I’m just going to start by saying solidarity across all POC is a ridiculous concept, especially as a Black person. The racial hierarchy does exist, and with a history of erased, unwritten and stolen culture, Black people are at the bottom. Anti-blackness is a global concept, shared and spread by the infectious history of colonization, and in times today, it is not just expressed by the aggressors of said colonization, but by non-black POC too.
I think by now we’ve all seen the movie “Get Out” (if you haven’t I’m going to assume you’re living under a small uncultured rock). The collective conclusion for this movie was basically, don’t trust White folks, but did we all forget something? Remember the scene where Chris was being hounded with questions by all the creepy partygoers? They weren’t all White, yes, an Asian man was present too, willing and ready to pay what it would take to buy Chris’ body (spoiler alert, but like I said, if you haven’t seen this movie what are you doing with your life?).
White people aren’t the only perpetrators of anti-blackness, and no, you’re not exempt from critique when it comes to your use of Black culture. I’d love to sit here and say, “yeah, rap and hip-hop is for everyone,” but, it isn’t as simple as that.
In an interview with NPR last year, chef, author and basis for the popular ABC show “Fresh Off the Boat”, Eddie Huang discussed his struggle with being an Asian-American and finding a cultural identity.
Huang says, “Growing up in America, so many Chinese people call you American. In my case, they called me Black. And I not only didn’t fit in going back to Taiwan or going back to China, but I didn’t even fit in in the Chinese-American schools I’d go to on Sundays. And it was very tough. I was made to feel like, not only was I not American, I was also not Chinese.”
Now look, there’s nothing false about the difficulty in trying to grow up with this intersection of contrasting identities, but here he says they called him “black,” just because he didn’t fit in. Not only does this exemplify how this country outside of the U.S. views blackness and what it means, but it shows he is complacent in this definition of blackness as a descriptor for otherness.
If you’re not familiar with the his ABC show or Eddie Huang himself, here’s something you should know about him — he’s very into hip-hop and rap, and there’s even a scene in the show that show’s Eddie’s dream of living his idea of a rap star’s life. This isn’t a new phenomenon among Asian youth. There are Korean pop stars sporting Black protective styles as a way to follow trends and fit an image with their music, Japanese youth transforming into their own versions of Black people with a sub-culture of “B-Style,” Indonesian rapper Rich Chigga using the n-word both as a combination with his stage name and in the song that skyrocketed him to American fame, and a “Vine” star turned “Love and Hip Hop” cast member using Black culture to her advantage (and taking on a racist stereotypical Asian caricature for comedy) and then attacking Black people for calling out her use of AAVE and protective styles.
Trust me, Black people want for all POC to get along and fight White supremacy as a collective, but y’all don’t know how to act! Black culture shouldn’t be an outlet for anyone to express their rebellion, as if blackness is inherently deviant.
This use of Black culture is a disrespect not only for the Black and Latin creators of hip-hop, but to your fellow Black POC, who only have hip-hop as the last standing thing that is recognized as unequivocally Black in nature and creation.
I think out of all people, as a Black American-born woman, I know what is like to feel too non-White for your colonized country, and too Westernized for your origins, but when you take traits of a culture that isn’t yours, for your own personal gain, with complete disregard for who made it? It’s unforgivable. When Black people do call it out, we’re met with the usual statement along the lines of, “we’re all human no one has a monopoly over one culture!” or “you know, we POC should stick together why are you trying to police me?”
In a 2005 blog post by Kenyan Farrow, he talks about how he attended a panel on hip-hop and how Asians often find solace in the music and culture because they relate, but the entire event was dedicated to ignoring that hip-hop started in NYC as a form of Black expression, and instead how Asians themselves contribute to the hip-hop culture.
I have no problem with other POC taking part in hip-hop and Black culture and being able to relate to the stories in the music, but the issue comes in when the culture becomes your counterculture, and is what allows you to defy whatever constrictions you feel by your own personal ethnic identity. In fact, with the recent signing of Korean-American singer Jay Park to Jay-Z’s record label, Roc Nation, and recognition of Korean pop band BTS at the Billboard Music Awards, I hope for more inclusion and participation of Asians and Asian-Americans in American media. But, when credit is meant to be given, and Asians are given fame and money for a culture that isn’t theirs, and when we as their fellow POC are left in the dust still fighting for their rights and end of the appropriation of their culture along with ours, it feels like we’ve drawn the short end of the stick.
It’s not entirely implausible for Asians to acknowledge the Black people that are behind the music and culture they love, in fact Bruno Mars outright said, “I wouldn’t be here if not for Black artists.”
I just need to know, where is the line drawn when a love for hip-hop becomes a misuse and appropriation of Black culture, and the Black people behind the culture become forgotten? And when will non-Black POC realize our culture is not up for commodification and you don’t get a pass?
Nia Tucker is a current undergrad at the University of Rochester, trying to study things that she can use to make the world a less terrible place. She’s a Capricorn who likes beauty, writing, activism, and Beyonce…but mostly Beyonce.