I’ll try to limit this to ten items, but I’d like to discuss the S word (no, it’s not slavery). The word for today is SEGREGATION and much of what you see happening regarding race, like a cut that continues to bleed in America, comes from that time period.
We’ve become complacent people. Some readers won’t even know what I’m referring to, while others will take the head in the sand approach, acting like they’re just so “Sick of this PC crap.” And still others, like me, who’ve lived long enough to see how everything old appears to be new again for a whole ‘nother generation, and are not only mad, but mad as hell about it. Some of us forgot. And some didn’t even know. Like so many things, you get told to forget when someone else deems it not relevant. Whether it’s on a larger scale like Ferguson, or an inappropriate parody that resurrects stereotypical imagery all in “fun,” here’s a run-down for those who just don’t know what all the fuss is about.
1. History repeats itself. I’d be surprised if the same people extolling the humor in Thug Kitchen wouldn’t be horrified over the antics of Amos ‘N Andy, but the similarities between these two creations needs to be explored. Back during the 1920s and way, way before the internet, the two men in the photo below thrilled segregated Americans with a show that was broadcast over radio.
Lauded by some for their “uncanny” spot on mimicry of what they perceived to be African American vernacular and dialect, when criticism arose the pair were defended for the most part because their show was “humorous.” In other words, a large segment of white Americans enjoyed them (and some blacks), even those in the “progressive” north. It’s important to note that all this was during segregation, when using blacks and other minority groups for mockery in ads and both film, books and radio were the norm.
Back then there wasn’t much African Americans and those who objected to this type of mockery could do. Things were supposed to be better these days, especially since so many want to believe that we’re now in some sort of post -racial world (I guess it began once Obama was elected).
Fast forward to 2014, where the creators behind Thug Kitchen posted things like this on their vegan blog:
As expected, the duo behind Thug Kitchen have now done an about face, especially since most of the ground work has already been completed and their book is out (which was probably a major part of their goal). They’ve retreated from the larger than life persona that fueled their blog and debut cookbook, only dropping a curse word here and there to keep up appearances.
As they beat a hasty retreat from he who shall not be named AKA the Thug who never was, the question that remains is this: Without the imaginary “Thug” to fall back on, in a few years will anyone even give a flying fuck about these two?
2. Just how much did the publisher know and when did they know it? At some point Rodale books and their representatives had to know who they were dealing with, yet they still released the book. Now independent book stores are caught in the middle, some with little warning. So who okay’ed this thing while knowing that the creators were treading on a slippery slope?
Just what did they think would happen? Did they honestly believe that after the big reveal people would just laugh at their blatant mockery, and they’d continue to take questions from the audience or sign autographs with people congratulating them on a job well done? Especially the culture the duo decided to broadly imitate and mock?
“I be done seen everythang . . . when I see an elephant fly” – lyrics from the Disney classic Dumbo
I don’t think the publishers or creators realized just how divisive their actions and product could become. And it shows a shameful ugliness that comes up every now and then in America, where the see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil crowd comes up against the very vocal and mad as hell “you can’t sweep this shit under the rug” protesters, and nobody wins.
4. The liberal you know turns out to be someone you really don’t know. The creators of Thug Kitchen are residents of LA. In response to one website on the building controversy they released a statement that said in part: “we were just having fun.”
On this blog I’ve listed a number of “liberals” who’ve come out with some smh, oh so “fun” public statements, which give one pause when they want to claim it’s all good.
But in the interest of showing the other side, I’ve included some of the public arguments defending Thug Kitchen:
“Perhaps I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I’d like to reiterate that the point of this book is to get us to eat better and have a laugh while doing it. So instead of sheepishly subscribing to narrow-minded stereotypes, let’s refocus on the primary intention of Thug Kitchen: Eat some goddamn vegetables and get healthy. Besides, since when is web profanity reserved for one race and one race only? As a Japanese speaking half-Jew white girl who’s been writing the food blog Sh*t in a Bowl since 2008, I just can’t appreciate being told who can and cannot drop f-bombs.” – Marion Bernstein, from bustle.com
It’s not about dropping f-bombs. It’s about an entitled few who insist on using an already maligned culture to promote and profit off of. And Japanese bi-racialness isn’t the same as someone who can pass the brown paper bag test, which was a running joke during segregation. There’s no way to swap one person’s racial experience with another, yet there are some similar things that can occur with those of color (including some darker Japanese or other Asians looked down upon for having non-light skin). Additionally, to capitalize off African Americans its either done by revisionist history (spunky white girl leads a group of domestics who are cursed with the ebonic plague and also caricatured by their skin tone and weight) or by scaring voters (Reagan’s Welfare Queen tale, Obama’s really a Muslim, etc) or under the pretense of speaking in a dialect or “voice” that some will claim is humorous or “Pitch perfect”
The “pitch perfect” line was used to commend The Help, even though the book included offensive lines like this:
“Cat got on the porch this morning. Just about gave me a cadillac arrest” – Minny, from the novel The Help using her brand of malapropism for full WTF effect. The word she was searching for was “Cardiac”
“You saying people think I got the black magic?” Pg 24, Aibileen, from The Help after Minny confides in her that some in their church congregation believe Aibilene’s got a pipeline to God, after she appears to call down a venereal disease on her rival, Cocoa. It’s the “cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster” scene that Octavia Spencer (who played Minny in the movie) and Kathryn Stockett took on the road while promoting the novel:
“I do not agree the title automatically conjures bonafide or even reformed (ex) gang status; it is a parody, and the authors’ ethnicity might be important to some, but only if you force an author’s intent onto the work. It is clever, and if you object, don’t ask a site to cancel, but rather show up and debate it.” – Daniel Power, CEO of Brooklyn Based Powerhouse Arena in a reply to a poster on Gawker.com
It’s important to note that Powerhouse Arena had a dog in this fight, especially on the night in question. As far as his “if you force an author’s intent onto the work” I think the digital trail on their blog and their intro on Facebook spells out their intent. It’s looking more like a planned marketing strategy where those behind Thug Kitchen knew to conceal themselves, lest their book deal fall through. And something tells me someone else out there knows the full story. I just hope they’ll come forward. But I do agree that cancelling the Power event wasn’t the answer. Let those behind Thug Kitchen face the music since they’re all about “keeping it real.”
Wow. And apologists want to claim that it’s simply about dropping F bombs. The digital trail is there for all to see. Only some folks don’t wanna open their damn eyes.
The book also speaks clearly enough on their “intent.”
As far as it being a parody, just who are they mocking in their parody?
Someone Irish? Italian? British? Hispanic?
Or none of the above.
For more info on the event and a longer version of the rationale given by Daniel Power, see this post on Gawker.com
5. When money is involved, turn a blind eye and maybe any criticism will all go away What’s amazing to me is how many people are willing to overlook the shadiness of all this. For almost two years the creators were more than happy to continue with their pseudo street hustler, slang slinging persona. Now that more scrutiny has been placed on them, it’s either no comment or they were only having “fun.”
Using African Americans, or for that matter, other minority groups for mockery and to generate money is nothing new. Take a look at some of these ads from the days of segregation. A common thread with all of them is the dialect attributed to the minority model or cartoon character.
6. The word Thug is being used as a get off free card. Whether deliberate or some simply being innocently clueless, there’s an attempt to claim all the hoopla is either about profanity or ownership of the word “Thug.” I’m not falling for it and neither should you. As long as people are arguing about the use of the word “Thug” then the real issues are being glossed over.
However, for all those who want to argue:
Trayvon Martin was killed on Feb 26th 2012. All during that year the debate was on, as some tried to justify his shooting by labeling him a Thug.
Geraldo Rivera went on Bill O’Reilly, attributing Martin’s clothing choice as part of the problem:
“I think what’s far more significant is what Trayvon Martin looked like on that night, Bill,” he said. “Aside from the fact that he’s dressed in that thug wear — look at the size of him, he’s not a little kid.” – Geraldo Rivera quote from the Bill O’Reilly show.
His assertions were challenged in the comment section, and here’s the first post, with a date stamp of May 2012:
For this next example, I need to apologize beforehand. I’m not identifying the site, but it shouldn’t be hard to find:
Arnold Ahlert has an older piece on FrontPage Magazine.com titled “Framing Trayvon” which chronicles just how Martin was mistaken for both the rapper The Game and also another young man named Trayvon Martin:
“In an effort to right decades of racial wrongs, many conservatives have hastily embraced caricatures of Trayvon Martin, painting him as a vicious street thug who deserved his fate.”
Trayvon had incidents of misbehavior, but none as serious as Zimmerman, who was jailed for attacking a police officer. On the other hand, the anti-Trayvon literature, of which “The Game” email is representative, portray him as an of out-of-control gangster with a criminal record, who sold drugs and “had numerous run-ins with authorities (both at school and local police).” He is described as a “drug dealing … tattooed thug whose name on one of his Facebook profiles was ‘Wild Nigga’ [and] who ‘finds’ jewelry and burglary tools on the way to school.”
“The Game photo is far from the only fake image of Martin to have surfaced. One of those fakes was allegedly of Martin wearing “county orange” flipping off the camera with both hands, with his pants sagging down around his waist. The photo was posted on Michelle Malkin’s Twitchy.com, a conservative website. The young man in the picture was indeed of a Trayvon Martin, but it was another Trayvon Martin who is alive and well and whose relatives live in Savannah, GA. Twitchy.com issued an apology.”
I recall the Twitchy.com apology. I even listed it on this blog and the mistaken photo in question:
There was no hard research done on this. I simply typed in “Thug” and Trayvon Martin, and a number of previous articles (some truly scary in their negative speculation) pop up.
Thug Kitchen’s first post was in October of 2012. So, short of hiding under a rock during all the Trayvon Martin murder case and its media coverage, they had to know how the word was currently being used. Still, they chose to use it for their blog and also take on a persona that clearly played off the word. But hey, its a free country.
I just thought I’d share this for all those who want to shrug and claim its not that big a deal.
7. The “Well, I wouldn’t call it racism” excuse. Pair this with the “Well, I wouldn’t call it rape, exactly” or “Well, I wouldn’t call it murder” and you’ve got the idea. These days its a lot easier to just pretend such things don’t happen in America. No, this is the kind of stuff limited to third world countries, or, if you happen to be black, some message board comments will spam that we’re the sole cause of social decline in this country and anything we get is what we deserve.
A bit OT, but still useful:
Robert Townsend’s 1987 classic “Hollywood Shuffle” had a number of examples that still apply today:
An actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his ethnicity, dreams of making it big as a highly respected performer. As he makes his rounds, the film takes a satiric look at African American actors in Hollywood.
And Spike Lee’s 1989 classic “Do the Right Thing” also can be used a teaching tool:
On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone’s hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.
Which leads me to my next item:
8. Humor is subjective. That’s why it’s best left to the pros. I’d never heard of the Thug Kitchen blog until this controversy. But after taking a look at their site, I can only wonder what they were thinking. Did it come across as funny? No, not particularly. Going from their very first post to the present day. the gag had run its course over two or three posts for me. But it appeared to have found a passionate audience. Only, just like the Quentin Tarrantino’s apparent fascination with the black culture and his liberal use of the N word in his exploitation movies, I gotta ask, who didn’t know the people behind the blog weren’t cool, but corny as hell?
Even in their email interviews they read like someone taking on a broad caricature. Hell, even their first Facebook post should’ve been a dead giveaway “Thug kitchen all up in this Facebook” Excuse me, What? WHAT?
“Ready to drop some nutritional knowledge on some fools.”
I dunno. why am I not laughing? I didn’t laugh the first time I read it, and not now, when using it in this post.
At a time like this, maybe Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas has the answer:
Henry Hill: You’re a pistol, you’re really funny. You’re really funny.
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I’m funny?
Henry Hill: It’s funny, you know. It’s a good story, it’s funny, you’re a funny guy.
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean, you mean the way I talk? What?
Henry Hill: It’s just, you know. You’re just funny, it’s… funny, the way you tell the story and everything.
Tommy DeVito: [it becomes quiet] Funny how? What’s funny about it?
Anthony Stabile: Tommy no, You got it all wrong.
Tommy DeVito: Oh, oh, Anthony. He’s a big boy, he knows what he said. What did ya say? Funny how?
Henry Hill: Jus…
Tommy DeVito: What?
Henry Hill: Just… ya know… you’re funny.
Tommy DeVito: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?
Henry Hill: Just… you know, how you tell the story, what?
Tommy DeVito: No, no, I don’t know, you said it. How do I know? You said I’m funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what’s funny!
9. To Parody, or not to Parody, that is the question
Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word Parody:
There’s a reason why the brand now shies away from presenting the product like this, even though they could probably claim its protected under free speech. The main reasons? Because it’s offensive and highly stereotypical.
10. The Voice, which landed the duo a publishing deal
“The tone of voice was so different from everything else that I had read, and it was such a refreshing change, so I emailed them and pledged my love and hoped for a response.” Just a few weeks later, the team at Thug Kitchen contacted Postman to say that they were working on a book proposal, which arrived on Postman’s desk six months later. – Publisher’s Weekly quote by a representative of Rodale who signed the duo from Thug Kitchen
“Yeah, I mean, we understand where people are coming from. ‘Thug’ is a loaded word and it’s definitely gotten more loaded in the past year and a half in the news. But, we’ve always intended it – and used it as more of an attitude. It’s about being a [expletive].” – one half of the duo explains what they mean by “Thug” on the Rachel Ray show.
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 (some of the items in italics are my doing, because they’re important to take note of):
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.
Ah yes, the “voice”. Pre-packaged like a frozen dinner, older articles with the duo appear to show their evasiveness. And to quote the article “since this is how we talk in the kitchen” and taking them at their word, then what they’ve been doing is a full on parody. Which then begs the question, why?
It’s also important to point out that the individuals behind Thug Kitchen are reportedly in their late twenties.
And as far as their “voice” being so different as the Rondale rep claimed, there’s nothing “different” about taking on an exaggerated swagger or parody of one culture by another. It was done all the time during segregation. Hollywood even produced children’s cartoons to spread stereotypes:
More examples of those who capitalized on this sort of thing:
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:
More recently, another book that is soon scheduled for release will revisit the character of Mammy from Gone With The Wind where another author attempts to write in her “voice”:
“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/
Click here to read a timeline of events:
To be continued . . .