Gentrification, Hipsters and “Ghetto Chic.”

This post by Wendy Muse on Racialicious just about sums up (really well) what I have been feeling about the hipsters all up in “our hoodz stealin all our fashionz.” I also feel old as I wore door knockers the first time around (NY in the 80’s) eeek.
Muse is discussing all her personal negotiations and some of the political stakes involved with “ghetto chic.” She says,

For one, it’s a matter of nomenclature. The term “ghetto� is evocative of “negative� images (poverty, housing projects, crime, drug use, lack of education), and remains racialized by the media. Ghettoes and poverty are typically associated with blacks and Latinos, even though as a result of the racial demographics of the United States, there are technically more poor whites. According to a U.S. Census Bureau Press Release from 2003, though “non-Hispanic whites had a lower poverty rate than other racial groups, [they] accounted for 44 percent of the people in poverty,� which makes me wonder why whites are virtually ignored in discussions of class and blacks and Latinos are always assumed to make up the majority of the poor population in this country. . . but that’s another article.

A few months ago I was sitting in a coffee shop in my neighborhood, a coffee shop I can no longer go to as I may fight somebody, and this white “hipster” boy sat down across from me wearing a red bandana tied on the front of his head, Tupac style. That’s right, he was “GANGSTA.” I am not laughing. I shot him the nastiest look and freaked him out so he didn’t want to share the table with me, but I was raging inside.
I worked in the schools in and around San Francisco’s Mission District for about 5 years and am very familiar with the problems that are tearing our schools apart and our communities. Our kids didn’t wear red. And I thought about how this kid, moved into the Mission and was just walking around wearing a flag, like he is on some shit. I thought that god forbid if he got shot (which is highly unlikely, I don’t want to further sensationalize gang violence the way the media does) how the media would cover it. They wouldn’t say anything about his ignorance of any of the local politics or any of the racist ways that these people just move on in and visually violate these communities. To move into a community, uninformed, taking from it, not giving back and flaunting your expensive Ipod and “ghetto chic” accessories, is a form of violence.
I may be sounding like a hater, and maybe I am just too old to get it, but I AM FED UP WITH THESE KIDS. I hate Vice Magazine and I hate this attitude that pretty much says, “I am so passed racist, I can act like this.” Wake up asshole, look around you, you are part of the problem.
This is much less articulate than Wendy’s post, lol. I wrote about this a few years ago, when I had heard about the “Kill Whitey,” parties in Brooklyn. I had hoped that the trend was dying out, but I was oh so wrong. I am so moving back to Oakland (although I hear they are invading there as well).

Join the Conversation

  • Xana

    Great post Samhita.
    I lived in Japan for a few years and “Ghetto Chic” is alive and well there. My friends and I would be walking down the street and young Japanese men with Eminem on their ipods would see my black friends and shout out “Hey N****!” It was shocking and disgusting and almost laughable because of their complete ignorance about what that word meant. I knew men who specifically were learning English so they could go to L.A. and learn to rap. It was incredible to see a fashion trend where the people wearing it had absolutely NO idea of the history behind shoes without laces or caps worn to the side.
    I think what I’m trying to say is that this problem isn’t just in the US, but has permeated other cultures and that is worrisome. I don’t really have a solution, but that the problem distresses me too. I did what I could to explain to my students where rap and hip-hop originated, but sometimes the cultural differences got in the way of any deeper understanding.

  • the frog queen

    I think half of the arguement in this article is stupid. Okay gentrification sucks ass and having lived in a low income area dangling off the poverty thresh-hold most of my life, it certainly made me mad when a bunch of rich kids from the west coast moved into my neighborhood so they could live cheaply and buy more shit with mommy and daddies money. Anyway, no point and talking about poor forgotten nova scotia. But this article is kinda weird. It comes off as a little vain and childish. I don’t understand why the fashion should matter?!(unless their fashion is putting someone in danger,i.e.colours) but it’s just stupid clothing! I don’t see why people have to identify with clothes so much to define themselves.
    If you don’t like wealthy people fucking around in your city “ghetto” (or in my case, my fishing village “ghetto”)that’s one thing. But to get all pissy about something as trivial as clothing, just seems a little… well childish?!

  • SarahS

    Maybe I am just so out of style, but what are door knocker earrings?

  • Gspotmagazine

    Another reason to hate gentrification is that is pushes people out of neighborhoods. I live in Long Beach, CA and the downtown area is under attack from massive gentrification. Last summer, this really hip ecofeminist gallery/collective had to shut down because the city evicted them as part of the redevelopment plan. What’s in their old space? A hipster smoke shop. Like Long Beach really needs another one! Independent bookstores like Equal Writes (an LGBTQ shop) are closing (Shades of Afrika and 2000+ may be next). I moved to Long Beach because I liked the fact that there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner. Last summer when 2 of them opened within 4 blocks of each other, I knew it was the end. Fucking yuppies!

  • rabbit_fiasco

    I love Vice Magazine but I don’t agree with everything they’ve ever published.
    I think door knocker earrings are just really big earrings, as in the size of a door knocker or door knob.
    Reading this, I feel conflicted. I live in an urban neighborhood. Should I hide my ipod when I walk around? Would it be wrong for me to wear a Neighborhoodie with the name of my neighborhood? I guess I have a hard time with the idea that white boys can’t or shouldn’t wear bandannas. Hell, if you want to give it a shot, go nuts but it’ll probably make you look like an asshole. On another blog I read, there was this whole long thread yesterday about gentrification. Short version – black children in a gentrifying neighborhood apparently have thrown rocks at white gay men. Naturally, the conversation degenerated into “you’re a racist” “no, you’re a racist” but I still fail to understand why it’s offensive for me to live and dress as I please.
    I also find it interesting when people use the word “ghetto” referring to black culture when it makes me think of Jewish ghettos in Warsaw.
    Sorry, I guess I just don’t get it. I’m more offended when people wear seersucker than bandannas.

  • keshmeshi

    If whites make up only 44 percent of the poor, then, collectively, minorities are the majority.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see any solution to gentrification, except to ignore poor communities as ever and let them languish in crime and poverty. That’s the only way to keep rich white kids out.

  • Fiz

    Frog queen, the reason gentrification is problematic is because the rich kids, over time, push out the original residents. As little boutiques are built to cater to them and property values rise, people who once lived in an area comfortably can no longer afford it and are forced further out into the periphery.
    Also, appropriating cultural symbols without having any clue to their meaning is offensive and potentially dangerous. When I worked in Central America, I understood that there are very strong ties between certain clothing designs and certain villages. Wearing a specific village’s design meant something and you sure better know what you are signaling before you walk into a place where no one knows you. Silly or not, people use clothes to signal identity (carrying your Standard flag with you or wearing a tabard in the early middle ages for example). This isn’t just “fashion� it’s a culturally meaningful symbol. To wear something cause you’re “cool� without knowing what you are signaling is ignorant and dismissive.

  • snappy mackerel

    Rad post, Samhita. I’m a conflicted gentrifier in Baltimore and this is exactly why I don’t wear my blue bandannas outside of my house. I have a ton because they’re cheap and hold back my hair when I’m doing rehab work, but have a ton of significance to some of my neighbors, and I want to be sensitive to that. It isn’t childish, it’s being a decent neighbor. God knows I already do a lot of bad in the name of affordable housing (I have so many mixed emotions about this topic)–being aware of cultural hijacking is the very least I can do.

  • bailey_comus

    i think the problem is someone copying a given neighborhood’s fashions without realizing the context. in particular, wearing gang colors in a very obviuos fashion without realizing the consequences -e.g. that someone could misread what you’re wearing and kill you.
    i realize that it sounds a lot like blaming women for what they’re wearing if they are raped, but in this instance it isn’t MEN appropriating neighborhood dress out of context – i’ve also seen women doing the same thing. It’s when one culture apes something potentially dangerous in another culture – and maybe gets some innocent bystander killed that this is problematic.
    i had friends who worked with a public tv station on a documentary about gangs in the metro Albq area. I stopped going to clubs with them when they started given gang signs/hand signals to cars that would cruise the lines of clubs we were waiting to enter.
    in terms of ‘fashion’ though, i’d hope that most long time regular inhabitants would realize what an ass these newcomers are…and encourage them to go further, because what neighborhood doesn’t improve with clowns?

  • Elaine Vigneault

    I don’t agree that fashion is violence except when it actually takes lives, like when you’re talking about fur and leather.
    I think a conversation with this kid would have done more good than this rant.

  • rabbit_fiasco

    bailey_comus, thanks for making the connection: “i realize that it sounds a lot like blaming women for what they’re wearing if they are raped.”
    One of my problems is that I’m just damn oblivious. At a club or on a street corner, unless someone is in my face, I don’t notice drug deals. How the hell am I supposed to know what color bandanna is appropriate or not? Is there someplace where I can find out?
    Damn, I’m sheltered.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    I was walking around Brooklyn the other day with a red bandanna popping out of my back pocket that I always keep on me to tie my hair up in case it gets hot. A guy straight up had to tell me to take it out because I was apparently signaling that I was a Blood. Am I ignorant? Yes. Is it my fault that I didn’t know what a red bandanna out of a pocket meant? Not really – I grew up in the whitest suburb known to man. How the fuck was I supposed to know that? It’s not like there’s a nation of hipsters out to get you, dude. Sometimes, we just don’t know. Can someone please send me a list of shit that middle class white people aren’t allowed to wear so I don’t inadvertently piss someone off?
    You seem to direct a lot of your rage at individual people that dress a certain way, without acknowledging that people pretty much wear what they’re told (and what Urban Outfitters happens to be selling that week). It’s probably more productive to criticize the machine that makes these styles popular instead of the poor souls that dare cross your path while wearing something that you consider to belong to your culture and your culture alone.
    I also believe bandannas were originally made popular by Western cowboys, but nobody wrote an angry blog when rappers started wearing them. Just saying.

  • bittergradstudent

    The problem is that white suburbanites, in genera, aren’t really interested in building up communities. So they move into these neighborhoods, and live there for a while, and then they move on. I don’t know what the specific policy at city levels should be, but it should be geared toward the construction of actual communities where people are actually interested in the development of their local neighborhood, where they actually know their neighbors, etc.
    We need to start having a stake in the places we live.
    Even if we’re renters.

  • Rust Check

    I understand that people are possessive of symbols of their culture, especially in the face of an overwhelming fashion and culture industry which picks and chooses styles from different cultures while leaving the meaning and symbolism behind. However, I find it frustrating that it is automatically assumed that the white boy in the coffee shop is not from the neighbourhood and has no clue about his bandana. Frustrating though it may be for those interested in cultural history, most people don’t really care about the symbolism of the clothes they’re wearing beyond the current connotations created in the mainstream culture. I’m not sure that everyone who wears plaid knows the history of that particular plaid, nor do I assume that they should before they wear it, nor that they should be Scottish in order to do so.
    As annoying as people with “mommy’s money” may seem, just because somebody has conspicuous wealth in the form of technology does not mean that they have money for rent and food. Many students (and others I’m sure) have nice things (as presents from family) but are supporting themselves and thus cannot afford to live in the place you seem to have decided they should (ie the suburbs?).
    So, everybody has a different interpretation of what clothing means. We’ve seen this with the interpretation by the religious right of women who choose to wear more revealing clothing. To the women it often is a symbol of pride in their bodies and liberation. To some others it is a symbol of their promiscuity and degradation. So, please, can we stop with the snap judgements already?

  • the frog queen

    Fiz, Did you read my post? I know what gentrification is. — Oh btw, I guess Axel Rose and his red bandanna was just trying rip off the gansters back in the 80’s eh? Good thing he didn’t tie it on with the knott in the front, wouldn’t want to offend anybody. It’s just clothes. Don’t be so petty. They’re are more important things to worry about if your pullin out the gentrification card…

  • Jenny Dreadful

    I can sympathize with how irritating it is for people to appropriate the symbols of your culture out of context. At college, I was one of the few kids from a genuine working-class background, and most of the student body was fairly upper class, if not exactly uber-rich. I would kind of roll my eyes at the rich kids from Seattle sitting around listening to Hank Williams and drinking Pabst, but it didn’t make me furious or anything. Most of them were nice kids who were experimenting with different styles, just like everyone else that age. Kind of dumb, but forgivable.

  • norbizness

    Drinking Pabst? Did we lose a war or something?
    I for one am looking forward to Shelby Lee Adams Chic, featuring the fashions of the Appalachian holler.

  • kmg

    To move into a community, uninformed, taking from it, not giving back and flaunting your expensive Ipod and “ghetto chic” accessories, is a form of violence.
    This makes at least six different assumptions about the background, nature, and/or intentions of someone you wouldn’t know from Adam except that he shared oxygen with you once for about seven seconds.

  • jenniferpozner

    Sammy, I can’t tell you how much I can relate. I grew up low-income in Brooklyn, and am as an adult (because of being a full time activist/progressive writer) still low-income, and still in Brooklyn — and I’ve lost three apartments in the last six years due to ridiculously skyrocketing gentrification. I can’t take it anymore! I’d be more articulate at the moment about the political/cultural issues you’ve raised, but I don’t have time because I’m too busy wading through the f*cking double-wide baby strollers and “Sale! Only $1,798,076 for a two bedroom coop!” real estate ads in Park Slope…

  • snappy mackerel

    Yeah, but that’s the point of the post, SoyMilkConspiracy–you’re inadvertently pissing people off through your ignorance. If you’re going to live in an area where this is going to come up, it’s YOUR job to figure out how not to piss people off. You don’t get to walk around clueless and then claim ignorance as a defense.

  • msgoldstein

    I wish people would stop trivializing the word Ghetto. Not all of us here are 20- or 30-somethings with no memory or connection to the real meaning of the word. As a Jewish woman whose parents were survivors of the Ghettos at Terezin and Lodz, I am saddened that the phrase “ghetto chic” gets thrown around. Ghetto is a place where the Jews and other “enemies” were rounded up by the Nazis to die. Only a few percent of the victims in the ghettos survived the deliberate attempts of the Nazis to exterminate them. This Ghetto is not synonymous with a poor neighborhood in the US. It is a shame that people have forgotten what the real ghettos were – thus possibly dooming us to repeat them. Most of my family died in Terezin and Lodz. Please do not sling around the word ghetto so casually, and please do not judge one person by the signs that they may innocently wear – my parents were forced to wear a yellow star. That did not make them bad people.

  • the frog queen

    Well said SoyMilk! I agree. I also maintain, it’s just fucking clothing, don’t be so god damn touchy.

  • Trevelynne

    Great post, Samhita.
    The comments after the post leave a lot to be desired, though.
    If you are ignorant, learn. If you learn something that challenges your beliefs, think.
    If you read the posts, they are not talking about “oops, I was walking down the street wearing clothing item x and someone told me that clothing item x traditionally signaled support for gang y in our community, but I had no clue that is what it meant.”
    They are talking about people who are deliberately appropriating pieces of cultures not their own (and yes, fashion is a cultural signifier even if you don’t think so. Thanks for dismissing aspects of my culture so easily.).
    Depending on the situation, it is trivializing that culture; it is mocking that culture; it is an attempt to colonize that culture; it is a way to fetishize that culture.
    It is dismissive, hurtful, and can be seen as an attack on that community.
    If you truly don’t care, you obviously have the privilege to put on your blinders again. I would suggest, though, when faced with your own ignorance, take that as an opportunity to learn something.

  • the frog queen

    ooo sorry to dissmiss aspects of your culture, whatever culture you do or think you belong to. this is just so silly.
    “To move into a community, uninformed, taking from it, not giving back and flaunting your expensive Ipod and “ghetto chic” accessories, is a form of violence”
    well, if I see anyone wearing a pair punk pins and they are not punk, I guess I should get offended when they come into my punk neighborhood. I guess they are taking a form of violence against my culture… oh wait, i’m white, apparently I dont have a culture.

  • some cat

    As msgoldstein’s post about the origins of the word Ghetto should remind us, cultural appropriation happens in all directions.There’s nothing new about white hipsters’ taking on symbols of black culture — Black culture has been cool for decades (see Norman Mailer’s essay “the white Negro” and Robert Greenfield’s excellent novel Temple, about a jewish kid who is infatuated with black culture.). Every subculture could get up on its high horse about the way it is appropriated by outsiders. Think of Madonna and her infatuation with Kabbalah.
    We are a polyglot society, that’s just the way it is. Things mean one thing when they’re invented, then they get taken up by outsiders and mean something else. Then the original people have to think up something new to stay ahead of the curve. Protesting this process is like protesting the earth turning on its axis.

  • Jenny Dreadful

    Geez, some of you guys need to relax. Samhita isn’t attacking anybody. I don’t agree with everything she wrote, either, but some of you are being pretty shitty, IMHO.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    So Snappy Mac, along with educating myself about gentrification, institutionalized racism, the prison industrial complex, and about a billion other issues that we ignorant whities are supposed to educate ourselves on to be tolerable at best, I have to research every piece of clothing I wear so my big, bad, 120 pound ass isn’t trying to overtake the vulnerable streets of Brooklyn? Please. Some of us aren’t privileged enough to have the luxury of THAT much free time, and I’m doing the best I can.
    The guy who told me what the bandanna meant wasn’t being an asshole – he was actually really nice and I appreciated the information. What offended me was Samhita’s original suggestion that rich (which I and most of my “hipster” friends am FAR from, especially in NYC) white kids are conspiring to rob people of color of “their” culture. I’m not saying that biting other people’s styles doesn’t happen (in ALL communities), but I think everything should be taken in context – you can’t tell why a person is wearing something just by looking at them. There’s a big difference between wearing a bandanna to try to look “gangsta” and wearing one so you can keep your hair out of your face and function. I think that, if a white person does actually put something on in the morning and think “oh sweet – this makes me look totally street! I’m all set to co-opt the plight of disenfranchised cultures!” that it’s a very, very, very small percentage. Like I said, most people wear things because they saw ‘em on the TV or in a mall.
    Nobody I know gets all bent out of shape when I see black punks or hipsters, which by the post’s logic I have every right to. That’s OUR culture, damnitt! How dare they come into our suburbs and pretend to know what pointy patent leather flats mean! I should also note that the reason I even HAD the idea to put the bandanna in my back pocket is because every white hipster I know does it. It’s anybody’s guess where the trend came from, because as I said before, maybe the “ghettos” had it before the “hipsters,” but the “cowboys” and “farmers” had it before anyone. I can show you shittons of pictures of my white as hell Iowa family with red bandannas hanging out their jeans, so if I got the idea from my great grandfather, am I still an ignorant piece of shit?

  • bettieclem

    “If you truly don’t care, you obviously have the privilege to put on your blinders again. I would suggest, though, when faced with your own ignorance, take that as an opportunity to learn something.”
    Right the fuck on.

  • bettieclem

    “If you truly don’t care, you obviously have the privilege to put on your blinders again. I would suggest, though, when faced with your own ignorance, take that as an opportunity to learn something.”
    Right the fuck on.

  • Dorion

    I think part of the reason people get a little riled up about this article is because the author is equating addresses/fashion/symbols directly with violence. This, to me, implies “you have it coming”; that violent reprisal is appropriate for someone moving into a neighborhood that’s not “theirs.” (The Klan thought so, too.) In fact, the author herself said she would have to stop visiting the coffee shop so she doesn’t get into a fight. Doesn’t exactly encourage thoughtful reflection — more likely, “Fuck you, I’ll wear a do-rag if I want to.”

  • Lucy Stone

    I guess it just goes to show how little attention I pay to fashion trends, since I didn’t even know that “ghetto chic” was one.
    (As an aside, I hate that term. Or anything else that involves fill-in-the-blank followed by chic.)
    There was a time in my life that I was accused of being a part of gentrification (by a few people who knew nothing about me other than the apparent color of my skin). I was just living there because I was genuinely poor. It doesn’t matter, though. I never held any resentment toward the people who assumed that. Sure, I didn’t like being judged on appearances (though it was pretty obvious from the way I dressed that I wasn’t rich), but I could absolutely understand why the people who made that snap judgment would be upset at wealthier people driving them out of their homes.
    It wasn’t a problem where I originally came from, though. Somehow rich kids just don’t find rural trailer parks trendy. Imagine that.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    And thanks for the support, Frog Queen, however, “don’t be so goddamned touchy” might be a bit harsh. The post brings up an excellent point, one that I think exposes a lot of resentment (both just and unjust) that should be explored. I see both sides, and I think we’re all just checking out different ideas. There’s no need to trivialize their feelings because you don’t agree with them. Discussion = good!

  • Jenny Dreadful

    The only thing that Samhita wrote that really bugged me was how if the guy wearing the red bandana got shot, the media wouldn’t address what he’d been wearing. I mean, even if the kid were wearing FUBU jeans and full on gang colors, he doesn’t deserve to get shot. I know that’s not what Samhita meant, but victims of ALL kinds of violence are so often blamed for it in the media that that sentiment made me uncomfortable.

  • the frog queen

    They didn’t come off as discussing. Apparently I was just wrong. Anyway, I’m sick of reading non-fem related things on this board. I think that pissed me off the most.

  • Jenny Dreadful

    There’s no need to trivialize their feelings because you don’t agree with them. Discussion = good!


  • Rin

    So is all cultural appropriation bad then?
    I have studied Japanese culture fairly intensively: I’ve read the classical and modern literature, I speak the language, I’ve studied (and performed) their traditional theater. I love and respect the Japanese culture. I am not an otaku.
    But, someone walking down the street seeing me in a kimono (should I decide to wear one), is allowed to accuse me of cultural appropriation because I’m white?
    I’m not trying to be inflammatory, I’m honestly curious. Is a Japanese-American person allowed to yell at me for taking away his or her culture? Am I forced to be an outsider to that culture forever simply based on my ethnicity?

  • blucas!

    The “hipster” is maybe the biggest strawman on the planet these days.
    It generally means, “a young person I haven’t spoken two words to, but I don’t like.”

  • snappy mackerel

    I don’t get the vitriol from some posters. If this issue isn’t a big deal, then what’s up? No one called you a “piece of shit,” SoyMilk.
    It doesn’t take privilege to learn something that you don’t know from your own travels. You could, y’know, ask. Like I said, if you’re going to live in a neighborhood, it’s a good idea to get to know your neighbors.
    The punk analogy misses the point and I think you know that. There just isn’t a corollary for colonization in white culture. When white folks co-opt cultural symbols, it usually signals the end of said culture. It doesn’t work the other way around.
    I understand that a lot of folks are sensitive about the idea that all white people are being judged and lumped into a category–I grew up working class, and I hated hearing about how white=privileged, because I sure as hell didn’t feel it–but it can’t hurt to listen before you get defensive, can it? There is a rule of thumb that gets floated around the feminist blogs for men on occasion, that if you feel defensive then maybe you have some soul-searching to do. I think that applies.

  • blucas!

    I do hate Vice, though, their bread-and-butter is knocking “hipsters” the same way this article does, actually.

  • UltraMagnus

    Good read Samhita.

  • blucas!

    My bad I mixed up what Samhita said with what some of the comments said.
    Samhita is mostly OTM.

  • Sailorman

    I find myself agreeing with parts of this. Gentrification is obviously a problem in the U.S. It’s fairly clear why those who can’t afford to stay would resent it.
    Similarly, “ghetto chic” well, maybe I’m too sheltered where I live but I’m not exposed to it much. Seems obnoxious, though.
    But this?
    To move into a community, uninformed, taking from it, not giving back and flaunting your expensive Ipod and “ghetto chic” accessories, is a form of violence
    This is bullshit.
    First of all, it degrades and devalues REAL violence. You know, the kind that involves someone getting actually hurt as opposed to annoyed enough to leave their coffee shop.
    Second of all, it appears to justify violence. Which, on a blog that (appropriately) detests “victim blaming,” is similarly questionable.
    Third, while I don’t know it for sure, I suspect more than a bit of hypocrisy there. After all, this is basically saying “you move in, you play by our rules, or you get hurt.” So: does anyone who is saying “yeah, that’s right” write on legal or illegal immigration? What’s your take on how this applies to them? Does anyone write on the experiences of people who try to move OUT of their poor areas, into areas where they don’t know the rules? Does this apply to them, too?
    Otherwise, this seems like a rant. “Get the fuck away from that, it’s MINE.” And hey, if you want to live like that, go ahead. You can claim “ownership” of red bandannas, of whole communities, of types of music, of… And you can try to keep people from using “your” things, either by insulting them, accusing them of violence, or by setting intricate “rules” to be followed in order to use “your” items.
    But you better not complain when it comes back at you. And, sadly, history suggests that it will.
    Me? I prefer to share. What changed your mind?

  • some cat

    If it’s not okay for a white person to wear ‘ghetto chic” fashion, is it okay for a non-chinese person to eat in a chinese restaurant? the food isn’t much like that served in china.
    American racial and ethnic subcultures have borrowed from each other from the beginning of our history. Black culture has always been fascinating to white hipsters, artists, music-lovers etc. And black culture is still here!

  • honkifyoulike

    I think that, if a white person does actually put something on in the morning and think “oh sweet – this makes me look totally street! I’m all set to co-opt the plight of disenfranchised cultures!” that it’s a very, very, very small percentage.
    Sadly, I actually know a lot of people who have said almost exactly that. I go to a college where the population is predominantly white and richer than I’d even known existed until I got there. On top of people explicitly telling me how “different” I am from them (i.e. from a city, black, middle class but not wealthy, etc.) they *do* knowingly appropriate poorer urban cultures/images–and brag about the fact that they can! I know this is definitely *not* always the case, but I just wanted to put it out there that some people do actually know what they are doing when they pick a certain color bandanna, roll their pant leg up, etc. as something that they think is cool or funny.
    One of my roommates this year had a party for the team she’s on (it takes a little dough to be on that team, too) but decided not to tell me it was a costume party because she knew I’d be mad. I figured out the theme of the party when a white guy came to the door in a white tank with a bandanna, baseball cap AND doo-rag, a big fake gold chain, sagging pants and a forty-ounce of malt liquor. Then more & more people came in from the all white team in baggy baseball jerseys, sagging pants, bandannas–and finally someone admitted to me that it was a “thug” party. They all looked like the guys next door to me back in Chicago, except…not. They thought it was really funny, though, to dress up like ‘thugs’, because at the end of the day it’s a costume they can take off and move on from.
    And sadly I have so many more examples like this. The really scary thing is that it’s a highly regarded (though no longer by me) school, and a lot of business and political leaders are alumni–these are the same jackasses that write public policy that affects all the rest of us!

  • stinsonnick

    This is about much more than fashion.
    Since I started noticing the bright, neon-colored print hoodies popular amongst young black men in my neighborhood I’ve always thought they look cool. Multi-colored versions of the black hoodies that I normally associate with anarchist punks from my hometown, these hoodies seemed to be walking the thin line between the queer and the hyper masculine. Why on earth wouldn’t I want to buy one and engage (through fashion) in this complex dialogue?!?
    So when I first read this article I resented that my desire for one of these hoodies was being labeled violence. After all, what’s wrong with wanting to buy something that I think looks good? I have that right. Who is anyone to say that this hoodie is ‘theirs’? How dare anyone deny me access to the things that I want?
    But of course this resentment and line of though is deeply rooted in my white male privilege. And that’s where the connection between the cultural appropriation of fashion and oppression become linked together. Because this sense of entitled ownership doesn’t just end with neon printed hoodies – it extends to political, economic, and social resources, to public space, and even to the physical (and mental and spiritual) bodies of non-white & non-male persons.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    Snappy Mac, I don’t appreciate the assumption that I am not listening – we’re all listening to each other and having a discussion.
    Trevelynne, I agree with you. DELIBERATELY appropriating parts of another culture that you so obviously do not belong to is shitty. My point was not that people shouldn’t be called on that, but that it IS possible that folks may be taking offense when the intention was completely different than what they assumed. Fashion CAN be a cultural signifier for some, and for others, it’s just fashion. Everybody is going to interpret it differently, and that, to me, is ok. It is apparently not ok to you. I UNDERSTAND if someone is offended by a cultural/fashion misstep, but it’d be nice if they also considered the different possible intentions.
    I think you really, really misunderstood me, and for someone that is so supportive of eradicating ignorance and embracing understanding of other people’s cultures, you seem to have a very rigid way of seeing this debate.
    And, as a few posters have suggested, nay, DEMANDED I do, I DID “learn” from my “cultural mistake,” and you better believe I was happy to receive that information from who I now call my “subway angel.” I won’t ever wear my favorite bandanna again, and I officially felt like the dumbest person on the planet for about a week after that. I know, I know, boo fucking hoo, whitey.
    I guess I better go back to the suburbs instead of living someplace else and TRYING to gain some cultural insight. When we stay in the ‘burbs we’re willingly ignorant with our “blinders” on, but when we move to “urban areas,” we’re the assholes who are trying to ruin someone else’s community.
    I am asking this in sincerity, as someone who really wishes there was some way to eradicate white privilege and the problems it creates for people of color, but who is probably coming off as a Klan member right now: Is there any place where white people can exist that it won’t be pissing you off? Please don’t think I’m trying to be an asshole – I understand that people have a legitimate right to be angry with white people in general, but I am genuinely curious as to what you wish we would do that would make this current situation better. You hate us in the suburbs, and you hate us in the city, so, uh…where should we go? This is my “soul searching,” Snappy Mac. Anyone is welcome to lay it on me.
    And Blucas, I couldn’t agree more.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    Honkifyoulike: that totally sucks. Since I don’t know everybody on the planet, I probably shouldn’t have attempted to understand their intentions either. Point taken – many probably do have craptastic intentions.

  • Raging Moderate

    A few months ago I was sitting in a coffee shop in my neighborhood, a coffee shop I can no longer go to as I may fight somebody, and this white “hipster” boy sat down across from me wearing a red bandana tied on the front of his head, Tupac style. That’s right, he was “GANGSTA.” I am not laughing. I shot him the nastiest look and freaked him out so he didn’t want to share the table with me, but I was raging inside.

    I’m with you this time, Samhita. Nothing pisses me off more than seeing a black guy walk through my white neighborhood wearing a suit and tie. Leave my culture alone!

  • the frog queen

    “Is there any place where white people can exist that it won’t be pissing you off? ”
    I just wrote a blog entry on this exact same thing. Racism is racism. Why do people not realise that white people are descriminated against by all kinds of minorities? Or are we sapose to be like “oh well, it’s okay cause I’m white” ? blah. depressing.

  • Elaine Vigneault

    “It wasn’t a problem where I originally came from, though. Somehow rich kids just don’t find rural trailer parks trendy. Imagine that.”
    Well said, Lucy. I too, grew up in a trailer park. Albeit, a trailer park in California where the singlewides sell for 100k. But even there the rich kids scoff at the poorer kids’ neighborhoods.
    I also spent seven years in Las Vegas. I don’t know if you know, but there’s been sudden influx of New Yorkers in Vegas. They don’t try to dress like Vegans* but they do mispronounce Nevada** and they go around whining about a “lack of culture,” something I doubt they’d do in other working class cities like Denver or Detroit. (Remember, people create the culture. So if you want it, build it.)
    So I sold my condo to a new Yorker and let ‘em gentrify Paradise*** and took the money to move to New York. Hell, New York is THE iconoclastic melting pot. I thought I’d be welcomed. OK, not really.
    But why, when I care barely afford it, do I feel like I’ll be stealing if I choose to buy a home in Williamsburg? Why is this place, New York, the symbol of diversity, feel so fucking segregated?
    *That’s why you pronounce the word “vegan” (meaning strict vegetarian) veegan and not vaygan.
    **It’s Nev-ah!-da, not Nev-awe-da.
    ***City name for area in greater Las Vegas. You know The Strip is not in the City of Las Vegas, right? Anyway, Paradise is not a great neighborhood, but I hear it’s up-and-coming ;)