Kanye, Prince or Barack: Who's Head Blipster in Chief?


THE ROOT's recent article on "The Rise of The Black Hipster" certainly sparked a lively conversation on the web. My piece, which reported on the cultural appropriation of white hipster style by young black folks, and the similar theft of black street style by white folks, was more of a description than an argument. Walking the streets of my various cities, I wondered: What to make of the hybrid moment?

Richard Florida, Gawker, Murray Whyte and many others responded, with varying degrees of intelligence, to my narrative of nonchalant miscegenation within urban style. There was a decent amount of criticism from them, and from our commenters about whether the "blipster" was anything new, or really needed to be labeled as such. One of my black hipster friends declared: "The first rule of being a hipster is that you don't talk about being a hipster."


But still, over half a century ago, in 1957, Norman Mailer broke the rule when he penned an essay called "The White Negro," parsing the world of jazz musicians, addicts, homosexuals, and multiethnic urban counterculture well before the seismic changes of the 1960s. He wrote:

[I]n certain cities of America, in New York of course, and New Orleans, in Chicago and San Francisco and Los Angeles, in such American cities as Paris and Mexico, D.F., this particular part of a generation was attracted to what the Negro had to offer. In such places as Greenwich Village. a menage-a-trois was completed—the bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to-face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life. If marijuana was the wedding ring, the child was the language of Hip for its argot gave expression to abstract states of feeling which all could share, at least all who were Hip. And in this wedding of the white and the black it was the Negro who brought the cultural dowry. …

Lots of folks have discussed this essay as proof that, as I wrote, "everything old is new again." But I actually think the flow of ideas has changed significantly since Mailer wrote—in these same cities, white girls in tracksuits and "several thick gold chains," as well as white boys in flat-brimmed hats with the sticker still on are borrowing heavily from black street style.

I addressed this back and forth, and many other topics during a discussion on the debating site Bloggingheads.tv with my friend Reihan Salam—an incredibly smart, hipsterish conservative writer and culture critic at The Daily Beast, Forbes, and the New America Foundation. Here's our take on whether president Barack Obama, and not Kanye, is the "head blipster in chief.":

We also took on comic books, the disadvantaged class of 2009, China and energy, and the main difference between John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor. Watch the whole thing at Bloggingheads.


BONUS: "Blipster Bingo", right here.

Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.