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API: MUSIC ART CULTURE & RESISTANCE

Friday, January 07, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO Benefit for Bayan US - Eskipo, Flattbush, Kadena, Lost in Amerika, Dogs of Ire

Legendary hardcore band Eskapo along with other radical bands: Flattbush, Kadena, Lost in Amerika and Dogs of Ire are playing a benefit show at Blindstiff Alley in San Francisco. For more information click here. Should be a great show. $5 for 5 bands. Punk can still be great!


NYC: Brown Like Dat: South Asians And Hip Hop

This was forwarded to the APOC list by Suneel, below is a brief write up about the films being shown in NYC on Saturday January 15, 2005. For more info check out: the 3rd i website


About the Films
Brown Like DatDirector: Raeshem Chopra Nijhon 2005. Video. 34 mins.

Brown Like Dat: South Asians and Hip-Hop gives a voice to South Asian MCs, beatboxers, spoken word artists and producers. With hip-hop as its lens, this documentary is a colorful portrait of the rainbow of political ideals, social messages and experiences that is in part young South Asian Americans today, revealing an emerging layer of this second generation community. Through their music and their lives these artists speak on everything from racial profiling post-9/11 to identity in second-generation immigrant communities, forcing us to question "traditional" South Asian existence in America in fresh new ways. Featured Artists: Abstract Vision Humanity, Chee Malabar from Himalayan Project, D'Lo, Jugular, Karmacy, and MC Kabir.

Resistencia: Hip Hop In ColombiaDirector: Tom Feiling2002. Video. 51 mins.
This video offers an unusual look at the current political and economic crisis in Colombia -- including a decades-long civil war, a rampant drug trade, kidnapping for ransom, and financial scandal at the highest levels of the government -- through the eyes of young Colombians, in particular the country's finest rap musicians, DJs and breakdancers. These young artist-activists turn out to be surprisingly articulate in their analysis of the nation's deteriorating situation and its role within a global economic system dominated by the U.S. They also provide rare insights into life in the poor barrios of this volatile country and how traditional Latin music has been surpassed in popularity by rap music. Resistencia is thus not only youthful and entertaining, it is also angry and enlightening.

Best Music Film, Portobello Film Festival
Best Foreign Documentary, Urban World NYC Film Festival
Special Jury Prize, Bogota International Film Festival
Honorary Mention, Oakland Film Festival
About the Director


Eddy Zheng

Eddy Zheng is a talented Chinese poet serving time in prison, his blog is at http://eddyzheng.blogspot.com/ . Thanks to Ben Wang for informing me about Eddy.
This is a brief bio at the beginning of Eddy's blog.

Eddy Zheng is an inmate in a California State Prison. He was sentenced to 7-years-to-life for a robbery when he was 16 in 1986. He has served over 18 years and is now 35 years old. While incarcerated, he has learned English, completed his GED, earned a college degree, and has worked with at-risk youth. He is an avid writer, and he organized the first poetry slam at San Quentin State Prison. This is Eddy Zheng in his own words. More info at http://www.eddyzheng.com.

Interview with Fred Ho

Fred Ho is a musician, composer, writer and activist. A couple of books he edited, contributed to and helped get published were Legacy to Liberation and Sounding Off! Music as Subversion/Revision/Revolution. He is also a well renowned Jazz musician/composer and has led his own music group around to perform around the world. In addition, Fred Ho has been a member of the Nation of Islam, I Wor Kuen and the League of Revolutionary Struggle. You can check out his site big red media for further information about Fred Ho. I recently was able to conduct a very brief interview through e-mail, as Fred was currently in Costa Rica, performing. Many thanks to Fred as he seemed very busy, yet nicely enough replied quickly and concisely. My questions are in lowercase and his are in uppercase.
1. First off how would you state your own political theory?
IDEOLOGICALLY AND POLITICALLY I CHARACTERIZE MYSELF AS A MARXIST-LENINIST OR A MATRIARCHAL REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST SINCE I BELIEVE MARXISM IS ESSENTIALLY A REVOLUTIONARY FEMINISM THAT ASSERTS THE FIRST CLASS STRUGGLE WAS THE VIOLENT OVERTHROW OF WOMYN WHICH LED TO THE CONSTRUCTION OF PATRIARCHY, THE STATE AS AN INSTRUMENT OF CLASS RULE AND TO SOCIAL CLASSES. BUT MY TRAJECTORY AND HISTORY IN THE M-L MOVEMENT COMES OUT OF THE U.S. OPPRESSED NATIONALITY MOVEMENTS, SPECIFICALLY THE API AND AFRICAN AMERICAN LEFT. I COUNT MY PRINCIPLE INFLUENCES BEING CABRAL, MAO, FANON, NGUGI, MALCOLM X, MARIA MIES, ALEXANDRA KOLLANTAI, ETC.
2. How do you see it working in the U.S.? Or will it ever work in theU.S., if so do you feel optimistic that it is in the near future?
THE U.S. IS A WHITE-SETTLER COLONIAL NATION-STATE ERECTED UPON THE OPPRESSION OF NATIVE NATIONS, THE NEW AFRIKAN NATION, THE CHICANO-NATIVE NATION, THE HAWAIIAN NATION, SEVERAL COLONIES INCLUDING PUERTO RICO AND OTHERS, AND MILLIONS OF OTHER OPPRESSED NATIONALITIES INCLUDING FORMER OPPRESSED NATIONALITIES FROM SOUTHERN AND EASTERN EUROPE WHO WERE ABLE TO ASSIMILATE INTO THE WHITE OPPRESSOR NATION DUE TO THE RACIAL DIVIDE BASED ON WHITE SKIN PRIVILEGE AND PRIMACY. THAT MAKES NATIONAL LIBERATION AND SOCIALIST REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE EXTREMELY COMPLEX AND FRAUGHT WITH HUGE CONTRADICTIONS. THE IMMENSE WEALTH WROUGHT FROM NATIONAL OPPRESSION AND IMPERIALISM HAS CREATED AN ENORMOUS FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS AND SOCIAL CHAUVINISM AMONG ALL AMERICANS, WHO ARE MISLED IN IDENTIFYING WITH YANKEE IMPERIALISM OVER THEIR CLASS INTERESTS OR ANTI-IMPERIALISM BECAUSE IT MEANS "SACRIFICING" THAT TERRIFICALLY PRIVILEGED STANDARD OF LIVING AND SENSE OF SUPREMACY. SO THE ROAD IS TOUGH AND TORTUOUS WITH MANY COMRADES GIVING UP, BEING BRIBED OR BOUGHT OFF INTO COMPLACENCY, ETC. IN THE HISTORY OF THE U.S., THERE HAVE BEEN HUGE UPRISINGS, REBELLIONS AND CLASS AND NATIONAL WARFARE. THE PROBLEM IS THAT NONE OF THESE UPSURGES HAS CRYSTALLIZED INTO A LEADING, DEEPLY ROOTED, AWESOME REVOLUTIONARY PARTY (OR PARTIES). THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY WAS THE PRIMARY MOVEMENT FOR ARMED STRUGGLE IN THE U.S. DURING THE 20TH CENTURY BUT IT LASTED ONLY A FEW YEARS. THE NEW LEFT M-L MOVEMENT ALSO BARELY MADE IT BEYOND A DECADE AT THE VERY MOST. THE REASONS FOR THE PARTIAL SUCCESSES (OR YOU COULD SAY PARTIAL FAILURES AS WELL) ARE STILL BEING ANALYSED AND SORTED OUT. SHOULD WE BE HOPEFUL? OF COURSE, UNLESS YOU THINK YOU'LL BE FORTUNATE TO HIDE OR JUST COAST ALONG WITH RACISM, SEXISM, CLASS EXPLOITATION AND INCREASING JINGOISM AND FACIST ESCALATION. THE PROBLEM IS THE RACE AGAINST THE ECOLOGICAL CLOCK, BEFORE CAPITALISM DESTROYS TOO MUCH OF THE ECOSYSTEM TO A POINT AT WHICH IT BECOMES UNSUSTAINABLE AND IRREVERSIBLE. I GIVE IT ABOUT ANOTHER 100-200 YEARS, BUT SOONER WITH MOUNTING CRISES AND INTERNATIONAL ERUPTIONS.
3. What do you feel is the role of radical (and I'm going to defineradical as left in action and thought of progressive/liberal) APIcommunities in order create true social justice within North America.
THE API LIBERATION MOVEMENT IS A MULTI-CLASS STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM FROM THE MYRIAD EFFECTS OF NATIONAL OPPRESSION. THE WORKERS, BOTH IMMIGRANT AND U.S.-BORN, ARE THE BACKBONE, THOUGH THE ENTIRE "COMMUNITY" OR "PEOPLE" WILL PARTICIPATE TO VARYING LEVELS OF INTENSITY AND CONVICTION AS "RACISM" AND NATIONAL OPPRESSION EFFECTS THE ENTIRE NATIONALITY. WE SEE THIS IN EVERY ISSUE TAKEN BY BY APIs. THE UPPER CLASSES (PETTY BOURGEOISIE AS APIs DON'T REALLY HAVE MEMBERSHIP IN THE BIGGEST BOURGEOISIE, THE IMPERIALIST CLASS THAT RUNS THE U.S. ECONOMICALLY-POLITICALLY-MILITARILY-CULTURALLY) TAKE UP ISSUES THAT EFFECT THEM AND IN THE MOST REFORMIST WAY, ISSUES SUCH AS GLASS CEILING, RACIST IMAGES IN THE MEDIA, JOB DISCRIMINATION, ETC. THE WORKERS AND LOWER STRATA IMMIGRANTS (WHO OWN VERY SMALL BUSINESSES AND BARELY EAK OUT AN INCOME) USUALLY CONFRONT ISSUES THAT AFFECT THEM MOST DIRECTLY AND IMPACTFULLY: SUCH AS RACIST VIOLENCE, RACIST IMMIGRATION ATTACKS, CUTS AND LOSS OF SERVICES, ETC. THE KEY IS TO UNITE THE API, AND OTHER "THIRD WORLD" (OR OPPRESSED NATIONALITY) MOVEMENT WITH THE SOCIALIST (PROLETARIAN) REVOLUTION TO END U.S. IMPERIALISM. THIS INCLUDES SPECIFIC DEMANDS AND STRUGGLES AS THE SUCCESSION/INDEPENDENCE OF HAWAII, AND OTHER SUCCESSION/INDEPENDCE STRUGGLES BY NATIVE, NEW AFRIKAN AND CHICANO NATIONS; THE ENDING OF ALL FORMS OF INEQUALITY AND WHITE PRIVILEGE/SUPREMACY; ETC. THIS IS WHAT IS CALLED UNITING THE NATIONAL STRUGGLES/MOVEMENTS WITH THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION, MEANING FORGING A UNITED FRONT AGAINST THE COMMON ENEMY OF U.S. IMPERIALISM; CONSTRUCTING NEW NATION-STATES AND ACTUAL INDEPENDENT POLITICAL GOVERNMENTS SEPARATE FROM THE U.S. WASHINGTON-D.C. BASE.
4. How and when did you first get into music?
AS A YOUNG TEENAGER, SEARCHING FOR WAYS TO EXPRESS THE POLITICAL AND CULTURAL EXPLOSION I WAS GOING THRU, DISCOVERING MY IDENTITY AS AN OPPRESSED NATIONALITY, INSPIRED BY THE BLACK LIBERATION MOVEMENT AND ITS ATTENDANT REVOLUTIONARY CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS, AND MY CONSTANT INVESTIGATION OF WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO END ALL FORMS OF OPPRESSION AND EXPLOITATION THOROUGHLY, AT THE ROOT SOURCE AND NOT SUPERFICIALLY OR COMESTICALLY.
5. How and when (if ever) did you make the link between music/art/cultureand resistance?
THERE NEVER WAS A SEPARATE LINK. TO THIS TODAY, I'VE BEEN PLAYING THE SAXOPHONE AS LONG AS I'VE BEEN IN THE STRUGGLE AND I'VE BEEN IN THE MOVEMENT AS LONG AS I CONTINUE TO MAKE MUSIC. SOMEHOW, MIRACULOUSLY, I WAS ABLE TO MAKE A LIVING JOINING MY MUSIC AND POLITICS WITHOUT HAVING TO TAKE A JOB AT A UNIVERSITY TEACHING OR WORKING IN ANYTHING THAT DIDN'T DEVOTE ALL OF MY ENERGIES, ABILITIES, IMAGINATION AND SPIRIT TO REVOLUTIONARY CULTURE AND POLITICS. AND IT HASN'T BEEN EASY, BUT YOU LOOK AT MY LIFE AND COMPARE IT TO OTHERS OF MY AGE AND GENERATION WHO ONCE WERE LEFTISTS. THEY HAVE THE ACCOUTREMENTS AND TRAPPINGS (AND PERHAPS TRAPS) OF PETTY BOURGEOIS, MIDDLECLASS SETTLER-COLONIAL LIFESTYLES AND CLASS POSITION: THE SPOUSE, KIDS, HOME, CAR(S), REFRIGERATOR AND CABINETS AND CLOSETS FULL OF PROCESSED CONSUMER GOODS, ETC.
6. What role do you feel does music/Arts play within the radcial APIcommunity today compared to the 60s/70s?
ALL OPPRESSED PEOPLES NEED A CULTURE OF RESISTANCE AND STRUGGLE THAT AFFIRMS WHO THEY ARE WHICH ISN'T WHAT THEIR OPPRESSORS MAKE OF THEM (THE STEREOTYPES, ETC.). AS CABRAL SAID, CULTURE IS THE FIRST PROCESS IN NATIONAL LIBERATION. WITHOUT A CULTURE OR IDENTITY, A PEOPLE WILL SIMPLY BELIEVE THEY ARE IMITATIONS OF THEIR OPPRESSORS OR WORSE, INFERIORS. WE NEED A CULTURE THAT AFFIRMS OUR UNIQUENESS AND NOT IMITATE OR IMBIBE WHITE SUPREMACIST FORMS SUCH AS BOURGEOIS CLASSICAL MUSIC, COMMERCIAL POP CULTURE, ETC. UNFORTUNATELY, TOO MANY OF THE SO-CALLED HIP HOP GENERATION HAS SWALLOWED THE MOST VACUOUS, SUPERFICIAL AND SHALLOW ASPECTS OF BLACK URBAN CULTURE THAT HAS BEEN CO-OPTED BY MADISON AVE AND HOLLYWOOD. RATHER THAN BECOME INNOVATORS, REVOLUTIONARY ARTISTS WHO SEEK TO TRANSFORM THE FORM OF THE CULTURE AND ITS CONTENT, THEY'VE BECOME SHALLOW IMITATORS AND POSEURS. "ATTITUDE" IS SIMPLY THE MARKETING OF FAKE OR FAUX MILITANCY AND NOT REVOLUTIONARY IDEOLOGY AND PRAXIS (UNITY OF THEORY AND PRACTICE, PERHAPS A SARTREAN TERM).
7. Are there any people or organizations (politically/musically) thatimpacted your life the most?
MANY, MANY, MANY. AND IT CONTINUES EVERY DAY. EVEN BY NEGATIVE EXAMPLE: TELLING ME WHAT I DON'T WANT TO BECOME OR GET INVOLVED WITH.
8. I recently read an article by Kenyon Ferrow, in which Kenyon critiques the appropriation of Black culture (eg:hip-hop) by API folk who seem to beusing it as a "radical" form of expression. What are your feelings ofBlack cultural appropriation and exploitation by non-Black folk?
BLACKS ALSO APPROPRIATE. THE QUESTION ISN'T APPROPRIATION VS. BORROWING AS ALL PEOPLE DO IT (OPPRESSED PEOPLES STEAL FROM THEIR OPPRESSORS AND COLLABORATE WITH OTHER OPPRESSED FOLKS LIKE ON A PLANTATION SYSTEM), BUT WHY AND HOW THAT APPROPRIATION/BORROWING IS DONE. IF API FOLK UTILIZE, INCORPORATE, GET INSPIRED BY, TAKE INFLUENCES FROM RADICAL AND REVOLUTIONARY BLACK POLITICS AND CULTURE, AND USE IT TO FASHION SOMETHING FOR THEMSELVES, GREAT. WE ARE NOT ARGUING ABOUT OWNERSHIP OR PROPRIETORSHIP: THAT'S CAPITALISM! BLACK MUSIC IS A MISCEGENATED MUSIC (HEY, THE SAXOPHONE, THE PIANO ARE ALL WESTERN EURO INSTRUMENTS!). THE POINT IS WHY AND WHAT IS BEING FASHIONED. IS IT FOR PROFITEERING AND PERSONAL AGGRANDIZEMENT OR IS IT FOR SOCIAL LIBERATION? UNFORTUNATELY TOO MANY API HIP HOPPERS HAVE TOO LITTLE CONSCIOUSNESS TO UNDERSTAND THE REVOLUTIONARY RESPONSIBILITY TO INNOVATE, SO THEY JUST COPY, IMITATE, MIME AND REGURGITATE, OFTEN OF PREDICTABLE AND NAUSEOUS RESULTS, SO BLACK FOLKS ARE RIGHTEOUSLY ANGERED AND THINK APIs ARE DOING A BLACKFACING JOB ("COVERING" LIKE HOW ELVIS DID ON FATS DOMINO). BUT TOO MANY OF THESE API HIP HOPPERS ARE CAUGHT UP INTO THE CONSUMER SPECTACLE HYPE THAT HIP HOP HAS BECOME AND CAN'T DISCERN ANY REVOLUTIONARY ELEMENTS AND ASPECTS. AND MOST OF HIP HOP IN THE MAINSTREAM IS SO REACTIONARY TODAY THAT EVEN WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY THERE ARE SO MANY CONTRADICTORY RESPONSES.
9. Are there any new upcoming or unknown radical API musicians/artist orevents that you would like to shed some light on? (this of course includesyour own stuff)
LET ME JUST POINT OUT MY WORK AT BIG RED MEDIA.
10. And finally a geeky audiophile question: do you enjoy analog ordigital recordings?
I ENJOY BOTH. BUT DIGITAL IS FAR MORE COST EFFECTIVE FOR US GUERILLA ARTISTS. UNLESS YOU ARE POP OR HIP HOP AND HAVE RECORD LABEL ADVANCED BUDGETS, WE CAN'T AFFORD ANALOG ANYMORE. BUT MOST OF MY MUSIC IS STILL VINYL BECAUSE THE TOUGHEST MUSIC WON'T BE RE-RELEASED ONTO CD FORMAT UNLESS THERE'S A SIZEABLE ENOUGH MARKET TO WARRANT A RECORD COMPANY DECISION TO DO SO. AND I LOVE THE 13 INCH COVERS AND LINER NOTES AND I DON'T WANT TO SPEND THE BREAD TO RE-DO MY ENTIRE MUSIC COLLECTION.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

We Real Cool? On Hip-Hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation By Kenyon Farrow

The following was reprinted with permission:

I went to an event in Philly on Friday, November 19 at the Asian Arts Initiative, an Asian American "community arts" space, entitled "Changing the Face of the Game: Asian Americans in Hip-Hop." I cannot pretend I didn’t already know what I was getting myself into. The title of the event itself expresses a level of hostility to Black people – Since Black people are the current face of the game, and for whatever reason, that needs to be changed. But anyhow, I went, ready to see what was gonna go down...

The Main Event

Oliver Wang, Asian American writer, cultural critic and graduate student at UC Berkeley (where he teaches courses on pop culture), the opening speaker and panel moderator, gave an opening talk about the historical presence of Asians in hip-hop. Mr. Wang’s research into the annals of hip-hop history unearthed an emcee (who claims to have cut a record before "Rapper’s Delight") from the South Bronx, whom Wang declares as the "first Asian in hip-hop." He then describes him as "half Filipino and half Black." I couldn’t help but wonder how this emcee identified himself and how he physically looked, and why his Blackness was now a footnote in Wang’s historical re-write.

As Wang continued on, he painted hip-hop music and culture as this multi-culti "American" artform that everyone’s had a hand in developing. By doing so, Wang very skillfully ignored the reality that Rap was in fact created by Black youth (and Latinos from the Caribbean – many of whom are also of African descent and certainly ghettoized as "Black" in the NYC socio-economic landscape) in the South Bronx (or in Queens, depending on whom you ask). Wang went on to say that the only reason why Asians were drawn to hip-hop was because of the music. He also said that "hip-hop is the most democratic music because it doesn’t take the same skill as playing classical music."

Wang then asked a follow-up question to the panelists. Uh-oh! The panel included spoken word duo Yellow Rage, DJ Phillie Blunt, Chops of the Mountain Brothers, a Cambodian-American rapper named Jim, and his friend, the lone Black panelist who is an MC from Philly. Borrowing from the hip-hop romantic comedy Brown Sugar, Wang asked each panelist to talk about when they "first fell in love with hip-hop." All of the panelists, save the Black man, talked about hearing some rap song on the radio and falling in love, because it expressed "who they were" and "their experience."

Jim admitted he grew up in the burbs and came to hip-hop out of his isolation. At least that was honest. Michelle, from Yellow Rage, anointed herself the hip-hop historian (or shall I shay griot?) for the evening. Making jokes about her age, Michelle reminded the audience to pay respect to hip-hop’s roots and remember "the old school." The panel was asked another question by Wang and then he opened the floor for questions from the audience.

After squirming in my third-row seat for the duration of the talk, I had my opportunity. Quickly raising my hand, I was passed the mic. My question/statement was: In all of the talk thus far, we have conveniently skirted around the issue of race. But let’s be real, when we’re talking about hip-hop and hip-hop culture, we mean Black people, which you de-emphasized and de-historicized in your intro talk, Mr Wang . . . Now, we know about the history of Black popular culture being appropriated and stolen by whites, as in the case of Blues, Jazz, and Rock & Roll.

And now there’s hip-hop, and since we live in this multi-racial state which still positions Blackness socio-economically and politically at the bottom, how does the presence of Asian Americans in hip-hop, this black cultural artform, look any different than that of white folks in Jazz, Blues, and Rock & Roll?

The jig was up. I was the rain that ended the parade (or shall I say charade?). The room quickly turned to palpable hostility and anger. Since they were already clearly pissed, I decided to throw out a follow-up question: Mr. Wang, you said that Asian people are attracted to hip-hop because they just like the music, which I find hard to believe since hip-hop also came into prominence in the day and age of music video – where image and representation are as important (if not more) than the music itself.

That being the case, what is it about Black people (and especially Black masculinity in the case of hip-hop), and what they represent to others, that is so attractive to other people, including non-white people of color?

The Body Slam

Well, that did it. They were mad as hell. I mean, how dare I bring up Black people and appropriation, as if Asians can’t possibly appropriate Blackness in the same manner that white folks do! It couldn’t be, not while I’m in a standing-room only crowd of "conscious" Asian youth with locks and hair teased out (and often chemically treated) to look like afros!

Well, that panel couldn’t get that mic around fast enough! Some of the responses were too asinine to even bother with a critique. But I will tackle the main points. The first to respond was the lone Black man on the panel. Responding to my second question, he spoke in a condescending, yet gentle tone (you know, "brother to brother") about us "being a soulful people" and that’s why everyone wants to get with our shit and how I should see it as a "compliment."

Well, I am fine with you getting with it – on the radio or video or whatever – but does that mean you get to have it? Better yet, take it, and then use it against Black people to promote the image of us as intimidating and politically and culturally selfish? This is exactly the narrative that was used to promote Eminem and is being used now for Jin: both of them are framed as real "artists" and "lyricists" who stand dignified in the face of Black "reverse racism" and hostility (watch 8 Mile, read much of the press written about Jin’s appearances on 106th & Park)—as if Nas, Bahamadia, or Andre 3000 & Big Boi aren’t really artists but, as Black people are expected to do, just use "the race card" to get ahead.

And to treat Blacks as "soulful people" is the same as seeing us as primitives (with some genetic code programming us to gleefully wail and shout, shake and shimmy) who make this lovely music yet are too docile to be really intelligent, ingenious and artistic.

Several of the panelists at this event went on to critique commercial rap artists for being materialistic, etc. For example, after putting his arm on his Black friend’s shoulder and telling me that we need to "recognize that Blacks are on the bottom," Jim concluded by telling me that "it’s about class, not race" and how he tries his hardest to be "conscientious."

This is the same guy who earlier emphasized how capitalism diluted the politics of hip-hop without talking about Asian Americans’ role in the capitalist structure. Instead of dealing with this very important issue, the Asian-American panelists acted as if they were "more real" than Black commercial artists. So, because they get to be "underground" (which loosely means someone without a record deal), they get to be "real" and "authentic" over Black artists who have been commercially successful.

I have my own critiques of commercially successful Black hip-hop artists and their materialism, misogyny, violence and homophobia – which I have written and spoken about as well—but I was not about to give that over to some hostile non-Black people to use to make themselves more "down."

Michelle of Yellow Rage flat out screamed on me, in an effort, I guess, to "keep it real" with her duo’s namesake. Starting several of her sentences with the phrase, "You need to acknowledge…" she went on and on about how she is sick of people (I guess Black people) saying that hip-hop is a Black thing.

This Ph.D. candidate (who specializes in both Asian and African American Literature) went on to tell me that I need to "stop being so divisive" and "read my history" via the likes of cultural critics Tricia Rose and Nelson George so that I can learn and ultimately "acknowledge" that "nobody has a monopoly on culture."

And least of all Black people. As the descendants of slaves, the property of others, nothing belongs to us. Everything we do, including hip-hop and spoken word, can be done by anyone else. And yet, Yellow Rage made a name for itself by critiquing appropriation of Asian culture by non-Asians, including Black people (specifically hip-hop artists).

So, to the author of Ancestor Worship (a phrase generally referring to Black African traditional religious practice) and member of Asians Misbehavin’ (which appropriates the name from the Black musical revue of Fats Waller’s music, Ain’t Misbehavin’), I say to you, Michelle, if Asians have certain cultural boundaries that need to be respected (e.g. Chinese/Japanese tattoos, chopsticks in the hair, etc.), then why does that not apply to Black people? Maybe this is something Michelle can ponder as she works on her dissertation called "Untying Tongues" (which appropriates the title of the late Black Gay filmmaker Marlon Rigg’s work, Tongues Untied).

So I asked the first, and apparently last question of the Q&A. Not caring to see the "performance" part of the evening (though I’d have to call the panel a performance as much as the concert), I left the event, dealing with the angry glares on my way out. I thought it was over. But then a friend sent me a link to a commentary on the cultural possessiveness of Blacks over hip-hop on Oliver "aka O-Dub" Wang’s site written by Mr. Wang himself (http://www.o-dub.com/weblog/2004/11/hes-your-chinaman-jin-jin-everywhere.html ).

The Aftermath

So, in a larger blog about Jin and Asians in hip-hop, Wang writes about the Asian Arts Initiative event. Describing how I raised the question I did, Wang responds:

"I’m constantly frustrated by these kinds of defensive attitudes around cultural ownership though I am quite aware of how they arise. The gentleman in this case was correct in noting that African American culture has suffered through a long history of being exploited to the gains of others and there is great concern that hip-hop is simply next on the list…Communities may think they ‘own’ a culture but that’s not how culture works. It’s not an object you can chain up. Culture doesn’t care about borders - it spreads as fast and as far as the people who consume it will take it.

I agree, yes, culture can also be misappropriated and exploited. But if people are really worrying about hip-hop becoming the latest example of Black culture being emptied of content and turned into a deracinated commodity, the problem doesn’t lie with Asian American youth. Or Latino youth. Or even white youth really."

It’s interesting – or more accurately, disturbing – that Wang uses the metaphor of culture being "chained up" in relation to African Americans. Wang, like Michelle from Yellow Rage, refuses to deal with what the legacy of being property (always owned, and never owners) means in the case of Black people and claims of ownership over culture. So, where Black people are concerned, both historically and contemporarily, it’s all good. We make everything for everybody.

Wang goes on assert that the "The color line here is painted in green. You want to talk about cooptation? Talk about corporations…" (right now W.E.B. Du Bois is rolling over in his grave). So I guess, as Wang puts it, the real (and I guess only) problem is corporations who promote hip-hop and make money off of it—of which some executives are Black, Wang is eager to point out.

That’s almost slick, Ollie. But not quite. People who don’t want to deal with their own complicity in the reproduction of anti-Black racism are very quick to point out corporations as the culprit. Interestingly, while emphasizing corporations, Wang doesn’t talk about his own relationship to them or that he makes a living writing for such corporations about a music that allegedly doesn’t require much skill or that he works for a university—which is also a corporation—and gets to have some control over the production of knowledge about hip-hop.

Instead of addressing this, Wang goes out of his way to point out that there are one or two Black people in some level of decision making capacity in the music industry. But why doesn’t he talk about how virtually none of them actually own the labels, and fewer are in control of any means of production and distribution?

The narrative of blame the corporation, but not me (or any living breathing person), and don’t talk about the bodies it oppresses in the meantime is such a mirror of the white nationalist narrative. It, to me, is the same as the white person saying, "Don’t blame me for slavery. My grandparents didn’t own any slaves. They came from Russia in 1902. And didn’t Africans sell their own people into slavery? And didn’t some Blacks own slaves?"

Well, maybe your "immigrant" ancestor did not own slaves, but they certainly benefited from a nation that valued whiteness above all else. And they got jobs in industry (that Black people clearly needed and couldn’t get easy or any access to) and amass wealth in a way Black people have been prevented from doing collectively.

A handful of rappers, athletes, and talk-show hosts doesn’t change the fact that a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center deemed that Black families are the only racial group in the United States who saw their wealth decrease in recent years. And your grandparents didn’t end up here by accident, no more than mine accidentally left the shores of Africa – "chained up." They came because the US wanted to balance a growing Black non-enslaved population with more white people. So the US took who they could get.

By the 1960’s the US again decided to balance a "mad and organized-as-all-hell" Black population by relaxing immigration to bring in more non-Black people of color. So, in many cases, the non-Black presence in the US was specifically set up in relationship against Black people. Even if your family was here before the 1960s, look at the history of every contiguous state formed between the American Revolution and the Civil War. The question of slavery is at the heart of the founding of every single one. The "slave," the "nigger," and the "criminal" are historical and contemporary positions that Blackness occupies. This reality is something everyone is forced to deal with, and yet nobody wants to be one of them.

So, what Asian Americans and Asian American politics (and I think "People of Color" politics as well) has yet to fully deal with is that we can’t talk about capitalism and corporations in some abstract sense. If we do then we ignore how one’s positionality against Blackness and Black people in a white supremacist context helps to define the issues of ownership, property and parameters and how they are racialized. Just because you aren’t phenotypically white doesn’t mean you can’t uphold white interests politically—as Wang likes to point out in his example of the Black executive—but Black people as a whole cannot function politically in the same way that non-Black people of color can in the current global paradigm (Yes! Global. Let’s talk about sub-Saharan Africa in relation to South America, the Middle East or Asia, if you must).

So, NOT being Black is what seems to matter more under capitalism than being white.

The Final Round

So, corporations are but one manifestation of the American project. But history and culture are also an equally important part of that project. History and culture inform narratives that form people’s logic and assumptions, which root themselves in the subconscious. We could overthrow all corporations tomorrow, and if our narratives stay the same, or simply shift shape without being utterly transformed, some other new and oppressive shit (aimed at Black people!) will take it’s place. And take the prison’s place. So, don’t put all your focus on corporations, or laws, or cages without dealing with the logic that makes us assume we need them in the first place.

There’s an old saying my grandmother has: "I’m not dealing with the form, I’m dealing with the essence!"

The essence is exactly this: Let’s un-assume that because we’re all up in hip-hop that we’re all on the same page. Let’s un-assume that because you might try to look like me or sound like me (or how you think I do both), that we are working towards the same goal, or that we even have the same enemy. I don’t think, despite efforts to think otherwise, that this was really ever Black people’s assumption.

To close, let me share a story that I think is very telling and illustrates everything I’ve been getting at here. I was living in New Orleans last year, and had just arrived for 2003 Satchmo Festival celebrating the life of Louie Armstrong. The event takes place in the gentrified Fabourg Marigny, and over that August weekend, cafes and restaurants fill with Brass Bands, Jazz and Blues artists.

I sat outside a coffee shop one day listening to an incredible quartet with a group of Black people I had just met, while the cafe was filled with folks from all over, including whites, Japanese tourists and Asian-American college students. One Black woman said to her friend, "Girl let’s go in!" The other replied, "No, I’d rather stay out here. I can’t experience it the way I would if it was just us. I always feel like part of the minstrel show when they be up in it. And there ain’t no place in New Orleans where they don’t go now..."

I turned to her, and gave an "Uh-huh," wanting her to know I was there to bear witness to what she’d said, and glad she’d said it. I, too, chose to stay on the outside for the very same reason. Asian Americans in hip-hop need to consider this Black woman’s concern, as well as this question: If first-generation white European immigrants like Al Jolson could use minstrelsy (wearing blackface, singing black popular music and mimicking their idea of Black people) to not only ensure their status as white people, but also to distance themselves from Black people, can Asian Americans use hip-hop (the music, clothing, language and gestures, sans charcoal makeup), and everything it signifies to also assert their dominance over Black bodies, rather than their allegiance to Black liberation?

People who now think that jazz is for everybody never think about what the process was to get jazz to that place, nor what that means for the people who invented it. This thought leaves me with one last – albeit very frightening – question: Will my niece and nephews be at a festival for Lauryn Hill fifty years from now, also standing on the outside looking in?


Kenyon Farrow © 2004

Sunday, January 02, 2005

this was sent out on the APOC list by M.Mayuran Tiruchelvam; I agree
that a lot of the major "charities" probably do not have the capacities to understand how to help the natives of the regions most affected. It's far better to try and find more specific organizations that actually have ties to the communities in the areas.

i really wouldn't give money to the Red Cross, as the take a lot out of the donation to pay their bloated bureacratic costs. here is some info on local charities, other more progressive international groups, and upcoming events to support the survivors.Please pass on infoPlease read the e-mail below from the Diaspora Flow. Diaspora Flow is a bad ass 4 year old non-profit social change org for people of color in Minneapolis. Both directors of Diaspora Flow are Sri Lankan American. I have great trust in the organization.Please Read................

www.diasporaflow.org/srilanka-relief.html

If you have questions about the fund, please feel free to contact us by email athttp://mail.riseup.net/squirrelmail-1.4.3a/src/compose.php?send_to=srilanka-relief%40diasporaflow.org or call us at thenumbers below. Thank you for your time.
Pradeepa- (co-director of D'Flow) 612-237-7670
Chamindika- (co-director of D'Flow) 651-489-8393
Vinothini (Vino) -Board Member 763-443-1320
Amirthini (Amu) -Board Member 763-639-6833
Diaspora FlowSri Lanka Relief FundAlso a group of progressive NYC Sri Lankan activists are currently organizing means to send money and resources to grass roots, community based groups and activists in Sri Lanka. Many of the groups are in severely affected areas where infrastructure is less and relief is slow to reach. More info to come.

SAVE the DATE!: January 15thBENEFIT for progressive Sri Lankan relief effortsEMBORA Movement and Wellness Studio900 Fulton St.,
Brooklyn 8pm
Performers include
Mango Tribe's Varuni Tiruchelvam and Marian Yalini Thambynayagammuch,
much luv marian


Greengrants to Match Donations to Tsunami Relief Effort -- Greengrants to Match Donations to Tsunami Relief Effort. Greengrants will also match the first $5,000 donated. We have a pre-existing relationship with the two organizations listed below, which allows for quick and easy transfer of funds. And we are currently working to identify groups in India that can accept immediate funds for relief efforts as well.
Sri Lankan Relief Effort The Saviya Development Foundation in Galle, Sri Lanka will respond tothe devastation caused by the Tsunami by providing relief resources tothe 25 refugee centers along the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Saviyawill use donations to supply food and water to families in the area whohave lost their homes and property, support medical efforts at therefugee centers, and to resolve local residential problems. In the past,Saviya has received Greengrants funds to restore and preserve the Madu Ganga wetlands, and to engage local school children in this process.- Sumatra Relief Effort WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), has established the Indonesian Civil Society Coalition for the Victims of Earthquake and Tsunami to provide aid to the victims. The coalition has set up crisis centers in Jakarta and Medan, North Sumatra. All funds received will be allocatedfor emergency response as well as the post-emergency phase of rebuilding and restoration of shattered livelihoods. WALHI has received funding from Greengrants to protect forests in Indonesia. Daily updates on the relief effort in Sumatra are available at: http://www.eng.walhi.or.id
- HOW TO DONATE -
Global Greengrants' Fund is a U.S. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, and will match the first $5,000 donated to this special relief effort.100% of Tsunami Fund donations will be sent to these relief efforts.Greengrants' U.S. tax ID number is: 84-1612422- Credit Card Donations. To contribute using a credit card, visit www.greengrants.org/donate and click on the "donate now" button. Pleasenote that the donation is on behalf of the Tsunami Fund.- Check. Checks mailer and post-marked by December 31, 2004 areeligible for a tax deduction in 2004.
Contributions after December 31,will be deductible for 2005.
Mail checks to:
Global Greengrants Fund -Tsunami Fund,
2840 Wilderness Place Suite E
Boulder, CO 80301- Wire Transfers.

To send funds via wire transfer:
Account Name: GlobalGreengrants Fund;
account number: 558-611-8597; SWIFT code: WFBIUS6S;and routing number: 121 000 248.
- Stock Donations. If you are interested in contributing stocks,
call Kelly Purdy or Erika Carlson at 303.939.9866 to get our full bankinginformation, or email http://mail.riseup.net/squirrelmail-1.4.3a/src/compose.php?send_to=kelly%40greengrants.org / http://mail.riseup.net/squirrelmail-1.4.3a/src/compose.php?send_to=erika%40greengrants.orgFor additional information on international donors providing reliefassistance please visit the Grantmakers Without Border website at:www.internationaldonors.org/issues/tsunami_dec2004.htm, or the TidesFoundation at: www.tidesfoundation.org Thank you for your help with this important effort.Global Greengrants Fund (www.greengrants.org)