Unpacking the Tipsy Cake Crack House: The Misrepresentation of Humboldt Park

“Yo no tengo pelo en mi lengua” – “I don’t have hair on my tongue” is probably one of my favorite Puerto Rican sayings, usually spoken in a defiant and assertive tone. While it could be deciphered as simply the fearless ability to communicate something, there is also a greater message at hand: the awesome power of language. This is accentuated by an era of Internet social networking and mass media. Accordingly, if one is prepared to speak, one must additionally be equipped to face and understand any subsequent consequences. This is a lesson we all learn, one way or another.

On February 21, I like many others, discovered their Facebook pages and e-mail inboxes full of brewing outrage and frustration. Then the text messages and phone calls began. Claims of racism, calls for protest! And it all started with a mix of ill-humor and coded language from a mere Australian pastry chief, Naomi Levine. The infamous words: “I bought a bakery in Humboldt Park in 2006 and there were just too many gunshots in the cakes….” said on the City Soles TV promotion of her bakery, Tipsy Cake. To make matters worse, Levine laughingly advertised her “crack cakes,” popular among the area police officers, which is distributed by the Whole Foods market chain. Some disregarded this “slip of the lip” as misguided, ironically tasteless, or even unintentional. But for many, this is impossible if one is mindful of the greater historical, social, and economic paradigms that informs such comments. Levine, like anyone on this Earth, exists not in a vacuum. Nor are such words, broadcast to thousands of people in this age of information, without broad implications. The powerful language she used leaves a lot to unpack.

Comment is at 3 minutes into the video.

First, we must highlight the community she speaks so ill of. Humboldt Park, for nearly everyone who lives in Chicago and even in this country, is specifically synonymous with the Puerto Rican enclave and generally as a space of color populated by blacks and other Latinas/os. Her statement of “gunshots in the cake” and her showcasing of her crudely named “crack cakes” serves as coded language for Puerto Ricans and other people of color and makes reference to the violent crime, vice, and social pathology that is allegedly inherent in such people. In essence, she perpetuated the very stigmas that saturate the print and visual media, reproducing racist notions. In other words, she paints Humboldt Park as a savage no-man’s land, following in a long tradition of “urban pioneers” who bravely seek to tame the indomitable through imperial mechanisms of power and privilege.

Secondly, her white-skin privilege affords her the social and economic capital to open a business in a community suffering the displacement of its long-time residents, businesses, and institutions. This is made ever more problematic by the absence of a humble dialogue, on her part, regarding the implications of opening her business in such a community. Instead, Levine arrogantly laments the negative affect the community apparently has on Tipsy Cake: “Bucktown…as opposed to Humboldt Park…could get any client in [t]here not feeling nervous….” Like many “yuppies,” she eventually became upset that her investment in the community’s decimation and sterile “revitalization” is developing too slow. The question arises: why open a business here? Because, like the settlers who descended from the Mayflower and saw a vast wilderness as an economic potential for them – and them alone – and not millions of indigenous civilization, the native residents of Humboldt Park are faceless and meaningless. Oftentimes we forget or stay silent to the fact that gentrification is a process guided not by the invisible hand of capitalist economics but by actors and protagonists with agency and intentionality, justifying their actions with racist and classist worldviews. Levine nor any representative from her business has yet to publically apologize and community critiques have been deleted from Tipsy Cake’s Facebook page.

Lastly, the reaction to the comments were phenomenal and visceral. It was as if hundreds of people, many of whom are Puerto Rican, yelled “without hair on their tongues” from the mountain top their anger and feelings of exhaustion in defense of their people and community. Many of those same people recognize that Humboldt Park has its share of social ills, but are frustrated at the continual onslaught of negative media attention given to us while our efforts to construct a vibrant cultural and economic epicenter is belied and ignored. The Humboldt Park she failed to mention is a place of hope and activism, with rooftop gardens, affordable housing drapped in Caribbean facades, and youth programs that groom our future leaders. However, Levine and Tipsy Cake alone are not the problem – they are symptomatic of a greater issue which is gentrification, manifested in a variety of ways. We thus must move beyond momentary urgency to daily vigilance. We may protest today, but we must all also contribute to the well-established efforts to build a community of possibilities.

For information on a picket of Tipsy Cake contact the Coordinator of the Humboldt Park NO SE VENDE campaign Juanita García at juanitag@prcc-chgo.org.


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16 thoughts on “Unpacking the Tipsy Cake Crack House: The Misrepresentation of Humboldt Park

  1. UPDATE: In addition to the boycott, HP residents Janeida Rivera and Melissa DuPrey are working to demand the following from TipsyCake:
    1) Immediate apology for the comments expressed in the City Soles interview
    2) Immediate change of the name of the disparagingly titled pastry
    3) Agree to a meeting with Humboldt Park leaders and businesses
    4) Agree to participate in a Humboldt Park community tour to ensure TipsyCake’s understanding of the community.
    We’ll keep you posted.

  2. The issue here is that some people don’t seem to understand that racism functions in several different ways and we’re not all always attuned to the various forms it takes. While I trust (and hope) that Naomi Levine had the best intentions, this is evidence that good intentions don’t always translate into positive consequences, and consequences are what matter. Is Tipsy Cakes so financially burdened or lacking expertise in PR campaigns that they have to raise community awareness of their business at the expense of a community and through coded (racist) language? Couldn’t Ms. Levine simply have stated that she owns a store in Bucktown that makes pastries? Why was it necessary to introduce and make crude jokes/comments about pastries being riddled with bullet holes, and police officers claiming that they like the ‘Humboldt Crack’ cakes? Clearly, there is a conscious association being made here between what Humboldt Park represents to Ms. Levine, how she chooses to talk about the community in the City Soles’ video, which is clearly for the purposes of promoting her establishment. Not to mention, she further evidences her opinions of Humboldt Park by symbolically representing them through her Crack cake. So, while Ms. Levine did not specifically use the words ‘Puerto Rican’ or ‘Latino’ or ‘black’ or ‘unsafe neighborhood’ or ‘drug dealers’ in the video, she definitely alluded to issues in the HP area in a racist and white-privileged manner (in other words, she is above that as a white-privileged woman). In the end, she needs to be held accountable for her poor choice in PR strategy and for her coded racist language. Don’t try and raise your business by putting down a community and its people. If she were truly concerned about the issues happening in Humboldt Park beyond simply ridiculing the community, she would have started a dialogue with the community and figured out ways of helping solve the issues, not perpetuating them through her blind racist oppression. Remember, most of the issues these communities face to begin with, are a direct result of the policies and mentalities that policy makers and business owners, such as Ms. Levine, hold. Not to mention that she is also responsible for further socioeconomically oppressing the community by taking up space in a neighborhood that she does not belong in. BOYCOTT TIPSY CAKES!

  3. This is an excellent article . If you want to learn something, read it with your defenses down. It’s interesting to me how offended people get when they hear the term “white skinned privilege”. This is not a racist comment. It is a term to describe the benefit of being white in this country and the discrimination that exists against people of color. I am a light skinned Puerto Rican woman who has experienced “white skin privilege”. It does not feel good to experience how different we are treated when we are mistaken for white and how quickly that treatment is retracted once they realize that we are Latin@.

    Tipsy Cake owner Neomi Levine is in fact a racist. She makes reference to a community she knows nothing about. “Humboldt Crack”….really?

    As for the comments above…”Stop the gangbangers from shooting the neighborhood up and stop them from selling drugs to our own people and then there will be nothing to talk about”. How simple, huh? First, those gangbangers are brothers, fathers, uncles, sisters, mothers, aunts and they are all SOMEBODY’s child. Humboldt Park activists are doing something about it! They are developing programs to give young people a healthy and safe place where they can learn to be proud of who they are rather than believing the same stereotypes that the media (city soles tv for example) and this government would have them believe. And isn’t the job of the CPD to stop crime… maybe their too busy eating “Humboldt crack” cakes to give a shit.

    And as for the comment “It’s time to stop blaming racism and lead by example”…. whose example? Yours? You talk about Humboldt Park like you live there? Do you? If so, what are you doing to lead by example? Humboldt Park is standing up, we have been standing up… and for that we have been imprisoned, discriminated against, written off as “sensitive” as well as disregarded as reactionaries. Our own people have internalized racism to believe that we ARE the problem and discourages them from being the change they want to see in the world.

    Learn the history of your people, of your neighborhood, of the work that has been done and the work that this IS being done to address the oppression and colonization of your people before jumping up to defend a white woman you don’t even know. Despierta Boricua/Latin@ y defiende lo tuyo!!!!

  4. Thank you Gozamos for reporting on this story. One suggestion is that people contact the Wholefoods customer service site and send an email expressing their outrage. Here is the link- http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/service.php
    Wholefoods has always been an advocate of communities and would not look kindly on this type of behavior from a vendor. As TipsyCakes does not feel they need to even respond to this, the community should hit them where it counts and that is cutting off their income.

  5. Why isn’t anyone from the community boycotting the gangs and those who “serve”? You have tons of elephants in the room but as soon as a white person shares the same sentiment everyone is up in arms. For those upset I believe its time to look in the mirror and take blame for allowing this to happen in your community. The yups come and go. The killings and drug dealings have been a staple for years.

  6. WOW!!! Straight to the race card! How typical of the groups that use it, just can not rationally talk about the gang violence. Scream it was a racial attack, call for a boycott and take the spot light off the gang violence that does occur in Humboldt Park. Boycott this store because they talk about gang violence but the same groups never said boycott the Puerto Rican Fest when gang members have shoot outs on the passeo during the fest and people are shot and killed! Race was never mentioned in the interview so why bring it up? If the baker hated people of color, why did she open a store here, why did she just leave another vacant store front on the block if she did not want to improve the neighborhood, provide jobs and pay taxes. Thats right boycott the bakery out of the neighborhood and prove to everyone that it is bad to open a business here not only because of the gang violence but because of the racism here.
    One last thing, to the above statement “First, those gangbangers are brothers, fathers, uncles, sisters, mothers, aunts and they are all SOMEBODY’s child.” you forgot to add that they are the criminals that are killing Humboldt Park as they kill SOMEBODY’s elses child! I would say there is a big problem here if mothers, fathers, anuts and uncles are still gang banging!

  7. Naomi’s father is a retired judge, she grew up in very affluent surrounds and has lived a charmed life sponsored by her family wealth. Her bad attitude is nothing new

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