Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Being a Good Ethnic

Within my narrow 範圍, I have been reading a bit about how rap goes too far and may or may not covertly foster crime.

And it got me thinking. The objections to the sexism and misogyny in hip hop made me wonder? Is it the sexism that they are practicing that is really the issue here, or the fact that they are vulgar, or to put it more pretentiously, they're being bad ethnics.

(Quick definition of terms: I generally subscribe to Rey Chow's definition of ethnic in her book The Protestant Ethnic, which if you haven't read, you should go out and read- right now. In her book she dissects the term ethnic, which if we take the technical definition then anyone and everyone has an ethnicity, however, only certain people are considered ethnic. That is, mostly people of color. We don't consider white American speech and clothing to be ethnic. She says it a lot better than me. I'd go into detail, but although the main outline of her argument is burned into my brain from obsessive rereading the details are not. And the book's in America. So for the pop culture definition of ethnic, anyone whose ethnicity could possibly sell a movie about a wedding with ostentatious cultural trappings.)

The talk about "snitching" strikes me as even more indicative of the gap between white progressive thinking and ethnic thinking. White, presumably progressive, Anderson Cooper talking to ethnic Cam'ron about reporting crime to the police, it's pretty clear even from the quotes I read that the two are coming from two different worlds. And once again, ethnic thinking is being held to a white standard and found lacking.

So to bring this together, it got me thinking about what it takes to be a good ethnic. In some ways conservative white thinking is easier to talk about, since they just want to subjugate any and all and then assimilate us, or run us out of town all together (God, my grandfather actually gave money to Pat Robertson. Yeesh. My alleles feel dirty right now.). Liberal or progressive white thinking is a little bit slipperier to grasp. According to this thinking, ethnics are allowed to have our own cultures, but they have to be modified to be palatable, sometimes literally, to white tastes. This often involves ignoring or condemning parts of our cultures which do not fit into the Happy Rainbow Let's All Join Hands and Sing paradigm.

Ironically, many people at the head of ethnic movements, tend to be progressive people of color. Who similarly are committed to working against racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ablism (etc. at least in theory.) However, the key difference between white progressives and their counterparts of color is that, at least in theory, we're less judgmental about the less than politically correct aspects of our communities, however much it ticks us off. And I think most of us recognize that the majority of our ethnic communities tend not to see eye to eye with us on sexism, and homophobia for starters.

Aaanyway, the point I was attempting to make was that in this case, hip hop artists appear to fall into the category of a bad ethnic. Propagating crime, violence, and misogyny, and horrifying older white people with their vulgarity, while delighting other white people with tales of the mean streets of Wherever. Being a professional ethnic can be a minstrel show, and for sure there are hip hop artists, who play up their ethnicity, dramatize and perform it.

However, although hip hop is a white financed business now, that's not to say that all rappers are simply performing for a white audience. I found this which helped me sort some things out for myself. Because, it seems to me that we pay a lot of attention to hip hop's portrayal of women, and we don't pay all that much attention to why. Some people may be following a trend, but I'm inclined to think that for at least some artists, they are expressing the way that they think about the world. Even if I don't agree with their vision necessarily, considering that hip hop is such a far reaching phenomenon, I think it's worth trying to find out or at least ask what factors contributed to them seeing the world that way.

The world's a messy place, and not all ethnic voices fit into a progressive vision of what the world should be like. Instead of telling people what they should be saying, maybe we should figure out why they're saying it first. Then work to change their minds.

Update: Crap I forgot to mention that Magniloquence's analytical lens and Nezua's post about progressive blogs were originally what brought everything together for me. (I've been waiting to try to think of an intelligent comment for Nezua's post, but fuck it, I just really really like it. That's about all I can manage at this point.)


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez said...

hey most people dont worry about leaving "an intelligent comment" and i leave my share of less than bright ones, so don't sweat it! oh, and thank you very much.

The world's a messy place, and not all ethnic voices fit into a progressive vision of what the world should be like. Instead of telling people what they should be saying, maybe we should figure out why they're saying it first. Then work to change their minds.

is brilliant. i would only switch "change their minds" with "address that problem." because sometimes when "they" are saying these things, it is not necessarily their minds that need the changing, but situations that lead to lives like they've led that show them a certain truth. a truth that maybe ought to be changed. then, the minds will be changed, and formed anew from those new situations.

for example, when people talk about corrupt cops or income inequality or ghettos, its not the minds that need changing. it's the lives they lived and see younger people living once more. we need to change our system, the way it teaches and needs so many cops, the cops, the way they engage people, see people, treat people, and so on, and so on. it's a big job. going after rap artists for talking smack will never get anything done...its like yelling at a movie screen that only shows the actors and a certain story, and that is not addressing the struggle that formed the writer's words in the first place.

exangelena said...

I think that with white liberals and progressives there is such a thing as being a "good ethnic", too. You're a "good ethnic" if you agree with them and make them feel less guilty about being white. You're a "bad ethnic" if you don't agree with them.
As much as I detest Michelle Malkin and other nonwhite conservative apologists, the racist BS spewed at them from the lefty blogosphere is completely unacceptable.

exangelena said...

I also have a problem with the intersection of oppressions. Yes, systems of oppression do tend to reinforce each other (like, say, the mail order bride industry reflecting racism and misogyny). However, I don't think it's accurate to say things like the "white-supremacist-capitalist-theocratic
-patriarchy" or what not, because all of those systems of oppression exist on their own, too. (Example, racism existed in the pre-capitalist mercantile period.) Just because someone is nonwhite does not mean that he cannot be misogynist, homophobic, elitist, etc., and frankly, he would deserve to be called out for it.

lovelesscynic said...

Nezua, I guess I was thinking more about sexism or homophobia within ethnic communities, which are ideas that I generally believe need to be changed. With things like corrupt cops and stuff like that, then I agree it's difficult to change people's ideas about them without actually changing what's wrong.

That's sort of what gave me the sense of disconnection when I read the post on snitching at Pandagon. Why are we blaming black people for not wanting to talk to the cops but not talking about why they don't want to talk to the cops?

Exangelena, I was talking about intersection of oppression, but mainly how some white progressive people use this to make ethnic people other and blame them for being The Problem. Which conveniently makes racism and the problems that result from it "Other."

Racism may have existed within the "pre-capitalist mercantile period" although I want some specific dates on that, however it is the age of colonialism and imperialism which shaped the outcomes of history and therefore how the world stands today.

exangelena said...

According to wikipedia: the mid-17th century was the peak of mercantilism and it declined when mid-19th century Britain embraced free trade.
At least in the Americas, slavery and the genocide of the Native Americans occurred during this pre-capitalist period. The racist persecution of Jews occurred even earlier in the Middle Ages.
And I have sometimes seen racism in other progressive/activist venues (such as feminism, for example) - like that men of color have cultures that are more misogynist than Western ones. I think that is wrong. I also think it is wrong to blanket-blame only "rich white straight men" for sexism - because it is sexist men who are the problem, regardless of their race, class or sexual orientation.
While it's certainly valuable to analyze how oppressions can interact and reinforce each other, I think it's better not to extrapolate too much. If a man of color is sexist, he should be criticized because he is sexist, not because he is nonwhite.
Apologies if this is inarticulate.