Sunday, February 21, 2010

If not black or white, then what... ?

Reader warning: this blog is all over the place. I'd like to apologize in advance... I just got back from a conference tonight; combined with the reading for this class, my mind is overflowing with thoughts I'm trying to get out. I'll try to keep my rambling to a minimum.


Black, white, and maybe some grey every now and then: the way we talk about race in the United States has remained constant for much of the country's existence. This is something that been critiqued extensively in Asian American Studies and Chican@ Studies... but I'm starting to wonder: is it even possible to escape this binary thinking?

The black and white continuum (I'm not sure what others call it, but that phrase resonates with me for some reason) would suggest that on one end of the spectrum, there's white; at the other, black; and in the middle, every other ethnic or racial group under the sun.

Sunaina Maira's article "Henna and Hip Hop: the Politics of Cultural Prodution and the Work of Cultural Studies," like other works of literature in Asian American Studies and Chican@ Studies, when situating non-black, non-white peoples in discussions of race and ethnicity, does a decent job of discussing the complexities of the Desi American experience. But if the discourse of race and ethnicity in the United States is defined by the black-white continuum, then we can't talk about issues related to race and ethnicity without talking about the "whiteness" of some groups or actions or the "blackness" of others.

Hip hop is a good example of this, I think. According to Halifu Osumare, a professor here at UC Davis, hip hop is a multiracial art form, not exclusive to the black community here in the United States. To the contrary, it was developed in large part by black artists, Latino artists, Asian artists, etc. and instantaneously became a global practice, not exclusive to the United States. So why do we talk about Asian American / Desi American tendencies towards hip hop as a tendency towards black culture?

I recently discovered the blog of a graduate student at San Francisco State University whose research focuses on (mixed) Asian hip hop artists. Although he doesn't seem to be focusing on the discursive aspect of the relationship between Asian Americans and hip hop, these questions are nonetheless related.

Here's a clip of his spoken word that originally brought me to his blog:

Senbei & Dynamic Souls – Paper Bullets

One question particularly stands out to me after listening to the poem and reading his blog. In regards to mixed white / Asian rappers, emcees, poets, etc., who are already in defiance of the ideal black and white continuum and the racial purity myth: is hip hop a way to assert their non-white ethnic identity? And if so, what does that mean for hip hop as a strictly black, or non-strictly multiracial, form of art?


Regarding the compact challenge: I've been broke as a joke. I've barely had enough money for food, much less any money with which to go shopping. Although on a note of irony, in an effort to cope with my bad economic situation as of late, I have been spending a significantly higher amount of money on alcohol. Probably not the best idea?


Works Cited

Sunaina Maira. "Henna and Hip Hop: the Politics of Cultural Production and the Work of Cultural Studies." Journal of Asian American Studies 2.2 (2000), 329-369.

COLINRESPONSE (blog). "Paper Bullets 101: Mixed Heritage Asian Amerikan Male Hip-Hopper Identity." (link)


Mo Torres
Blog #8