Dear Creators of "Thug Kitchen": Stop Using Black Stereotypes as a Marketing Strategy

by Brittany Dawson America, known for its supposed melting pot of diversity and the balanced scales of equality, struggles with White priv...


by Brittany Dawson

America, known for its supposed melting pot of diversity and the balanced scales of equality, struggles with White privilege. Still, in 2014. Privileged, greedy hands sink their fingers in the cultural cookie jar—jamming our art, language, shared experiences (crumbs and all) feverishly in the bottomless mouth of a society hungry for constant cultural production. Black culture is the stolen recipe, source of inspiration from movies to music. But Black culture is rarely given credit or lauded as equal. White privilege makes stealing Black culture acceptable. While Whiteness allows them to distance themselves from the oppressive aspects of Blackness, they are still able to reap millions of dollars and gain relevance from our culture.

In recent years, Miley Cyrus’ ubiquitous VMA performance served as the quintessential example of a White person accessorizing with and reclaiming Black culture. Her bravado allowed for other White artists to emulate this blisteringly successful tactic: Iggy Azalea is regarded for her “rap minstrelsy” and White gays have been chided for their use of Black women's culture.



Now, Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway, the Hollywood couple behind online blog turned vegan cookbook Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck are in the limelight for a clumsily adopted, expletive-charged “thug” persona reminiscent of hypermasculine Black men. Thug is a heavily loaded word and while it is not explicitly synonymous with African Americans, it recently adopted new meaning and performs as a colloquial version of the n word. Did I mention the founders of Thug Kitchen are white? Yes, white. The authors kept their identities anonymous for quite some time.

As Akeya Dickson writes on The Root:
“Is it really any coincidence that the Thug Kitchen bloggers waited this long to reveal their true identity? They had to know that it would be incongruous and wouldn’t fly if they told readers from the beginning that they were white… [Thug Kitchen] is deceptive and feels a lot like the latest iteration of nouveau blackface.”
Despite criticism, Thug Kitchen has grown in popularity, garnering an overwhelmingly positive amount of support from—you guessed it—White admirers. Gwyneth Paltrow loves Thug Kitchen, Chicago Now writer Jenna Karvunidis denounces all implications of race in the discussion, and The Daily Beast argues that it is impossible to “steal” a culture.

Cultural appropriation and exchange is a complex subject to understand, especially in relation to Thug Kitchen. Still, there is a murky in-between that has yet to be examined or found. Does the identity of the founders behind Thug Kitchen matter? If so, how can we categorize Thug Kitchen? Is it appropriation, cultural exchange, or neither?

To better understand this phenomena, Everyday Feminism describes what cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is and is not:
“One of the reasons that cultural appropriation is a hard concept to grasp for so many is that Westerners are used to pressing their own culture onto others and taking what they want in return. We tend to think of this as cultural exchange when really, it’s no more an exchange than pressuring your neighbors to adopt your ideals while stealing their family heirlooms. True cultural exchange is not the process of “Here’s my culture, I’ll have some of yours” that we sometimes think it is. It’s something that should be mutual.”
And for this reason, we—including myself—should be reminded that for centuries, Black spaces have been eradicated, silenced, or retold through the hands of Eurocentricism. Through deculturalization, many of our customs and practices have been, quite frankly, whitewashed.

Let’s be real: Black culture continues to flow through White dominated networks. Vogue’s newly adopted appreciation of big booty doesn’t erase its impact on Black women. Kendall Jenner’s laudable “new” cornrow look doesn’t erase Black hairstyles highly policed in the military. Black culture is used for remuneration, publicity, and success. Black music, Black fashion, Black vernacular, Black everything is unequivocally regarded as “cool” across all mediums, yet in isolation, Blacks rarely reap the same privileges and benefits as their White usurpers. The root of the controversy lies in holding founders of Thug Kitchen accountable, who apparently cannot handle the heat. There is a systemic imbalance that protects, condones, and allows White people to adopt a vernacular or public persona imbued in stereotypical imagery. Whites will continue to avoid this oppressive weight as long as the throne of privilege is immortalized.

Watch the Thug Kitchen trailer and tell us what you think. 


Photo credit: ThugKitchen.com

Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a senior at the University of South Carolina and she is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson.

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