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.
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.
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.