The Root refers to Thug Kitchen as “a recipe in blackface.” Belittling and commoditizing “ghetto” symbols and imagery for white gain is a form of racism and appropriation. It draws on a long history of white persons feeling entitled to control over non-white spaces. Whites draw on their immense social power to pick and choose from vulnerable communities from the safety and comfort of their spaces of privilege. As another example, consider the popularity of black jazz music among young whites in the early 19th century, though people of color were living in extreme poverty, segregation, and political disempowerment under white supremacy. By way of another example, consider the mass extermination of Native Americans, centuries of white supremacist legislation that maintains poverty and poor health in Native communities, and the subsequent swarms of contemporary whites of European ancestry who idealistically lay claim to Cherokee blood, proudly display tattoos of sacred indigenous symbols, and think the “Redskins” logo honors native peoples.
"Thug" language is also problematic because it is an extremely politicized word. It may be cheeky and "all in good fun" for the whites reproducing and consuming "thug" culture, but for those who actually live under those labels, it is a matter of life and death. Being labeled "thug" in white America generally means being targeted for racial profiling, police harassment, public distrust, job and housing discrimination, and murder or incarceration at the hands of whites. "Thug" politics influence many white Americans who find the murder of young teen Trayvon Martin acceptable. Indeed, I have had white-identified students in my class take great offense because, during lecture, I used an image of Martin in clothes that the average American teenage boy might wear, instead of his "thug" hoodie that marked him as deserving of Zimmerman’s assault.
It has been noted that “thug” has become the new n-word. It is the new, more acceptable way to speak to blackness as a public threat.2 That football player deserved to be reprimanded, he was a thug. That man deserves to be in prison, he is a thug. That boy deserved to be shot, he was a thug. We intuitively know that “thug” suggests that the person of mention is probably of color. “Thug” acts as a racial identifier. But once labeled “thug,” you become suspect. You also become innately deserving of whatever institutionalized violence is enacted upon you. There is no race-neutrality about thug rhetoric. It works to maintain a system of violence against people of color.
Nor can thug symbolism be disassociated from a long and ongoing history of white supremacy. Think about why the commercial for the Thug Cookbook is supposed to be funny: because it showcases white people “acting black.” What this means is, being non-white is funny because non-white culture is supposedly course and ignorant. Cultures of color are drawn on for white amusement, with complete disregard to the reality of the white supremacy we still live within. It’s not okay for white boys and girls to wear headdresses to festivals. It’s not okay for white boys and girls to dress up in a poncho and a sombrero as a Halloween “costume.” It’s not okay for white people to wear blackface. And it’s not okay for white people to play “thug” to sell books. This is especially so when whites in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement frame tactics and theory in ways that reflect the white experience and ignore the experiences of other communities. Just as one example, the cookbook prioritizes recipes that are prepared with fresh vegetables, but 23.5 million Americans currently live in a food desert where fresh vegetables (and sometimes fresh water) are not accessible. Fresh vegetables might be seen as more practical, basic, and inclusive than many vegan ingredients, but only if you are a person lucky enough to have access to these commodities. Many people do not: especially if they are poor, Appalachian, or persons of color. The intended audience of Thug Kitchen could not be made any clearer. And the use of “thug” rhetoric to sell this cookbook could not be made any more problematic.