On White Boy Tacos
I’m halfway through my eight dollar Lt. Dan burrito at White Boy Tacos in Downtown Los Angeles and am feeling mighty confused. When does the white power kick in?
I’ve heard a lot about White Boy Tacos on thefacebook.com. It is apparently a haven of white privilege and racism and capitalist gentrification and the white lash and and and….
And yet here I am four dollars deep into what is basically a ginger shrimp wrap served in the desolate confines of a breakfast/lunch Mexican spot on Eighth Street where a polite, if weary, looking Caucasian male is hawking tacos while Prince and Parliament play through a bluetooth speaker. Despite all promises to the contrary I have yet to feel supreme.
By now the enzymes where my white pedigree lay dormant should have exploded in a cacophony of “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Surely Leni Rifienstahl will emerge with a loaded Leica camera to document the sublime fury and pure force of will at this modern day Nuremburg. Am I early for the putsch? Where is the Klan recruiting booth?
Then it dawns on me: this guy might not actually be a racist.
Insensitive? Sources say yes. Tone deaf? Most definitely. Fucking idiot? Yep. Racist? I haven’t had enough unguarded one on one time to properly suss that out. Clear cut, overtly, undeniably, crucify him upside down racist? I’ll wager not.
Which is a weird conclusion to come to given the ongoing shit fit regarding his life’s work on the DTLA Facebook group. It’s a white privilege gimmick that monetizes whiteness, apparently. It’s predatory capitalism and white supremacy.
Long story short, white boy used to serve from a fold up table on Broadway. In an era of crack downs on primarily latino street vendors, it would be incredibly fucked up if White Boy Tacos lasted so long on the streets because of a wink-wink towards the owner’s race. Given the city’s fondness for revenue generating fines and a bureaucracy built from supposed equal opportunity employment, I’m going to guess that the Food Department wouldn’t have batted an eye at taxing white boy.
Now he has been shut down by the city and forced to move into an admittedly janky brick and mortar. It feels like a Fox News wet dream. Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of Rupert Murdoch’s castle of broken dreams and oligarch propaganda, one wan Teuton or another is surfing the web looking for stories of hard working white businessmen being targeted for identifying with the white race.
(Can’t wait for that one to play out. First you get the shrill protestors who really dig every other stripe on the American flag, then you get the crazy blond lady with the twitter account, then you get the actual neo-nazis, then you get another four years of Trump.)
Hateful hypotheticals aside, the name is apparently the huge sticking point. As if advertising one’s whiteness is an advantage in the taco game. As if the hordes of white folk who come downtown to gentrify are pre-disposed to respond positively to the word “white.” As if all those tourists from Middle America and refugees from the suburbs and financial district button down types would scorn a bevy of legitimate taco places and flock to White Boy Tacos like a moth to flame because it says “white.”
My white privilege is really going to show here, but let me reveal the great and enduring secret at the core of White America: white people are fundamentally insecure. Their John Adams/John Wayne/John Philip Sousa paradigm is disappearing more and more by the day, the “glory” of the past is fading with it. Many of the whites are hip already to the knowledge that the “glory” was bull shit to begin with. Few self-respecting urban white folk want to get whiter.
The sort of vitality and essential life force required to prolong an innovative, lucid, productive, strong, exciting society is not springing forth from the well of whiteness. For a century or more, white people have been looking elsewhere for the cultural forms that give them inspiration. Which brings us to cultural appropriation.
If you’ve been keeping score these past five hundred years, you know that white people are super good at stealing things. (The continent, for instance.) The unapologetic appropriation of cultural forms by white people is akin to salt rubbed in the wounds that linger unhealed on black, brown and yellow bodies, minds and souls after the indescribable horror of conquest.
Now, White Boy Tacos is not bad. The food was decent and inexpensive. Nevertheless, it is fucked symbolically because it is insensitively overt. It lacks the subtle nuance of a Chica’s Tacos (Mexican food in Downtown/owned by three white dudes/named after a woman). White Boy Tacos is the Elvis of street cuisine — it not only jacked another ethnicity’s style, but it was created to cut into the margins of that ethnicity’s poorest class.
Though the die hard hate mongers would have you believe the narrative of this New Old World is strictly one of white v. brown, the truth is that the racial landscape is a secondary component to the economic narrative. New hatreds and superiorities were invented to facilitate horrors that were good for the bottom line of colonization. It’s why the indios were herded into the encomienda system. It’s why labor shortages in North America dictated the creation of a whole new racism to justify the import of Sub-Saharan slaves.
The business of the Western World is the great divvying up of grand things into personal property that is to be hoarded and protected at all costs. We the people have zero recourse because we’re caught dickering amongst ourselves from behind the cultural fences we didn’t erect, but we defend nonetheless.
Now that eerie unease as both sides peer at one another with great suspicion, waiting for the next injustice they can inevitably predict for they know the other to be categorically wicked or weak. We compare skin tones and shout at one another over the roaring din of the great vacuum that unseen hands use to hoover up every thing of worth. It’s exhausting. Sometimes we wonder if we chose wisely or maybe it’s not so obvious and we have to work harder to perceive our true kinfolk on a level beyond the depth of skin.
But that’s impossible because we live in a world built on the categorical hatred of one race by another and that uniform disgust goes both ways and now the middle ground is evaporating before a tide of fear, hate, pride and the inevitable erosion of compromise.
Meanwhile, I’ve finished my burrito and gone down to Tacos Mexico on Broadway to compare. The quesadilla combo costs fifty-five cents less than a White Boy burrito. Inside the Styrofoam case with the plastic bag that will one day lodge itself in a sea turtle’s gullet somewhere off the coast of California is a meal of “authentic” Mexican food.
Maize masa and frijoles, yes. But what of this rice and the cheese and the lard? These smack of Columbus and the fatal injection of toxic salt and carbohydrate levels and fat that we call New World Syndrome that has been killing off the indigenous people since 1492. Now that I think of it, the man behind the counter has suspiciously Moorish features like he carries Iberian blood. I wonder if anyone is really pure anymore.
What good is culture and history and strength if we don’t share it? Does anyone really have all the pieces to the puzzle? Would there be Jazz without European orchestras and surplus northern military instruments in New Orleans? What would Hip Hop be without German microphones or R&B without Japanese transistor radios? Where’d you score your blue eyes and me my curly hair? Is it even possible to be all of one thing and none of another? Is that the way the world works?
Look, hoss, you done fucked up with your White Boy Tacos. If you wanted to hash this concept out, you should have gone to Orange County or some other place with a lower authenticity threshold. Your branding is silly. Whether you meant it as self-effacing or not is irrelevant. It wasn’t received that way. You can double down on a bad bet or you can learn a valuable lesson and walk away. You’re here now and frankly I don’t care because I have bigger fish to fry.
For everyone on the other side, I get that small things carry big weight and little affronts are being addressed as recompense for the larger things that cannot be redressed. That said, given all the fucking deprivations on display in ano domini 2017, is this the thing that best deserves your time and attention?