On Ferguson, Thug Kitchen, and Trayvon Martin: Intersections of [Post]Race-Consciousness, Food Justice, and Hip Hop Vegan Ethics

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“On Ferguson, Thug Kitchen, and Trayvon Martin: Intersections of [Post]Race-Consciousness, Food Justice, and Hip Hop Vegan Ethics” is the title of the talk I will be giving at Middlebury College in Middlebury Vermont, October 22, 2014 for their food justice oriented conference.

Here is a snippet from the talk I am writing for the event. And, as usual, I video record all of my lectures and post them onto the blog. This lecture will hopefully be a chapter or section in my book I am doing crowdfunding for. My book is tentatively called “G’s Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix).   Also, I’m hoping to add Bryant Terry (Afro Vegan author) and Kevin Tillman (founder of Vegan Hip Hop Movement) perspectives on Thug Kitchen and Ferguson Riots in the lecture as well as book. Tillman and other vegans of color have helped to organize protests against Thug Kitchen book readings in California . Below is the excerpt from my lecture I am writing. Reminder, this is a work in progress and will change.

I [Breeze Harper] can understand how ‘thug’ can be triggering for thousands of Black people in the USA, in light of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown’s murders. Please understand, this is all within a USA context in which the term ‘thug’ as been racialized to mean ‘a threatening Black male who deserves preemptive strike against just for walking around while Black’ . This change in the social/racial meaning of ‘thug’ has happened within the past decade, with great significance. Many have argued, ‘thug’ is the PC way to call a Black male the n-word.

I can understand why the term, ‘thug’, can illicit such pain and suffering amongst a significant number of Black Americans who fear that their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons will be perceived as ‘thugs’ by the White American imagination ensconced in centuries of negrophobia. In fear and anticipation, many of us Black identified folk in the USA wonder if our Black family members and friends will come back home that evening from school or work, alive. “He’s late? I hope an officer didn’t pull him over and shoot him. I hope he won’t end up like Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, or Michael Brown.” Critical race philosopher, George Yancy, has argued for years that one need not be consciously racist to still have deeply somatic fear of Black male bodies walking around in public space. As a matter of fact, many times it is dysconsious racism and somatic fear that drives ‘preemptive strikes’ against Black males (envisioned as dangerous ‘thugs’) by white institutions, white dominated districts, and white communities.

There are plenty of social science based books and articles that discuss the racialization of the word ‘thug’ in a Post-racial/Obama age. When reading about the controversy surrounding Thug Kitchen and how a group of vegans of color mobilized to shut the Bay Area reading down through protest,  maybe we can understand how this protest wasn’t some random anomaly; that it wasn’t really about Thug Kitchen at all. These protests are not single-issue and social phenomenon does not happen in a vacuum. Thug Kitchen and vegans of color protest is a microcosm that reflects the current racial climate in the USA. The book’s support and ‘post-racial’ comments by a significant number of mostly white people says a lot: it says “I don’t have the trauma of racialized and state violence against my body that Black people do( and other racial minorities do). Why should I care about the word ‘thug’ and the racially violent history and recent events (i.e. Oscar Grant and Michael Brown) that trails behind it? As a matter of fact, I don’t even have to realize that the term has been racialized and used against murder victims such as Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin to justify their deaths.”

To me, as a critical race feminist theorist, it makes absolute sense that one’s relationship/reaction to the word ‘thug’ will illicit different responses in the USA due to racialized embodied experiences. I do not agree that the book reading should have been canceled. It would have been wonderful if the protestors and authors could have agreed to have the book reading and then have an intersectional talk about why a significant number of vegans of color have found the use of thug problematic.  I think it would have been a wonderful opportunity to discuss these issues to try to build bridges and solidarity with anti-speciesist and anti-racist movements.

If you enjoyed this snippet, I hope you can attend if you are in the area. If you want to see the book this lectures reflects, come into existence, please support the project: “G’s Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix). 

If you would like Dr. A. Breeze Harper to come speak at your institution or organization or for your event, please contact her at sistahvegan@gmail.com and Subject Head it: “Inquiry on Speaking Availability and Fees”.  

16 thoughts on “On Ferguson, Thug Kitchen, and Trayvon Martin: Intersections of [Post]Race-Consciousness, Food Justice, and Hip Hop Vegan Ethics

  1. Who is behind Thug Kitchen? What is the point of the project? The blog posts are humorous on one level — but then whether I find something funny or not and whether it veers towards ridicule really depends on the context and for Thug Kitchen, I have none.

    As a POC, I associate “thug” with urban and hip hop youth culture/subcultures not with a specific skin color or ethnicity. I think specifically of the “Thug Life” tattoo that Tupac Shakur had imprinted across his abdomen. In fact, if I’m being crude, “Thug Life” would be my short hand term for someone with that style.

    I don’t necessarily expect a certain kind of behavior or attach fears to a look.

    But I know that I can see nuances that many white people, who may not see real POC of color at all beyond the ways in which they are stereotyped, do not.

    The thing I find strange/interesting/a head scratcher about Thug Kitchen is that the recipes are the same old vegan recipes that I’ve come to expect elsewhere — many falling into the category of what privately my relatives might call “white people food.”

    Not knowing the intent of Thug Kitchen and who is behind it, I am hesitant to say much more.

  2. I’ve been following Thug Kitchen on FB for a couple of years now. I’ve always found their posts to be pretty funny. I never thought much of the term “thug” when it came to Thug Kitchen. I took it as a play on words since they use a lot of profanity. A thug can be anybody regardless of race. I know that when the word thug is tossed out people automatically equate it to Black people. However, in this case, I took Thug Kitchen for what it is…people who enjoy healthy eating and like to use profanity when describing the recipe. I didn’t take it much farther than that. Naturally, I was curious about the people behind the company but outside of that the posts gave me something to chuckle at as I scroll through my news feed on FB.

    Now as a Black woman, should I be offended that the people behind Thug Kitchen are White? I realize we are in a time where EVERYTHING is up for debate and just about everything is and can be offensive. Add in social media and things get magnified ten times bigger but for me I don’t see the “offensiveness” in this particular case. Or rather I don’t see where the people behind Thug Kitchen were trying to be offensive. Then again just because their intentions were not to be offensive doesn’t make it any less offensive for some people. If nothing else, it has sparked somewhat of a healthy debate (shutting down book signings isn’t the way to go) and probably turned on a light bulb or two in some people’s head. Your post definitely made me think and go hmm…

  3. I find it interesting that skin color is an issue at all for anyone over recipes, I am even more surprised that some POC seem to react badly after the assumption that the people behind this cookbook and website are “Black”. Would that not make those individuals inherently prejudice minded? Take it a step further to infer in any manner that only POC hold the rights to use of the term “thug”, given it’s Indonesian roots and foundation, Or that somehow this is solely used in black sub culture…is laughable. This is a term that has been used since the foundation of this country as the Unites States of America. A melting pot of peoples and cultures. Yet, in a sad attempt to lay claim to many things that are not based in afro-american culture… by implanting a false identity and history based on more agendas for superiority over others..we find skewed perspectives and slanted ideals. We do no service to ourselves by doing so. We further perpetuate victimization of ourselves and others. As a POC and multiracial, cultural background, I was raised to view things through a kaleidoscope of history and perspectives. What I wasn’t raised to do was be a victim to anything or anyone. To overcome by not perpetuating the very ideas and notions that I know are inherently wrong if anyone else were to commit and think in those same terms. Hypocrisy is not flattering. And adversarial positions never solved wars. Peace, education and triumph over adversity through honesty and care is how things change. To infer in any way it is wrong to be biased against a POC but not wrong to be biased against anyone who falls under the too light in the skin category…is ludicrous and hypocrisy at it’s finest. TO infer one is fighting against racism and bigotry while committing it is nonsense. This is not how problems get solved. This is how things go terribly awry. The fact you lumped in a cookbook and website for healthy eating.cooking in with murder and death is outrageous and you shame us all by trivializing serious issues and over dramatizing something that is not offensive racially in the least. If you saw skin color as a factor in anything related to this cookbook and website then you mam…are a racist. You just happen to be a pro-black one. Shame on you. As for promoting healthy eating and a good lifestyle… keep the torch burning and do the damn thang!! 😀

  4. Hi, I have been teaching for almost 20 years at the university level, and all I can say is that MANY of my students, regardless of color, background, gender, etc., have been deeply influenced by pop culture, hip-hop, rap, etc., and their rhetoric and observations demonstrate that. The word “fucker” and “motherfucker” is so alive in their conversations that it’s become almost a non-word. There are still cultural nuances and distinctions, of course, regarding the speech patterns of students, but there is nothing in this cookbook that I haven’t heard from all manner of folks, so trying to accuse the book of “cultural appropriation” seems ludicrous. If we accuse this book of “cultural appropriation,” then we better accuse the world of it, too. While “thug” from the title is certainly be a contested and nastily-racialized word, particularly when racists have applied it to describe the black male victims of police violence and (other) brutailties, when I read the title of this book, I immediately thought of TV characters like Tony Soprano and the meth cookers of Breaking Bad, as well as some of the rappers who love to pose as “thugs” and probably do more damage to images of young black men than they realize (and I do love some rap, and some hip-hop, but tire of the industry generated crap that is sold to predominantly white kids, specially the misogynistic and materialistic crap that never rises above itself). True, we have a romance with “thugs” (as we can see from all the TV shows and films) that often conflicts with the harsh realities of inequality, incarceration rates, disproportionate mistreatment of young, black men, etc., but I think it’s highly doubtful that all this energy spent on THUG KITCHEN, to prove it’s racist, is worth the trouble. The assumption that everyone immediately translates “thug” into “black male” is naive. I think calling the book CROOK KITCHEN would sound silly, since that word is “outdated.” I live in a number of “cultural worlds,” and I never for a second assumed the authors of THUG KITCHEN were anything but white, and didn’t care one way or another. I am from California, but now live in Indiana, where there is a southern inflection, and many of the locals and the kids I teach from the rural areas talk like this. And they are predominantly white. We are not in a post-racial world. Racism is alive and well. But THUG KITCHEN? Please. It’s a cookbook, and it’s meant to get people excited about eating a more compassionate and healthful diet. I see it as a hilarious take-down of elitist, self-righteous cookbooks that always terrify me because they’re so overly-earnest and complicated, with ingredients you don’t recognize. Whatever makes cooking fun, specially in a world of fast-food crap and processed, GMO’ed, horrible-for-you food, is a triumph. And, frankly? We can’t control language, as it is a living, breathing animal, and almost all of the slang in THUG KITCHEN is so mainstream now it shows up all over the place. Demonstrating against this cookbook seems naive. Some of the reaction I’ve read (Madame Noir, etc.) displays utter ignorance about how many Americans speak and use language. I believe even placing THUG KITCHEN in the same conversation about the tragedies of victims like Trayvon Martin, etc., is wrong-headed, even if it feels “academically hip” to do so. Frankly, many academics are out of touch with “real people,” and, no, I didn’t say “people who keep it real.” I ordered THUG KITCHEN to see what all the controversy was about, and was ready to hop on board the “it’s racist” train. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What these conversations have clarified for me is the sad realization that people’s ears for language are “off.” I hear all manner of “languages” in this book, including the voices of my students. Phrases like “these noodles always hit the fucking spot” have no race or gender. Sorry, but the occasional use of a now mainstream adjective like “dope” doesn’t signal “cultural appropriation” to me. And my guess is if you ask your granny what “dope” means, she’ll say “heroin,” if she even knows that much. A lot of this is generational, and the authors of this book are in their late 20’s.

  5. PS, sorry for the typo in my second line: that should have been “words” and “are.” I was cutting and pasting and ended up with that disastrous error for all of you grammar mavens out there. (PS, it’s sad to me that people call the recipes in here “white people’s food,” since many traditional African cultures have diets that are very vegetarian-based. It’s the white imperialists that influenced those diets, and let’s not go down the slavery road.)

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