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Hip-Hop Fridays: Hipsters Find Racial And Social Challenges by Sarah Omojola

Hipsters are people who listen to independent or underground music, attend shows at bars that headline little-known bands and have a distinct fashion sense.

Hipster style echoes the Indie music philosophies about deviating from mainstream norms.

Minorities involved in hipster culture deviate even further from norms -- they are an oddity in the hipster world as well.

"Fashion defines how you want to be seen," said Alexandra Barbier, apparel design sophomore. "Indie style is about getting attention, maybe not attention but [being] more unique...Not cookie-cutter Abercrombie."

Female hipsters renovate fashion by mixing otherwise incompatible pieces. They blend vintage clothing with newer pieces from stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.
They also combine expensive high fashion with much cheaper thrift store finds.

Male hipsters love blazers - previously for the office - and eye-catching shoes.

Common t-shirt designs include musical instruments and obscure band names.

"You want people to be able to identify your interests by your clothes: what music you listen to, what movies you like, your personalities and attitudes," Barbier said. "It's a competition to look more unique than everyone else."

Fashion is not the only distinguishing characteristic for some members of the hipster scene.

Jeremy Baptiste is a black hipster. The music education major is a cultural anomaly and popular stereotypes fail to describe him.

"Black people see me as trying to identify with another culture, but when they talk to me they see I'm not... [White people] want to welcome you in with open arms because some of them see you as one of the good ones," Baptiste said of himself and other black hipsters.

Black hipsters are a unique and scarce presence within the Indie scene. Their experiences are not uncommon or isolated.

Dr. Sue Weinstein, an English professor with cultural and hip-hop culture knowledge, brings extensive academic perspective to concept of race within musical subcultures.

"People identify strongly with music," Weinstein said. "So many assumptions come with weird kids listening to the wrong music."

Many different factors influence musical tastes, Weinstein said.

"You will usually find a reason," she said. "People start listening to certain music for different reasons and all we see is the result."

Erin Lang, a Baton Rouge resident, has had many influences on her musical tastes.

"My mom was in a punk rock band when she was younger, and my dad worked at KLOS, a radio station in [Los Angeles]," she said.

Lang grew up in Mobile, Ala., where she attended a half-black, half-white performance arts school. She was required to take ballet classes and experienced cultural exchange. Her teachers encouraged students to bring music they enjoyed to school, Lang said. She later attended an all-black middle school and had different experiences.

"[Other kids] thought that I was trying to be white," Lang said. "Then they talked to me and said they used to think I thought I was better than them but I wasn't."

Most people do not discriminate against her within the Indie scene, but they sometimes make humorously annoying assumptions, Lang said.

"People feel like you're an ambassador for blacks," Lang said. "[It's] like you can tell them everything about black people. When you're working with the skin, you have to think about it...There are just some things that white people can't understand."

Three years ago, she created Negroclash, an online community, to provide a place where black hipsters could discuss their unique experiences and controversial issues. Topics range from dating and sexuality to Indie music and fashion trends.

Race is an issue that complicates many of the interactions within society and subcultures, Weinstein said.

"Color or race is a sickness at the core of our culture," she said. "The reason why these things seem confusing is because there is a misconception that one is their color."

"We assume that skin tells us everything but there is no such thing," Weinstein said. "Skin color is everything and nothing."

Society expects people to act certain ways based on skin color, she said. "When you are part of a historically oppressed group, you try to please everyone."

In high school, Alexandra Barbier, apparel design sophomore, felt pressure to conform.

"In high school, the white kids listened to country and black kids listened to rap," Barbier said. "I never fit in with either...People wanted me to pick a side."

Now in Baton Rouge, Barbier no longer pays attention to social pressure.

"People just call me the mixed-girl with the septum ring, but I don't really think about what people think about me," Barbier said. "I don't really feel like people wonder why I'm there [in Indie bars]."

She has multiple musical influences.

"I've kinda always been into different music. My mom listened to KLSU in the car," Barbier said. She also credits her uncle Lee Barbier, a local musician in the bands Myrtles and 2CV, for introducing her to new music.

Using an episode of "Chappelle's Show," Weinstein explained some of the environmental factors influencing a person's musical tastes. In the episode, John Mayer plays his guitar for different audiences. One audience consists of a black police officer and a white police officer. They both dance while John Mayer plays guitar. The black police officer explains he grew up in the suburbs, same as the white police officer.

"Most people go to whatever the dominant practice is. Some are adventurous and really interested in music," Weinstein said.

Bilal Dottory, a former University student, grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. Until he was 10 or 11, Dottory enjoyed R&B. He became interested in rock 'n' roll after watching part of a Nirvana music video.

"[I'm] that black kid that listens to punk rock," said Dottory. "There aren't that many black kids who listen to punk rock."

When he attended his first punk rock show, Dottory was unsure about what to expect. Now, he feels relaxed when he goes to a show because he is doing what he wants.

"Just as long as you have a certain passion for the music and have the same appreciation, then it doesn't matter who you are," Dottory said.

Depending on the individual, there are multiple perceptions about experiences within the Indie scene and society.

"We are never going to get a single answer on this issue," Weinstein said.

The experiences of black hipsters are instrumental to fostering discussion and understanding of race in American culture.

"We are all trying to understand this legacy of race and all the complicated things that have been done," she said. "Anything that gets people to expand [their] thinking and talk is good."

Sarah Omojola can be reached at This article appears in The Daily Reveille of Louisiana State University

Sarah Omojola

Friday, September 22, 2006

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