People often compliment me on my fashion-sense–tell me that I dress really cool. I sometimes respond by saying, “yeah, thanks, I’m an aging hipster,” because I guess that’s what I am–a middle-aged woman who is still trying to dress cool, and be funky, and different.
But, am I also a hipster racist?
If you read my post from yesterday, Have You Heard About Hipster Racism?, you’d have learned that hipster racism is white people thinking we are so over racism that we can make casual, politically incorrect, hip little jokes, that are, well….racist. The fact that we are so enlightened and liberal makes us immune from being labelled racist, because we all have black friends and all, and so, how could we be racist? That, my friends, is hipster racism.
I’ve always wanted to see myself as different, and therefore cooler than the rest of whatever group I’m measuring myself against. I thought I was cool for dressing more funky than my average classmates, thought I wasn’t as pretentious as all the know-it-all’s in my college classes, liked being different for having black boyfriends when I was younger, liked being different by being Jewish, liked working in non-profits, mostly with the homeless community as opposed to working in, say, corporate finance, and like not being a crazy, over-involved parent controlling every aspect of my children’s lives.
If I were to look at all this, I think I’m aware enough to say that some of this is born out of a sense of self-righteousness, and some out of insecurity. One thing I cling dearly to, though, is the sense that I am more down with black folks than most white people, and so don’t like it when they try to edge me out by thinking they are cooler than me in that area. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s something I’m proud of–that the place and time I grew up in helped shape me to care profoundly about race relations. And, so, that makes me want to hate those hipster racists.
I’ve mentioned this before here, but growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut, at the time that I did (1960’s and 70’s), gave me, and the many other black and white youth I went to school with, the unique opportunity to co-exist together, to learn about the other, and to break down barriers, because we did go to schools that were very integrated (my high school had a 40% black student body). I’m not saying it was always a perfect rainbow coalition world, but we did pretty well, I thought. And, it was certainly a different experience than growing up in the suburbs and having only five black students in the entire school or neighborhood.
My sister, Sarah, backs me up on this, when we discuss how growing up where we did makes us feel like we have an ability and a desire to connect with people who are black. She told me there are times now she wishes she could say something like, “I’m cool with you. I get you.” Maybe we could have a secret wink that would show black folks we want to reach out and connect; that our past informs our present desire to do just that.
My neurotic, Jewish side then starts to over-analyze all these thoughts, and then I begin to worry that I am a hipster racist, or just like any white person who thinks they have some kind of credibility (I’m too un-hip to say cred) with the black community just because she went to school with black people. Is that any different than saying I can’t be racist because I have black friends?
I feel like I need to go back and skim over all my past posts and look for hints of hipster racism there. Or any kind of racism or stereotyping. What I have started to gain consciousness on, thanks to reading blogs like Colorlines, The Root, and Racialicious, and books by anti-racism educator and author, Tim Wise, whose book, White Like Me, I reviewed here, is that none of us are immune to thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious, that are biased in nature. It is the result of years of systemic racism that has become ingrained in our society, so much so, that we don’t even realize our own subtle ways of perpetuating racist thoughts or stereotypes. For example, thinking that a black high school running back on the football team is faster than his white teammate. Or that, that black football player is less likely to be an engineering school candidate than the white football player.
Please help me out. Please let me know when I’ve crossed the line. When I succumb to hipster racism. When I stick my foot in my mouth and stereotype or generalize. Sure, I like being cool, but this is not the kind of cool I want to be. Thank you.