reappropriate

Monday, May 01, 2006

Who I Am and Who We Be

Recognizing myself as a member of a community of people of colour was not a direct path, and as Asian American Heritage Month rolls around, I have found myself, in these past couple of days, considering who I am in relation to the number of different identities I subscribe to. No person is one thing and one thing alone: our genders, our sexes, our race and ethnicity, our nationality, our religion, our physical bodies and abilities combine to form a meshwork of identities that define who we are, and with each of these identities comes an entire community of people, history and political issues that affect us and us alone. I am an Asian American. But not really -- after all, I am an Asian American Woman. More precisely, I am a heterosexual, young, mentally and physically able, highly educated, economically privileged, agnostic, Chinese-born, Canadian-bred, eventual-immigrant(?) Asian American Woman. And on this May 1st, it has given me pause to consider what that really means. As a kid, I was a unique and beautiful snowflake like all the other children. Growing up in Toronto, I had more than my fair share of Chinese adult role models to identify with. Like other Chinese children, we suffered through Chinese language classes and culture summer camps (13 years of Mandarin on Saturday mornings, 10 of Chinese dance, summers spent learning calligraphy and watercolour). And though I grew up with my parents instilling in me a sense of my rich cultural heritage as a person of Chinese descent, this was, after all, not my primary culture. What is sometimes glossed over in discussions of Asian Americana is how the heritage of the Asian American exists on a different plane than that of the Asian national. Dim sum, a common activity for affluent first-generation Chinese families of Toronto, exists for me like home-cooking or soul food might for a person of a different culture. Nowadays, when I crave dim sum, I am seeking a childhood nostalgia despite an awareness that I am not a connaisseur of dim sum etiquette. For my parents, dim sum is something else; it is a way of re-living the Old Life. And so, my history and personal experiences contain an inexorable tie to the ways of my Chinese ancestors, distilled through the teachings of my parents. Part of me is, and always will be, China. And yet, the act of immigration, erases a lot of the old nationalist boundaries. Thrown into a common pot of "immigrant", Chinese and Japanese, Korean and Filipino all find similarities amongst our narratives that would not have existed in the Old Country. Though the nationalist tensions between my Taiwanese parents and a patriotically Chinese couple might have been too wrought had they been in the Old Country, here, they find a way to forge an uneasy truce, in light of the common struggles they face being so far displaced from their original homes. Many scholars postulate this to be the roots of the Asian American history -- and this is a term chosen carefully to illustrate how the act of including the American culture in our identities renders us as more pan-ethnic than we might otherwise have been. I remember, as a child, when two Korean boys in my Grade 4, Gifted program greeted me off the school bus by pulling their eyes backwards into slants and berating me with a sing-song "ching, chong, ching, chong, ching...". Being ten years old, I didn't fully comprehend the magnitude of their teasing, but I remember feeling self-conscious of myself as Chinese. I felt unconsolably different. The true irony of that moment is apparent to me only now: on Earth-2, on that day, in another schoolyard, those two Korean boys would have been the butt of the self-same joke. In my memories, the two boys saw, as children, a distinction between my Chinese self and their Korean-ness, but in actuality, in the eyes of America, we are a lot alike. Our narratives are the same: born in America (or, in this case Canada), raised in a predominantly segregated ethnic households that nonetheless admitted some similarity to other nationals of the pan-Asian diaspora, and thrown into a world where, to the non-Asian, we are all physically and culturally (not to mention, politically, educationally and medically) indistinguishable, and like other Asians, we find ourselves fighting the same fight against the same people for similar and equal treatment. In other words, me and my Korean tormentors were more similar to one another than either of us were to our Chinese and Korean forefathers. The pan-Asian "umbrella" term really didn't arise until the 1970's and 80's, but our history of finding strength within one another arose early in the turn of the century as a backlash against White plantation owners using our existing national tensions to pit racial and ethnic groups against one another. For a time, the owners of the sugar canes segregated recently imported coolie labour based on nationality, and cultivated racial and ethnic tensions by unfairly treating one group better than another. The Chinese might get more money, the Japanese might get better housing, the Filipinos might get more time-off, but ultimately, it was the plantation owners who won by successfully controlling us for a time. And yet, we eventually realized that, despite our petty differences, by setting foot in America, we were more similar to one another than we were to our oppressors, and that by banding together, we could overcome the inequities placed before us. Despite the segregation of the Hawaiian sugar cane plantation, we forged a language called pidgin that combined words from English and many Asian languages to create a universal form of communication. Later, we joined forced to build our first labour unions, our first schools, and ultimately our first nation-wide political movement. Every year, for the last four years, I have made a big deal about Asian American Heritage Month. And I do this because I fear that we have grown complacent in our pan-Asian identity, and though it is necessary to not forget the distinctions that make each component community unique, now is the time to remember, too, our strength as a collective. Today, I celebrate my "Chinese-ness". I remember the rich culture instilled into me by my parents -- one of lion dances and hong bao, of the Monkey King and chasiubao. This is the culture of my parents and my childhood, before there was French immersion and English language prep school, and I cannot deny my links to Taiwan, or through that, to China. As a girl who grew up frustrated and distant from that part of me, I have found a sort of acceptance of this culture of my parents passed through my blood into me by an accident of birth. It is, in some ways, different from that of my parents because of my birthplace, but, I argue, a part of the very definition of who I am because of that difference. And still, today, I celebrate my "American-ness". Born in Canada, this August, I will celebrate an important anniversary -- this year, I will have spent a third of my life as a legal temporary resident of the United States of America. My mother was barren for a long time during her marriage with my father, and it was only after coming to Canada was she able to find medical treatment that could temporarily relieve her sterility. My sister and I were miracle babies in the most literal of senses, and during both pregnancies, my mother risked her life to give us ours. My parents came to this country, quite literally, to give us a better life -- indeed a life at all. Just as the Chinese culture she forcefed us as children was in actuality my mother's gift to us, so, too, is my 'American-ness'. Her dream for us was that we would assimilate into America and find a way to live a life better than her mistakes. And with that in mind, I celebrate and am grateful for my literacy, my economic privilege, the many opportunities I have before me. Part of who I am is, after all, the fact that I grew up in North America, and this "White-washness" that has been as much a blessing as a 'burden', is who I am. But most importantly, today I celebrate and remember my rebirth as part of the larger Asian American collective. As a second generation American, the very dual identities I describe above grants me a kinship with the thousands of other men and women who strive to find a balance between the accidents of their birth and rearing. I anger and struggle at the injustices that we, as more than our individual ethnicities, collectively face. When a non-Asian becomes aroused by a Vietnamese prostitute after watching Full Metal Jacket, or appropriates anime to satisfy his own fetish with the Orient in a modern-day Silk Trade, though I am Chinese-Canadian and possess no direct ties to either of those two individual cultures, the ramifications of his actions affect my larger, Asian American community and culture. When the non-Asian dehumanizes a Korean American friend based on the colour of his skin, he dehumanizes me as well. And from there, we begin to see a stacking effect of identities, where tenous holds are nonetheless enough to create connections between peoples of vastly different histories and identities. We can see how one might also feel anger at the James Byrd lynching despite the mismatch of my melanin to his, or the anger at homophobic legislation despite my identity as a heterosexual woman. Whether gay or straight, man or woman, Asian or otherwise, I am part of still larger communities affected by social injustice. I am, after all, still a minority in America. And so zooming back inward from this macroscopic view we have come to imagine of identity politics in America, is there hardly any surprise that today, feeling introspective and retrospective, I desperately want to return to the schoolyard where the two Korean boys "ching-chonged" their way to another divertine potty joke elsewhere in time? I want to find those two boys and reminisce about shared experiences. I want to encourage them to find the similarities between them and myself, between them and my African American boyfriend, my lesbian best friend, and the mentally challenged students I tutor at the local high school. Culture, history and heritage is about genetic history, life experience and personal effort and choice. It's about authenticity granted by accidents of birth combined with the unending dedication to maintaining that culture within us. In other words, the very hyphenation of our identities as Asian American (or any other identity) is a symbol of our culture -- we are ultimately a people walking a line blending the influences of nature and nurture. (Since this is directly relevant to the hullabaloo of the previous Asiaphile post, I think it is highly relevant to consider what I have just said in terms of the question: "what is culture?" Culture is unique for different groups, and indeed for each individual. My personal culture is a tapestry of my and my family's history, dating back to Chinese emperors and forwards to American Idol. Indeed, even my culture and my sister's culture differ because of the different effort we put into cultivating those cultures in ourselves; my sister thoroughly rejected Chinese language classes, and subsequently, she has fewer ties to China and traditional Chinese culture than I might. In discussions of cultural appropriation, the debate is not about the act of borrowing, but the questions of authenticity and entitlement associated with the act. The struggle for those who seek to borrow from another culture are not how one might go about doing it, but whether or not they can achieve true authenticity -- and thereby, unquestionable entitlement -- to the culture. It is my belief that true authenticity cannot come without both nature and nurture. Birthright must be coupled with childhood training, immersion in the culture, and effort by the adult to maintain that culture as part of their personal history. This does not mean that an outsider can not appreciate another culture, I simply believe that they must merely recognize the limits of their attempts at assimilation. My parents would never be culturally American because it was not their birthright, but nor do they think to consider themselves the same kind of cultural American as me or my sister. And, nor would I consider myself as culturally American as a White American.) We, Asian Americans, are not all the same, but too often, we allow our differences become our weaknesses. We present a means of controlling us as a community by letting ourselves be divided and, like dogs fighting over the remaining scraps of a Thanksgiving feast, we are too busy killing one another to note how we are still dogs wrestling at the foot of the Master's table over coldest, toughtest slices of discarded meat. I am Chinese-Canadian, and I will not pretend to be anything else. Being Asian American gives me no pretense at being a part of any other culture, history or heritage within the pan-Asian diaspora that is not part of my birthright. And certainly, it is imperative that we maintain an understanding and rememberance of our individual, rich histories. However, at the same time, I am also Asian American, a woman, a minority. And no amount of imagined difference will erase the kinship I feel towards those communities, nor should it encourage any of us to imagine that we are better separate than fighting, together, towards the common goal of equality and tolerance.

28 Comments:

Anonymous Green said...

When a non-Asian becomes aroused by a Vietnamese prostitute after watching Full Metal Jacket, or appropriates anime to satisfy his own fetish with the Orient in a modern-day Silk Trade, though I am Chinese-Canadian and possess no direct ties to either of those two individual cultures, the ramifications of his actions affect my larger, Asian American community and culture. - Jenn


Congratulations, babe, you just took the KKK NIGGERS GONNA RAPE OUR WOMEN argument and dyed it yellow. What the heck is your defeniton of "racist" and how are you not included in it?

5/01/2006 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

uhm.... huh?

5/02/2006 12:31:00 AM  
Blogger Sally said...

I get what Green is trying to say. You see, because white people have fetishized the sexuality of black men in order to oppress them, you're not allowed to discuss how white people have also fetishized the sexuality of Asian women in order to oppress them. Get it? It makes perfect sense.

Or maybe not.

5/02/2006 12:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

ohhhhh!!! when you put it THAT way......




.... no... :)

5/02/2006 01:05:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

A incredibly honest self-analysis. Well done.

This post works because of it's specificity. As an African American man, I would never consider my connection to Black America constructed in such terms. While I strongly support cultural defense against Xerox imitators of particular immigrant and ethnic cultures, I disagree with the idea that people of color would not consider themselves as culturally American as White Americans. That perspective directly challenges the African American experience that provides America, historically and currently, with an immense amount of the cultural distinctiveness it sells globally. The worldwide hip hop industry serves as a brilliant worldwide commodification of urban Black angst; profit margins within American record companies continue to fatten from the creative production of African American hip hop artists. To say that at some point, any Black man can not be as culturally American as a White American would not make sense, and I shudder that you've approached this with this quote: "And, nor would I consider myself as culturally American as a White American." Perhaps further exposition would help there.

Also, on a personal note, I've never been an immigrant, and as I read this post, my mind wandered to the fact that I doubt I'll ever be really comfortable with the "Chinese" facets of your identity. I don't know China; never cared to learn. It says more about my domestic American nativism than I may care to admit that your more Chinese elements make me nervous. Usually the cosmopolitan American experiment works in my estimation because people from all over come to America to be themselves, not some assimilationists' wet dream where we all shed cultural distinctiveness for the nonexistent chance to be treated like every other White American cellophane construct posing as a human being. Still, I don't expect or desire racial harmony, and often find vitriolic conflict the only cross-cultural interaction possible in the domestic American context. To me, America is a slow-motion racial cold war; only immense reason from all can offer pauses between cultural Cuban Missile Crises.

But then again, I'm Black in America. My self-history is a little different. Kudos for baring your soul this way.

5/02/2006 01:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...every other White American cellophane construct posing as a human being...

Glad to know that equality and racial tollerence is practiced here. You know, making generalizations about a group of people based on the color of their skin is racism.

5/02/2006 01:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Green said...

You know, making generalizations about a group of people based on the color of their skin is racism.

Not if your color doesn't run society. The whole idea of racism as an individual action and problem is a ploy by the white power structure to distract people from the fact that whites have all the cards, and are actively oppressing the other races, as well as to allow whites not to feel bad about it.



Of course, the racist superstructure of western and particularly American society is a major problem, but it's pretty sperated from the meaning of the word "racism", which implies nothing about power structure or societal advantages at all, and actually refers to "prejudice or discrimination based on race" (which cetianly would apply to about half of everything James, Sally, and Jenn say.) However, the idea of racism only applying to white people kind of falls apart if you think of it that way, so it becomes apparent that the defenition of racism is itself racist (The english language was developed by whites after all), and is another tool of the white entilement oppressive whatever. Man, I don't know, I'm not really used to trying to think in a racist manner, I generally avoid it where possible. If you're coming at it from the angle of trying to find examples of racism without paying attention to the individuals involved, though, ignoring people's race is racism in itself, you're ignoring thier heritage. Really I have no idea what excuses pedjudice for Jenn and company other than convienience and some degree of thinly vieled hostility and hate.

Maybe it's because I come from a background of not knowing much of anything about my ancestors past my gradparents, except in the most generalized terms of skin tone race, but the deeds and misdeeds of a bunch of dead people who happened to have the same skin pigment as me never seemed particularly more important than the deeds of any of those other dead people. The whole idea of attribiting a culture to your race of choice, regardless of idividual distinction and without really even thinking about the fact that you're talking about people, rather than some abstract giant mob with a sigular purpose in mind, is distasteful to me. History is useful, but the way you guys use it more or less looks like you are trying to take credit for achivements other than your own, in lifetimes other than yours. Listing iventors of different races can be a valuable tool in identity politics to remind people that every race is human and important and capable of innovation and wonder, but taken to extremes as with you posts claiming that hip-hop and green tea are your birthrights, is becomes an inter-racial dick measuring contest* with no winner. Asians didn't invent moveable type, Bi Sheng did. Blacks didn't invent the gas mask or traffic light, Garrett Morgan invented them both. Ignoring the people to whom the achivements you attribute to race rightfully belong robs historical figures of the recognition they deserve and gives more credit to the concept of race than it deserves.

I'm sure that I'm racist for focusing too much on idividuality here or something, but assigning an individual identity and motivation to groups as massive as the ones you do it too just strikes me as rediculous. You complain about how both you and the two korean children were seen simply as Asians, but you think nothing of lumping all of asian culture together when it's convienient, and even less of lumping all of caucasians together. Despite your inistance that it doesn't count when you do it, this comes off as sort of hypocritical.

Also, in regards to the Ku Klux Klan and the NIGGERS GONNA RAPE OUR WOMEN argument, since its beginning the KKK has accused black men of feitshizing white women`, and capitalized on the resulting fear and hysteria to get away with whatever crimes or harmful policy changes it wanted to. If your quote:
When a non-Asian becomes aroused by a Vietnamese prostitute after watching Full Metal Jacket, or appropriates anime to satisfy his own fetish with the Orient in a modern-day Silk Trade, though I am Chinese-Canadian and possess no direct ties to either of those two individual cultures, the ramifications of his actions affect my larger, Asian American community and culture. - Jenn
wasn't intended as an attpemt at a similar appeal to revulsion, you should maybe reword it or something.

`Which of course was ironic because in reality the slaveowners were and had been accosting thier female slaves, and because the Klan continued to use rape and sexual torture as one of thier main tools of spreading fear and "punsihing" thier enemies in their attempt to hold on the racial state they had.

*As long as we're on the topic of sex, since you two place so much importantance on race and skin color, how do you handle intteracial dating, marriages, children, etc. How do you handle your lover being uncomfortable with an entire aspect of your culture and self image? is it not so crucial when applied to individual people, rather than simplified versions of gigantic groups? Also, will a half black half white baby display white entilement? Or will the inherant nature of white racism contine to reject these tpyes of people today as in the time when you were considered black if any part of your family tree could traced to a balck ancestor? Could you accept someone who was part white, or would you be uncomfortable on some level with thier ancestors cutlure and deeds? Or would that all depend of wether or not they came from the suburbs?

5/02/2006 03:17:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

James, you make a good point about how my sentence leads one to presuppose that Black Americans are less part of American culture than White Americans. That was not my intention.

As far as your discomfort with the "China" heritage -- we did talk about this last night, but I have to put it out there. First of all, there's a great deal of personal history between us which remains thankfully too private to really delve into in this medium which makes your discomfort with "traditional China" (for lack of any better way to reference the Chinese versus Chinese-Canadian part of me) that makes your feelings both remarkably, appreciably honest AND completely understandable to me. Frankly, if you were deeply enraptured with my Chinese side, I might feel more discomfort as I might be concerned about Asiaphilia -- as it stands, you respect and love me as a person regardless of both personal history and particular interest in "China". After all, you are 100% supportive and interested in me as an Asian American.

Secondly, I don't personally have a huge connection to "China" either. I find my connection to that side of me more accidental than not, and while it is a part of me, it's incidental and hardly a principle part of how I define myself. *I'm* not overwhelmingly interested in "China" so why should I expect you to be? I'm Asian American, and this post argues that that identity while connected to Asia, is, by nature, a hugely different beast.

To Green -- There are so many fallacies in your argument I don't even know where to begin. Your KKK comment is not only disgusting in its wording (it serves as little more than shock value and veiled ad hominem, offering no particular fodder for discussion) but does little more than highlight your ignorance of what I'm talking about. Also, you refer to me as "babe" -- talk about sexist usage of language to disregard my arguments based entirely upon my gender.

Moreover, the KKK was not upset that Black men were fetishizing White women, so your analogy is exceptionally poor. If you need any further information on this, then you need to read a book on the history of both the KKK and Orientalism. Upon doing so, you would realize how different the motivations of Whites against Blacks and Asian frustration with Orientalism is.

Sally brings up the fabulous point that racism, itself, is inextricably linked to power. Members of the majority, by mere definition, can at once harbour racial prejudice and exert that power over the minority thus creating the racism of American society.

I further fail to see why you are throwing the (reverse) racism card around at James, Sally and myself. Your argument here is so convoluted, beyond a "BOOHOO! I CAN BE OPPRESSED TOO, STOP CALLING ME WHITE ... even though I am..." whining, I hardly see that worth addressing.

Green, the final paragraph of your comment is not only far too personal (congratulations on your clumsy attempt to change the subject), but is none of your business. If you wish to find out about me, you may continue reading this blog and perhaps I'll get to it one day, although I certainly will not do so for someone who just attempted to portray me as a member of the KKK. Needless to say, you don't know me, James, or any of the history of our seven-year relationship.

5/02/2006 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Green said...

I didn't say that the KKK was upset that black men were fetishizing white women, I said that the KKK accused them of it and used the appeal to revulsion to demonize black people and to mask thier (the KKKs) actual motivations. The fact that you can't recognize the obvious similarity between the KKK using appeals to revulsion and dehumanization to veil thier bigotry and, well, your post; says more about your ignorance of history than it does about my ignorance of culture.

The irony here is that you're accusing me of resorting to shock value by pointing out a paragraph in which you resorted to shock value.

Where do you keep getting the idea that "racism" implies anything about a power structure? That isn't a fabulous point, it's more of a fabulous job of ignoring the meaning of words when it's convienient to you. There is no such thing as "reverse" racism, because racism is not an action that can only be carried out by one race. Making sweeping generalizations about a race is racist no matter who does it. And if you honestly belive that the rules of behavior or what what defines racism should be different from race to race, then you have no business claiming that either equality or tolerence is important to you.

Also, it's great that you ignored everything in my post about the dehumanizing effects of thinking about society in terms of races rather than as individuals or human beings, but I suppose that is to be expected from someone who thinks the color of her skin makes telling other people what they're allowed to read and study her birthright.

5/02/2006 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

"The whole idea of attribiting a culture to your race of choice, regardless of idividual distinction and without really even thinking about the fact that you're talking about people, rather than some abstract giant mob with a sigular purpose in mind, is distasteful to me. History is useful, but the way you guys use it more or less looks like you are trying to take credit for achivements other than your own, in lifetimes other than yours. - Green a.k.a. Captain Obvious

Ok, now that is interesting. I believe that the disconnect there is that you've discussed innovation and inventions (movable type, the traffic light, etc.) while Jenn and others discussed cultural traits (J-pop, ninjas, green tea, geishas, rap music, slam poetry, etc.) For example, as an African American man, I'd never take credit for the traffic light, because I didn't invent it. But I have a reason to express disgust at young suburban children who wear low-slung baggy jeans, reversed baseball caps and oversized Sean John t-shirts while playing the new Bun-B album Trill at the highest possible decibel in an attempt to re-invent themselves as thugged out urban gangstas. That type of subtle blackface insults, period. When people outside a culture imitate that culture and than defend their paltry imitation with the ideal that the culture they imitate is accessible thanks to their exploitation of our global capitalist system, they're guilty of cultural appropriation and should be discussed as the posers they are. Culture, the behavior modes, mores, and other elements of living that individuals exude through their lives, should never be confused with technology. It's not Western appropriation for a Chinese businessman to use a cell phone.

"I'm sure that I'm racist for focusing too much on idividuality here or something, but assigning an individual identity and motivation to groups as massive as the ones you do it too just strikes me as rediculous. You complain about how both you and the two korean children were seen simply as Asians, but you think nothing of lumping all of asian culture together when it's convienient, and even less of lumping all of caucasians together. Despite your inistance that it doesn't count when you do it, this comes off as sort of hypocritical." - Green a.k.a. Captain Obvious

The disconnect here is American history. The African American experience, as you know, involves the systemic erasure of particular sociopolitical history and cultural heritage from American chattel slaves and their descendants. Given this, and our shared treatment in the United States of America, African Americans developed a vibrant shared history and culture that proves one of the most innovative in the world, even today. Given the benefit Caucasian American enjoy in today's domestic American power dynamics, I find nothing improper in a discussion on some Whites' continued disagreement with multiculturalism and racial diversity. Really, as long as any young African American male criminal represents his entire demographic to all other American citizens, regardless of other individual successes or failures, I will not pretend to appeal to some rugged individuality complex to make White readers feel like modern American racism is someone else's problem. It's not about what your forefathers did; it's about what you benefit from, and what you do today.

So-called White supremacy in modern Western civilization is not massive conspiracy, or ingrained hate: intention is irrelevant. I discuss Whiteness as a systemic trend in domestic American life that affects everyone. How you react is up to you.

So not to distract this thread from the intriguing post that started it, I'll point all your other inquiries to JamesLambJr.com. Look around and you'll find enough commentary on that subject.

5/02/2006 07:07:00 PM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

great post Jenn

the couple that blogs together, stays together :)

5/03/2006 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Got into this discussion today with a person, C, in my program. He (White, male, possible Asiaphile) was invited in his undergraduate college years to have his group of Filipino martial arts enthusiasts demonstrate to a pan-Asian Lunar New Year festival.

From the description of the event, the festival actually catered to a lot of Asian American politics, interspersing song and dance acts from Asian cultures with discussions of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Asian American comedians. In other words, the kind of festival I'd probably have wanted to organize at Cornell if I had thousands of dollars and more than just me.

C was upset that after his troupe of primarily non-Filipino athletes demonstrated, the MC's made some jokes along the lines of "look how they take our culture".

Disclaimer: the MCs were in poor taste to mock an invited group. They also should've done their homework first.

But C was talking about how he felt disgusted and threatened to be in a room full of APIAers talking about the CEA. He thought they were saying all White people are evil, and that he would get jumped should he remain in the room.

It strikes me that White Americans may cling to the idea that culture is free for the taking, and, to quote Green, "... (h)istory is useful, but the way you guys use it more or less looks like you are trying to take credit for achivements other than your own, in lifetimes other than yours."

C said basically the same thing -- "why do you guys (aka, people of colour) hate me when I didn't cause historical oppression!" Except in this case, C makes the same argument Green is making because he doesn't want to consider himself linked to historical oppression.

To me, these are linked -- to argue that I have no claim over the culture of my ancestors depends upon the same logic that a White person is not linked to the racism of his ancestors. I wonder if perhaps this is another symptom of the White experience, which is in part manifested as a need to distance contemporary Whites from historical bigotry. Perhaps, for that reason, some Whites of today have no compunction against appropriating other cultures?

5/03/2006 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

btw, thank you, gatamala.

5/03/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, what appropriation penalty should the head of Sony have paid when he decreed that his company's new invention, the compact disc, should be formatted to take Beethoven's 9th symphony on a single disc, since it personally offended his classical music lover's taste that he had to flip tapes/ change vinyl sides and interrupt the experience. Personally, I say, thanks, Mr. Morita!

And should I, anglo-swedish by heritage, Midwest USA by upbringing, be offended or happy when someone else (Kurosawa) riffs off Shakespeare (twice, brilliantly, in Throne of Blood and Ran), or watches a Bergman movie?

Beethoven, Shakespeare, Kurosawa, and Bergman all wanted their artistic productions to be viewed widely. Morita wanted to sell a gazillion of what he himself deemed an excellent and appealing product. And thus was born the scourge of the AOL 8.0 "Free" disc. - the one downside of the aforementioned cultural interactions - landfill.

This series of posts and comments reminds me of the (certain flavor of) radical feminist vs transwoman hoo-hah. Certain Flavor of Rad. Fem. argument: "transwoman" is just a man ripping off women. Certain bone-headed MTF argument: but we are women Just Like You in Every Way. (rude reduction of both sides' arguments - not everyone in the hunt is so dense).

NancyP

5/03/2006 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Nancy P, I'm kind of annoyed that you'd compare Kurosawa's Ran to a random White guy fetishizing ninjitsu and buying samurai swords on Ebay while watching Akira in a cheap kimono in his dorm room. I said it upthread - there is a huge difference between culture and technology.

Using the compact disc to spread cultural artifacts to larger groups is one thing; justifying cultural appropriation through basic use of the global capitalist order is quite another. Further, I wouldn't ever presume to tell you, or anyone else how to feel about anything, including Kurosawa films. But I'm done with the variations on the They Do It Too!! argument.

I am African American. I notice cultural appropriation of African American culture all the time, usually accompanied with the unceasing promotion of damaging anti-Black stereotypes throughout the world. We live in a nation that produced Al Jolson, Elvis Presley, and Marshall Mathers. How often would Black R&B singers sell a moderate amount of records in the Sixties and Seventies to watch as White singers carbon copied their songs to sell millions to mainstream White audiences? Meanwhile, African Americans, regardless of their creativity, are still portrayed as criminal, lazy, promiscuous, violent troglodytes draining the nation's resources through social programs that emerge from liberal White guilt.

Sure, listening to Ghostface Killah's latest New York gangsta rap cd, Fishscale can be entertaining and fun, but I suspect most of Ghostface's White fanbase doesn't run around with huge gaudy gold medallions and speak in nonsensical Staten Island slang to emulate or imitate this rapper. No, of course not, because American pop culture has a general trend of angry African American backlash against mainstream posers who try to steal hip hop for their own ends. However, some misguided souls do view hip hop as their inroads into the permanent counterculture of African Americana, and real Black people are justified in challenging such views.

But you probably know this already; you realize that the newfound ease in acquiring cultural elements from different groups in our global economy does not justify the paltry, uncultured, misinformed fetishization that various Asiaphiles and Negrophiles exude with conscious choice.

Instead, notice the thoughts in this post: here's a woman who delivers a heartfelt polemic about her sociopolitical identity and the journey that forged her unique political perspective. Are you trying to say, Nancy P, that her cultural identity can and/ or should be subjected to your desire to immerse yourself in whatever cultural elements you wish to remove from all original context and history, just because you want to wear the next exotic Chinese dress or listen to techno mixes of Buddhist chants on your I-pod? Regardless of your knowledge or lack thereof of her or her people's political perspectives?

How selfish are you?

A polite suggestion, Nancy P. Perhaps you should develop an opinion on a person's thoughts before you choose to rob their identity for kicks.

5/03/2006 11:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the point is that since Shakespeare and Bergman are not going to be cheapened to any real degree, cause the people doing it don't have the power (And often it's a lot like the power of the really big guy who just doesn't understand his strength and keeps knocking people over and breaking people's car doors) it's certainally just not going to put you in that 'pillaged' place that you get put into when you really, genuinley lose the power that yr culture gives you.

Is that anything like right?

But are we capable of ever understanding it?
There's this coca cola ad. ON TELEVISION. Who's catchphrase is 'The television should be in the pool where it belongs, shows a lot of people in designer clothes (Styles I once bought cheaply and now can't really afford any more) thrashing about stupidly in the service of the antichrist of art, the amatil corporation.
And that makes me feel a little bit like something's been taken away from me.
Is that something like it?

I'm a bit of a bore, I keep coming back to music, but it's a huge thing for me and it's the best way for me to understand things.

-Gav

5/04/2006 01:47:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

you lost me on the coca cola thing. could you clarify? i know i've never seen the ad...

5/04/2006 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi jenn--

Thank you for this: I simply believe that they must merely recognize the limits of their attempts at assimilation. My parents would never be culturally American because it was not their birthright, but nor do they think to consider themselves the same kind of cultural American as me or my sister.

In discussing more 'hypothetical' situations over in an LJ community--this is perhaps the biggest point that gets missed with Americans--especially white ones.

I also like how you've broken down the different components of your identity--especially as it moves beyond the private--family and friends sphere to the larger public one of the neighborhood, community, etc.

The history behind the pan-Asian identity is also helpful. I always thought such designations to be tools of pacification by an ignorant majority. But I see the positives now in that. Though the process reminds me of how the colonists and other ethnic groups became white.

~recumbentgoat

5/04/2006 08:20:00 PM  
Anonymous BehindRoundEyes said...

It's kind of sad how everyone gets hooked on the controversy of the Asiaphile post and misses this one. The way you explain each different facet of your cultural and ethnic background, and how they fit together, would be something the Asiaphiles who took offense would be well advised to read...if they ever put down their manga...

5/05/2006 03:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Latching onto the appropriation thing again:

I'm asking if when Rock'n'Roll gets reduced to it's most basic aesthetics, which are then commercialised on by coca cola, is it cultural appropriation and abuse of power by one party to take away the expression of another party even though both groups are white guys and privelaged when we talk about it in terms of race?

And when the dollar and fashion corrupts the original statement of things like messy hair cuts and holes in your jeans, how much are those who were with the movement originally entitled to feel as raped and pillaged as you have previously said you felt about the Asiaphiles.
As soon as these people start complaining about it they get labelled as appaling hipsters who are more concerned about the obscurity of something than it's artistic value.
Could that 'hipster' then claim a defense that the other party had privelage when they said that about them?
-Gav

5/05/2006 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

I'm asking if when Rock'n'Roll gets reduced to it's most basic aesthetics, which are then commercialised on by coca cola, is it cultural appropriation and abuse of power by one party to take away the expression of another party even though both groups are white guys and privelaged when we talk about it in terms of race?

yer too late!!! the cultural appropriation took place when Elvis took Big Mamma Thornton's Hound Dog...

5/05/2006 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous LTaruc said...

You should look at this.

http://www.modelminority.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=18356&start=0&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=

5/05/2006 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Ltaruc, that was a disgusting thread. I mean, you'd think political Asian American men would like what Reappropriate.com says.

Something's wrong with those people.

5/05/2006 07:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Ltaruc, that was a disgusting thread. I mean, you'd think political Asian American men would like what Reappropriate.com says.

Something's wrong with those people.


With modelminority? Yeah, they've got more than their fair share of crazies.

I can only guess at what the modelminority thread is talking about, since I don't have an account, but I'm guessing that they don't like Jenn because she admits she doesn't care much about her Chinese heritage, and the fact that she is in an IR relationship. Probably more the latter than the former.

Hmm, about your comment "political Asian American men would like what Reappropriate.com says". Don't worry about modelminority, lots more political AAM than that site alone. And a lot of them do like what reappropriate.com says.

5/08/2006 04:31:00 AM  
Blogger Rosemary Grace said...

This is a great post. It has driven home to me the irony of the lecture on culture-stealing/spoiling that I recieved from a former roomate.

Me: American mother, English father, raised in Scotland, I identify culturally as a brit with some American influence who happens to live in California.

Her: German & Irish heritage American, family all midwestern, raised in California, frequently claiming to be "honorary asian" because she has SO MANY Taiwanese and Korean friends and identifies SO MUCH with the culture. Yes she was an anime fiend too.

Then she gives me a lecture on how I'm a "fake" American, and have no right to call myself American unless I realize that American identity means more than which passport I carry.

Oh, and as someone raised in Scotland, I see some culture-stealing too. The people who find out they have one lone Scottish ancestor five generations back and immediately start wearing everything in the family tartan, putting on a godawful fake accent and claiming X Y or Z is an aaaaaancient scots tradition (hoots man). Could you imagine some sort of "Asian Culture Fair" largely attended by people who are Asian, where you can buy the traditional foods, watch traditional dances, look at exhibits of artifacts (so far so good, nothing cringeworthy here) BUT the majority of the people who attend show up in their home made poorly researched interpretations of geisha costumes, or Korean national dress, tape their eyes sideways and imitate horribly stereotyped accents?

That's what Highland Games events in the US feel like to me. I've overheard people at Highland Games events scoring passersby on how much of "the old blood" they look like they have, analyzing height, build, skin tone, nose and eye shape, the lot. Anyone with red hair scored high. They were like judges at Crufts discussing what made the quintissential dalmatian.

Thanks for this, and the "Asiaphile" thread. I will take more care now to not join in what already irks me when directed at my home nation. I'll make sure I stick to drinking sake because it is yummy and buying dishes at Mitsuwa because they are cheap and pretty.

5/08/2006 06:54:00 PM  
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