Sophie Perry is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
As an intersectional feminist, I will admit that it is often hard to keep up with the all language that the movement creates. Much as with any other social, political or economic theory jargon is an inevitable by-product of academic discourse, debate and discussion. This jargon is, by its very definition, impenetrable to anyone who is not in the specific group that uses it e.g. an intersectional feminist. So, while the definitions of feminist jargon such as ‘misogyny’, ‘patriarchy’ and ‘sexism’ are generally well known, other phrases such as ‘TERF’, ‘mansplaining’ and ‘transmisogyny’ will be confusing to a non-feminist or perhaps a less educated feminist.
While I certainly consider myself a well-read intersectional feminist sometimes jargon appears, somewhat out the blue, in an article or academic essay that surprises me. It makes me think ‘how haven’t I come across this before’ and ‘how haven’t I realised there is a word for this before?’. The most recent example of this being that of the phrase ‘hipster racism’, which was brought to my attention through a Facebook post.
The Facebook post in question, published on November 18th, is a statement by writer Zinzi Clemmons who explains that she is cutting ties with writer and actress Lena Dunham. In the post Clemmons calls for fellow women of colour to also cut ties with Dunham following her defence of Girls writer Murray Miller, who had been accused of sexual assault by actress Aurora Perrineau. Clemmons, whom is a former contributor to Dunham’s feminist newsletter Lenny Letter, states that she knows ‘exactly who Lena Dunham is–who she was before she was famous–and have for years’.
Clemmons explains that herself and Lena ‘ran in the same circles in college […] Jemima Kirke was in my year at RISD while I was at Brown. We had many mutual acquaintances and still do. Most of these acquaintances were like Lena–wealthy, with parents who are influential in the art world’. She goes on to say that she avoided ‘those people like the plague because of their well-known racism’, a strain of which she calls ‘hipster racism’.
This ‘hipster racism’ that Clemmons describes was a new term to me, with a definition I didn’t know. My mind immediately went to the notion that it was racism by hipsters, which seemed plausible for a moment as this aforementioned Lena-Dunham-social-circle appeared to be an arty one. However, that idea was quickly set aside as the legitimacy of racism by hipsters, as an entire social group, was as unlikely as racism by Tesco workers or racism by people who put milk in their tea first.
The definition that Clemmons provides describes the notion of ‘hipster racism’ as one ‘which typically uses sarcasm as a cover, and in the end, it looks a lot like gaslighting’. With statements such as “It’s just a joke. Why are you overreacting?” serving as the rebound to any accusation that the racist jokes they are making are actually, well, racist.
It is here that I return to my earlier point where I said ‘how haven’t I realised there is a word for this before?’, I say this because I have actually witnessed ‘hipster racism’ many times but never realised it. It is only with the understanding of such a term and its applications in real life that I can come to examine instances where a statement or action have niggled me, but I have never known why.
Take, for example, one Halloween while I was studying for my undergraduate degree. Myself and some friends were heading off on a night out in the spooky season of things and along the way bumped into a few girls we knew. My friends knew these girls a lot better than I did, as to me they were only that friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend you see on Facebook, so I did not really speak to them. However, through the nature of friend-of-a-friend chatter I knew these girls were relatively worldly and ‘woke’ about social issues. It is for this reason that I remember the cringing feeling I felt in my stomach when I heard them make a joke about cultural appropriation and their costumes. Their costumes being a skimpy version of Native American traditional dress. Yikes. At the time I didn’t know how to feel about this moment, so I let it pass and did not think about it again. That is until I learned the phrase ‘hipster racism’ and the sarcastic, joking racial insensitivity fell into place.
While it may seem like intersectional feminism is a battlefield of jargon, such jargon is incredibly important. By enabling acts of racism, sexism and homophobia to be defined and categorised by language that language allows the user to inherently challenge and deconstruct these acts at their very core. In simple terms, language has power and that power allows for much more varied understandings of how systems of inequality operate at their very core. ‘Hipster racism’ is just one example of how language can allow for understanding, revaluation and challenge can work in real life contexts.
I’ve added it my vocabulary, now add it to yours.