Thursday, April 22, 2004


the sincerest form of flattery?

One of the other people I had the pleasure of meeting at the EMP Conf. was Christina Veran, whose presentation at the conference coincides with the publishing of a recent piece in The Village Voice on Native Americans, race and hip-hop. She gave an adapted version of her piece at the conference itself, using Outkast's recent Grammy performance in Indian regalia as the jump-off.

I'm not going to comment directly on Veran's piece - read it over though and see what you think - but some thoughts pop up in relation to it.

1) The #1 defense I've seen of Andre 3000's red-face performance is that "he was trying to pay tribute to Native Americans" which is just another extension of the same old "he had good intentions." People seem to forget that the adage about good intentions paving the road to hell however. I mean, since when is racism acceptable simply because the motivations aren't malicious? I heard the same argument used to defend Lost in Translation and it's rather tired - whether Sophia Coppola really "respects Japanese culture" or not doesn't matter if her images and characters are flat, racialized cartoons. In both Coppola and Andre's case, it's the result of their actions that matter here - understanding intent does little to alleviate the problem.

2) The fact that Outkast hasn't responded yet to the controversy is wack. Simple as that. Apologize, don't apologize, but say nothing in the fact of loud public outrage and you come off seeming either arrogant or unfeeling, neither of which reflects well on you.

3) One thing missing from Veran's piece that I would have liked to see her address more is the fact that hip-hop is so dominant on reservations. To what extent could people claim that Native Americans are un-critically appropriating elements of African American vernacular, dress and aesthetics? I don't like getting into reductionist arguments around "who's appropriating who?" since most contemporary culture, hip-hop especially, is already such a syncretism of other cultures, the idea of any particular ethnic/racial community being able to claim "ownership" is rather suspect.

However, in Veran's case, she's arguing that Outkast was out of line in trying to perform in the garb of racialized stereotype. We can all agree, I hope, that throwing on some buckskins and sticking a feather in your hair is a limited and ignorant portrait of contemporary Native American-ness. But I look at these CD covers from Litefoot, a Native rapper thatn Veran writes on in her piece and I have to at least ask the question: ok, what's going on here then?

I'm not suggesting that Litefoot's representation of self through Pen and Pixel-ated art work is equivalent to Andre going all Apache, but I have to say that his CD cover is clearly appropriating representations of contemporary Blackness. How do we take this into a larger conversation?

Again, I'm not letting Andre off the hook by saying, "look, Indians do it too!" but I think it's dangerous to throw out the minstrelsy card (as Veran does at the beginning of her piece) unless you're willing to go whole hog on the issue and look at the ways in which racial love/theft is deeply seeded within both the African and Native American communities (as it is in all ethnic communities).
(see also the conversation on this same topic over at

  • This is from One Hundred or So Ways to Get an Ulcer, a blog I spotted via I'm So Sincerrr. Ulcer is written by a high school teacher in Chicago and this is from one of his/her recent posts:
      "Usually when I send students to the discipline office, the rest of the class falls in line for the remainder of the period.

      This was until I heard a student talk about "beating that white boys ass."

      This came from a girl who has a history of fighting in the school. She actually holds the record for most fights in my class while I taught a lesson: 2. She was referring to a Chinese boy in my class, who holds the record for best GPA in the school. He is an immigrant who immigrated just a year ago, knowing no English.

      He forced himself to be proficient enough to be a top student. He is a hard-working, honest, caring young man. He has the right to come to school everyday and not feel threatened.

      Like I said, she had a history of violence in the school. There was one occasion last semester where she actually threw a book at the same "white boy" she was harrassing.

      I tried to diffuse the situation right away. I got quite good at this.

      "White boy? What white boy? There isn't a white boy in this class."

      "Him, he over there."

      "Chen? He's not white, he's Asian."

      "That's the same thing. And if he don't stop lookin' ova here, he gun get his ass beat!"

  • How Asians take pictures.
    (credit: Hua)

  • J-Shep on Murs with a lil Ghostface tossed in too. It's good. You'll like it.