Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Fred Ho responds to Kenyon Farrow's Piece

Kenyon Farrow recently wrote an article criticizing the current erasing of Black presence in hip-hop in his article entitled: We Real Cool? On Hip-Hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation By Kenyon Farrow. Fred Ho has asked me to post his response to Kenyon, please forgive me of the typos, it came through e-mail and I was too tired to thoroughly edit all the things that email does to text.

everett hoagland sent me the below essay. i have attached the introduction (still in draft formation) to the anthology soon to be published by duke univ press AFRO/ASIA: REVOLUTIONARY POLITICAL AND CULTURAL QUESTIONS BETWEEN AFRICAN AND ASIAN AMERICANS co-edited by myself and bill v. mullen as well as three other interesting essays included in the anthology:

1. My own “Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen: The Roots to the Black-Asian Conflict through a Socio-Historical Comparative Analysis Between Asian Americans and African Americans”;

2. “Yellow Lines: Asian Americans in Hip Hop”; by Thien-bao Phi

3. “Why Do We Lie About Telling the Truth?” by Kalamu ya Salaam.

the fourth attachment is my “notes on the national question”; which should give more political explanation of my theoretical assertions below in points 2 and 3.

i hope you that will read these carefully as a very strong contextual foundation to the below comments. My points are numbered not for any order of priority, but simply to keep what i have to say organized and succinct as i want to respond with brevity.

1. i reject and disagree greatly with oliver wang and jeff chang's writings on hip hop. they had submitted essays to our anthology but i found them to be very politically problematic and reflective of the (unfortunate) direction taken by the univ of calif-berkeley asian american studies department (of which wang and chang are proteges and graduates), namely privileging a “polyculturalism”; framework (an ideological outgrowth of post-modern theory with its myriad of political problems of obfuscation and relativism in its rejection of “grand narratives“; “essentialism“; etc. and as a covert and perhaps not-so-covert opposition to marxism and especially the third world variants that emanated from mao and the chinese revolution, etc.). the asian arts initiative in philly, which i'm well aware of, considers someone like myself an “old head“; since i still uphold revolution, marxist-leninism-mao zedong thought, anti-imperialism, national liberation struggles, etc. it doesn't surprise me that names like tricia rose and nelson george are thrown out since these are their black counter-parts in academia and commercial pop culture punditry. neither rose nor george have my respect as what they've done is glamorized hip hop in either self-serving post-modernism (rose) or as commodity spectacle and hype (george)they are both seeking the big pay day as INTERPRETERS or cultural tour guides for the white establishment (academic-intellectual or commercial media). the same petty-bourgeois wing of academia and cultural criticism love paul gilroy, bell hooks, cornel west, skippy gates, etc. the reasons should be clear: these talented tenth-ers don't want revolutionary struggle, so they assert that the cultural exists independent of the systemic, and thereby systemic change is misguided, wrong and simplistic because what they argue really needs to happen is someone kind of metaphysical, abstract, non-economic cultural-based change.

this is the political background of the people and the institution and probably why the event was framed the way it was.

a similar panel called BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE was organized by other uc-berkeley asian am studies folks about a decade ago when the so-called “black-korean“ conflict ensued in nyc. the title of that panel/event also reflected the same political problems and conscious black folks in the audience criticized and challenged the panel organizers for thinking that the dynamic of black oppression and white supremacy has been transcended.

while my friend who i respect greatly, robin d.g. kelley, has taken up the term “polyculturalism“ along with vijay prashad, it doesn't surprise me as both scholars have drifted considerably away from marxism and thereby have fallen into the liberal trap of “hybridity“ theory which takes a blind-eye towards any dynamic of oppressed-oppressor relations in u.s. society today and simply argues for cultural “mixing“ without a real analysis of appropriation, rip off, theft, plunder vs. creolization, mutual inspiration and third world unity. the materialist question of “who benefits“ from the mixing isn't asked any more. yes, borders are fluid in one sense (both as commercial exchange and ideological exchanges occur) and in one sense they are still very hard-fast (segregation, oppression, stratification and unequal exchange).

what we have today is a strata of asian american petty-bourgeoisie (and/or aspiring petty-bourgeoisie), highly influenced by academic trendy theories of post-modernism, polycultural hybridity theory, etc., attempting to assert their proprietary interests in the intellectual and cultural marketplace. rather than seek unity, mutual exchange, collaboration, and coalition-building, they want their own nationalist “space“; and “props“; especially in areas of trendy and profitable youth culture. african american culture has greatly influenced all of u.s. culture, especially in the vernacular or popular spheres. asian/pacific americans have been among the influenced and inspired. some, like those on this panel, seek to adopt it for profiteering (as pundits-theorizers or as performers and cultural capitalists); while others adopt it for liberation (identifying with the critique of oppression and the assertion of identity, national pride, and even revolutionary spirit and consciousness)--apparently none of us liberation-types were invited to be on the panel since we are deemed “old school”.

2. kenyon farrow's objections are a reaction to the blackfacing done by yellows (see my critique of the japanese gangaru sub-culture in the intro attached). while righteous, kenyon misses the mark by incorrectly asserting that asians haven't faced the same forms of national oppression and racism but they been ethnic success stories riding upon the backs of african americans. a true examination of hybridity would do what we hope our anthology is doing: trace and analyse the real-struggle connections, collaborations, intersections and mutual exchanges and inspiration made by african americans and asian americans. he perhaps is ignorant of asian american history. once a true class consciousness is attained, i.e., understanding imperialism as the outgrowth of colonization, capitalist accumulation, eurocentrism, white supremacy, etc., then the genocide and oppression of entire native nations, the importation and forced labor of asian/pacific peoples, the colonization of puerto ricans and caribbean peoples, the subjugation of the southwest and the oppressed nation of atzlan, etc. comes into sharper focus and clearer understanding (see fourth attachment, my “Notes on the National Question“ and then “race“ becomes much more precisely and accurately understood as a manifestation of colonialism and imperialism and black becomes a “political color“ as “races“ become nations (oppressed and oppressor ones). i'm sure none of the asian americans and the token black panelist would subscribe as i do to an oppressed black nation or for that matter asian/pacific americans as oppressed nationalities, for which liberation for both peoples respectively requires revolutionary struggle against u.s. white settler-colonialism/imperialist national oppression.

3. the pitting of “class“ against “race“ is an “old“ploy (take that you young folks!) for which the sad, tragic, despicable history is all too evident to anyone who cares to do any serious historical research. the real-deal is class IS race in the context of white settler-colonialism! u.s. capitalism divided this part of the north american continent into oppressor and oppressed nations and nationalities. for those who only see “black-white“ it is because they fail to see historical development as it truly happened in the formation of the multi-national/linguistic/racial u.s. society (that still has colonies, the majority of which, with the notable exception of puerto rico, are in the pacific, including hawaii, guam, american samoa, etc.). while many caribbean nationalities have strong african ancestry, as kenyon notes, he doesn't appreciate that national distinctions that have developed over the past 500 years among these caribbean, central and south american african descendants. certainly a pan-africanist would uphold the shared african heritage and commonalities, but a pan-africanist anti-imperialist would assert that the black masses of haiti shared nothing with the duvaliers (who were very black and pro-african heritage) and were correct in their righteous hatred of that nationalist-clique propped up by western imperialism.

unfortunately the afro-asian dialogues that mostly happen today are fraught with such political narrowness and errors. for me, it is infuriating and often times disheartening, tho i perfectly understand why. if kenyon reads kalamu's attached essay, he'll get a very profound understanding of what i'm talking about. hopefully everett hoagland, et. al. will rectify the situation and we can initiate our own dialogues. a good recently published book is bill v. mullen's AFRO-ORIENTALISM (Univ of Minnesota press) which i highly recommend everyone reads carefully.

your criticisms and responses are welcome.

fred ho

here are links to the other excerpts that he mentioned.

done by Fred
done by Fred & Bill V. Mullen
done by Thien-bao Phi
done by Kalamu ya Salaam
and another by Fred


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