Judging by the YouTube comments, a den of villainy if ever there was one, there are two gut reactions to this slam poetry piece by Kai Davis and Safiya Washington from last year’s Brave New Voices poetry competition.  You either love it or you loathe it.  I try to look at it as a piece that can spark deeper discussion.

Though it’s pretty harsh, I do think there are many valid points. And I don’t think these things are just hipster problems.  I totally fell for the KONY 2012 thing.  It perpetuated a dangerously imperialistic view of Africa, that it’s a continent that needs saving from itself and that only the Western world has the power to do so.  And I totally bought in to that shit.

I suppose if you were to put a silver lining on this, the message is to just be yourself.  The implication is that hipsterism is a fake, douchey suit that you put on to appear cool when really, you have no idea what you’re doing.  Could this be equated to the whole fake geek girl phenomenon?  Or is it completely different since we’re talking about race and ethnicity and class?

I realize discussions of this nature can get pretty heated, so please keep it civil.  No personal insults.  I don’t moderate the comments here too heavily, but if I see commenters going after each other, I’m deleting that shit.

From: Dispatches from the Underclass


  • toag

    fun topics Jamie

    i don’t mind the piece; speak your mind and all.

    i have never understood how continent of Africa with such vast resources cannot get out of the third world. i know the west and Europe have used and abused it, but i thought the continent
    as a whole would say “enough already” at some point and become
    economic and social force it can be… maybe that’s why the west wants to help,right past wrongs and give the help to turn the corner. We haven’t figured out how to, i hope we don’t stop trying though

    Also i always thought the concept of race was used to separate , “they’re from a different race… ” it hints that people are genetically different enough to be different species (obviously not true). i have stated that i don’t believe in race because of this. Here is the issue, can one hold onto their ethnicity and lose concept of race. i would like to think yes, ethnically we are diverse as any phylum, and genetically we are practically mirror images.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eddie-Chang/623482 Eddie Chang

    The major point brought up against both groups are that they appropriate a group’s identity without any real understanding or willingness to learn about what it means to be a part of that group. The problem with the fake girl gamer phenomenon was that it was entirely based on misogyny. The whole argument could have been lobbed at fake gamers in general, but it was specifically targeted at women – the implication being girl gamers can’t be gamers and that their very inclusion was somehow an affront to “real” gamers.

    Hipsterism, similarly, gets a bit of a bum rap in that people just lump all of them into the same pot. Which is never really cool, even if some of them are discounting the cultural history of the groups they appropriate (basically becoming the modern wigga). The dicey part comes in because, as you mentioned, there is a problem with race and class. While you can’t discount the bullying and marginalization gamers have faced in their lives (myself included), you can’t really compare that to the racial struggles that have occurred and are still going on today. It’s just not on the same level. For the most part, I give hipsters a pass in most areas. Like “fake” gamer girls, who are they really hurting. But when things like “I don’t see race” pop-up, I can’t help but point out that their sense of entitlement is showing.

  • http://twitter.com/BigNed Ned Keitt-Pride

    Speaking as a white male who grew up in a middle class DC suburb and whose parents both went to Ivy League schools, I find these kinds of sentiments hard to deal with. From my point of view, it seems that I am to exist in some form of douchey limbo in which I either must embrace my position of privilege (hard to do when I have lived paycheck to paycheck my whole life) and the unethical racism and other bullshit it represents, or I must accept an equal amount of criticism for trying to go a different direction. If I have problems in my own life, they don’t seem to matter much, because at least I don’t have to deal with having non-white skin or two X chromosomes.

    The blogosphere, insofar as I have been exposed to it, seems to want me to simply step to the side, refuse to pursue any personal goals for success, and be ready to sign petitions or vote for candidates on command. If I offer thoughts on helping the cause of feminism, I risk charges of “mansplaining”. If I try to help better the lives of people in the third world, I am now an “ivory savior”. As far as I can tell (and I don’t claim to have achieved Universal Perspective) I exist simply as an obstacle to the advancement of other people – people who I think have been royally screwed out of opportunities for centuries.

    In my hope to find a way to live neither as a racist asshole nor as a doormat for the oppressed (both drastic oversimplifications, but anyway) it has occurred to me that perhaps the solution lies in a concept that Kai and Safiya end with, but seem to ignore throughout the rest of their poem: be yourself AND approach all others as themselves. In other words, embrace a worldview that is highly individualistic. Recognize that no one fits fully into any stereotype and that such intellectual laziness should be rejected. I think that if we refuse to allow ourselves the convenience of group classifications then we create the opportunity to actually relate as our selves.

    This way, we don’t have to ignore race, or cultural background, or economic status, or educational status because we are not using those characteristics to lump people together unfairly. This attitude prevents me from assuming things like, “They’re Asian, they must be good at math,” and at the same time it would mean that being a white male doesn’t have to mean I’m part of the current bastardly overlordship. When we approach others this way it removes the obstacle of shame from our relationship.

    I think that is the part of this piece I don’t like – the heavy handed shaming that carries throughout it. Why does having a handmade wooden phone case (that is better for the environment than plastic and probably supported an independent artist rather than a corporation) have to be something I’m ashamed of because it makes me douchey? Perhaps if the hipsters who are the subject of their rant weren’t shamed for being white and middle class, they’d feel more comfortable being themselves.

  • Jes

    The thing I’ve noticed with hipsters, as a white, female-bodied, queer person is that it connotes not just a upper-middle class white person, but they’re also young, have a narrow scope of understanding, and seem almost if not entirely willfully ignorant.

    The point about the heavy-handed shaming though is a shocking amount of people of color, queer persons, and other marginalized people do suffer a lot of shaming in the name of comedy, drama, entertainment, what have you, because we’re either weird and funny to the majority, a kind of gimmick or strange entity to pick on over and over again long after the joke’s gone sour. With the case of (white, upper-middle class) hipsters, they’re not being made fun of because they’re quirky or weird or strange, but because they’re being quirky or weird or strange by way of appropriating outfits and dances (twerking, bindis, etc.) to make themselves that way and don’t really care who it hurts, what these things mean, etc. and get defensive when called out on (granted, call out culture is another topic for another day.) A lot of the mocking is not necessarily from a place of malicious intent (I can’t speak for everyone and some of the more militant attitudes chafe me) but rather in an attempt to make the listener feel first-hand what a marginalized person has gone through on a day to day basis in a singular moment.

    A youtube comment summed it up pretty well: “…This is aimed at a very specific group of white people who are oblivious to the realities of racism but like to pretend otherwise, and the justified frustration of people of color in dealing with such folks. I am sure that these two young ladies would be happy to accept white people if they approach POC with a sense of humility and a willingness to learn, instead of clueless arrogance.”

    There’s also the ending line they point out about hipster culture that refutes that last sentiment: “But I guess being cool but not really cool is more cool than just being yourself.” Basically doing things in the name of being eclectic, weird, etc. is more important to some people (i.e. the hipsters they’re talking about in their piece) than actually being yourself.

    Malcolm X stated an interesting quote that’s rather relevant to this conversation:

    “I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us- each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do- and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere whites go and teach non-violence to white people!

    We will completely respect our white co-workers. They will deserve every credit. We will give them every credit. We will meanwhile be working among our own kind, in our own black communities- showing and teaching black men in ways that only other black men can- that the black man has got to help himself. Working separately, the sincere white people and sincere black people actually will be working together.

    In our mutual sincerity we might be able to show a road to the salvation of America’s very soul.”
    Our existence is not in a vacuum nor will it ever be. While I have no idea how to change that, that’s all I can really say. I apologise if this got really long-winded.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=800854312 Andria Schwortz

    “Fake geek girls” is not the same sort of category/description as “racist hipster pretending to be colorblind”. The term “fake geek girl” is applied to any woman/girl who dares to express her interest in “geeky” topics as a way to keep us out of geekdom, rather than as an attempt to help us become more informed about geekdom. My impression from this slam poetry is that “racist hipster pretending to be colorblind” *is* applied to people in an attempt to help them become more informed about racial issues, not to try and exclude them from the issue entirely.

  • Melinda Szot

    equating this to the “fake geek girl phenomenon” is particularly apt. The recent fetishization (geek chic) has done nothing to improve inclusion or understanding for persons with Aspergers Syndrome (the original “nerds”) and autistic girls are six times more likely to suffer sexual abuse. Hipsters are happy to dress up in extra nerdy glasses but they still won’t invite us to their games (if they really play). If you call them out on their neuro-privilege the concept is so far from their awareness that they may not even recognize the language. These are not people seeking to create space for voices that are never heard. They are pretending to be just nerdy enough to be “cool” while ignoring how their perpetual social posturing functions to exclude the very people that made their “cool”.