"Thug Kitchen": Is it Racist or Harmless?

I like Thug Kitchen.

I've followed their Instagram account for ever, allowing the account to be in my peripheral vision for at least a year. That being said, I never paid much attention to it. I didn't cook any of the recipes (I am not vegan; I am allergic to soy; I really hate quinoa), but I enjoyed the tone.

And I'll be honest, I thought the account was run by perhaps a middle class, or upper middle class, black man or woman. I liked the idea of it; I liked the subversion; I liked that it appealed to everybody, but was clearly written in a satirical way. But, like I said, I didn't pay much attention to it and if I had, I would be one of the people who would now be writing sentences like, No one is shocked that Thug Kitchen is written by white people. I'm not one of those people though, which makes the revelation a little more complicated for me. 

More than anything, with the publication of the Thug Kitchen book, the problematic use of the word "thug" by two upper middle class white people comes under fire. When it was just an Instagram account or a Tumblr, we could forget it or look past it. But now, we have to look at it on book shelves, leering at us from stands just inside bookstores. Here's what Jordan Sargent at Gawker had to say about the publisher's somewhat condescending response to concerns from the public: 

"But where Power is wrong is in ascribing that dissonance as purposeful. As has been pointed out in basically every piece criticizing Thug Kitchen, the word "thug" is in the title so that you think of a mean, scary black person. Thug Kitchen uses "thug" the same way as Michael Dunn, who shot an unarmed black teenager for playing rap music too loudly. That the voice of Thug Kitchen doesn't match the character they aim to evoke does not exactly absolve them of their intentions."

Basically: Thug Kitchen is written in a way for you to imagine a black rapper - not a white person, not anybody, but specifically a black rapper. It's AAVE appropriation at it's finest and most icky. 

And yet, I find myself uncomfortable with writing that last sentence. 

Sometimes I wonder if reacting to all these tiny instances of insensitivity, of dubious understand, we are hurting larger efforts. By being persnickety and constantly talking about the little hurts, are we undermining social justice as a whole? 

I like Thug Kitchen, but I also found it pretty boring sometimes. How funny is one person talking about chickpeas or cold brew coffee, in with an affectation? I don't think it is sustainable, for now or for the future, but it was a funny joke while it lasted. 

We're all nervous about admitting to prejudice. But, as I learned in sociology classes in college, there are greys to racism -- it isn't always a clear cut issue. You can be prejudice, but non-discriminatory. I always say, If people admit their prejudice, then at least they can work against it. Realizing you've been badly influenced by a racist social system and working to correct your own thinking is better than being ignorant and racist, right? 

Which brings me back to Thug Kitchen: is my hesitance to declare Thug Kitchen damaging my own form of racism? 

It's ok to like things. 

That's what I tell my husband sometimes: it's ok to like things, to laugh at jokes, to like immature, stupid, silly stuff. 

It's ok to like Thug Kitchen. Really, it is.  Is the use of the word "thug" problematic in a lot of ways? Yes.  But will Thug Kitchen destroy anyone's life? No. However, will Thug Kitchen perpetuate a stereotype that could potentially be harmful to someone? Kind of.

In many ways, l like that Thug Kitchen takes a stereotype and flips it on its head: the thug who eats vegan, the thug who cooks, the thug who talks trash and is super healthy. At the same time, it does perpetuate the connection between thug and a specific speech pattern, thug and a slightly violent overtone. That's concerning for anyone who wants to see equality and less hate speech and stereotyping in general. 

I feel like with things like this it's a matter of give-and-take. Am I disappointed that Thug Kitchen is written by two white people -- and not the person I thought it was? Yes. (And I'm in the minority here -- apparently, I'm clueless.) Does that concern me? A little bit.

But was I ever going to buy this book anyway? No, I don't like most vegan foods and I'm allergic to soy.