people of color are essentially barricaded from engaging in hipster lifestyles. People of color in America have historically been others; people of color have always had to fight for their right to be seen as equals in society. This strive for equality in many ways translated into a unifying understanding and communal “uniformity,” one that people of color have tried to maintain in order to stick together and stay alive. People of color have in many ways been marginalized and categorized based on their races and ethnicities, and that, in itself, reinforces our otherness. So, essentially, for people of color to become “hipsters,” we have to reinforce and add to our otherness in order to fit in. It’s paradoxical to say the least, but the concept of personally contributing to one’s otherness is an obvious reason why those who have been historically seen as others, as different, and as lesser than, wouldn’t want to become hipsters.
The issue of choosing to be a hipster reinforces and supports the second crux of hipster lifestyle: privilege. Because the social temperature of our society is one in which whiteness is revered in almost all cultural facets, white people essentially have the resources and ability to ignore or fail to recognize their status as dominants in society. Again, this is not an attribute intrinsic to whites, but the ability to choose whether or not one wants to conform is a privilege afforded to only those who have power. This, in the American (and majority of the World’s) lens, means white. The ability to be counter-culture, and at the same time reinforced by and the dominating culture are abilities afforded to whites by our white, euro-centric society. White people, however counter-culture they might be, are always going to be the dominant group in society, until all racial and ethnic disparities are remedied. Obviously, being white and white alone doesn’t afford white people these privileges—other cultural factors like gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, etc. factor—but, when only focusing on race and skin color, one will find that white is dominant, white is mainstream, and white is “normal.”
And even when you look at factors irrelevant to privilege and counter-culturalism, one will find that whites still dominate the hipster lifestyle. Indie music is completely dominated by whites; there are very few popular ”indie” and hipster music icons that aren’t white (the only ones that come to mind for me are TV On the Radio, Janelle Monae [to an extent] and Kanye West). The majority of indie-music songs, too, are white-centric, and focus on issues that lay outside the realm of societal disadvantages; where the majority of indie music focuses on issues of relationships, emotions, and rebellion, rap and hip-hop music focus on issues of oppression, race, socio-economics, and urban lifestyles. These, again, are not qualities intrinsic to any given race, but products of the society in which we live, one in which whites have power and certain luxuries that the majority of people of color don’t have. The movie “Medicine For Melancholy” touches on the issues of what it’s like for black hipsters to listen to music that pertains mainly on characteristically white issues, and how the indie-music scene is almost homogeneously white.
So, I think when discussing issues like “hipster racism,” the irony of hipster jocularity, and counter-cultures in general, one has to not only focus on the products of certain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, but also their roots. If we look there, we’ll see what hipsterism is all about.
A really interesting article on how hipster culture and its complicity in reinforcing whiteness as the privileged racial signifier. Also reading through some of the points, i found that some things could also be applied to the punk community (which, I’ve thought about on several communities). Specifically, about counter-culture and non-conformity, and how as POC, we’re already ‘other’ prior to punk signification. IN other words, as POC, we’re already read as ‘criminal,’ ‘poor,’ ‘dirty,’ ‘different,’ ‘Other’ before we’re punks (based on racial prejudices). So, when we become punks and our counter-culture is read in a similar lens, we’re reinforcing our otherness… Something that white folks don’t have to do.
I once got into a fight with a woman over calling dreaded and mohawk wearing punk kids on cultural appropriation. She said that this was a divisive because punk kids are poor and shit on and excluded from mainstream society (much like POC). I don’t disagree with this, but, why is there a need to wear a hairstyle that has a specific history in order to demonstrate these things? Why do you need dreads to signify a rejection of bourgeois and dominant culture? Do you not see how that’s problematic? You’re using racial signifiers to signify your own alterity? Can you not see how that is harmful to POC who are already other outside of being punks? Anyway, I think I might write those ideas down one day and write an article (once I do more research etc).