'Thug Kitchen' rebrands following 'digital blackface' accusations

‘Thug Kitchen’ rebrands following accusations of cultural appropriation and ‘digital blackface’

Read Time:   |  22nd June 2020

Vegan cooking site 'Thug Kitchen' has announced it has changed its name to Bad Manners following accusations of 'digital blackface'

Popular vegan cooking website ‘Thug Kitchen’, which has published three vegan cookery books under the brand, has announced it has changed its name to Bad Manners following years of criticism.

Bad Manners, which is run by its Los Angeles-based founders Matt Holloway and Michelle Davis, has stated that it will discontinue the use of ‘Thug Kitchen’ as the title of all of its previous cookbooks and aims ‘closely re-evaluate’ the content shared on its site.

The duo has relied heavily on their use of Black English and hip-hop vernacular in the captions of their posts and cookbooks, which has long drawn criticism from many who have accused them of ‘digital blackface’ and cultural appropriation.

‘Thug Kitchen’ first faced controversy after an interview published to promote their first cookbook revealed that Holloway and Davis were white, as many believed that the blog’s creator was a POC.

Followers were under the assumption that the use of the term ‘thug’, which is a racially charged term often used to portray Black males as violent criminals, was an attempt to reclaim the racially-charged word.

In more recent years, the term has been reclaimed by hip-hop artists such Tupac, leading followers to believe the bloggers were trying to redefine the term to promote veganism to communities of colour.

Racist connotations

In an online statement, the newly-named Bad Manners said: “When we first launched Thug Kitchen in 2012, we wanted our name to signal our brand’s grit in the otherwise polished and elitist food scene.

“Over the years, as our critics pointed out the racist connotations of two white people using the word ‘thug,’ we tried to contextualize it by talking about our backgrounds and our beliefs.

“We realize, however, that whatever our original intention, our use of it reflected our privilege and ignored the reality that the word is assigned to black people in an attempt to dehumanize them. That’s (messed) up and not at all what we want to stand for. We apologize. We recognize we need to do better.”

Criticism 

The duo have received backlash in the past over their use of the term ‘thug’ and their penchant for uses popular phrases from Black rap lyrics and culture.

Black vegan chef Bryant Terry, author of “Vegetable Kingdon: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes,” has been particularly vocal over the problematic nature of the ‘Thug Kitchen’ brand.

In an article shared by CNN in 2014, Terry wrote: “Many of the site’s captions, usually dreamed up by Davis to accompany Holloway’s striking visuals, rely heavily on phrases from black rap lyrics, stand-up routines and films, which eventually went mainstream…And that’s a problem.

“It’s no coincidence that Thug Kitchen’s admirers often imagined the ‘voice’ of the site to be that of shrill, vulgar and often uproariously funny black men like actor Samuel L. Jackson or rapper Ghostface Killah, and not that of actor Robert De Niro or Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger.

“The contrast drawn between the consciously progressive dishes shown and the imagined vulgar, ignorant thug only works if the thug is the kind of grimy person of color depicted in the news and in popular media as hustling drugs on a dystopian block, under the colorful glow of various burger stands, bulletproof take-out spots or bodega signs.”

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