The Catalogue: No. 7

Friday, June 15, 2018



1. I've Written About Cultural Appropriation for 10 Years. Here's What I Got Wrong. | Connie Wang for Refinery29
What began as a discussion of a phenomenon — the use of another culture’s symbols without permission, which is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just a thing that happens — has revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of why racism persists. The most vitriolic on the left suggest that any cultural swapping is tantamount to acts of visual racism; that using symbols without permission is always bad, and those that do it should be condemned without mercy. The most sanctimonious on the right believe that cultural appropriation is a meaningless phrase that willfully ignores intent; that people should have the right to celebrate what they find beautiful without criticism or abuse. In its proliferation, the term cultural appropriation has become charged. Conversations about it are radioactive.

2. The Problem With Rupi Kaur's Poetry | Chiara Giovanni for Buzzfeed
 While more female South Asian voices are indeed needed in mainstream culture and media, there is something deeply uncomfortable about the self-appointed spokesperson of South Asian womanhood being a privileged young woman from the West who unproblematically claims the experience of the colonized subject as her own, and profits from her invocation of generational trauma. There is no shame in acknowledging the many differences between Kaur’s experience of the world in 2017 and that of a woman living directly under colonial rule in the early 20th century. For example: neither is any more "authentically" South Asian. But it is disingenuous to collect a variety of traumatic narratives and present them to the West as a kind of feminist ethnography under the mantle of confession, while only vaguely acknowledging those whose stories inspired the poetry.
 3.  Let's Be Real: Asian and Black Artists Aren't "Celebrating" Each Other Through Hip Hop | Andrew Chow for Refinery29
But when the channel flows in the other direction, with Asians and Asian-Americans engaging with hip-hop, the results can be equally dismissive. There’s a history of racism toward Black people in Asian culture that stems from racist colonialist depictions of Africans, and those misconceptions continue to rear their ugly heads, whether in the form of blackface, monkey costumes, or disdain for "Black Panther." And when Asians embrace hip-hop, it often feels like the flip side of the same coin: a blatant commercialized fetishization of “Black characteristics” like barbaric bravado and sexual power in order to cancel out stereotypes of Asian impotence and servility. While Rich Chigga's "Dat Stick" was undeniably technically impressive and funny, it also reduced the genre to a menacing aesthetic from the safety of across the globe. The Korean rapper Keith Ape was less subtle in his appropriation: his "It G Ma" is a blatant rip of "Bitch You Guessed It" by O.G. Maco; its video is full of grills, cups of lean and designer jackets. And the Punjabi rapper Nav and the Cambodian rapper $tupid Young both freely use the n-word, channeling the toughness it implies without carrying its burden.
4. I'm Not Here to Play the Suffering Minority for White Readers | Chen Chen for Electric Literature
I've been socialized to seek alternative explanations for white people's erasure of me. I’ve been taught to see isolated mistakes, not a pattern of harm that began long before graduate school, a history of harm long before I came into the world. At the same time, white readers expect me to write about this harm. White writers say to me that they wish they had this kind of suffering to write about, since it’s what’s “hot” in publishing right now.
5.  Anthony Bourdain and the Power of Telling the Truth | Helen Rosner for The New Yorker
In what is likely the most famous episode of “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain sat on low plastic stools at an unadorned noodle shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, eating bún chả with Barack Obama—at the time a sitting President. The meeting was momentous for both men—both had grown up in the shadow of the Vietnam War, and that conflict, its long shadow, and its human costs suffused the hour-long episode. Bourdain ended the episode on a brutal note, with an infamous quote from William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, a reminder of America’s racist dehumanization of the culture we at home had just spent an hour celebrating.
6. Why Cultural Critics of Color Matter | Elizabeth Mendez Berry for Hyperallergic 
When an important work is met with thoughtful, engaged criticism, it gains depth and traction. And when each potent piece of writing reverberates as never before — shared, liked, and debated on social media — the critic has new opportunities to shape our increasingly toxic cultural discourse. For communities that have been historically shut out of that process, that power is pivotal. It’s the difference between being spoken about and being the authority on your own experience.
7. Truth, Lies, and Literature |  Salman Rushdie for The New Yorker
In Germany, after the Second World War, the authors of what was called Trümmerliteratur, or “rubble literature,” felt the need to rebuild their language, poisoned by Nazism, as well as their country, which lay in ruins. They understood that reality, truth, needed to be reconstructed from the ground up, with new language, just as the bombed cities needed to be rebuilt. I think we can learn from their example. We stand once again, though for different reasons, in the midst of the rubble of the truth. And it is for us—writers, thinkers, journalists, philosophers—to undertake the task of rebuilding our readers’ belief in reality, their faith in the truth. And to do it with new language, from the ground up.
With great love,
LC

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