Our theoretical and historical provocation (for this blog, at least) is thus to engage the question of clothing the “terrifying Muslim.” For example, we could easily observe that terms such as “garb” emphasize a civilizational distancing or confusion (one involving both temporal and spatial dimensions). Where naming these clothes as “garb” seems to act as “merely” an empirical description, the assessment of subjects and their clothing practices may coincide with, or become complicit with, colonial schema. (Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9) and South/South (@southsouth) had an amazing, satirical exchange about putting on their “garb” that underlined so well the usage of the term as loaded with civilizational thinking. Highlights include Mirza’s “American business-casual garb for me today!” and South/South’s “Clothes might make the man, but garb makes the Muslim man.”) Related to this set of concerns, I’ve written here about the epidermalization of clothing and sartorial classification as a weapon of war.
This time, I thought I would turn to my brilliant colleague Junaid Rana. Rana is an associate professor in Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, whose scholarship addresses the confluence of racism with concepts of “illegality,” especially through transnational movements of labor and war. He is also the author of the new (and sure to be important) book Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora, out on Duke University Press in the next few weeks. You can find out more about the book (and become a fan) here!
Earlier in the month, I had spotted a Fast Company article discussing the changing nature of diplomacy in the Obama White House. Alex Ross, the Senior Advisor for Innovation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, granted a sprawling interview to Fast Company which addressed embracing transparency and collaboration in a mistrustful global environment.
Some interesting bits:
Upon entering office, Obama vowed an end to cowboy diplomacy. Ross says the U.S. is exercising influence “on a more multilateral basis, and doing so under the frame of global citizenship, less than quote ‘America’s Values’.”
“The language matters,” continues Ross. “We live in such an interconnected world.”
While, to some, talk of interconnectedness may seem like political pandering and boilerplate, to a large swath of the country, it’s an aggressively contentious worldview. Former UN ambassador John Bolton recently called Obama the “most radical president who has ever been elected,” in a speech pointedly titled “the Case against Global Citizenship.”
For instance, while Bolton and other conservatives slammed Obama for prioritizing Egyptian democracy over an America-friendly despot, the State Department was been busy supporting overtly subversive technologies.
Around April Fool’s Day, I got this tip from friend of the blog Christina:
So, (queer) (Latina) DJ VenusxGG got in a Twitter fight last week with well-known but kinda slimey bass producer/DJ Diplo. Venus accused Diplo of being imperialist in his appropriation of musical forms (something he’s been accused of lots of times) and it ended up as a pretty entertaining/interesting public discourse for the bass community.
THEN today, XLR8R (another big bass magazine) decided to tap this for their April Fools joke…except they got Angela Davis involved. Kinda sloppy.
According to Fader’s Naomi Zeichner, who documented the tweet stream, the twitter fight began after Diplo came into one of their parties and began recording part of a set on his cellphone. @Ghe20Goth1k’s issue is extremely clear:
I told @diplo to stop and he was embarrassed by now we won’t get ant [sic] credit and he keeps making $$$ I can’t pay rent lol
Now, apparently DJ Diplo has developed a reputation for cultural appropriation – a term we’ve discussed often here, without much resolution. Since culture, by nature, is fluid, it is difficult to pinpoint when an homage or inspiration ends and appropriation begins. Diplo is best known for taking the sounds of other cultures and presenting them as hip consumables for a western audience. He rose to prominence alongside collaborator M.I.A. – and interestingly enough, even that story was steeped in appropriation of the work of a woman of color to advance his own ends. Despite being friends, Diplo (née Thomas Wesley Pentz) revealed to Drew Tewksbury:
“With M.I.A., we made a pop song totally by accident,” Pentz says. “We didn’t aim to have a big record. But she’s so cool, and that resonated with people.” He loaned a baile funk beat for her song “Bucky Done Gun” and got much of the credit for producing the whole album, which he says isn’t exactly the truth. “Back then, I told people that I produced [Arular], to get them to know who I was, but that was a total lie,” Pentz says.
NS: I don’t expect the power or support or interference of anyone, of any government. We here in Egypt are fed up with U.S. colonialism. Obama is a pragmatic person and thinking of the interests of his country; I understand this. But now he is confused: One minute he supports Mubarak, one minute he doesn’t; one moment he is afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood, the next he is not. Now I believe in the people of Egypt only, I depend on the people of Egypt only.
~~Excerpted from interview with Rebecca Walker at The Root. Read the rest here.
Normally, there are many different things brewing – a political climate, social unrest, gross inequality that all contribute to turn a nation inside out. Yet many reports want to trace a revolution back to a single, definitive event. Crispus Attucks is considered the first martyr of the American Revolution, Rosa Parks is widely considered the catalyst of the US civil rights movement, her actions sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Mohamed Bouaziz is the name behind the sudden surge in interest in self-immolation.
Bouaziz’s last protest made its way to cameras, which then spread the news that Tunisia was on the cusp of a revolt. Al Jazeera frames the story:
In a country where officials have little concern for the rights of citizens, there was nothing extraordinary about humiliating a young man trying to sell fruit and vegetables to support his family.
Yet when Mohamed Bouazizi poured inflammable liquid over his body and set himself alight outside the local municipal office, his act of protest cemented a revolt that would ultimately end President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year-rule.
Local police officers had been picking on Bouazizi for years, ever since he was a child. For his family, there is some comfort that their personal loss has had such stunning political consequences.
“I don’t want Mohamed’s death to be wasted,” Menobia Bouazizi, his mother, said. “Mohamed was the key to this revolt.”
And yet later, it is revealed that Bouazizi was one of many who had started to sound the alarm – an alarm suppressed by government officials and widely ignored by media under governmental control:
Mohamed Bouazizi was not the first Tunisian to set himself alight in an act of public protest.
Abdesslem Trimech, to name one of many cases occurred without any significant media attention, set himself ablaze in the town of Monastir on March 3 after facing bureaucratic hindrance in his own work as a street vendor.
Neither was it evident that the protests that begin in Sidi Bouzid would spread to other towns. There had been similar clashes between police and protesters in the town of Ben Guerdane, near the border with Libya, in August.
The key difference in Sidi Bouzid was that locals fought to get news of what was happening out, and succeeded.
“We could protest for two years here, but without videos no one would take any notice of us,” Horchani said.
I often wonder what ignites a protest and what does not. I specifically think of Lee Kyoung Hae, who stabbed himself in protest of the World Trade Organization’s policies toward South Korean farmers and their agricultural policy at large. I was in high school when the Battle in Seattle occurred – I’ve been fascinated by the World Trade Organization ever since. But while Lee did not die in vain, his protest did not lead to the type of uprising that could topple the WTO. Why? Why do some protests galvanize into movements, and others fade into time?
There are no clear answers to these questions, and yet the world keeps moving. Egypt, hot on the heels of Tunisia, also underwent a revolution, one that garnered a bit more attention from media outlets here.
As much as Egyptians may have surprised themselves and their neighbours, no one seems more caught off guard by this recent turn of events than members of western mainstream media and political officials. The western media appear bewildered, their commentary halting and unsure. Perhaps this is because, for so long, news agencies have stacked their rolodexes with analysts on the Middle East whose area of expertise lay primarily in terrorism and religious fundamentalism. They now seem ill prepared to comprehend this past week’s events, which have been so free of religious rhetoric, much less offer any insight on what the world may expect to come next. More than one commentator has remarked on the possibility of an Islamist take-over in Egypt and elsewhere, as though for lack of anything else worthwhile to say. Some appeared at a loss as they reported that protesters were not shouting “Death to America.”
The response to civil unrest in Egypt has been strangely unlike the response to the Iranian would-be “Green Revolution” of 2009. Because Iranians were standing up to a long-hated Islamist regime, their struggle was immediately embraced in the west across the political spectrum.
By contrast, western observers in the cultural mainstream have been hesitant about the Days of Anger, as they lack a clear and ready-made approach for identifying and understanding Arab discontent. This is probably due in part to the ostensible “secularism” of these regimes, and because instability in the Middle East is seen as a breeding ground for terrorism. Ironically, most terrorists out of Egypt are largely a product of the Mubarak school of stability — imprisonment, repression, and torture. But apparently the alternative is more horrifying: a scenario in which Egyptians may choose their own government. One can picture the Egyptians who populate the imagination of policymakers and journalists: a pious and incorrigible bunch, impelled in the direction of fanaticism as though by gravity. (Read the rest…)
Regimes in countries like Tunisia and Algeria have been arming and training security apparatuses to fight Osama bin Laden. But they were caught unawares by the ‘bin Laden within’: the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region’s population.
The winds of uncertainty blowing in the Arab west – the Maghreb – threaten to blow eastwards towards the Levant as the marginalised issue the fatalistic scream of despair to be given freedom and bread or death. [...]
From Tunisia and Algeria in the Maghreb to Jordan and Egypt in the Arab east, the real terror that eats at self-worth, sabotages community and communal rites of passage, including marriage, is the terror of socio-economic marginalisation.
The armies of ‘khobzistes’ (the unemployed of the Maghreb) – now marching for bread in the streets and slums of Algiers and Kasserine and who tomorrow may be in Amman, Rabat, San’aa, Ramallah, Cairo and southern Beirut – are not fighting the terror of unemployment with ideology. They do not need one. Unemployment is their ideology. The periphery is their geography. And for now, spontaneous peaceful protest and self-harm is their weaponry. They are ‘les misérables’ of the modern world.
Already, discussion of a domino effect looms large – and while some pundits are wondering which country is next, the larger question is what will these changes symbolize in the world within the next decade?
Based on the pilot episode, Outsourced has the potential to be something rare: a show that’s pissing off people on both sides of an issue, but in reality is too bland for its’ own good.
As things stand, it mostly pussyfoots around its’ premise: Todd walks into work one morning to find out the novelty product call center he’s supposed to lead has been shifted to India – no city is named on the show’s website, by the way – and staffed by locals.
Now, there’s comments on the show’s page expressing offense that a) the network would air a show about Americans losing jobs to “those people;” and b) that South Asian actors would willingly take part in a show that reduced them to Funny Minority backdrop roles for yet another clueless American character. Somewhere in the middle of both stances, there’s room for a comedy that can address both sides of the issue. But so far, this doesn’t look like it’s gonna be it.
Reader Nancy L sent in an article from the New York Times with an opening that made even this jaded activist do a double take:
RESTINGA SÊCA, Brazil — Before setting out in a pink S.U.V. to comb the schoolyards and shopping malls of southern Brazil, Alisson Chornak studies books, maps and Web sites to understand how the towns were colonized and how European their residents might look today.
The goal, he and other model scouts say, is to find the right genetic cocktail of German and Italian ancestry, perhaps with some Russian or other Slavic blood thrown in. Such a mix, they say, helps produce the tall, thin girls with straight hair, fair skin and light eyes that Brazil exports to the runways of New York, Milan and Paris with stunning success.
So this is how we’re going now? What is this, the hybrid vigor myth on speed? Continue reading →
By Guest Contributor David Brothers, originally published at 4thletter!
The easiest thing to point to when someone says “What’s cultural appropriation?” (in the unlikely event that somebody actually wants to know the answer to that question) is the theft of rock and roll. ego trip’s Big Book of Racism!, in addition to being an incredible read, has a great series of lists about rock and roll and race. Long story short, of course, cultural appropriation is the act of taking something that “belongs” to one culture–be it music, arts, literature, drama, whatever–and taking it for your own.
It isn’t a focused movement, exactly. There are no malicious men sitting around a table, plotting on how they can steal bachata and make it there own. It tends to be a byproduct of what happens when racism and institutional racism work hand in hand. Taking rock and roll for an (extremely simplified) example– white America in the mid-1900s had no interest in letting black America onto their jukeboxes and into their clubs. However, white musicians performing what was often the exact same music was met with, if not acceptance, something more positive than racially-motivated revulsion. Over time, rock and roll became a “white” genre, something associated with your average run of the mill white people rather than blacks.
Blackface is another example of cultural appropriation, though much more actively racist and malicious. White actors portrayed black characters for the entertainment and edification of a white audience, donning burnt cork and shoe polish and emulating (or just making up) the ways that black people acted.
A more recent example of cultural appropriation are the dozens of kung fu movies starring white guys. Once Hong Kong action cinema proved to be popular in the ’70s, one way of making it even more popular for American audiences was to toss a white guy into the main role. A good example of this is Danny Rand, from Marvel’s Iron Fist. Danny is a rich white guy who ended up in a thinly obfuscated Shangri-La and ended up becoming its greatest warrior, even triumphing over the natives of the city.
In the fall of ‘08, I took a work trip to Tokyo, Japan. I didn’t get as much time to dig in and explore as I wanted, but I did end up spending a lot of time in Shibuya and Harajuku. I saw a lot of people dressed like I dressed, or like people dressed back home. I spent some time in a streetwear shop where the two clerks didn’t know much English beyond “Biggie” and “Nas,” but they knew rap lyrics and fashion.
I graduated high school in Madrid, Spain, clear on the other side of the globe. While there, again, I fell in with Spanish kids (among other ethnicities) who loved rap. We listened to Frank T and 7 Notas, 7 Colores. We went out breakdancing on weekends and bought markers to tag things up. It was easy to find people who were into rap. Consider Santa Inoue’s Tokyo Tribes, which looks at juvenile delinquents through the lens of rap culture. Or Shinichiro Watanabe’s Samurai Champloo, which was a sublime fusion of chambara cinema, hip-hop aesthetics, and on occasion, black intracultural politics. Both are undeniably Japanese, but at the same time, instantly relatable.
Tokyo and Madrid: two cities several thousand miles away from where rap culture was born, and completely different racially and culturally, but whose children have embraced it wholly. Are they pantomiming and appropriating the culture or are they simply appreciating? Where is the line drawn? Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World