We Real Cool?:On Hip-Hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation

I am posting this piece I wrote in December to my own damn blog. I emailed it out, and it was posted on Chicken Bones. I just read a great piece by Sharon Woodsen Bryant about Black/Latino relations in the wake of the Vicente Fox comments. She asked in her piece “Will someone please write about racism of non-whites against Blacks?” Well, I did. So I thought I’d re-post the following piece (and hopefully beef up the traffic hits to my blog!). Also, There’s been a long argument on Jeff Chang’s blog about George Yancey’s book, and Oliver Wang continues to talk shit about me 6 months later, and never is his critique of my critique of him the same. First, he responded to the E-drum listerv that I was basically a liar, but when someone else posted (who also was at this particular event) that I was not only telling the truth, but was fairly nice in not describing the other fucked up things that went down. Now, on Chang’s site, he says my essay was “uncivil”. His words. Not mine. Without further ado, “We Real Cool?”:

We Real Cool?: On Hip-Hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation
By Kenyon Farrow © 2004

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 that Asian people in hip-hop 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 an 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. DuBois 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?

71 thoughts on “We Real Cool?:On Hip-Hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation

  1. I found your comments on this subject interesting. I think the Blacks & Latinos (Blatinos, maybe) that started Hip-Hop as an art form and mainstreamed it would think it good that others not only appreciate it, relate to it, and are inspired enough to perform it.

    I do not think Hip-Hop will be coopted by non Blacks. The same way corporate America will not be coopted by non whites. The position you take reminds me of the white men that are worried ‘all this diversity’ is going to cause a major shift. I say make room at the business table for the non white non male non heterosexuals. Also there is room in Hip-Hop for some Asians and Arabs and white boys. They will never dominate the genre they’ll simply be a little diversity at the table.

  2. Kenyon,

    My critique has always been consistent – I just don’t need to keep repeating myself every time I address your essay.

    I never called you a “liar.” What I did say was that you, in your recollection of the Philly event, you rephrased questions you asked, rephrased points I made, etc. etc. Your replay of events doesn’t conform to mine. And you certainly misinterpreted points I was trying to make, particularly about hip-hop’s democratic appeal and Joe Bataan’s historical value. I’ve already addressed this elsewhere so there’s no need to rehash it again.

    My main issue, all along, is that your ad hominem attack on me was uncalled for and petty. It’s humorous for me to see you suggesting that I’ve been “talking shit” when one-third your “We Real Cool” essay is dedicated to trying to attack me and my credability, not to mention your condescending tone.

    Calling me “Ollie” was playground. Or is it cool for me to start calling you “Kenny”?

    As for your essay – I had been saying in Jeff’s blog and elsewhere that I agreed with some of your main points, namely around the inequality of power and relations between racial groups and I still do agree with that. But I was recently writing an essay on Asian Americans, African Americans and hip-hop and re-read your essay in greater detail (and with a decidedly cooler head) and a few things came up from that.

    1) The most cogent point you have to make (IMO) is this:
    “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.”

    As you and others have pointed out, this contradicts (or at least challenges) the multicultural model of the 1980s and ’90s that was/is widely touted but that most people of color on the progressive Left have been critiquing (yes, even Asian folk) for years now. I think it bears reminding though and I think this is an excellent and articulate point about how just because we (the abstract “we,” not “you and I”) share the same cultural tastes doesn’t mean we share anything else, or more to the point, that it puts us on equal social footing within a hierachy of power and oppression.

    2) This said, I still think your criticism of Asian Americans in particular – especially in how you conflate Asians with whites – is underdeveloped and lacking in credible evidence. To wit:

    “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”

    I went back and read over the various press that Jin received. I found ONE newspaper article – published in the UK’s Guardian – that even vaguely conforms to the suggestion that anyone (let alone Jin) was making Jin’s career into a Black vs. Asian affair. Many people noted that Jin was the subject of racist comments during his 106 and Park battles but they didn’t frame it as “oh, Black people hate Jin” or “the only way Jin can win is to defeat all these racist Black people.” Eminem has defnitely been heralded as a “Great White Hope” but Jin’s purely a novelty act for 90% of the press that reported on him.

    What the articles do share in common, however, is presuming Jin as an “outsider” and therefore, the narrative that gets replayed over and over is that Jin has to find a way “inside” which I think is a dangerous model for acculturation.

    3) You write:

    “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.”

    This is a provocative argument but unfortunately, not one supported by the historical record.

    You got part of it right: the 1965 Immigration Act was partially designed to encourage more migration from Europe. However, in relation to immigration from Asia, just consider this:

    The U.S. spent the previous 100 years trying to find ways of keeping Asians out of America through a continuous string of immigration legislation and denial of citizenship rights (abetted by every branch of the Federal gov’t, including the Supreme Court). In other words, the U.S. threw every legal weapon they had at 1) keeping Asians out and 2) disenfranchising the ones living here. Add to this, two bitter wars fought b/t the U.S. and Asian countries (Japan and Korea), rising tensions in Vietnam, plus the looming fear of Red China and the larger Cold War.

    Given ALL of this, it makes no sense, whatsoever, that the U.S. would then decide to reverse course and suddenly plot to import as many Asian bodies as possible in order to counter-balance Black social agitation (I’ll address this latter point again in a moment).

    To put it simply, Congress fucked up. They lacked the foresight to predict how many Asian families would end up coming to the U.S. through the provisions of the 1965 Act. Had Congress been more cognizent of this possibility, it is almost surely the case that they would have found ways to prevent this occurence from happening and indeed, beginning in 1976 and continuing through the rest of the 1970s, amendments were made to the 1965 Immigration Act that tightened preference categories that Asian immigrants had been using.

    Backtracking a bit: the 1965 Immigration Act was the product of several interrelated forces but the two biggest were: 1) the Civil Rights Movement and 2) the larger backdrop of the Cold War. The former brough to bear its moral imperative on the U.S. gov’t to practice what it preached and especially given the geopolitical climate fostered by the latter.

    Also, since the 1920s, there were no quota restrictions put on Mexican migrants from coming into the U.S. so it’s not as if the 1965 Act was designed to allow more Latinos in.

    The other thing you don’t take into account is that, in 1965, no one could have predicted the refugee wave that came to the U.S. beginning in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. I very much doubt that policy was influenced by a desire to counter-balance Black/Brown activism given the historical circumstances behind refugee policy and the fact that, by 1975, COINTELPRO was probably a more effective counter-revolutionary strategem (just ask Mark “Deep Throat” Felt and the rest of the Hoover school).

    Two last points on this issue:

    I echo the sentiment Renee Tajima-Pena expresses in her documentary, “My America” – many Asian Americans were able to come to the U.S. because of the CRM but most fail to understand or credit the CRM as such. Too many are ignorant of understanding the history that provided the civil rights they take for granted.

    Also, what is true is that AFTER Asian Americans had come to the U.S. in large waves, the way that American media began to frame them as “model minorities” was very much a divide/conquer strategy to posit “quiet, passive Asians” against the portrayal of Black and Brown activists as loud and angry.

    And I fully agree: too many Asians have continued to buy into that bullshit, presuming they’re “better” than other communities of color and what’s truly deploring is how these attitudes (no doubt hel
    ped by American media) travel backwards to Asia so that many Asians have completely racist attitudes about Blacks and Latinos without ever having a single social interaction.

    4) You never make the case that today’s Asian youth are even vaguely equivalent to yesterday’s white minstrels, especially in relation to either the symbolic or material power they hold, vis a vis to the Black community. Personally, this is the argument I’m most interested in seeing fleshed out more.

    For whatever it’s worth, I’ve steadily been rethinking many of my own assumptions around race and culture in lieu of these and other conversations. For that, I’m thankful.

  3. Thoughtful and intelligent essay – however, your arguments are based on the premise of hip hop as an inherently Black and non-Asian culture – a premise which ignores many of the roots of hip hop. Lyrically, (very gifted) artists like Dead Prez, Afu-Ra, and Wu-Tang Clan have always been heavily influenced by Asian culture, and (esp. in the case of the latter) not always in a particularly respectful manner. Beyond that, Kung Fu movies like those produced by the Shaw Brothers were a HUGE influence in the development of East Coast-style “Breaking” – and many breakdancing moves were simply lifted straight from kung fu. Many of the old-school B-boys from crews like Rock Steady have identified these movies as their major influence.

    So, my friend, hip hop has always looked east for inspiration. You can’t deny these roots. So essentially, you are trying to shut Asians out of a culture that has borrowed heavily from their own. How can you decide that Asian culture is welcome and embraced inside hip hop, yet Asian people are not?

    Beyond that, you also need to consider the question, what’s an Asian immigrant kid going to do when he gets to North America. Well for one, obviously he or she is going to want to integrate into the local culture. I suppose he or she has two choices in this regard – “white culture” or “black culture.” But you don’t realize that the kid doesn’t necessarily see “white culture” or “black culture” – all he or she sees is American culture. Believe it or not, black and white to some people are one and the same – for example, you think a Vietnamese kid ever looked at an American soldier and cared whether or not he came to America as a slave or whether he only joined the army because they offered him a scholarship or whatever?

    So, it’s interesting how an Asian kid can come to North America, see a Green Day video, pick up a guitar, join a band, and be considered “normal” – yet if this same kid instead happens to see a Roots video, picks up a microphone, and starts wearing baggy clothing, he’s “acting black.” Are you not contributing to this dynamic of “normalizing” whiteness and white culture?

    Thus, by choosing only to frame Asian-Americans in a “white supremacist context” (in our “positionality against Blackness”) and not in an Asian-American context, you are choosing an extremely limited framework on which to base your arguments, which only weakens their validity.

    So you see, while you do make some very good points, your essay does have serious flaws in that it ignores some strong Asian influences at the very core of hip hop, and that it analyzes Asian-Americans only in the limited scope of our “positionality” with regards to Blackness.

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  15. I see a lot of people talking here. Who knows the true history and origins of Hip Hop? I will admit a few Hip Hop groups such as WU-Tang, Dead Prez and such really combined a lot of traditional Asian culture with Hip Hop, but that was 25 years later, and only a handful of groups did this. Someone earlier posted that Asian Culture influenced Hip Hop, true, but not true. Breakdancing was derived from Brazil, from a South American Martial arts style called Capeora, if I spelled it right. This was practiced by the African slaves brought to Brazil by the Portuguesse. Kool Herc, Jamaican moved to the Bronx when he was 12, He is the father. Why in most of these blogs I never hear no one mention Africa Bambaata and the Zulu Nation? or the other founders of Hip Hop. Hip Hop Dancing started out of the Los Angeles, Pop Locking was the first dance of Hip Hop. Freddy Berry popularized that off Soul Train. Im almost 40 years old. I was around when Hip Hop was not welcommed outside the Black Community. Such as other music we created Jazz, rock N Roll, Blues. Once upon of time this was all Nigger Music. once the Music, or artform become popular everyone wants to take credit for it. Just so they can have a place in it. what was once Nigger Muisc is now Mult-Cultural Music and lets embrace it, funny how things have changed over the years, to all my Asian Brothers im for one luv of the Human race. I dont think Black People have a problem with other cultures being in Hip Hop. Just show respect to Hip Hop and we will show respect to you. when you deny Hip Hop roots as being black, you are denying Hip Hop. Instead of searching for all these non-blacks in Hip Hop and putting them on a pedalstal, give tribute to the Originators and all will be good. My wife is japanese, so im not here to do race bashing on anyone.

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  18. lol at black folk in asia comment midst pages of ads

    yeah i just wanna say some of the stuff in the original articles pretty racist – that chopsticks in the hair shit is only for white girls, asians eat with chopsticks

    i’d never deny hip hop is a black invention and a black art form rooted in the black community, but if enjoying it is imperialistic then i can level the same argument about black people who use paper, what they trying to do? act chinese

    just some thoughts, no hate intended

  19. “then i can level the same argument about black people who use paper, what they trying to do? act chinese

    just some thoughts, no hate intended”

    No hate intended? I doubt it. The paper arguement is stupid. China is the number one nation for knock offs. The country is getting off big time steal others original work. From your arguements point of view China is trying to be like everyone else. Which is just a crazy and stupid way to think.

    All that is being said is that some Asians want to take part in Hip-Hop and respect where it comes from. Some even hate black people. Some who feel they are not getting a fair shake make up crap so it can appear they have a right to be a part of it.

    No one is denying anyone to be a part of Hip Hop. But is it really that hard to show respect to those who made it.

  20. I think that you have a great blog and they were just upset that your arguments were so strong and your questions so direct that they couldnt adequately provide a sufficient rebuttal. In a way, it makes me notice how angry it seems that Asians and whites often get because they cant take over and claim hiphop for themselves the way that they did rock and roll.

    They look ridiculous chemically burning their hair to make it look like an afro and wearing dreads and cornrows, but have the audacity to say that its not Black culture, its hiphop culture.

    Thats like me wearing kimono and reading haiku while at sushi restaurant drinking sake, but saying that its not Japanese culture, its just a poetry reading at a local bar.

  21. I think that you have a great blog and they were just upset that your arguments were so strong and your questions so direct that they couldnt adequately provide a sufficient rebuttal. In a way, it makes me notice how angry it seems that Asians and whites often get because they cant take over and claim hiphop for themselves the way that they did rock and roll.

    They look ridiculous chemically burning their hair to make it look like an afro and wearing dreads and cornrows, but have the audacity to say that its not Black culture, its hiphop culture.

    Thats like me wearing kimono and reading haiku while at sushi restaurant drinking sake, but saying that its not Japanese culture, its just a poetry reading at a local bar.

  22. Hip-Hop, Rap music and the culture have been seized by many who have found it easier to steal rather than to be innovative just so they can have culture a identity, prove that they have presence in the cultural and ethnic struggle that is America. Perpetration! Save and take back Hip-Hop.

  23. I think that you have a great blog and they were just upset that your arguments were so strong and your questions so direct that they couldnt adequately provide a sufficient rebuttal. In a way, it makes me notice how angry it seems that Asians and whites often get because they cant take over and claim hiphop for themselves the way that they did rock and roll.

    They look ridiculous chemically burning their hair to make it look like an afro and wearing dreads and cornrows, but have the audacity to say that its not Black culture, its hiphop culture.

    Thats like me wearing kimono and reading haiku while at sushi restaurant drinking sake, but saying that its not Japanese culture, its just a poetry reading at a local bar.

  24. I think he has some potentially valid points, but I agree with the analysis that he’s missing huge parts of the picture.

    .I doubt the title “Changing the Face of the Game” is about hostility against the black faces in Hip Hop; rather, it’s probably about the lack of Asian faces in Hip Hop (or any other section of a music industry that’s pretty obviously racist; though maybe not as much as visual media? (maybe))

    .Interesting how he seems to equate physical features with “blackness” or “Asianness” re: Oliver Wang’s intro. What the rapper identified with though is a valid point, though offset when you consider blacks who “passed” for white in their careers, e.g. O.J. Simpson — read a book by Dyson recently that examined this in a chapter, and apparently he didn’t identify too strongly with the black community in his career days, but a bit more during the trials — still, that didn’t stop black people from “claiming” him, yeah?

    .Seems to be twisting words as much as Wang is twisting history when he talks about Hip Hop’s “creation” vs. its “development” — its roots are undeniably black, but the entire thing hasn’t been created within a black vaccuum where no others have been able to enter. And damn, only Latinos and blacks can become part of the ghetto poor? //>>>model minority myth. Wang’s comment describing Hip Hop as “unskilled” is disturbing though. Obviously not everyone can rap (well). Though I’m beginning to question whether he was talking about the talent and skill required, or the equipment, etc. (Comparative costs of starting up a rock band vs. a rap group//instruments, etc. vs. a computer or DJing equipment (or even someone who can beatbox) — most of the time, rock is more expensive than rap yeah?)

    .Starting with the Brown Sugar reference, Farrow’s condescending attitude bothers me — every time some aspect of Hip Hop culture is referenced by anyone not black, he seems to dismiss them as charlatans, with nothing more than a surface-level understanding of the culture.*

    ,The “at least that was honest” part seems to equate Asian with white — which only serves to perpetuate the model minority myth — which doesn’t help any people of color. And again, dismisses Michelle as nothing more than a charlatan.*

    .”In all of the talk thus far, we have conveniently skirted around the issue of race.” Glaring black/white mentality(bias) here — if it’s not about black people, it’s not about race? Someone needs to open their eyes, or take an intro-level soc course…valid points about historically black music being taken and reappropriated by the majority culture though; but I don’t see Hip Hop as being in danger of falling victim to that anytime soon.

    .I don’t think that Farrow is making any valid point regarding MVs and image/re*presentation* vs. lyrical/musical ability. The same blanket statement could be applied to millions of people (of all colors) who latch onto the materialistic rockstar/street dreams that the mainstream presents as Hip Hop culture.

    .Farrow assumes that the image of the black male as a hypermasculine gangster type is the only reason that people are attracted to rap…essentially calling us posers hungry for a commodified revolution (think Che shirts), like people who get into film to be indy, skateboarding to be punk, etc. (f.ck him)

    .Ugh, I hate how he dismisses the social conscience of every APIA in the room based on his perception of everyone there as pretentious white liberal-faux-socially conscious member of society. I doubt there was a significant portion of the crowd sporting dreds and afros…but whatever he needs to sell his reporting.

    .Dismissing points as asinine seems like an easy way out of difficult conversation; hypocritical in light of his criticisms re: leaving out significant portions of the “big picture” re: Hip Hop culture. Boo the lack of academic and journalistic integrity.

    .I somehow doubt that the black panelist (why unnamed?) was acting the part of the house negro as much as Farrow is trying to sell him…but then again, there is a tendency to overdo the ingratiation when you’re trying to get other people to open up to your culture (90% of all activities put on by multicultural organizations). All the same, Farrow’s obvious bias casts doubt on his interpretation.

    .Ugh, 8 Mile did a horrible thing in trying to pull white struggles with reverse racism as the major issue, but damn. Jin? That’s f.cking offending. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that he only brought up his Asian identity as a source of pride in (a) reaching out to the APIA audience that looks up to him in songs and (b) countering what were obviously racist/race-baiting attacks against his APIA identity. It was pretty infuriating to see/hear every opponent of his pull race on him while hiding comfortably behind the majority black audience. (And yes, I recognize the fallacy of pulling reverse racism if you’re in a privileged position, but I feel that in this case (rap battles before a predominantly black audience) that wasn’t the case). LOLZ WTF!!1 @ a rapper like Nas having to play the race card to get ahead…or ANYBODY being so uninformed as to assume that. Talk about abstract strawmen (never heard anyone use this before).

    .Yeah on the “soulful” part — sounds like the “Asians are smart” bit.

    .Ugh — class and race intersect and mesh for people of color, especially if they’re poor — Jim sounds like he’s bought into the “colorblindness” myth, at least to some degree.

    .And Farrow seems to have bought into the “Oriental Jews” myth as well. Damn, dissing on the underground…culture is big, but just because you get to create the culture from the position of a label owner like Sean Combs doesn’t mean that you’re “authentic” — more likely you’re prostituting the culture to reach the masses (hm!). Mutherf.cker trying to deny the credibility of conscious critics by making them outsiders.

    .F.ck this guy; doubt he knows what Yellow Rage is about — or even gives a sh.t. Failing as a potential ally. Hm, glad for the recommendations on reading material (ironic universal point for Michelle).

    .Interesting here. I’m p.ssed off at this fool’s divisive politics, but definitely DO get p.ssed off at hippie-types who try and appropriate Asian culture — I see a significant difference in that Asian culture is based off a peoples, whereas Hip Hop is both the people and the music — and when it’s something that is often more loosely defined than “peoples” (problems with defining “people” itself sure), there’s a tendency for the demographics to expand. Religion based on tradition; but music that sprung from an oppressed minority searching for a voice. I’m a bit stuck on this, but ultimately see the truest expression of Hip Hop not in the person who proclaims it, but rather the words coming out of her or his mouth (social justice vs. blackness; though black identity is definitely a large, integral part of the culture — not exclusively however). Damn, he’s going way over the top with the “slaves” bit though.

    .Wtf? Ancestor worship is a tradition that’s been well established in Asian countries for thousands of years. That’s all I’m gonna say. Oh! Oppression Olympics…is that maybe what I’ve been trying to get at throughout all this? (serious question). This idiot needs education on Asian culture. Chopsticks in the hair? Seriously? Someone’s seen one too many geishas…and claiming every f.cking thing as if we’re incapable of any original thought; even if it is paying homage, let her.

    .Writer’s bias obvious in his refusal to take in the performance. But again, I’m always hesitant to watch little white preteens (and even the occasional legit black belt) breaking boards in the name of TKD. But there are obviously people who are more into it than I’ll ever be — and some of them are white.

    .You know, for some reason, I really doubt Oliver Wang was trying to equate blackness with slavery…

    .I don’t get the paragraph re: the green color line. I’m assuming Wang is calling for alliances between racial groups through Hip Hop and Farrow is sneering? And hypocrisy — Farrow is as eager to point out the black as Farrow is to point out the Asian.

    .Interesting point about people shrugging off personal racism by directing all questions to the social structure. He may have a valid point here with Oliver Wang being part of a white media that controls everything — but this dude also maintains an independent blog, etc. And what’s the difference between Oliver Wang and a black person? there’re plenty of black journalists and reviewers giving glowing reviews to 50 cent and the like — they’re all part of the system.

    .Farrow ignores the absence of prominent As. Am. artists just as much as Wang ignores the absence of black label owners — though I’d reserve judgment on Wang; want to check out And You Don’t Stop, read through it and see how he presents things; and I want to check out Farrow’s stuff as well.

    .Does anyone else find the “white nationalist” comparison to be a bit of a stretch (filled with holes)? And I’m going to point out my own hypocrisy before someone else does and call attention to the word choice here: “immigrant.” Hm…perpetual foreigner, anyone? And tying us together with white folks again. Ugh. And I’m not sure who he’s talking to in the next few paragraphs — I think he’s purposely blurring the lines between whites and Asians (as honorary whites); I wish he wouldn’t do that.

    .Not sure about this one: does relative wealth of black Americans tie into what’s largely been a discussion about Hip Hop culture?

    .Wow, Farrow seems to totally understand how the dominant white society pits people of color and other oppressed groups against each other, but completely misses the point — we’re supposed to see this and rise above it, not fight for crumbs, or in some oppression olympics.

    .There is a point to be made in us as APIAs examining and pushing away our potential status as “honorary whites;” and instead serving as APIA allies to the cause of all People of Color.

    .I like how he claims the stereotypes as “black.” Not really.

    .And yeah, I’m totally for APIAs using Hip Hop as a means of artistic expression, and a voice against everything that’s wrong in society. I’m sure that’s why a lot of people get into Hip Hop (okay, maybe not a lot but…). And Farrow seems to be okay with that. But he seems too blinded by his own prejudices and the Asian = white mentality to let that happen.

    And screw you. You can’t just trash what I connect with and find inspiration from every time someone like Jin, Chan, or FM rap about their experience as APIAs in America. And damn, I think Jenny Choi rocks pretty hard, even if she isn’t white. Plenty of people like James Iha, Thomas Lauderdale. Will.I.Am. Chops. Chad Hugo. To say nothing of the countless APIA musicians representing with the classical.

  25. Hip hop is part of Black people’s culture. The Blackness in Hip Hop can be traced back to Jamaica and Africa. Black people have a right to be up in arms when someone takes from their culture without giving respect. Just as Asian have the right with their culture.

  26. I’m a Taiwanese-American residing in San Diego. I enjoy hip-hop and it is the main music i listen to, its also the style of clothing i buy. so i am one of these asians taking part in hiphop. here is my thoughts on the topic.
    Hiphop was started by black and latino youth. There is no denying that, they were the pioneers, anyone that denies this is just retarded.
    the culture developed and thrived and many people were exposed to it. Many different races fell in love with this artform and wanted to participate in it. I really don’t see what the problem is with this.
    I understand that at the beginning it was prodominently blacks and latinos participating in this, but it spread and other races are now getting involved with it. If an Asian person truly loves the artform, practices their MCing or breakdancing and becomes highly skilled in it, they deserve their reward. and when they reach this level, they are a part of hip hop itself. because they’re contributing to it. its not a race thing. they’re contributing to the artform. I really do not understand the problem here. There are many different races contributing and trying to push the limits of this artform, how is that a problem?

    As for asians doing their hair like blacks, it is very understandable that they do this. In America, on TV, magazines, and every other form of media, the only celebrities and idols seem to be either black or white. That is the majority. So the asian youth, like all other youth, choose idols and people to look up to. So is it going to be michael jordan? thom yorke? kurt cobain? Nas? i mean, whatever they choose it’ll be either black or white. Young people want to be like, and look like their idols. So if the person they look up to has an afro, then they’ll get their hair like that, because thats who they look up to. it is not that they want to be black, it is because they want to like they person they look up to. This is not ridiculous at all. what else can they do? there aren’t many asian superstars in the american media.

    When i younger, i was very into graffiti. Graffiti, the kind from New York started by poor black, latino, and cacausian kids. Not started by Asian kids. But by practicing my painting skills and doing graffiti in the middle or the night everywhere for a number of years, i was a part of this culture. I was authentically part of this culture not started by asian kids. Because i contributed to it. i have as much right to be a part of the graffiti culture as a black person, or lationo person or cacausian person. because it comes down to you as an artist, not your race. If my skills and style are better than the other person, thats all that should matter, not my race. i mean, am i wrong? this seems very logical to me. i talk about this graffiti thing, because it is similar to this hip hop topic we are on right now.

    Anyways, thats all i can really think of right now.

  27. EtahChen,

    What do you think about Asian American Hip Hop? Why not just call it Hip Hop? Why break away from the mainstream. That Like saying Black Kung fu.

    The core element of is Hip Hop African American and AFRICAN. RAP can be traced from Jamaica to Africa. Yes Latinos help shape Hip Hop (Mainly Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Cubans). Do you know what Latinos did to set in stone there place in the Hip Hop kingdom? You are talking about a group who fought for this thing from the early days. Asians have long way to go.

    Asians are very protective of their culture so in turn I would expect you to expect the same from African Americans. No one is saying Asians can’t take part in Hip Hop. But respect and understanding are needed.

  28. “So, my friend, hip hop has always looked east for inspiration. You can’t deny these roots. So essentially, you are trying to shut Asians out of a culture that has borrowed heavily from their own. How can you decide that Asian culture is welcome and embraced inside hip hop, yet Asian people are not?”

    RESPONSE TO THE ABOVE COMMENT:

    Being my friend that Africa is the original and oldest cilivization in the world, would it not stand to reason that many creative art forms used and viewed in today’s society were introduced by that “Originator” and then expounded upon and profited from by other civilizations who would fall into the catagory of “Imitators.

    That said. I don’t feel that Black America is trying to deny Asians a presence in the hip hop culture. I feel that Black America is denying Asians the right to claim hip hop soley as their creation. I ask where were the so-called down Asians hip hopsters decades ago when this underground cultural moverment was struggling against all odds for the approval of main stream society and the world at large, to be recognized and accepted as another legitimate expression of the art form.

    I feel that Asians do not at this point in the game get a free pass to demand to be a part of and to capitilize off of the success of those who fought long and hard for hip hop, breaking, bboying, locking, freestyling, etc., and the list goes on and on, because they think it should be a free for now all and winner take all.

    It’s true that Blacks have borrowed some of your kung fu and karate moves to incorporate into their own. Thats only considered a give and take situation with most cultures. No offense taken and none give. But it’s considered an insult when another culture comes along and blatantly takes what is not theirs from the beginning and try to twist it into another one of “His Stories” through underhanded manipulation and deception with winner take all.

    I’ve recently been watching this new MTV show called Randy Jackson Presents “America’s Best Dance Crew” and I’ve noticed that 75-90 per cent of the dance crew contestants vying for the ultimate $100,000 prize are of Asian descent. The show is now in its 2nd season and people are still talking about the 1st season when they were on. In fact, the winners, runner-ups and eliminated performers for both shows are for the majority of Asian descent. Which makes me wonder why the sudden influx, interest and visibility of so many Asians in this area of performance. I just never thought this was something high on their priority list.

    I also see that within in the last 10 years or so there have been bboy dance contest being held all over the world (USA included) where Asians have been partiscipating on a large scale, and, winning on a consistant basis. In fact, they seem to be dominating the hip hop, bboying, locking, freestyling, etc genres. Whenever I watch You Tube videos I keep wondering where are all the Black and Latino brothers at in all this? Their presence seems to have almost become exstinct in this area.

    It also seems that whenever a Black bboy takes on a dance challengce against an Asian bboy, he somehow loses. It seems as if the very art form that his culture helped to created and introduce now pales by comparison in the eyes of the judges to the performance and skill levels of his new Asian competitor.

    I think the sudden interest in this “new dance culture” by others is slowly working it’s way up to becoming a legitimate competition in the World Olympics. Original Hip Hop/BBoys/BGirls get your game up.

    So my question to you…. do you really believe Asians are have not been embraced by the hip hop culture? Peace.

  29. SPrice. Stonehawk. i read your comments. you guys are right. i guess i never really thought of it as a race/culture thing. i always thought of it as a subculture. like MCing, bboying, and the other elements. i thought of it as a hobby/artform that anyone interested enough in it could dedicate themselves to. thanks for educating me about this. i didn’t know it was a black and latino thing only. damn, what am i gonna do with my hiphop Cds

  30. etah I now feel very sory for you. I see you have no respect for that Black aspect of Hip Hop which is its driving force and heart. Does that mean only Black people can join in it? No not even close to what the people who wanted or what me and Sprice are trying to say.

    Is Kung Fu a subculture? Martial Arts is a culture thing like Hip Hop is you asshat. Most schools in the states still train using the martial arts native langauage. Do understand what we are saying now?

    Listening to you make me think of a White guy who like hip hop said about an Asian rapper he saw. “Why would anyone listen to an Asian Rapper. They hate Black people more than we do and understand them far less.” Sadly your crap makes this nut seem like he might know what he’s talking about.

    Since you don’t want to listen to a Black point of view. Talk to Oliver Wang and Jeff Chang on this subject. I’m sure you will be very surprised on hat they will tell you.

  31. Farrow’s points are certainly well-founded; there’s plenty of anti-Blackness in the (“conscious”) Asian American community, and Asian Americans are sometimes (though definitely not always!) the beneficiaries of white supremacy. However, there is a lot of equivocation that I’m honestly not comfortable with – Asian American appropriation is extremely different from white appropriation. One thing that I see in Farrow’s (and Yancey’s) work is an invalidation of Asian American trauma through the constant insistence of the primacy of Black suffering (which is something I won’t debate). And that invalidation can become violent given the often-abject status of Asian American ontologies (and bodies) within American racial logics. Certainly, Asian American appropriation of hip-hop can be awkward to say the least, and more credit needs to be given where credit is due, but strategic Asian American appropriations of Blackness occur from a shortage of preexisting Asian American cultural vocabularies of antiracist resistance, rather than white appropriations, which tend to have a far more colonial infringement quality to them. Not to mention that, well, class does matter – there’s a big difference between upper-middle-class Chinese American appropriation and proletarian Hmong American appropriation, but there’s not really any distinctions made within an Asian American demographic that barely has a well-defined collective identity to begin with (and Asian conflation is another point of trauma – Vincent Chin, for example). In other words, I think both sides on this debate could use a bit more nuance in their critiques to avoid cross-traumatization.

  32. ‘ “Why would anyone listen to an Asian Rapper. They hate Black people more than we do and understand them far less.” Sadly your crap makes this nut seem like he might know what he’s talking about. ‘

    this nut is a white guy watching this conversation/argument/fight unfold and chuckling to himself about how he wins again and again.

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