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.
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.
1. Though the problems are not as glaringly obvious as those associated with Thug Kitchen, heavy metal music actually appropriates African, Asian, and Middle Eastern music to some extent, and has historical ties to racist ideology.
2. Though I often reference the African American community, other communities of color are also impacted by thug politics.
Several UK readers have pointed out that "thug" is race neutral in their neck of the woods. Technically, it is used for people of all races in the US as well, but in the past couple of decades, it has also been used as code for a. people of color that white people distrust; b. people of color who deserve punishment & discrimination; and c. people of color who need to stop being like people of color and be more like white people. If UK people can't interpret this, that really isn't my concern, because this is an American book geared at American audiences who know exactly what "thug" means.
Regardless, I find the entire commercial for the Thug Cookbook to be racist because it mocks stereotypes and appropriates African American culture for white entertainment and white financial gain. There is a very clear racial script. If there wasn't, they wouldn't have intentionally used all white people in these roles. Beyond "thug," other words are used that are clearly not race-neutral, like the sexist/fat-phobic argument they make that eating vegan will make your body "fly." One woman says, "I don't play that shit anymore," which is a clear reference to "homie don't play that shit," a very overplayed trope relating to African American culture. The use of the words "fly" and "don't play that shit" clearly indicates their racialized intentions. This is unfortunate. If they want to have a "cut the bullshit," edgy book, they can cuss all they want without having to label "low class" "deviant" behavior as "thug" (implying these same characteristics derive from people of color).
Even if they were to change the name, a cookbook that engages misogyny by regularly using the word "bitch" and implying that eating vegan will help women achieve an oppressive body ideal is not something I would support in any case.