A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism’
By Lindy West
People benefit from racism—hell, I benefit from it every day—and things that benefit powerful people don't just suddenly get "fixed" and disappear because Halle Berry won an Oscar or whatever. Modern racism lives in entrenched de facto inequalities, in coded language about "work ethic" and "states' rights," in silent negative spaces like absence and invisibility, and in Newt Gingrich's hair. And in irony.
So racism went underground. Sure, you can't say racist things anymore, but you can pretend to say them! Which, it turns out, is pretty much the exact same thing. There are a couple of strains of "ironic racism" making the rounds right now, and a couple of typical defenses.
Here's the thing about jokes. They only work when they're aiming up. I wrote this in another piece recently, but I'm just going to plagiarize myself: People in positions of power simply cannot make jokes at the expense of the powerless. That's why, at a company party, you never have a roast where the CEO is roasting the janitor ("Isn't it funny how Steve can barely feed his family? This guy knows what I'm talking about!" [points to other janitor]). Because that would be GROSS, and both janitors would have to work late to clean up everyone's barf. Open-mic comedians, I know you think you're part of some fresh vanguard in alternative comedy who just discovered that a lot of black ladies don't like it when you touch their hair, but pleeeeeeease just stick to stuff about how your stupid girlfriend is a bitch. (Just kidding. Please never speak again.)
"Yeah, but we have a black president! Isn't racism over?"
Okay. That's probably the most racist thing you've said all day, imaginary amalgam of all the careless hipsters in the world. You know how you can tell that black people are still oppressed? Because black people are still oppressed. If you claim that you are not a racist person (or, at least, that you're committed to working your ass off not to be one—which is really the best that any of us can promise), then you must believe that people are fundamentally born equal. So if that's true, then in a vacuum, factors like skin color should have no effect on anyone's success. Right? And therefore, if you really believe that all people are created equal, then when you see that drastic racial inequalities exist in the real world, the only thing that you could possibly conclude is that some external force is holding certain people back. Like...racism. Right? So congratulations! You believe in racism! Unless you don't actually think that people are born equal. And if you don't believe that people are born equal, then you're a fucking racist.
Below: Some entries in Jezebel's "Tee-Hee, Aren't I Adorable?" category of hipster racism.