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Open Letter to the Perpetrators* of Thug Kitchen**

You shot Mike Brown. No, you didn’t pull the trigger, but you helped to load the gun.

You also aided and abetted the strangulation of Eric Garner and the murder of poor 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

These are serious charges that I suspect you do not understand.

Many people have tried to school you, notably including Afro Vegan author Bryant Terry and Sistah Vegan editor Breeze Harper. Antiracist activists have gone so far as to protest your book signings. To no avail. You keep on cursing and impersonating. Or should I say “shucking and jiving”? Because that’s what this is about: cultural appropriation by way of the minstrel show, reinforcing injurious stereotypes along the way.

I’ve watched your website and Twitter feed in recent weeks, waiting for some sort of apology or acknowledgement that, having reconsidered your protestations of harmlessness in light of the new national conversation about police murders of people perceived as “thugs,” you now understand the gravity of your misdeeds. But no. Nor do I see an ounce of solidarity or sorrow — not a single tweet or post — concerning the recent deaths of perceived “thugs” at the hands of police. You really are, I suppose, just as ice-blooded as “thugs” are stereotyped to be. You keep on joking and self-promoting your own “thug” brand while people perceived as “thugs” literally die on the streets.

The other day, one of your white Facebook fans wondered, “Am I the only one who reads these posts in the voice of Ice Cube?” Another Facebook user replied that she was intended to read the posts in such a voice, and that this was the reason Thug Kitchen has been the subject of antiracist protests. The post disappeared. You know very well what you’re doing. And you keep on doing it.

People of color have TOLD you: This hurts us. And you do not care. And you go on making money by perpetuating that hurt. How is that different, exactly, from what nonvegans do when they keep on eating animals (or making money by exploiting animals) even though they KNOW that doing so causes suffering?

But wait, you might be saying, we’re just hurting feelings. We’re not actually injuring or killing anybody.

I say again: You shot Mike Brown. You didn’t pull the trigger, but you helped load the gun. You also aided and abetted the strangulation of Eric Garner and the murder of poor 12 year-old Tamir Rice.

How? By echoing and amplifying the stereotypes that led Darren Wilson to perceive unarmed Mike Brown as so inhumanly dangerous as to require being shot in the head until dead. The same stereotypes that lead boys like Tamir Rice to be perceived as both older and stronger than they are. The same stereotypes that led a gang of cops led by Daniel Pantaleo to tackle and choke Eric Garner to death. The same stereotypes that led grand juries to decline to indict both Wilson and Pantaleo, because “thugs” are just so self-evidently dangerous that of course any level of lethality is always okay when confronting them.

“Thugs.” That’s the word we heard and saw, over and over again, from white people disparaging the protestors in Ferguson and then around the nation. We also saw that word directly applied to Mike Brown by those who justified his shooting. If he was a “thug,” they thought, then he deserved to be killed.

ASU students, dressed up for their "MLK Black Party," while throwing gang signs and carrying a watermelon, demonstrate the association of "thug" with Black

ASU students, dressed up for their 2014 “MLK Black Party,” throwing “gang signs” and carrying a watermelon, demonstrate the association of “thug” with Black

Just as “urban” is now code for “black,” “thug” is code for “n****r”. Even for those whites who don’t intend the slur, “thug” means Black. As Bryant Terry wrote, “the ‘thugs’ that the wider culture imagines when that word is used [are] young black men living in low-income urban neighborhoods.”

Don’t lie. You knew that when you started Thug Kitchen. That’s why you tweeted in your version of gangsta rap style, in the same way that high school students dress as Bloods and Crips on “Thug Thursday” during spirit week (this actually happens). Maybe, like white hip hop listeners who think they can get away with calling each other “my niggah,” you thought that, just because some Black folks reclaim or play with “thug,” you could too.

White high school student dressed up for "Thug Thursday"

White student dressed up for “Thug Thursday”

The burst of giddy badness that you got from doing so? That’s the reason for your popularity. Did you think it was the cursing or the recipes? Sorry: It was the racism.

You gave people the opportunity to laugh at an extended racist joke… ha, ha, ha, how funny to hear a “thug” talking about vitamins when we all know those people don’t know or care about such things… without the guilt of recognizing that they were laughing at a racist joke. Following Thug Kitchen is maybe less obvious than participating in “Crip-mas” or “Thug Thursday,” but probably evokes the same feeling of delicious wickedness… all under the guise of righteous veganism.

I should have said something sooner. Like Bryant Terry, when I first saw your Twitter feed, I thought for a minute that the “thug” in question might be a young Black man playing with the stereotype in order to promote healthy eating within his own community. A quick perusal of tweets filled with “bitches” and faux-ebonics disabused me of that notion immediately. But I was new to Twitter, having just started tweeting for VINE. I thought that everybody got thousands of followers after tweeting for a while. I thought you were just some fool rather than a dangerously popular franchise. And then I forgot all about you until the controversy following your book publication bubbled into our Twitter feed. By then, other folks were saying such smart things that I didn’t feel the need to chime in.

But now, considering your 55 thousand followers on Twitter and your five hundred thousand Facebook fans, I feel the need to make one more try at getting you to do the right thing.***  I’m a bit worried that some of the sanctuary’s fans on social media might also be into you. If so, we’ve go an obligation to school them, and this blog post is it. But, for the most part, the white folks who are laughing at your tweets, buying your book, and unselfconsciously wondering, “Am I the only one who reads these posts in the voice of Ice Cube?” are not going to be reading this blog or any of the other media where they might encounter an analysis.

That’s where you come in. You wanna wash some of the blood off your hands? Then, not only call off the minstrel show while donating the book profits to food justice efforts in Black communities, but also use your social media soapboxes to explain to your many fans why what you did was wrong and why they need to think hard about why they thought you were funny.

Your motto is “Eat like you give a fuck.” My challenge to you is: “Act like you give a fuck.” People are marching, blocking bridges, staging die-ins, and getting themselves arrested to protest protest police killings of Black men and boys perceived as “thugs.” And you say nothing???? While continuing to profit from your misappropriation of the word “thug”????

I am serious here. Racism isn’t some amorphous ether that nobody is responsible for. Racism resides in the thoughts, feelings, and actions of people. Including you. You’re not the biggest perpetrator of racist stereotyping, but you’re one of the most popular these days. The stereotypes you perpetuate are literally deadly. You need to step up and try to undo the damage you’ve done.

Tupac did say “let’s change the way we eat.” There might yet be a way for you to act in solidarity with the “thugs” you’ve been impersonating. But first, you’ve got to drop the disingenuous protestations of innocence and get real. What’s real is that it won’t be long until another unarmed Black youth is shot by a cop who couldn’t see past the “thug” stereotype. What will you do then? Join the protest? Or post a picture of a motherfucking cupcake?

* Double entendre intended. If you don’t get it, don’t worry about it.

** For those not in the know, Thug Kitchen is a blog and twitter feed that churns out obscenity-laced vegan recipes in a faux “gangsta rap” style. This social media franchise became so popular that it was offered a book deal. As the book neared publication, a journalist revealed (to no-one’s surprise) that the “thug” was in fact a white heterosexual couple.

*** Reference to the movie in which Radio Raheem was killed by a police chokehold very much intended.

26 comments to Open Letter to the Perpetrators* of Thug Kitchen**

  • Yes. This. Thank you for sharing the necessary rage over this so well.
  • Chris
    Thank you for this. I was part of the group that was actually succesful in getting their San Francisco and Oakland book tour stops canceled. We have been talking about this in our Bay Area vegan circles since the Great White Reveal. It’s unfortunate they’ve still not stumbled upon the good sense needed to make a statement, an apology, and an effort toward repairing the tremendous damage they did and hurt they caused. But new blog posts, articles, and efforts by conscious vegans calling them and their supporters out continue to make the point they should. We will prevail. People who care have been rightly distracted by the more pressing protests over police brutality, murder, and injustice. But we are continue to talk about TK in the Bay Area and we are not done. Not by a long shot. #BlackLivesMatter #RacismIsNotVegan
  • vegan
    outstanding. let us know if they respond…
  • Penny
    I’ve been following this story from Australia as TK has been booked for Syndey’s vegan festival in 2015. I’ve been trying so hard to educate the vegan community here why this is so problematic. Some get it, many don’t unfortunately. Racism is rife in Australia too and it’s a particular problem in our vegan community. I often feel like I’m smashing my head against a brick wall trying to get our predominantly white, middle class community to listen. Thank you for writing this Pattrice. I have posted it in our local groups in the hope that some of the TK supporters may be better able to hear the argument from a white voice. So sad that black voices are so easily dismissed.

    I sure do hope that your letter gets through to TK and that they come to their senses.

  • Thoi
    Thank you Pattrice <3
  • Dasha
    Okay, I’m white and I’ll probably take a beating for this here – I promise I’m not an apologist for racists, I’m ready to join in a fucking revolution over Michael Brown and Eric Garner if there is an uprising. Not because I’m an “ally” – an ally is someone who helps with a cause that is not their own. Since I’m an American, American racism is my problem. I am against this evil system because of what Rousseau called “Man’s natural repugnance to seeing his fellow creatures suffer.” When others are afflicted with injustice it hurts me.

    But as a person who has the cultural background that the authors of the cookbook are aiming their work at – I read the website and many of their recipes, I saw some interview footage, and I don’t see their stuff as connected with African-American culture at all. The language doesn’t remind me of stereotypical black colloquial usage. They just curse a lot, which -trust me- is not known as something that mostly black people do. You know what I was thinking about while I read the recipes? Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. That’s partly because the word “thug” is still, to most white people, more associated with the mob than it is with any black people. Also the lack of AAVE… if they wanted us to think of black criminals, first of all it would more likely be called the Gangsta Kitchen, and secondly the language would sound like something out of The Wire. And the recipes would have references to collard greens and chitlins and such. The humor here doesn’t seem to be about race, it’s mostly about the cursing (which really is hilarious.) I’m not alone – I’ve talked about this with a couple of my friends, and they also didn’t see the connection to black people. What I think is being missed here is that while racist white people might think all black people are criminals, they don’t think that all criminals are black. There’s still the mob and biker gangs and drug cartels and MS-13 and Dominican gangs… and Mexicans… Lots of thugs.

  • James DeAlto
    Perfectly articulated. Thanks pattrice.
  • Thank you Ms. Jones. I’ve referenced your post via my blog. Your words should be read by everyone.
  • pattrice
    Dasha, Read Bryant Terry’s piece, which includes specific TK quotes that are Black colloquialisms. I’ve seen others. They have dialed that back ever since the controversy erupted and are now careful only to curse. But there are plenty of markers, from before they were outed, that they were in fact trying for the voice of The Wire. And their white fans are still hearing Black: One of their fans just yesterday tweeted that she hears their posts in the voice of Omar from the Wire. A couple of days ago, I saw the FB post where a white fan said that she heard Ice Cube.

    That’s because of not only the cursing but the word “thug,” which is highly racialized. Those two photos of faux “thugs” dressed up in their version of specifically Black gangsta style are just some of thousands you can find online. White folks hear “thug” and think Black. If you want to argue that Latinos of various backgrounds are also included in the racialized pejorative of “thug,” I won’t quibble with that, and that wouldn’t make what the perpetrators of TK are doing any more acceptable.

    But let’s say you were right, and these white middle class people were just making fun of us working/poor folks who curse a lot. Then, we’ve just got a class-based joke rather than a racist joke. Ha, ha, ha, those people who are so verbally impoverished that they can’t do anything but curse are talking about vitamins.

    For the record, all of the various communities that the folks at TK might be mocking not only curse but also demonstrate delicious linguistic creativity. But TK reduces them/us to oafs who can’t come up with a better adjective than “fucking.”

  • Billy
    A recent interview with Bryant, (by main host, vegan feminist, Rose Aguilar).

  • pattrice
    Thanks for that link, Billy. I’m really hoping that vegans looking for a cookbook to buy as a holiday gift will chose Afro-Vegan, which is all-the-way righteous, in terms of both recipes AND ideas.
  • […] Open Letter to the Perpetrators* of Thug Kitchen* by pattrice on December 12th, 2014 You shot Mike Brown. No, you didn’t pull the trigger, but you helped to load the gun. You also aided and abetted the strangulation of Eric Garner and the murder of poor 12-year-old Tamir Rice. These are serious charges that I suspect you do not understand. […]
  • […] From Pattrice Jones of VINE Sanctuary — Open Letter to the Perpetrators of Thug Kitchen […]
  • thanks, pattrice. great insight and thoughtful commentary. things need to be said!
  • Becci
    Absolutely excellent post, pattrice. Well done.
  • Nolan Martin
    I’ve followed Thug Kitchen on and off for awhile now as a vegan. I am glad to run across this blog because I never related Thug Kitchen with anything racist. I wonder what the heck I was thinking? Maybe it’s my age, but I viewed it more along the lines of Heavy Metal Rock ‘n Roll (aka Ozzie). I have failed to see any racial overtones. I promise to look at it as it is portrayed in this piece, but honestly, this has taken me by surprise.
  • Embarrassed Vegan
    I hope you realize by continuing to talk about and write about racism you are quint essentially feeding it and keeping it alive. Rather carnivorous of you. Not all vegans hide behind the smoke screen the media uses. People have been getting killed w/o it making the news, now suddenly its front and center? The real problem you should be looking at is YOUR stance and how you conduct yourself. Thug Kitchen has the freedom of speech the same as you. They just happen to do it with food and cuss words. If you don’t like it don’t read it! Unlike it on FB, un-follow on Twitter.. because in the longest run.. you are wasting the largest amount of your energy, and the people that follow, on something you could strongly prevent by keeping your mouth shut. The more you talk about race the more it stays alive. Festering and pussing. Look beyond the color of skin and what the goodness inside is.. like the veggies we look to for sustainable. Shame on you and leading a sheeple parade against “alleged” racism. Embarrassment to the vegan community. A community about love and non-violence. Shame on you for using the deaths of these individuals to stand on your soap box.
  • pattrice
    Oh, this is almost too much to bear. YOU’RE embarrassed? By ME? Because I don’t understand that talking about racism is the cause of racism? Because I see veganism as solidarity for EVERYBODY, including not only nonhuman animals but also human animals who are disadvantaged and injured by systems of oppression, including racism?

    Deep sigh. OK. I will try not to let my chagrin about this lead me to write an unduly sarcastic reply.

    I’ve heard that this attitude, the idea that talking about racism is the reason for the persistence of racism, has become increasingly widespread, so let me go ahead and tackle it:

    The idea that the way to solve a social problem is by NOT talking about it strikes me as nonsensical. Were animal advocates to believe that idea, then we would need to stop talking about speciesism, stop pointing out instances of animal abuse and exploitation, because THEN those problems would magically disappear.

    Oh, but maybe you think that racism no longer exists and that those of us who critique racism are somehow resuscitating it each time we mention it?

    If so, please educate yourself. A large, substantial, and continuing body of research demonstrates that, while racism has in some ways diminished, people of color still encounter injurious biases in virtually every aspect of daily life, including housing, employment, lending, and policing. On average, it is harder for a black man to get a car loan, and he will pay a higher interest rate than a white man with the same income and credit score. A woman whose name seems to be African American will be less likely to be called for a job interview than a woman with the exact same resume but a white-sounding name. People of color asking about apartments are still sometimes told “it’s been rented” when, in fact, it has not. And, thanks in part to the “thug” stereotypes, African Americans are much more likely to be stopped for minor traffic violations, such as broken tail lights or a rolling stop, and then much more likely to be beaten or killed in the course of that encounter with police.

    These are facts. Not talking about them will not make them go away. Quite the contrary! Unless we talk loudly about the often unconscious stereotypes that lead lenders, employers, and police officers to treat people differently, then they will continue to wreak havoc with people’s lives.

    Those of us who are white also have an obligation to wrestle with the unearned (and, often, unasked for) privilege we have as a result. Did you get your job because a more qualified person of color wasn’t even interviewed? You’ll never know. Do you want to live in a world where that is a possibility? Are you walking around with a little extra cash in your pocket because your race “earned” you a more favorable interest rate or a higher salary? Are you comfortable with that?

    Finally, I would remind you that the root ideology of racism — the presumption that those who are genetically closest to yourself are inherently superior — is also a root ideology of speciesism. If we can’t get folks to quit thinking and acting that human beings who are fractionally more related to them than other human beings are inherently superior, how in the world can we expect to get people to quit thinking and acting like nonhuman animals are inherently inferior?

    Oh, and “sheeples”? You need to quit disparaging sheep, who are nothing like the mindless followers they are stereotyped to be.

  • […] We challenge the racial and class privileges that allow mainstream vegan rhetoric to speak of lower income people of color who don’t adopt plant-based diets as lazy without seeing and understanding their realities of lack of access to good, affordable food. We question the ease with which many white vegans shrug off the Thug Kitchen controversy ; their inability to see this minstrel show as reinforcing pernicious stereotypes about black people that make it easier to accept violence against them. […]
  • […] for more on Thug Kitchen and how not to advocate for animals, read this piece by pattrice jones. […]
  • […] animal rights and vegan movements. Mainstream/white vegans such as PeTA, will use Blackness to promote their agenda in ways that undermine Black people and perpetuate discrimination. Additionally, too often the […]
  • […] articles explain why it is so problematic, so take a look at what Bryant Terry has to say, this open letter to Thug Kitchen and this post by Sistah Vegan (if anyone has any other posts/articles they want to add just drop […]
  • […] We challenge the racial and class privileges that allow mainstream vegan rhetoric to speak of lower income people of color who don’t adopt plant-based diets as lazy without seeing and understanding their realities of lack of access to good, affordable food. We question the ease with which many white vegans shrug off the Thug Kitchen controversy ; their inability to see this minstrel show as reinforcing pernicious stereotypes about black people that make it easier to accept violence against them. […]

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