Thug Kitchen's Brand of Technicolor Blackness

White people (justifiably) get a lot of criticism for the way that Black culture is mined for profit. We are right to defend it.
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Maya K. Francis
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White people (justifiably) get a lot of criticism for the way that Black culture is mined for profit. We are right to defend it.

Photo credit: Matt Duckor, Epicurious

Photo credit: Matt Duckor, Epicurious

Since 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 a 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 “n----r” 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 garbanzo 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-encompassing 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.

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Reprinted with permission from VSB.