Now hear this: Real thugs don’t write cookbooks because they’re too busy, you know, being thugs.
So when the you know what hit the fan and the duo behind the popular blog (and recent novel) were revealed to be two individuals who’d probably reach for their phone to call 911 in the presence of a real live thug, it didn’t sit well with some folks. Deliberately stalling on their true identities until their book tour, the creators of the site turned out to be these two LA residents:
Rut-Ohhhh . . . there goes the neighborhood.
For those in a hurry, here’s the issue in a nutshell:
“Thug Kitchen all up in this Facebook. Ready to drop some nutritional knowledge on some fools.”
This is how the creators of Thug Kitchen announced their arrival on Facebook, in a very bad imitation of Mr. T. Almost simultaneous to the Facebook page, their site called Thug Kitchen began churning out recipes starting in late 2012 with a heaping helping of digital blackface.
Blog titles like “Nutrition isn’t just for a thug on a hot day” “We all know your punk ass doesn’t eat enough greens” and phrases like “son, aqua fresca is the fucking JAM” “Yeah, spinach makes you swoll as fuck” were peppered among actual vegan dishes and profanity.
They bamboozled and hoodwinked a whole lot of people. Only, this type of writing isn’t by accident. It’s deliberate.
History gives examples like the Amos n’ Andy radio show, where ironically, another white duo pretended to speak in black “dialect” and were embraced by audiences during segregation.
More examples are at the bottom of this post,
So you see, for all the defenders claiming they’re “tired of this PC crap” and “they’re sick of blacks playing the victim” there are far too many historical examples (and modern, unfortunately) of this bullshit. And some of us are sick and tired of it. Because it plays into a larger narrative of how an entire culture is perceived and often times judged. Those of us who may simply want to pick up a good book to read, and are suddenly faced with demeaning caricatures. Those of us ordinary folk who have to endure this bullshit on almost a daily basis on the job, when others think it’s just so funny, yet if the same mockery were applied to their ethnic group or sexual orientation, all holy hell would break loose.
For example, suppose the blog were titled “A woman’s kitchen” with vegan meals to tempt a man. Now suppose each blog post admonished women and men, but used gentle, psychological persuasion in order to get females back into the kitchen. Even using guilt as a weapon for working moms.
Now imagine the uproar if two guys were found out to be the creators. Not only would white women be angry, but there would be an expectation that black women, and females of other ethnic groups should join in with the anger. Because you know, we can’t have sexism, no, there’s nothing funny about that.
And this is no different, for all those blinded by the “humor” of it all.
This is where the creators of Thug Kitchen erred, as its part of the digital blackface that many people are angry about, and a digital trail they’ve left that cannot be whitewashed with excuses like “it was all in fun.” The other issue is their attempt to capitalize monetarily using this imaginary street persona most knew for over a year and a half, as simply “Thug”
The issue isn’t the use of curse words.
Those buying the cookbook and defending the use of the word “Thug” have no idea just how deep the rabbit hole goes. There’s nothing wrong with liking the recipes. But there are real issues concerning the tactics used by the creators to market both the blog and book, and the wording within both. A timeline of the blog and Facebook posts show that a parody of an already maligned culture was at work, even though the creators may have thought it was all in fun and a creative way to market themselves.
In 2013, as the blog became popular, articles with titles trying to cutesy capitalize off their imaginary “Thug” popped up:
Thug Kitchen Creators Dish on Vegan Recipes Blog in Gangster Voice
By Jean Trinh
Excerpts from the article:
The Thug Kitchen collective is a group of people who intend to remain anonymous, and who strive to focus on spreading the good word about healthy cooking and food accessibility. On the website, they mention that “everyone deserves to feel a part of our country’s push toward a healthier diet, not just people with disposable income who speak a certain way.” The folks at the blog agreed to do an interview with The Daily Beast over email, in an effort to keep up the mystery behind the kitchen.
How did you come up with the idea to start Thug Kitchen?
We thought it was time for some real talk about some real fucking food. Since this is how we talk in the kitchen, the idea for the site just came naturally. Many cooking blogs make healthy eating seem like some expensive hobby and that just isn’t our scene.
What do you hope readers will gain from your recipes?
Straight kitchen knowledge. We want people talking about healthy eating who aren’t usually invited to that conversation. The recipes help people see that this shit isn’t as hard as you think. You don’t have to spend $40 and 4 hours every night just to have a nice dinner. We want to help your ass out.
Notice how the creators, via email exchange were still intent on playing the “Thug” role.
Even Fox News asked the question:
Who the heck is Thug Kitchen?
Published May 03, 2013
” . . . The writer or writers (its believed to be more like a crew) come from Los Angeles, but who they are exactly remains a mystery. Though we tried to who find out, Thug didn’t respond to our emails.”
Phil Deffina, executive chef of Rumson, New Jersey’s David Burke Fromagerie, likes the recipes, enjoys the visuals, and says the information’s solid. But the language doesn’t float his boat. “This guy,” says Deffina, “is the Andrew Dice Clay of vegan food blogs.”
For example: A tribute to grape tomatoes begins with the entirely relatable, “You ever get worried about d-ck cancer? Me too, son. I need my sh-t intact.” He advises eating “the f–k outta these little homies” to “get yo’ lycopene on.”
At the end of the day, comments like “Drink some goddamn (sic) water. It’s f–king free,” “we all know your punk-ass doesn’t eat enough greens” and “Hamburger Helper ain’t f–king helping” can make these nagging “it’s-for-your-own-good” messages more palatable.”
I’d never heard of Thug Kitchen or their blog until the controversy erupted. And I’ve read some of the blog posts around the internet that are calling them out on what they did. Unfortunately, just like the smoke screen that settled over The Help, a smoke screen that masked the real issues with the book and movie, the same thing appears to be happening with Thug Kitchen. So I thought I’d take a closer look and try to explain why its not the cursing (or cussin’ cuz that’s how a thug for life would say it) that’s the real issue.
People curse everyday, and no one has a copyright on curse words. In fact, had the creators of Thug Kitchen just stuck with using curse words, the stunt probably would’ve been embraced like one of the precursors to all this imho, the naughty nightie night book:
And also this cookbook by Zach Golden, which came out a full four years earlier and with a lot less ethnic flair:
Golden also has a website http://www.WhattheFuckShouldMakeForDinner.com
And check out how similar Thug Kitchen is to this excerpt from Golden’s book, with one huge exception:
Golden’s “voice” for his cookbook isn’t overtly imitating anyone. He’s just cursing up a storm. Perhaps the makers of Thug Kitchen wanted to push the envelope even more, which turned their cookbook into a parody, something that can be a sore subject for many racial groups.
I’m even going to throw in Samuel L. Jackson’s often stated line: “I’m tired of these mothafuckin’ (fill in the blank with whatever you’re pissed about).” Because Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction is someone that endeared him to many people as a badass mofo.
After viewing the book promo for Thug Kitchen, it appears someone must have known that it was time to scale back.
But because the blog was already out there with a number of examples that set an image of who may have been behind all descriptions accompanying the recipes, Alea iacta est – the die is cast:
Ironically, if this much slang had been dropped into a novel with white characters, comments like “OMG, enough of the ghetto speak!” would abound. For an example, early comments on JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood Series will do. The threads are still up on Amazon.com
A few more examples from the blog:
No, it’s not simply about using curse words. But speaking of cursing, for whatever reason, some people have gotten so giddy about seeing or hearing curse words in certain places that it’s now become cutting edge in some quarters. I call it Shock and Awe over the use of curse words. I’m pretty sure my mom would just say that some people are just outta their damn minds.
In fact, its gotten downright annoying. Take for example, when a staffer with the Onion tweeted this:
Take note of the likes and retweets on an uncalled for comment regarding a then nine year old little girl. And also take note that it was tweeted during a highlight in this same nine year old’s life, when she’d been nominated for an Oscar.
Where the creators of Thug Kitchen ran into big trouble, is that their premeditated grab at fame added something Go the Fuck to Sleep and What the fuck should I make for Dinner? managed to avoid.
Which turned out to be the need to liberally sprinkle in “urban speak” in order to tie in their anonymous “thug” persona with their blog and their book. A few examples from the book:
And with celebrity endorsements like Jamie Oliver and Gwyneth Paltrow, they were well on their way to success.
But like far too many culture vultures, they didn’t know or perhaps thought they couldn’t ease up on all the slang. The kind of slang that when you hear it spoken out loud by a co-worker, you already know its not coming from a place of admiration or respect, but mockery.
It’s no different that the ones who think they’re funny pretending to be someone overseas who answers a customer service line with an accent.
The thing is, the creators of the book didn’t need to go there so many times. Perhaps being a bit too greedy or green, take your pick, by laying on a bit too much “flava” somehow a number of loyal blog followers were fooled.
So, here are some of my reasons why they should’ve seen this coming:
1. Emulating and mocking the urban slang of an already maligned cultural group rarely ends well for those who appear to be doing it just to get paid. What they’ve done is made some early supporters, those who perhaps thought they were supporting someone who could use their help, now feel complicit since the ruse has been uncovered.
2. It’s pretty apparent that taking this thing on the road will bring out supporters who either want to talk about the recipes in the book, or those who want to see the creators put on the bravado persona from the book. Which would be a very bad idea (see my paragraph about the clueless co-worker)
But let’s face it, would the book have gained this much attention without some sort of unique marketing? Unfortunately for these two the “uniqueness” of their brand is uncomfortably close to pretending as if they’re some street wise, knowledge dropping hustler, which neither of them appear to be. I shudder to think how they “studied” and perhaps joked about what slang or phrases to put in the book and on their blog. Something tells me I wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on the wall when all this was being planned out.
3. Never try to be Quentin Tarantino junior. Sure, his screenplay (Django Unchained) was nominated and won an Oscar. And his films like Jackie Brown and Pulp fiction are heavy on the slang and bad ass mofo’s. But don’t be fooled. Tarantino has his share of detractors, both black and white. Data mining another culture in order to cherry pick what to use in order to further one’s career has just as many casualties as success stories.
4. The word “thug” is problematic in this day and age, because too many men are labeled with it. These days the perception of a young man, especially a young black male as a “thug” can get them killed. So while the creators of the blog and book probably thought using the word was simply for kicks and giggles, for others it can be an unwarranted, negative stereotype. And while there are those who want to pretend that “thug” isn’t a code word these days for the N word, well, Richard Sherman may have said it best:
During a Wednesday press conference, Sherman was asked if “thug,” a word that was used often on message boards and social media to describe the Seahawks cornerback, bothers him more than any other term.
“The reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now,” he said. “It’s like everybody else said the N-word and then they say ‘thug’ and that’s fine. It kind of takes me aback and it’s kind of disappointing because they know.
“What’s the definition of a thug? Really? Can a guy on a football field just talking to people [be a thug?] … There was a hockey game where they didn’t even play hockey! (Laughter from the media) They just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and said, ‘Ah, man, I’m the thug? What’s going on here?'” (More laughter from the media). So I’m really disappointed in being called a thug,” he said.
Later, Sherman explained that the term was especially troubling given that it’s something he’s endured his whole life.
“I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug,” Sherman said. “I’ve fought that my whole life, just coming from where I’m coming from. Just because you hear Compton (Calif.), you hear Watts, you hear cities like that, you just think ‘thug, he’s a gangster, he’s this, that, and the other,’ and then you hear Stanford, and they’re like, ‘oh man, that doesn’t even make sense, that’s an oxymoron.’
“You fight it for so long, and to have it come back up and people start to use it again, it’s frustrating.”
5. Breaking that fragile bond of trust between readers who supported the blog and book can cause questions on everything else. There was enough implied by the blog posts and now the book, that the creators were other than who they turned out to be. Which made for a sticky situation for not only some readers, but also the book stores that scheduled the duo’s in-store promos:
“Diesel books waded into the fray, posting an extensive explanation to their Facebook page saying, “The previously anonymous L.A. duo who created Thug Kitchen were booked for an event at our store well in advance of their surprise revelation, and believe us, we were surprised too. (Well, truth be told, some more than others.)”
They go on to encourage a dialogue around the issue:
DIESEL, A Bookstore believes in freedom of expression, and the authors of this cookbook have chosen their method of expression. Does the fact of their being white change their message? Is their language insultingly appropriated or just language many people use? Are you offended or do you think the humor is okay? We don’t have the final answer to these questions, though lately we’ve been talking about them with one another plenty. We invite you to come and have your say.”
6. Don’t believe the hype. Oh wait, it’s too late for that advice. I get the feeling that just like Marie Claire claimed Kendall Jenner’s cornrows had taken “bold braids to a new epic level” some were hoping Thug Kitchen would also take vegan recipes to a whole new epic level of awesomeness (eye-roll).
Marie Claire ended up apologizing by the way.
Staying with the whole “Braid-appropriation” thing, I seem to recall when Bo Derek starred in “10” the same shrieks of “how cool is that” happened. Somehow braids weren’t valid until she wore them, as if Africans and African Americans (both men and women AND children) weren’t already wearing them.
Unfortunately, a gimmick can only last so long. So it remains to be seen how long Thug Kitchen will still be the shit now that their true identities are known. At some point their motives for all this will also be revealed. My two guesses would be money and exposure.
“They have not used a dialect particular to black culture, and yet they still intended from the very beginning to have the audience perceive the author of the work as black (and male) by their own anonymity and the association of the author with the word “Thug”.
(How would one go about making Thug Kitchen less racist? Go back in time and stop the authors from pretending to be black.)” – soycrates
Let me also stress this. What they did is nothing new.
I’m not finished with this post, but I think I’ll attempt to tie in another glory seeker, as modern society appears to be going backwards instead of forward, all for the almighty dollar. This next bit of WTF-ery was created by a man who’s been dubbed “Africa’s most fearless theatre-maker” for his exploitative circus hiding under the guise of “Art”
For as Brett Bailey was quoted as saying “I’m creating a journey that’s embracing and immersive, in which you can be delighted and disturbed, but I’d like you to be disturbed more than anything.”
Edinburgh’s most controversial show: Exhibit B, a human zoo
South Africa’s fearless theatre-maker Brett Bailey has made a career out of tackling the most difficult aspects of race. His new show features black people in cages, in reference to real 19th-century human zoos – and even some of the performers are uneasy about it
In both of these extreme examples of entitlement, let me say that again so that its clear. In both examples of ENTITLEMENT, from Thug Kitchen to Exhibit B, the need to use another culture as a means to their (the creators of these shams) own end, resonates with a segment of the population.
Falling under the “everything is subjective” rationale, or basically, “until it personally affects or outrages me, hell, I’m fine with it” or framing the narrative under “It was bold”
Individuals have gotten away with a number of creations that either mock or are outright offensive to other cultures.
Even Kathryn Stockett had an interviewer who appeared fascinated with what she’d done (items in bold are my doing):
Interview with Joni Evans of WOW.com
WOW: Oh, how interesting. How bold of you to write in the voice of a black woman.
KATHRYN: Oh, it’s not that bold if you think no one’s going to read it.
WOW: OK, so you’re writing this privately; you’re feeling this – your story – is only for yourself?
KATHRYN: Oh, yes.
” . . . And then I’ve heard from African Americans: ‘Oh, my gosh, I feel like you really captured our voice.’And then recently I heard from just a delightful black woman, just on an airplane yesterday, and she said that the language made her a little uncomfortable. So I’m getting all kinds of comments.”
While the creators of Thug Kitchen vow to be back soon (after one of their appearances was canceled due to protests) both now know the momentum for their brand of digital culture vulturism has slowed down. Oh, there are still people buying the book, reading the blog and proclaiming their act funny. However, like a meal that’s missing ingredients, now that their cover has been blown, hob nobbing with the elite just became a lot harder. I mean, how in the world can say, Entertainment Tonight, E! News or Will Smith be down when its simply a running joke that’s lost its punch?
Sure, some will claim it was all about the recipes. But others know they were taken in by the siren song of how it was presented and packaged, much like the blueprint followed by the creators of The Help. While Exhibit B was a bit more straight forward and the creator is owning it to the point of even bragging about what he’s done, hell, the man was persuasive enough to enlist black actors to re-create scenes of oppression.
See, that appears to be the ticket. Get some black people to go along.
Never mind the man behind the curtain.
For example, Kathryn Stockett was able to utilize her “close friend” Octavia Spencer to help promote her book (items in bold are my doing):
“How does the African American community feel about the fact that you’ve written in the voices of black women?
I can’t speak for the African American community as a whole. I can only tell you what individuals have told me. My close friend, Octavia Spencer, an African American actress originally from Montgomery, Alabama, liked the book so much that she toured with me! I couldn’t believe it-Octavia called her agent, told her she wouldn’t be available for any jobs-and we hit the road. We laughed our way across the South and then the West Coast, me reading the parts of Skeeter and Celia, Octavia reading Aibileen and Minny. The African American book clubs that I’ve spoken to had only positive things to say, but keep in mind that I’m generally contacted only by people who like the book, and not those that don’t (thank goodness). That said, my own maid said she thought it was well-written, but didn’t enjoy reading it. Her mother was a maid in Birmingham in the 1960’s and she said, “It just hit a little too close to home.”
Sounds just peachy doesn’t it? Until you read or listen to this 2009 audio interview from Audible.com, which Kathryn Stockett reveals an “agreement” between her and Spencer that was forged early on. And still other public interviews where Stockett, Spencer and Tate Taylor basically spell out how The Help was polished, packaged and pimped.
Audible.com interview with Kathryn Stockett, from 12/09:
Dapito: And is there a movie version coming out of The Help? Did I hear that right?
Stockett: The movie rights have been sold to a fellow Mississippian Tate Taylor (inaudible) Green and I’m just so lucky that the book is in the hands of people, not only Mississippians but friends of mine from Jackson. They’re two filmmakers based in Los Angeles.
Dapito: Oh I can’t wait. Do you think they will cast Octavia and some of the other narrators?
Stockett: I think Octavia will be the part of Minny because ah . . (pause and laughter) you know, that was just the agreement. It wasn’t that hard of, it you know, there was no pulling hair on that one. She’s such a natural.”
Link: An Interview with Kathryn Stockett, Author of ‘The Help’ Narrated by Diana Dapito
Ah, this appears to be a main ingredient that the folks behind Thug Kitchen lacked.
For more info, see this post:
Much like Thug Kitchen, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was lauded for the author’s “bold” decision to write in the “voice” of not just one black woman, but three:
“Revealing a parallel between The Help and her own life, Stockett said she idolized her family’s housekeeper and tried to mimic her “chocolatey, rich” voice. “I would try to imitate the way she talked and, of course, my parents would get very upset that this little white girl was trying to talk like a black person,” Stocket said. “When I was 30 and wanted to put those voices on the page [for The Help], of course I felt very conflicted, like I was doing something wrong. All those voices from my parents were coming back to me.”
Interview with Jane Kleine of the Post and Courier
“The voices of Aibileen and Minny came to me fairly easily once I got going,” she says. “I’d listened to the cadences and dialect of black Southerners most of my life, and I just played them back in my head.”
Interview with Boof of The Book Whisperer
Boof: I found the book laugh-out-loud in places, particularly where Minny was concerned: was this deliberate from the start or did Minny’s humour develop during the writing process? Did you know you were funny before you started write?
“Oh gosh, I’m not funny at all. I don’t like writing too much trauma. I want to be entertained myself as well as the readers; I can’t stand too much trauma. I think the book needed some humour.”
Now, remember all of this when I add in a bit more history. Because back in 1923, when The United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted a national Mammy Monument in our nation’s capital, guess what they loved to do, in “homage” to the black women who raised them. That’s right. To take on their “voice”
The Daughters constructed memories of benign servitude through dialect performances, “epistolary blackface”(59) in which white women wrote in the voices of mammies, and, in a most spectacular effort, a nearly successful push to establish a national monument to the mammy to stand “in the shadow of Lincoln’s memorial” in Washington, DC
From a review of the book Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America. By Micki McElya Ms McElya is an Assistant Professor of History, University of Connecticut. She has a PhD in History, having graduated from NY University in 2003.
For more on this topic, please see this post:
Another book that is soon scheduled for release will revisit the character of Mammy from “Gone With The Wind”:
“The first two-thirds of the 416-page “Ruth’s Journey” are in the third person, and the last portion is told in Ruth’s own dialect.”
For more on the Mammy book, see this post – https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/reconstructing-mammy-new-book-planned-for-gwtw-character/