A Definitive Guide to the Modern Bro, From Ironic Rap to Mega-Woke
Illustrations: Moya Garrison-Msingwana

A Definitive Guide to the Modern Bro, From Ironic Rap to Mega-Woke

White dudes think they see themselves in me. They have no idea.

Bros are bro-ing me to death. Perhaps literally.

Because I deign to engage in activities not typically associated with Black people, such as ordering Negronis and listening to live blues music, I frequently find myself in stand-offs with well-meaning White Bros. These are not the aggro Bros of yore. These are modern Bros: erudite, brimming with hobbies, and smilers all.

They are not racist; I know this because all of their otherwise racist jokes and observations are prefaced this way. Yet, by the end of our interactions, I have clearly lost something. I am less than I was, more frazzled, set on edge. In a setting that I could have sworn was social a minute ago, I have been turned into the day-job version of myself again.

Bros own everything and they know it — the world is their birthright — but the modern Bro seeks to make me feel as if he is on my side anyway. I, who in the words of the immortal Luther Vandross, have nothing. (This is a song which a modern Bro would immediately chide me for, launching into an explanation of why I should recant the song I have loved all my life and instead take the far-superior 1963 Ben E. King version into my life as Lord and savior, presumably because it existed before 1970 and sounds like something Quentin Tarantino would use in a film. They already own everything concrete, so my tastes are now up for grabs.)

Today’s Bros are presented as being more interested in aesthetics than in oppressing the world. Upon inspection, nothing could be further from the truth.

You would think Bros would just ignore me. I’m Black, after all, and male to boot. But I have a flair that compels random engagement. When the weather warrants, I wear a Doctor Who scarf (fourth generation, obviously). I sometimes wear canvas sneakers with books painted on them. I have a respectable collection of non-rack Prince T-shirts. These things aren’t statements, but they do mark me to Bros as a possible participant in the Cult of Cool Things. (My fashion sense is largely a defense mechanism. My scarf is comforting, my book shoes are merely dope, and Prince is Prince.) But such choices leave me to consider what I am willing to lose when I go to a record store that does not know me, or how much longer a coffeeshop trip will take if I have the wrong t-shirt on. I am not anti-social but I am picky and grown.

The Bro has received a mainstream makeover in recent years, pitched to society as a mostly harmless bearded character hovering in microbreweries and Whole Foods aisles. Today’s Bros are presented as being more interested in aesthetics than in oppressing the world.

Upon inspection, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the time it takes me to engage the modern Bro (typically against my will) and determine which species I am dealing with, I have lost two years of Black life. Considering the already significant gap between life expectancies of Black and white folk, I begin these consultations — and with Bros it is always a consultation — already operating at a deficit. I literally don’t have time to rebuff their micro-aggressive mansplaining.

So I went in search of modern Bros: the cagey ones hiding behind summer flannel, enjoying round after round of oversized Jenga in open-air bars sans irony. The results were staggering. In the interest of self-preservation and human kindness, I present an abridged hunter’s guide to several modern Bros as observed in their natural habitats. While there is no danger of any variety of Bro going extinct, it is important to check in on the species from time to time. Where it may benefit the observer, I have noted migration patterns, grazing habits, and mating rituals.

Go forth, so that you might know thy enemy.

Rap Karaoke Bro (Macklemorias Performicus)

Mating Call: Migos “Walk It Talk It” (featuring Drake. Naturally.)

The realization hits me like a powerful scent, a hefty spritz of eau de privilege. At first, it is just a goof, this Bro belting lyrics from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” in a campus bar. But it soon becomes clear that the karaoke list is shorter than the crowd. In the 20 minutes since I arrived, he’s taken the stage three times — each time to perform a rap song, each time to do so with abandon and for laughs. For me, hip hop is power: It’s how I express myself, how I know what people that look like me are contending with on the other side of the world. For him, it is comic ambrosia. It is spectacle. I am the only one in the entire building who cares that their culture is being used as a party joke. It is the kind of aggression people later blame on alcohol later, as if colonization were a flavor.

Startup Bro (Techis Parasitis)

Nesting: Open office
Diet: Souls

Wall Street Bros are not so much extinct as evolving. They can only survive in preserves with extravagant amenities, and recent targeting of their kind has driven them underground. Occasionally a wild Martin Shkreli will announce itself with the purchase of a golden toilet or a Wu-Tang album, but the creature is so loathsome that it is generally put out of its misery on sight. Because of such completely warranted threats, resourceful strains of the breed have evolved into the less-obviously noxious Startup Bro. The Startup Bro is a locust, a hipster gone cannibal. These Bros are not content to merely enjoy a thing; they must consume it. And once they have turned your dead neighbor’s vinyl collection into a pate of warmed-over irony Spam, they monetize it. Rovers by nature, Startup Bros frequently migrate back to the savannas of their birth after having destroyed the grazing tracts of other cities, ready to utilize all their big city skills to sell you on “experiences.”

In the time it takes me to engage the modern Bro (typically against my will) and determine which species I am dealing with, I have lost two years of Black life.

Semi-Woke Bro (Slangus Droppus)

Mating Call: Describing self in personality test acronyms
Conservation: No significant decline noted

He informs me that the problem with Black protest today is that we are not organized, that we have no clear-cut leaders, and that our goals are unclear. Never mind that I am not the one in the streets, or that he is not the one in the streets, or that no one asked him what the problem with Black protest was in the first place. He gets that the world is unfair by design, that great evil stalks the land, and who suffers first because of it. Unfortunately, the extent of his contribution to addressing any of those things is inviting me to coffee — a sucker’s lure — to “chop up” politics. At the point that I have to explain how privileged he is being in that moment, we have succumbed to the siren call of racial automatism. He has cracked a whip he was not even aware he owned, let alone wielded. He knows just enough to be dangerous, and he’s just hip enough to convince me to serve my time in bites. As if science had not already proven what our blood already knows: Time is not, in fact, equal.

Free-Range Bro (Urbanis Ruinis)

Habitat: Axe-throwing competitions
Plumage: Suspenders

Once upon a time, when the plains were thick with record stores and pop-up speakeasies, hipsters were the only kind of Bros most people might observe in the wild. Like locust swarms, hipsters flocked from one trend to another, draining them of all coolness, driving out all indigenous wildlife, then moving on to the next trend. As genuine culture has become scarcer in the face of rampant development by cities of all sizes, the Free-Range Bro has emerged. The telling difference is in outcome: The Free-Range Bro actively seeks to drive out indigenous life from an area while consuming its resources, foregoing the laidback nature of previous iterations that found some measure of cool in being able to say they shopped at a proper bodega. This breed has been repopulated with aggressive nationwide gentrification, and of all the Bros I uncovered, this was the one most likely to end me on sight.

Hipper-Than-Thou Bro (Obscura Digga)

Distribution: Cities with population over 50,000; college towns regardless of size

In the quest to wrench every dollar out of every inch of a city, capitalism in this day and age seeks to make us feel okay with its representatives, if not its practices. Out with the Tech Bro, then, and in with the new gatekeepers of culture. The Hipper-Than-Thou Bro is a clean-up man, sent in to “revitalize” a city with third-wave coffee shops and co-working spaces — or just to fill them. It is a predatory species, one that creates no resources yet consumes your own: your music, your fashion, your history.

The Hipper-Than-Thou Bro knows your music better than you, rambling off studio dates and obscure live recordings as if the music was composed for quizzes. “You don’t know about Mind Science of the Mind?” one said to me, incredulous that I had not committed to memory the solitary offering a one-off, post-grunge rock group. Never mind that he cannot name an early Ice T album or any of Prince’s several female bass players. Somehow, he is the cultural attaché of my culture, things with which I have a history, his agency extending to not only what we know, but what is important for anyone to know.

These are not the record store clerks of High Fidelity, but bastards born of an unholy ménage à trois between Jack Black’s “Barry,” the internet, and the American assumption of the possibility of a post-racial society simply because Obama happened. My pain, history, and values need not apply. Conversely, my presence is also unwarranted. I have been un-cooled out of my own existence.