on culture and consumerism…

As a corollary to my earlier slacktivism post, as I think this feeds right into the culture of our youth today (including my peers and me as well still), the concept of “hipster racism” is spreading quickly around the interwebs and is making its way into conversations around inclusion and the appreciation of and respect for diversity.

Let me set this up a bit first, as this post was spurred by a prezi that I saw shared on Facebook, which provides not only a visually appealing timeline and explanation to a problem, but provides significant coverage of Urban Outfitter’s recent usage (and later droppage) of the word “Navajo” when describing certain patterns and prints used on its clothing and merchandise (including a flask, which opens up a whole new round of discussion on current issues of alcoholism amongst Native American populations today).  I first became aware of this situation of the usage of the name of an entire nation of people for usage on non-traditional product when this article was reposted on Racialicious late last year.  What I was not aware of was that this battle had been brewing since 2009, and since that time, it has included the Navajo nation sending a cease-and-desist letter to Urban Outfitters, while Oprah, yes, Oprah, featured the “Navajo” look on her list of “10 Fall Trends to Avoid (and what to wear instead),” as a what to wear instead item.  This line was also included in the description: “… only one caveat, you don’t want to look like Pocahontas.” Wait, what? *double take*… thanks Oprah.

As the author of the Prezi notes, this can’t but help tie into a new and disturbing trend of “hipster racism.”  Lindy West, who wrote an amazing article titled “A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism” for Jezebel, had this to say on what hipster racism entails: “…the domain of educated, middle-class white people (like me—to be clear, I am one of those) who believe that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist…”

What are we to do here as student affairs professionals concerned about social justice and inclusion, when students today think they have defeated the race issue, and feel that it is ok to say racist things in a joking or ironic way, when in fact, it is still racism?  Lindy West has a great analogy for us to think about hipster racism and why it is able to take hold:

Racism is like a wily little bacterium. It doesn’t just roll over and die once we swallow our antibiotics—it mutates and evolves and hides itself in plain sight, and then all of a sudden, fuck, my arm fell off. Dickhead bacteria. (Sidenote: arm for sale!)

We have to be better than the bacteria.  We have to be our own advanced scientists, thinking up the newest, bestest antidote and antibiotic to stem the tide of this new form of racism, which unfortunately has not replaced the traditional form of blatant racism, but just destroys alongside it, both thriving and surviving.  We have to keep coming up with new methods to teach our students about respect, appreciation, and nurturance (I love the Riddle Scale so freaking much) of culture, diversity, and difference.

Will we ever come up with a cure for this cancer?  As long as we have human brains, I have to concede, no.  But, we can sure as hell try, and isn’t that why we got into this field?


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