Thursday, January 13, 2005

COOL OUT: HIP-HOP AND RACE REVISITED (PT. 1)


build, not destroy

1. I'll be on KPFA's weekly radio show, APEX Express tonight (Thurs.), @ 7pm. One of the reasons they wanted to invite me on was to talk about the on-going dialogue/debate that I've managed to get embroiled into on the topic of African and Asian American relations in the field of culture.

2. The problem with blogging (as if there were only one) is that my postings are often off-the-cuff, informal, and as a general rule, not vetted or self-edited well. Most blogs are merely streams of consciousness translated into HTML and as such, entries are often intellectually lazy/sloppy - mine are no exception. However, since they are in a public forum, other people take these comments seriously and that's where people like me get in trouble. Don't get me wrong: I'm not trying to excuse my responsibility for meaning what I write and writing what I mean...it's just embarrassing when people take these mental piddlings seriously when I probably wrote them half-asleep and half-thinking. Ok, time to try to be a little more full-thinking.

3. In November, I was invited to Philadelphia to speak on two panels regarding Asian Americans and hip-hop. At one panel, a New York-based writer and activist, Kenyon Farrow attended and asked the panel the following question (this is based on Kenyon's own writing, not my paraphrase): "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?"

4. Kenyon's question (and at the time, I didn't know his name or who he was) frustrated me because I saw it as being unreasonably antagonistic and defensive rather than an attempt to build understanding or solidarity. In a moment of haste, I wrote a response on Pop Life. This is what I mean by half-thinking - I did not critically plot out my response with a
clear head and instead, wrote out of annoyance and that does not make for particularly intelligent commentary. Frankly, I deserved to have people criticize me for it and they did: someone forwarded a link to my blog entry back to Kenyon who penned a response: "We Real Cool: On Hip-Hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation."

5. I've responded to some of the points in his essay here, but mostly to address specific concerns that people had over my (bad) choice of metaphor. I've avoided a point-by-point response to Kenyon's essay because his argument has so many problems, I don't even know where to begin. There's just no efficient way I can correct all his inaccuracies and misrepresentations of what I said, what he said, what this all is supposed to mean. Obviously, he's entitled his own opinion and perceptions, but at various times, Kenyon distorts my comments and stances in order to create a convenient strawman to tear down.

I didn't help matters with my poor blog entry, but Kenyon tries to wield an all-points attack on me, my opinions, and my political positions, and manages to get almost all of them wrong. However, rather than create a list of points to refute, I instead would suggest that people read Kenyon's essay and come to your own conclusions as to the salience of his conclusions. Personally, for anyone familiar with my body of work - as a writer and scholar - I think you'll recognize that in some points, I'm actually in full agreement with Kenyon. Our political stances are hardly as antagonistic or divergent as he thinks. (Note 1).

6. I'd like to focus on a few key issues in hopes of developing some ideas for public consumption. I'm not trying to advance open-and-shut theories - these are constantly evolving thoughts. Culture is not static; it doesn't stay the same, unchanging, through time our understanding and appreciation for it should also be malleable too. All this said, I want to return to Kenyon's key question: "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?" I never adequately addressed this the first time around and it still seems to be at the heart of much of the disagreement and tension here.

Just so I don't have a 3,000 word essay hanging off my index page, I hacked a solution, creating a separate entry with my full response.

Click here to continue reading.