why ironic hipster racism is dangerous
I finally found a use for the facebook ‘poke’ the other day, wherein I ‘poked’ a person I owe an apology to. Its been many years (maybe ten?) since we spoke. Wasn’t sure how welcome contact would be. And clicking ‘friend’ seemed a little too presumptive. So I poked, and she sent the friend request. All of which has me thinking of a former friend and roommate. You know, the woman hating racist I lived with for about four years. The very same roommate who taught me just how dangerous ironic oppressive attitudes can be.
The thing about ironic racism (or misogyny or whatever) is that it works as a means of social bonding for ‘progressive’ people who like to think they are beyond this sort of thing. They’d never join the aryan nation (how dare you even imply), but they’re openly white supremacist in ways that is only surprising on the surface.
I think one of the interesting things about counter-culture these days, is that being ‘counter-culture’ in some way usually comes with an assumption that the person has some level of commitment to anti-oppressive politics. But… hipsters in particularly subvert this notion, since they aren’t counter-culture for any particular reason (insofar as they are counter-culture at all). Punk, despite its many faults, is/was politicized. In other words: being punk is more than just music preference.
Its funny because my former roommate and friend was hipster before hipsters were really a thing. His interests, aesthetics, and a bunch of other stuff is so hipster its kind of painful. And he’d been that way since I met him about fourteen or so years ago. One quality he definitely shared was being ironically, tongue-in-cheek openly oppressive.
If you want to know whether or not he’s a misogynist, just ask him. He’ll tell you outright that he does. And usually when he does this people smile and laugh or whatever, thinking that its ironic, tongue-in-cheek. Except that it really isn’t. He actually and really does hate women. He doesn’t like reading female authors. He doesn’t like listening to bands with female singers. He doesn’t (read: hates) like women.
Likewise, he hates people of colour.
One of the interesting things about my vancouver experience is that living there (as I’ve mentioned in the past) was the only place where I consistently (but not 100% of the time) passed for white. The only time in my life where if I mentioned being Filipinx, people were generally surpised. But at the same time as this was my reality in public, in my home – where I lived with this white guy – I was regularly treated to overt acts of racism.
Example: one of his favourite things to say when talking about asians was, ‘those slanty eyed bastards’. Or literally saying that he thought that Chinese ppl had an ‘insect-like’ intelligence. Or the time he told me that he thought that tagalog sounded like turkey’s gobbling.
For years, I was That Friend. The one who laughed along with the ‘jokes’ thinking it was him being ironically racist. That he said these things for shock and entertainment value, as a way to indicate that – obviously – he didn’t actually think these things and wasn’t an unabashed white supremacist.
As I said above: this type of behaviour is a method of social bonding for people like him. People who read ‘deep’ books, listen to ‘good’ music, who’re educated and able to expound on the merits of communism. Get a group of white hipsters together and this sort of thing becomes obvious. They perform white supremacy as a way to frame themselves as not-racist. And, note, the way this social bonding functions is that the more overt and directly and baldly racist the act is, the more humourous and indicative of how far ‘beyond’ being racist the person is.
In the last year or so of living with him, I finally realized what was real. I’d been… unhappy with him for a while but unable to leave my housing situation since it was really the only place I could afford to live. Vancouver is a very expensive city and our place was super cheap and nice, thus very hard to leave.
I was in my room doing whatever and he was outside sitting with some friends. And he said, “yes, I’m racist, I don’t care about saying it” to the laughing amusement of his companions. Finally, finally I understood that he was simply articulating a truth about himself. He is racist. He hates people like me. He has actually called me a ‘yellow slanty eyed bastard’ to my face. He’d been doing this for the entire 10 years that I’d known him.
We aren’t friends anymore.
I do want to say that a white person saying, “I am racist” doesn’t need to be said ironically to function in exactly that way. In this day and age where being called a racist is generally considered a more grave action than actually doing something racist, any white person who says “I’m racist” is really attempting to frame themselves as the opposite. The confession, the admission that one is racist is a way to signal a level of consiousness that implies the speaker, of course, isn’t actually racist.
Its much the same as me going around and telling people, “I’m a turkey”. Regardless of tone and context, this assertion coming from my (very obviously human) mouth, is always a covert way of saying, “I’m not a turkey” because it is an absurd statement. Just like it’d be absurd for any white person to claim to be that very horrible thing.
Even very obviously racist people, idk, like a conservative talking about ‘illegal aliens’ generally denies being racist. It isn’t that they’re racist, they just care about poor white americans who’s jobs are being stolen. Or people who actively maintain segregation, it isn’t that they hate Black people, its just that they don’t want their property value to go down. Public people who get in trouble for literally using a racial slur will release a statement saying that, no, they aren’t really racist. Its a world where things are ‘racially charged’ but not racist.
And so “I’m racist” (as articulated by a white person) because an absurd statement. It’s always a joke because its like going around and telling people that you’re a murderer. Who’d confess to such a heinous crime, especially if they actually committed it? In any case, you’ve never seen them murder someone, so its obviously a joke.
So you smile and chuckle. And inside you die a little.