The phrase "hipster racism" recently came to light thanks to the black feminist writer Zinzi Clemmons. In a statement directed to Lena Dunham on Sunday – following Dunham's decision to publicly undermine an allegation of rape made by actress Aurora Perrineau against a Girls writer – Clemmons said she would no longer write for Dunham’s website, Lenny Letter, after Dunham had failed women of colour.
In her letter, Clemmons said she "ran in the same circles" as Dunham in college, and that both her and those in her group not only came from wealthy, powerful families, but that they enjoyed "wielding" and "denying" the power this brought. The people in these groups would do things like using the N-word, but instead of own up to it simply claim "it was a joke", she said.
When reading this description of "hipster racism", my memory was flooded with identical examples from my own past and incidents my friends have told me about. The phrase perfectly encapsulates micro-aggressions from people in liberal circles who, upon being called out for it, will twist the accusation round and undermine you further (another word for "hipster racism", of course, is just "racism").
Here’s a not-at-all-exhaustive list of some of those examples:
- In my third year of university I went to a Harry Potter-themed party dressed as Professor Trelawney. I had the glasses, my hair was curly and wild. A guy came up to me, said, "Who are you? One of the Patel twins?" and burst into laughter.
- When I went travelling in Europe people would ask me where I’m from. When I’d say England or Birmingham, they’d say, "No, where are you really from?" and just take a stab at any South Asian country. I think they were trying to look well-travelled.
- In a seminar last year, my tutor, in front of the whole class, called on me to confirm details about Indian caste systems.
- A friend was at Coachella and was dancing pretty much the same as the mostly white audience around him until someone told him to calm down.
- One of my best friends was interning with a theatre company in America. The director was an accomplished woman academically, and said the gun shooter in the play they were producing should be black and listen to reggae.
- In my first year of uni, when the Panjabi MC song featuring Jay-Z came on, my friends at the time – who I'd just met – started doing stereotypes of Indian dancing at me.
- People have literally put on an Indian accent – or an accent lie Apu's in The Simpsons – and spoken to me. They’ve asked me things like, "What’s your favourite curry?"
- When people find out I’m Indian they rush to tell me their love of Bollywood or Indian food.
- My friend’s lecturer used the N-word six times and then got offended when called out on it. They proceeded to lecture the class about safe spaces.
- A white teacher from school posted an image of blackface online and, when called out on it, immediately became defensive and said it was a common practice from a tribe in Africa.
- My friend’s group of white friends use the N-word around her and claim it’s simply because they feel comfortable around her.
- I’ve had friends say they’re not attracted to Asian men to me, before following up with "obviously Asian women are different, though".
- My flatmate heard an encounter between two people on the bus in London. A white woman was talking to an Indian man and was mentioning how cheap something was. She said: "I suppose for you that’d be like mangos in India – you know?"
- Someone made bhangra sounds around me and forgot I was there. When I said "that’s offensive" they said it was appreciation and not meant as an offence.
- I once spoke about how Friends is really disappointing in hindsight because of the lack of diversity in it. A friend of mine said that if I had that mentality there would be nothing from the 90s I’d ever like.
- One of my friends in the past used the term "jungle fever" jokingly to describe someone’s interracial relationship.
- Whenever my friends and I have brought up examples of these instances, the other person often starts crying or saying that it was a complete misunderstanding.
Many people – myself included – bury numerous examples of "hipster racism" for our own well-being. This might seem like a long list, but it's barely scratching the surface of what people of colour go through in supposedly politically-conscious circles.