Monthly Archives: August 2010

azns in hip-hop [1]

posted by djtrishna

In the land of hip hop, female MCs are a rare breed. At least that’s what the mainstream would have us believe.

Right now there are countless female artists fighting intense discrimination in the industry while producing some of the best hip hop out there. Many of whom are reppin it for us Azns.

Case in point? Shadia Mansour.

If you’ve never heard of this extremely talented artist before, you are in for a treat. I would describe her as the more intelligent, politically conscious, Palestinian female version of Drake. Just kidding, that would be a complete diss to Shadia because she could totally tear Drake apart in a throw down, just sayin.

Why should we be paying attention to her? Shadia’s flow is intuitive, expertly dropped over well produced beats and vocals that could carry her career on their own. Her lyrics resist the current trend of mainstream hip hop to produce formulaic lines that ignore social and political realities, which she does without getting cheesy. And the first single “El Kofeyye 3arabeyye”, off of her new album features M1 of Dead Prez.

Yes, as in Dead Prez, Dead Prez. If you don’t think this is a testament to her skills and potential as an MC, perhaps you should examine what you think you know about hip hop.

El Kofeyye 3arabeyye is a brilliant track that explores the cultural roots of the Kofeyye and challenges its appropriation.

Her depth and dynamism as an artist can be seen in this track but also through her collaborations and performances with other Arab artists such as Canada’s own The Narcicyst and the UK’s Lowkey in which she holds her own amongst the presence of such strong men.

Shadia is also uncompromising her in image as a Palestinian female performer. She rocks keffiyehs and traditional Palestinian dress onstage, constantly reminding us of her identity. Shadia has been nicknamed the First Lady of Arab Hip-Hop. To me, this is particularly important in an era of hip hop in which artists would rather wear Louis Vutton in an effort to assimilate to whiteness than have their audiences deal with their racial other-ness.

Her album is set to drop sometime before year’s end. You can be sure to expect big things out of Shadia in her reclamation of hip hop.

Check out her myspace here.

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update: what does it mean to be azn?

posted by theinvazn

two months ago, i put out a call for azns to respond to the question: what does it mean to be azn?

if you’ve been following our “being azn” tag, you’ve seen guest writers and regular bloggers negotiate mixed identity, the ‘banana’ label, body image, mother-daughter relationships, sexuality and so on.

i’ve said before that this question reaches into unsettling territory. what you may not know is that half of these writers asked to post anonymously and a few later changed their minds and asked to be identified. 

one person told me she didn’t want her thoughts on racism, self-esteem and identity to be the first result in a google search of her name. another writer mused in her post, “who would have thought the girl who was scared to be azn for the first half of her life would announce her ethnicity like this?” she had submitted her entry with the note, “i’m admitting that i’m azn.”

i’m humbled by their vulnerability.

our “being azn” posts have consistently received the highest number of views, comments and ratings, outdoing posts that contain more popular search terms like “blackberry” and “karate kid.”

i think this speaks of a need for a space to explore azn identities. as i was reading and crying my way through mshehe’s account of a conversation she had with a salesperson in china today, i realized (trying not to sound like a conceited dick) that i’m really glad this blog exists. so thank you, readers and writers, for making this happen.

if you want to respond to the big question, “what does it mean to be azn?” in a few lines or with a full blog post (which, actually, can also be a few lines!), contact theinvaznbegins@gmail.com.

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being azn: thin azn women

posted by mshehe

I’m 5’3 without shoes, and wear sizes XXXS – M depending on the store. I grew up in North America (New Jersey and Toronto, to be specific) and have always felt tiny.

What’s funny is that although I was small by North American standards, every time I visited my grandparents in China, I was greeted with: “Wah, fei jor wor!”. That essentially translates into: “Wow, you got fat!”. Of course, grandparents love to fatten up their grandkids so they genuinely meant it in a good way. However, I couldn’t argue with the fact that I was still bigger than the other girls I saw on the streets. It seemed like everyone around me was super thin.

In most parts of the developed world, there is pressure for women to stay thin. However, is this pressure heightened in Azn cultures?

In street boutiques in China, clothes are one-size-fits-all. That is what girls use to benchmark themselves against – if you can’t fit into one of those dresses, you’re too big. If you turn on the television, actresses from drama series are almost always a size 0 or 2. The ideal beauty is tall, thin, fair skinned, thin, has shiny hair, and … oh did I mention thin?

Diet ads are everywhere, from subway stations to shopping centres, and I don’t mean diet and fitness programs. These are full-on diet pills (often harmful) and slimming centres. During my trip back to China this summer, I was approached by a girl on the street advertising $500 diet pills. Our conversation went something like this:

Girl: Hi there, would you be interested in our diet pills?

Me: (politely) No thanks.

[Girl keeps talking and conversation goes on for 5 min.]

Me: Seriously. I don’t think I need to diet.

Girl: Why not? Everyone does it. But honestly, I think you do. Your arms and legs have a bit of fat you could get rid of with these pills. They will make you so much prettier. Only $500!

Me (offended): Miss. Did you listen to anything I just said?

Needless to say, I left. This conversation was offensive and amusing at the same time. I was surprised she was so open in commenting about my weight even though she was trying to get on my good side to sell her product.

Hence, what I did realize this summer is that there isn’t the same stigma associated with talking about weight. In Canada, it is kind of taboo to comment on someone’s body. The same can’t be said in China. When having dinner with a family member or friend you haven’t seen in a while, you can be assured that they will make a comment on whether you got skinnier, fatter, or stayed the same. So after they make the verdict that you are fat, they will spend the entire dinner convincing you to eat more. While they are just trying to look out for you, this does make you more conscious of your weight.

So would I say that Azn women have more pressure to be thin than other ethnicities? Slightly. (1) There is the stereotype that all Azn girls are skinny, and (2) the fact that everyone around you in Asia seems to be skinny.

In fact, the magic number in China seems to be 110 lbs before you need to start losing weight.

What do you think? As an Azn, do you feel more pressure to be thin?

*Note: My opinions are only based on my background (Chinese) so I don’t know if this is just a Chinese thing.

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only abstract apologies allowed

posted by jroselkim

Apologies for wrongdoings of inconceivable scale in the past strikes me as a bit of a funny concept. But I do recognize the symbolic value of one government apologizing to another for colonialism. And it happened recently – the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued an official, government-approved apology to the Korean government on the 100th anniversary of Japanese colonial rule in Korea, and promised he would also return many historical artifacts taken during colonial times to Korea “soon.”

Japanese colonialism is characterized as one of the most efficient colonial rule, as the government was one of the most recent colonizers who got to study other forms of colonialism and analyze what worked best and what didn’t.

I recall my grandfather, who was only a child during colonial rule, telling me one of the most chilling cultural colonial techniques to which he was subjected. Not only was he forbidden from speaking Korean (or reading it) at school, there was also an ingenious monitoring system to enforce the rule. The child who spoke Korean would be given a card that condemned them to cleaning the washrooms daily – until he (apparently this punishment only applied to boys) spotted another kid speaking Korean. Then bam! He could hand over his awful washroom-cleaning punishment onto the next kid. Such measures eliminated any kind of solidarity between the kids to speak Korean collective, but also turned them into docile, disciplined bodies efficiently monitoring and enforcing state rules. Foucault would be so proud.

(Side note: my grandfather and grandmother speak Japanese fluently, but they refused to speak it after the colonial rule was over until recently, when they visited Canada for the first time and struck up a conversation with a Japanese woman at a pool.)

The colonial rule not only forcefully made disciplined bodies out of children, but of women as well. The word “comfort women” is slowly becoming familiarized in Western media (Vagina Monologues now has a monologue on the issue), women kidnapped and held hostage to “comfort” – i.e. commit sexual acts against their will -the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese government still has issued neither an official apology nor compensation, despite the ongoing protest of the remaining alive comfort women. January 2010 marked the 900th week of protest against the Japanese government in Seoul.

The overly generalized nature of the “apology” that refuses to address the specific victims of colonial rule – particularly, to those who were denigrated to being the “lowest factions” of society by stripping their rights and freedoms to act as sex objects – is telling. It is telling of the inadequacy of such an apology, as well as the continued oppression of women who are excluded from “official” discussion of culture and nations.

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are you a hometown tourist?

posted by missmsian

We drop thou$and$ to travel overseas, often overlooking the fact that the biggest adventures might exist in our backyards. I’ve lived in Toronto for almost 16 years, but still love taking a camera out and pretending to be a tourist.

Once, a guy spotted me snapping photos of a stalled streetcar–Toronto’s Red Rocket really is a unique red–and asked where I was visiting from.

“Nowhere; I live here,” I said.

He paused. “I hope you get some beautiful shots today.”

Do you love being a tourist in your hometown? Send blog posts and odes to your city to theinvaznbegins@gmail.com.

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let’s go fishing, said the angler to the worm

posted by ellephanta

In response to this eloquent, wonderful post by missmsian!

I have played all three roles (expert, token, snitch) as a racial minority in a room full of ignorant people and their buttsniffers before, but now I’m devoted to playing an aggressive snitch. It always feels disgusting after you’ve played either the expert or the token and there were occasions when, after having sniffed the butts of some white people who’s “figured everything out”, I would burst into tears back in my room without being able to explain why exactly. Now I know it’s the feeling of repulsion towards oneself that comes from whoring out one’s selfhood to serve somebody else’s purpose. Much of my first year in undergrad was spent in a struggle through this.

But once I’ve figured some stuff out, I quit my post as an expert or a token. It’s really hard on a person’s dignity to play those two, and in comparison, playing an aggressive snitch, though the role warrants you the reputation of being rude or mean or bitchy or whatever, is the easiest on the spirit. Calling on bullshit with focus, once you get into the habit of it, is a lot more satisfying than trying to act like you represent the entire race of your “people” or whatever the hell they want you to do.

However, I don’t associate at all with people who would push me into any of these roles anymore. Also, if you make really good friends, the friends you meet through those friends are likely to be good too, and I find that I have had to deal with this shit less and less.

But when I do encounter this shit for whatever reason, I declare loudly that there is no way I can be friendly about it. (I apologize about the foul language, but I just hate to call it a “situation” or a “conversation” or even “stuff” because I care about words, and those words are good words that I refuse to associate with the shit that sometimes goes on at these social gatherings.) I tell them straight that they may not use me to jerk off and that I don’t “respect” their “viewpoint”, because it’s not a viewpoint, it’s just shit.

I literally say these things out loud to those that try to pigeonhole me into these roles, trying with all their might to be right and superintelligent with some help from a racial minority to fill in for their lack of perspective outside of their own, to nod along with them. I don’t even do it privately by going “hi, can I talk to you in private?” anymore. I have tried that before and discovered that one can easily evade a real conversation in privacy by saying stuff like “well, I didn’t mean to offend you, but I’m sorry I did, I didn’t realize that you were a delicate little flower that can’t take a joke,” and then asking “are we good? I hope you know that I’m a good person and that I mean well,” and walk away from it thinking “I took a criticism well today! I must be an open-minded person!”

So when I’m calling people out, I make sure that the audience is still there and what I’m calling them on has happened in the last five minutes. I want to be a snitch while it’s hot. I want them to feel the humiliation of being called on their bullshit and be punished socially for it. It doesn’t matter what political stance, opinion, awareness, etc. the audience has, because if I’m being honest, none of that should affect what I say to point out the absurdities of the “conversation” we are having.

Unsurprisingly, there is an element of surprise when I set out to call them on it. When their bullshit is pointed out and condemned, especially in front of an audience, it gets surreal for them. Wait, “Miss Minority Perspective”, hold on – I don’t understand – you are speaking up? Inconceivable!

Thoroughly humiliating them for trying to use me as a prop for some “theory” they have on race or crime or culture or psychology or whatever, prevents further encounters with them in the future, which is actually awesome. Once I actually told a guy who was talking about the permissibility of “positive” jokes about race along the lines of “Azns are good at math yay” and tried to bring me, the only racial minority there in a room full of white people, “into the conversation” to “offer a perspective” (a euphemism for “tell this people oh yeah, I find those jokes about my race funny because they are positive! so that they notice how bright I am”) in these exact words: “Sorry, but I can’t let you use me as a dildo.” I proceeded to explain to him as one would to a child who doesn’t know better how my race is not a joke, etc. and then I have never had to talk to him again after that, which was really damn pleasant. It was like a breath of fresh air to never again listen to him lecture people on something he doesn’t know anything about.

Oh but wait, Celine, don’t you think you should have an “honest dialogue” with people you don’t agree with? To that, I say: I don’t “disagree” with them. I refuse to “disagree” with them because, how do you “disagree” with ignorance? “I disagree with ignorance” just sounds ridiculous. It’s not a real opinion and there is no real dialogue here. It’s just dangerous idiocy.

Secondly, let’s put it in perspective: Alas, I do not know or interact with 99.9% of the global population anyway. I can only hang out with people within my reach, and the rest of the people I may enjoy the presence of, I have no access to. This frees me from the need to hang out with people I do not want to be. Also, I may die at any moment. Life is short and I happen to want to derive as much joy and happiness from my short life as possible. So I have absolutely no obligation or desire to talk to people that are interested in using the already marginalized minorities in the room like a blowup doll for the end of some quasi-intellectual orgasm. (Though, if they are Stephen Harper or someone influential or whatever who can actually do something about some things, I may against all my inclination take my time to talk to him and give him my all but that’s neither here nor there, because our prime minister probably doesn’t want to talk to me.)

The only kind of real dialogue about race between someone ignorant about the racialized experience and someone who lives it is one that involves a lot of listening. It involves real honesty and an authentic desire to figure this whole mess out, to make the world we all share a more tolerable place so that we can be happier together. Just because you decide to call an interaction “a dialogue”, it doesn’t make it so. I find that it’s harder than you think to have a real dialogue. But like learning to ride a bicycle, you try it and when you fall, you pick up and then try it again.

I haven’t come up with a rulebook or anything, but I think one thing is for sure: In a real dialogue, nobody tries to use each other to claim the superiority of one’s own experience. It’s not a battle with guns and bombs thrown at each other. The desire to exploit the other doesn’t belong in it.

As a result of my lifestyle as an aggressive snitch, I sure have my share of enemies but on the other hand, I have no shortage of sane friends, and I actually think I owe that to my very conscious refusal to deal with bullshit (it didn’t come naturally to me like it does to some people and I have to sometimes fight my laziness and order myself: “You can’t let this shit continue”), how comfortable I feel in my own skin as a result, how much I love and respect myself, etc. which comes from refusing to feed interactions in which I feel like a symbol or a “point” or a prop, rather than a person. I know some people are capable of being friends with people with fucked-up politics, but I’m not. The very sight of great ignorance mixed with great arrogance makes me want to vomit. I realize that this visceral reaction to bigotry is a hardness and a flaw, but anyway my life is a blast and relatively bullshit-free and I have yet to encounter what I would consider a negative consequence of this lifestyle.

I know in the first paragraph I callously called those who play a token and an expert buttsniffers, and I sincerely apologize for that. Often I am just harsher on those that do, because I was once doing all that stuff, sometimes even actively. I am humbled again and again by how hard it is to be a good and strong person, and how bad I am at it. So I don’t want to blame those of us that sniff butts and it is no one’s responsibility to correct the wrongs except their own, but I am nonetheless angry when somebody says “well, my other Azn friend said…”

I used to respond to that with “well, your other Azn friend is a buttsniffer,” but more and more I realize that I should instead say “identifying as a racial minority doesn’t make you anti-racist, just as a white dude who is actually committed to anti-racism isn’t racist by default. And also, here you are, doing it again, treating your friend like a token and an expert.” And so I try to say that instead. I’m learning. It’s a process.

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angels and chinks

posted by telleou

“Biao mei, has anyone told you that you look like an angel?”

“Hahahaha. Unfortunately, no.  What do you mean, biao jie?”

“You have curly hair! And your eyes are very big! You have very round chinks.”

“Biao jie … What did you say?!”

“Chinks? Is that not correct?”

“No, biao jie! It’s ‘cheeks’!”‘

My cousin is an international student and a graduate of McGill’s biochemistry program. But Engrish is not her first language.

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