Featured, Race & Politics

Thug Kitchen’s Brand Of Technicolor Blackness

thug kitchenSince I’m not a foodie (Popeye’s, anyone?) I don’t know that I’ve given Thug Kitchen enough consideration to really think about the once-anonymous creators of the blog and its screwball blend of profanity, hoodisms, and quinoa. I suppose that passively, I believed that Thug Kitchen was created by some shea butter slathering, Trader Joe’s reusable bag carrying member of Bougie Blackness, who eats well and knows culinary thing or two. I presumed, under that the “give a fuck” about what you eat guise was some sort of tongue-in-cheek way of encouraging people of color to eat better. ‘Cause food deserts. And again, Popeye’s.

But I am routinely reminded that I think too much. And the simplest answer is usually the right one. so after Complex, Yahoo! Food and Publishers Weekly all announced this cookbook drop like they were reporting the release date for Detox, I revisited the website and saw the jig up on high. Next to Santa’s North Pole.

It goes without saying that “thug” is a loaded word, which in our politically correct, post-racial society, has become the polite way to say “nigger” in mixed company. So the title that Matt Holloway and Michelle Davis chose for their food blog is deliberate. So is the voice. It’s a brand, through and through, which is why it’s appealing (and easy) in the eyes of publishers. I can easily see this being available for sale in the Apartment section of Urban Outfitters. It’s less important to argue whether or not Holloway and Davis could have gotten this deal if they were Black; rather, it’s important to recognize that they got it because no one knew for sure. Much like the race records of the early 20th century, making the race of content creators less conspicuous is a successful, tried and true marketing strategy — even as the product one is selling is culture.

The site’s humor, of course, is to be found in the stark contrast to perceived “thug” culture and refinement. The crudeness of the language and the life it implies, versus the sumptuous wholesome home goodness of domestic success. This is great, we are supposed to think. Because thugs don’t even know what garbonzo beans ARE! Black people only love collard greens! Those are the assumptions that hold the glue together. That, and the heavy borrowation of the voice that makes Ghostface Killah a joy.

If Thug Kitchen launched with Holloway and Davis’ pictures displayed prominently on the page of their blog, the blog wouldn’t have lasted long. Me, you, and everyone else with some melanin would’ve called it racist. It would’ve been over before it started, and just like we’ve done to Paula Deen, Iggy Izalea and every other imitator, we would have launched a full on attack. So instead, the couple allowed us to feast on the content, and send us home once we had our fill (and they had their page clicks.)

Because race was never explicitly stated outright, we were allowed to presume and project our own biases. But this is where I stop myself. Let’s say the origins of Thug Kitchen had been as I conceived it in my mind: The blog had been created by a lawyer and a graduate of Howard University, who loved to cook in her spare time; Thug Kitchen provides her with a creative outlet away from the stuffiness of the office. If all other things about the blog are the same, except for the race of the person who authored it, is it okay?

Are we assuming that Blackness neutralizes a certain class consciousness? Because there is certainly one depicted in Thug Kitchen. Surely, there’s no way to “talk Black,” but the assumption (one I had at first) that Thug Kitchen would be okay if writers were Black permits a type of “hood face.” It’s very similar in the way that we are permissive of “ratchet” becoming somewhat of an escapism for middle and upper class Black women who throw shade knowing damn well they can’t throw hands.

It’s Beyonce who reps that third… and then Beyonce on the elevator. White people (justifiably) get a lot of criticism for the way that Black culture is mined for profit. We are right to defend it. But Blackness isn’t so all-encompassng that we can’t also marginalize or exploit Black people in the same way. Thug Kitchen is a great idea, and I would be excited to support it…if it really did exist.

Maya Francis

Maya K. Francis is a culture writer and communications strategy consultant. When not holding down the Black Girl Beat for VSB, she is a weekly columnist for Philadelphia Magazine's "The Philly Post" and contributes to other digital publications including xoJane, Esquire, and EBONY.com. Sometimes TV and radio producers are crazy enough to let her talk on-air, and she helped write a book once. She cites her mother and Whitley Gilbert as inspirations.

  • iamnotakata

    lol wow two white preppy looking folks. I actually follow them on IG and love their recipes and cursing. I didn’t actually think they were black but I did expect them to be covered in tats and look more like the Sons of Anarchy gang rather than Donnie & Marie Osman…oh well I’ve already pre ordered their cook book and more power to them I guess

    • StillSuga

      I’ve followed them for a while and not once did I think they were black either. For some reason I always imagined a couple of hipster white dudes, so I guess I was close? The recipes are great though #shruglife

      • Amazonian Midget

        I’m with you. I just knew the authors were 2 hipster white guys. Love the recipes, and the book has been pre-ordered.

        What can I say, I’m vegetarian.

      • miss t-lee

        Yep. I always pictured hipster white guys in my head while reading…lol

    • Spot on. I did assume a degree of brolic/musclebound-ness but not necessarily black.

  • Meridian

    White people are iffy. Their alignment with our culture is always invasive no matter how they do it simply because of historical context. There’s always going to be that friction as well as a preference for them to butt out and leave us alone. That being said, there’s a huge difference between someone like Iggy Azalea and mockery of our history/culture, dismissal of our realities and our emotions surrounding those realities, and white people just genuinely trying to reach out and bridge a gap. There’s discomfort with Thug Kitchen but I don’t find that it’s inherently racist or offensive. Paula Deen is racist. “I was raised in the south and I had servants, and I used this slur, but I’m benevolent towards blacks I swear” is racist as h*ll. White people cursing and trying to appeal to an urban market with this sort of cooking style and ingredient list just comes off as gap bridging to me. Still though, every person is up for getting dragged if they push too hard. They aren’t any different. It’s an acceptance and a curiosity, an allowance, but not a free pass.

    • LMNOP

      I have no problem with white people cussing. I just looked at the blog quickly and I like the liberal use of profanity and pictures of pretty food.

      White people naming their blog “thug kitchen” bothers me though. And I don’t really get it. “Eat like you give a fvck” seems like it would have been a better choice.

      • Meridian

        The blog itself doesn’t have content that pushes stereotypes, caricatures, or anything else of that sort in mockery of black people. That’s why it doesn’t come across as offensive to me. The name of it is questionable. The usage of thug is questionable and I’m sure after revealing their identities, people will rightfully address if it’s appropriate or not. How they handle that is what I would base my overall opinion of them on. If they go on a spiel justifying themselves or they have that general energy of pride in something that offends, I won’t see it as being tongue in cheek. Neither will anyone else. If they acknowledge the reality and allow themselves to be corrected, I’ll know that it truly was a light hearted jokey joke kind of thing.

  • nillalatte

    So, I kind of thought about this for a moment because, well, time is short. ;)

    “It goes without saying that “thug” is a loaded word, which in our
    politically correct, post-racial society, has become the polite way to
    say “nigg*r” in mixed company.”

    For some maybe. For others, not so much. I usually think of ‘thug’ as gansta types, and not necessarily Black. Like ISIS are a bunch of thugs.

    I was watching a CNN special about the sixties one night and they were showing people on a convention floor. Someone started swinging and the next thing I heard was the announcer say, “We’ve got a bunch of thugs down here.” They was all white people, yo. Not a Black person in the building that I could tell. You wanna talk about a time warp… the announcer said, “The Negro wants… ” I was fcukin floored. Damn near had to get duck tape to hold my mouth up off the floor. It was a VERY different time, the sixties.

    So anyway, now we have to consider Tupac as well. “As Tupac defined it, a thug is someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them.”

    Back to Thug Kitchen. If Tupac’s definition is applied, we have someone who struggles in the kitchen, and continues to struggle in the kitchen, and apparently does this on a daily basis and is likely starving because they struggling in the kitchen!

    Or you could just be right and my hypothesis all jacked up. Either way, more power to the struggle in the kitchen. It’s real.

  • ALM247

    I had never heard of the blog until certain blogs like Clutch started giving them free advertisement last week. This is really interesting. From last week’s reaction, a lot of Black people seem to have followed the site. I wonder if this revelation will change their support in any way?

  • IcePrincess

    Did they copy off that black lady who went viral by making ratchet cooking vids, or was their blog out prior to that? I ask because, if they bit her style & blew up, then I feel a type of way. If their idea is original, then more power to them. Dang it, Maya, now I want Popeye’s! *mental note to try the beer can chicken for lunch*

    • Nah, they were out for a WHILE before homegirl blew up. They were their own thing. And you know, you could make beer can chicken yourself. :)

      • IcePrincess

        I kno, I kno *sigh*. And I also kno that real BCC isn’t fried. Popeyes just starting to name their food any old thing lol. I give um a pass tho. They’re my fave, the only fast food chicken I’ll eat. KFC is nasty, & church’s is a government conspiracy.

  • That is a very astute reflection Maya. I’ve always find it slightly unnerving that just because we’re all black that means we all have equal “dibs”to all aspects of black example.for example, I’ve seen a great many homophobic black women gleefully talk about shade and reading people.affluent black people being ironically hood makes my skin crawl.it’s a combination of this presumption that all impoverished black people talk this specific way and the shock that they’d have any interests, and God forbid expertise (!), of anything that isn’t a stereotype.

    • Wild Cougar

      “affluent black people being ironically hood makes my skin crawl”

      [bougie] black people being ironically [ratchet]…….

      Because poor urban black folk should have no voice that is not caricatured by their wealthier counterparts and rural religious black folk should be neither seen nor heard.

  • Thug Kitchen seemed White from jump. They sounded like a couple of well-off White people who watched a lot of Rap music videos and used that as a trope to stand out. While they never outright stereotyped Black people, I knew from jump that it was a group of White people. It’s still a halfway decent food site. It was just never someone Like Us. That said, I don’t mind the recipes when I see them.

    • Well “thug” is more appealing to an American audience than the word “vulgar” which is far more appropriate. But this is the age of texting, since when has grammar had any significance?

  • Tentpole

    A mind is a terrible thing to waste. THUG was a white word a long time before we hi-jacked it. Because we say Gangsta instead of gangster we think we invented the word. Whites are doing something they always do. They see something they realize they too can do it and then they figure a way to make a dollar out of it.

    • B.

      I can’t debate the origins of “thug” though it has been used for ages in literature, etc. But hey, to the authors of the site and book, make your money. They chose an appealing shtick and it worked for them. And like the commenters in the thread below, I, too, gathered that the engineers behind this weren’t black. And I’m okay with that. Would there be an article if they were? It is amazing how upset some of us can get about the appropriation of “representations” of our culture that really are no true reflections of us – our essence, all-encompassing – at all. Why the assumption that by “thug,” the authors were really talking about you (a black person)? Think more of yourself, please.

      • Julian Green

        To be pedantic, “thug” is a word that comes from India and referred to organized gang/religious cult of thieves and assassins; it was introduced into the English language by the British. But more to the point of the article, I sometimes get the impression that black people are quicker to think that thug = black than white people are. In my experience, white people don’t think about race anywhere near as much as we do; I get that a big part of that is that they don’t have to. But still, black people don’t have THAT many well defined reflections of black culture, so why is there a tendency to latch onto and claim stuff like the language in Thug Kitchen?

  • IcePrincess

    OT: My son jus turned 6, he’s in kindergarten. Last night’s homework was rhyming words. One of the words was “no.” I asked him what rhymes with that? He says “hoe!!” DOUBLE. FACE. PALM. I’m starting to rethink what P & others on here were saying about not letting lil kids listen to rap music :)

    • KKay

      Kids say the darndest things. Thank goodness he said it in your presence and not in the middle of class in front of the teacher.

    • Epsilonicus

      You need to get the kids bop version of rap songs lol

      • Bean loves kids bop. It’s a little offputting to hear the Cupid Shuffle sung by a white dude using EVERY LAST ONE of Cupid’s ad libs.

        “They say I’m a rapper, but I say noooooo” lol

        • LMNOP

          A little offputting? No. It is awful and will get on every single last nerve you have. And who among us as parents has nerves to spare?

      • LMNOP

        Kids bop is the devil.

        • Epsilonicus

          But its better thank kids using the word ho

          • AlwaysCC

            there is nothing wrong with the word “hoe.” it is a garden tool. teach him/her that definition and everyone will be okay.

      • IcePrincess

        Chile, the stuff we listen to, they ain’t got no kids bop for. Lol

    • LMNOP

      Yeah you should probably be a little more vigilant about monitoring what he listens to (I think there’s a happy medium though, plus kids don’t actually understand much of the explicitly chexual lyrics they hear) BUT that is pretty hilarious.

    • SimplePseudonym

      oH nO! Did he actually mean “whore ho?” or the garden tool or “Ho, ho, ho” of Santa Clause? I remember learning about the “other hoe” when I was 8 or 9. o.O

      • IcePrincess

        Nah, he mos def mean it the bad way. Cuz when he said it, I looked at him & we both bust out laughing. But it’s my fault, not his, cuz I expose him to movies/tv with adult content. That was my wake up call to kind of tone it down lol

  • Freebird

    I feel no kind of way in regards to white folks using the word thug to describe the things they do.

    • Meridian

      This made me laugh. It’s an accurate description of their actions for sure.

      • Freebird

        and i don’t mean that with the blanket my words might suggest. i feel the same way about the word ghetto. we inherited those words. they are not exclusive to our culture or characters. ferguson police department murdering an unarmed teen….thug s hit. black wall street….thug s hit. the klan having 5 presidents as members…thuggish ruggish.

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