The Kreayshawn complex: cultural appropriation as counter-cultural expression

March 7, 2012 § 38 Comments

Kreayshawn is a white girl rapper from Oakland, California who sloppily slings misogynistic, hedonistic rhymes and whose crew “White Girl Mob” throws about the n-word for extra charm. This post isn’t specifically about her, but more generally about cultural appropriation and racial fetishism, mostly in relation to hip hop. I’ve been motivated to write on the subjects from my experience in various white-centric social circles where countercultural identity and politics seem not to counter these unacknowledged racisms but rather to embrace them as forms of transgression.

Last year Romy Hoffman (aka Macromantics), white hip hop-esque performer and Grouse queer party promoter, created an exhibition called “Blacklustre”. Fetishising race and struggle, the show was promoted with the tagline “Black is better than white. Huey Newton is better than Isaac Newton. Tu Pac Man is better than Pac Man.” along with the trivialising image of Pac Man in a bandana as ‘Tu Pac Man’. The promo did not explicitly disclose her white privilege, though it could be deciphered from the white-centric wording claiming the show to be “an investigation of otherness, minorities and white guilt”.  Backed by her social status as a queer political / intellectual performer and party promoter (as well as her white and class privilege that has also supported these careers) it seemed there was no challenge to this supposed “celebration of black thinkers and culture in today’s pop world”. “Blacklustre” illustrated a white person’s reductive ideas about blackness for other white people. It doesn’t benefit people of colour to see issues of race and the associated struggles fetishised through a white-centric lens – instead it invalidates and commodifies these struggles. Yet, the voice of white artists ‘celebrating’ and ‘investigating’ the expressions of people of colour has historically had cultural currency greater than the creative work of people from the cultures they appropriate. It should be obvious that racism has informed this history and that white artists can’t simply disconnect from that history by labeling their appropriation as appreciation.

Yet white artists, musicians, performers, fashionistas, etc seem to feel nothing less than entirely entitled to pillage the forms and aesthetics of  ‘other’ cultures as they please and to then be celebrated and financially rewarded for their ‘edginess’. White people seem to find endless novelty in watching white people, like Kreayshawn, interpret and repackage hip hop culture, but these reductive representations are ultimately dehumanising for the people whose cultures they imitate.

To be a person of colour, moving in hip hop heavy environments (that in Australia are most often white dominated on the stage, deck and dancefloor) means to navigate a minefield of compromise and risk. I am consistently the subject of racial fetishism for my brownness. This has happened in an even more overt way at queer parties than it has at the hetero-centric live hip hop gigs I occasionally attend. Between Grouse, Danceteria and several queer house parties I’ve had my skin be the subject of white people’s endless monologues, had my ethnic identity interrogated and have been touched, stroked, arse slapped, grinded on, and worse, all without my consent. These latter things may happen to white bodies too, but I have little doubt of the connection between the music played and how my body has been racially sexualised, how I have been exoticised to an increased degree in these environments.

Even when I’m not actively having my physical boundaries crossed, it requires disconnection to feel enjoyment whilst being nearly entirely surrounded by white people, many of whom parade parodies of blackness on the dancefloor. Even when I’m not culturally linked to the cultures appropriated (I’m a non-black POC), as a person of colour I’m reminded of my own position as exotic ‘other’ in white supremacy. The consistency of cultural appropriation doesn’t surprise me, but it does affect me, whilst white people don’t expect to be challenged on their entitlement and react with surprise and defensiveness on the rare occasions that they are pulled up. To set the current ‘exotic’ scenario of Melbourne… White people decide to throw an ‘80s African Dance Party’ with prizes for ‘best African inspired costume’ and a hipster dance troupe, The Real Hot Bitches, performing an ‘African inspired’ dance routine (with queer party Danceteria’s DJs supporting). White people open a Tiki bar ‘Luwow’, creating the appropriative carvings for their “traditional Polynesian bar” so they can have a “feast of exotica!”. White people continue to wear Native American headdresses, Afro wigs and dreadlocks. White people put on nearly all of the hip hop and dancehall gigs and parties though they’ll often use an image of (often seemingly random) black people on the flyer. White people are usually on the decks, mostly playing black music. White people are the promoters who have the financial and social capital to bring out the international POC acts. White people make themselves the cultural ambassadors of blackness and other racial ‘otherness’ to white people. The white-faced presentation might make them more comfortable in their consumption of otherness, but it underlines my own otherness in this white-centric world.

In choosing to identify as ‘outsider’ in relation to broader dominant culture, white people may wish to validate their transgression by appropriating racially marginalised cultures, without acknowledging how that appropriation could stereotype, homogenise, objectify, commodify, exoticise, distort and invalidate those cultures. Usually believing they are simply ‘celebrating other cultures’, they act as if unaware of their privilege in benefiting from power dynamics set in place from centuries of imperialism, racism, exoticism, capitalism and colonialism. They may choose to believe they are disconnected from the forms of oppression that their ‘appreciation’ reinforces, but even their sense of entitlement to have their experience of ‘other’ cultures prioritised is symptomatic of white supremacy.

In the white-centric queer / radical circles I have often moved within, it seems that there is a general will to believe that ‘the community’ can be disconnected from the oppressions of broader culture. In these spaces, politics regarding sex and gender might be discussed foremost, anti-capitalist and anti-racist agendas may be touted, yet cultural appropriation and racial fetishism seem to be embraced with as little examination as in environments considered less highly politicised.

In queer / radical scenes, expressing political consciousness and emphasising your oppressions, not your privileges, earns status in the social hierarchy, even as those privileges invisibly add value. Hip hop aesthetic and swagger, furthering identification with especially black as well as other POC culture and resistance, seems a popular mode of expressing and authenticating a ‘revolutionary’ or countercultural identity. This is deemed relevant by people’s own experiences of oppression. However this is done by white people without an understanding of the lived experience of racial oppression and in denial of their own inescapable connections to that oppression.

Much of the cultural appropriation I witness is done by people who consider themselves non-racist, in the belief that what they’re doing benefits the people whose culture they’re appropriating as gestures of acceptance and awareness. When the member of The Real Hot Bitches dance troupe was called out over organising the queer “80s African Dance Party” her defenses were along the lines of ‘I’m not racist, I love African culture’ and ‘I’m not racist, I work to help minorities’. (The person has since deleted the facebook event, including the criticisms and her defences, and amended the name of the event and description, slightly). It seems that the rush is always to defend an anti-racist identity, to clarify how white people’s intentions have been ‘misunderstood’, thus turning the discussion of racism back into one about white experience. This is done above acknowledging how behaviours may be problematic and hurtful to people of colour. It would be refreshing if white people who wish to be allies to people of colour would begin by de-prioritising their own voices. Surely that is necessary to a conversation about them prioritising their experience of ‘other’ cultures over ‘other’ cultures’ experiences of ourselves. Wai Ho of Mellow Yellow blog suggested offering this generous challenge…

“While we can understand the lovely benevolent, rather naïve, sentiment of combating racism and raising awareness by “celebrating other cultures” via racial/ethnic themed parties, maybe our queer communities are able to take that desire a step further. In the same way that men don’t fight sexism solely by having sex with women, or by throwing a women’s party and dressing up as women, and dancing like women, I would encourage white allies to progress their desire for the end of racial oppression by discussing with (people of colour) how to do that in a meaningful way.  I would press the importance of white allies getting together as white people to educate themselves about the myriad of racial dynamics, and constructive ways in which to address those privileges, benefits, blindspots and power laden frameworks.”

I haven’t seen much evidence that most people in Melbourne’s queer / radical ‘community’ have the willingness necessary for self-education nor are ready for conversations on terms that I would find empowering and productive for change. My experience has been that white people want to set the terms for what they believe is ‘constructive’ conversation, believing it a generosity on their part if they are at all ‘open’ to being individually educated, without ever doing their homework. These conversations further diminish my sense of agency as a person of colour to build new senses of ‘community’ and to initiate broader change from a non white-centric viewpoint.

There are few people who are willing to challenge those with power in the social hierarchy, especially on problematic race politics (or gender politics… or any others) whether or not they acknowledge any dodginess privately. Meanwhile, when queer people of colour speak up we are most often labeled angry and irrational, are mocked and patronised and otherwise silenced. Apparently we’re just spoiling the party for everyone else and it seems that most people would rather not challenge people with social currency, nor assess their own attitudes, if it would mean missing out on any party. Are the social repercussions and associated emotional stress of speaking about problems within a ‘community’ worse than those we have from trying to feel a sense of belonging to a ‘community’ that’s not addressing these problems? Personally, I can’t imagine that they could be, but I have hesitated in publishing this post with this poem.

The title of the following poem is perhaps a person of colour in-joke. White people’s minds tend to homogenise any brown skinned babe into the brown skinned celebrity of their choice (or ‘Asian’ babe into ‘Asian’ celebrity etc) regardless of your actual racial or ethnic similarity and often barely related to your physical resemblance to that celebrity. This rarely happens to white people unless there’s striking resemblance. However, some QPOCs I know decided that the catchall term for every  white person who appropriates hip hop culture should be a ‘Kreayshawn’. There needs to be a term for white people who seek out people of colour as lovers and friends for social and/or political credibility, and producer Diplo’s name and associated reputation serves this purpose well. Maxine Clarke suggested making a (no pun intended) ‘blacklist’ of suspicious white people such as these Kreayshawns and Diplos (feel free to contribute via comments or private message). And yes, white people; you can be both a Kreayshawn and a Diplo. You might already be on the VIP guestlists for both.

**warning: contains sexual hip hop profanity **

Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Kreayshawn?

hip hop:
your ready-to-wear
revolution

buy into blackness
coz we’re all hoes and bitches
fucked by the dollar

notions of race
drastically reduced
to bling and swagger

just coz you
fuck bitches or fuck gender
don’t make you the n-word of the world

adopt the fierce costume
gimmick equates your struggle
now you gotta be heard

ethnic flava
to your dull dish of whiteness
adds that sought out spice

a skin you can shed
to maintain mainstream
whenever you desire

meanwhile it’s proof
you’re an outlaw youth
with disdain for the majority

fear made racial barriers
your fascination breaks them
frees you from history

in your willing embrace
guilt of the past erased
by desire’s domination

this tantalising taboo
set to transform you
and ease your alienation

imitation is
the whitest form of flattery
sold as wondrous novelty

highlight your black-lustre
but see your pale reflection
has greater opportunity

blackness celebrated
but white pockets profit
for discovering the party

appetites ready for
white hands to feed them
other cultures as hip consumables

diplos keep white hold on
the power and the purse strings
making consumption comfortable

while gathered around
is an ethnic entourage
to lend authenticity

when brown-skinned blackness
seems a momentary prize
is my presence complicity?

where exotic approximation
makes her so much like Rihanna
and me just like M.I.A.

when you push up front at OutBlack
and rush on stage to sissy bounce
nobody gets in your way

so rare is space without you
is your presence solidarity
or further occupation?

what cost to empowerment
when you take priority
with your appreciation?

as Florence Tate said
what do white people take?
everything but the burden

 
 
Footnotes:
This poem and post references or is influenced by the following sources
bell hook’s essay “Eating the Other: Desire or Resistance” from “Black Looks: Race and Representation”
Greg Tate’s introduction ‘Nigs R Us or How Black Folks Became Fetish Objects” and Carl Hancock’s essay “Eminem: The New White Negro” in “Everything but the burden: what white people are taking from Black culture”
Minh-Ha T. Pham, Threadbared “Unintentionally Eating the Other” 
Wendi Muse, “It’s Complicated: DJs, Appropriation, and a Whole Host of Other Ish”
Sharp Tongue Charlie
Yoko Ono’s quote “Women is the n****r of the world”
Latoya Peterson, “Venus Iceberg X and the Ghe20 Goth1k Crew Call Out DJ Diplo for Musical and Cultural Imperialsm”
The Crunk Feminist Collective, “On Kreayshawn and the Utility of Black Women”
Bien Viera in Clutch Magazine “Kreayshawn: Another Case of Appropriating Black Culture
and for more homework..
Xan West “Does Kreayshawn Rep(resent) Oakland?”
Jessica Yee “Feminist Intersection: Ke$ha and the ongoing cultural appropriation and sexualization of Native women
Kjerstin Johnson “Don’t Mess Up When You Dress Up: Cultural Appropriation and Costumes
Julia Caron “The Critical Fashion Lover’s (basic) guide to Cultural Appropriation”
Jessica Yee “Indigenous Feminism and Cultural Appropriation”
(video) “Yellow Apparel: When the coolie becomes cool”
and for hip hop appropriation breakdown, Oz style
Busty Beatz Speakz
Renoriginal, “Hip Hop?? Yeah, Well You Can Stop: Exploitative Workshops Targeting Indigenous Kids”
 

Update Mar 2014:
Though all people of colour experience cultural appropriation, it seems that the relative severity of structural violence that Black people (and Indigenous people) experience is reflected in their cultural appropriation. I realise that as a ‘model minority’ person of colour I experience relative structural privilege, and benefit from, and am trying to unlearn, anti-blackness.

“Where are you from?”

July 21, 2011 § 9 Comments

In response to your question: “Where are you from?”

Why do you ask?

Is it your curiosity in the ‘origin of my features’?
Is it your fascination for ‘other’ cultures and what they have to offer you?

Why do you desire an exact definition of my difference?
Why do you assume I desire, and am able, to define this difference to you?

Do you show the same interest in determining the ‘ethnic make-up’ of every white face that you see?
Isn’t everyone from somewhere?
Don’t you have a heritage?
Why does whiteness make yours invisible yet my brownness make mine subject to your anthropological investigation?

Do you believe that I should be delighted to personally inform and educate you?
Do you think it is my responsibility to know, and always be ready to impart, the details of my cultural heritage?
Do you apply these same standards to yourself?

Why do you assume that I’d love to reminisce about what my family, or I, left to come here?
Didn’t it cross your mind that we may have left for good reasons that I do not wish to reminisce about, especially with a stranger?

Do you believe your curiosity is commendable?
Do you think I should be grateful for your ‘tolerance’ and interest in ‘diversity’?

Do you believe this is YOUR country to welcome me to?

While brownness prompts
“Where are you from?”
Your whiteness prompts
“What do you do?”
You wish to define me by my physicality but you expect to be defined by your actions and your intellect.

Have you travelled the world and been asked the same question?
It isn’t the same experience in a place where you had expected to be treated as a visitor.
Perhaps your whiteness provided a fascination, but wasn’t it also exalted?
Weren’t you still treated like a speaker at a podium?
Or don’t you see this because you are so used to being heard from that position?

Don’t you realise that in expecting to discuss my brownness as subject of your fascination you position me as an exotic curio on a pedestal?

Do you think I wish to be a talking doll, spilling my secrets each time yet another curious child pulls my cord demanding that I politely answer your question?

………………………………………………

I performed the above piece at the RISE 40Hands book launch and poetry slam on the weekend. The publication features poems, mostly by detainees and ex-detainees, with additional contributions by people from POC migrant backgrounds, such as myself. I was lucky to participate in the series of RISE poetry workshops hosted by Pataphysics. Pata and many of the workshop participants performed on the night, as well as the always amazing Candy Bowers, the cutting Kojo, and the witty and charming Marissa Johnpillai, visiting from Aotearoa.

My poem is addressed to white people, like most of my poetry, but it’s not for them. Judging from the laughter it received from many people of colour in the audience (POCS made up the majority of attendees), the people I had hoped would get it, really got it. I did see some uncomfortable white people and this was unfortunately acknowledged by the MC, Victor Victor, after I left the stage, when he apologised if anyone was offended, because that wasn’t ‘our’ intention as it was a night about ‘positivity’. Ramesh, CEO and co-founder of RISE, did ask him to take back the apology, which he did the next time he was on stage. Is there any person, especially any white person, who couldn’t do with being challenged on their less obvious (to them) racisms? And how, and why, should I do that without making some people uncomfortable? Especially considering, as a person of colour living in a white-centric world, I’m always adapting to ‘uncomfortable’ circumstances.

I want to print the poem as a handbill, a kind of none-of-your-business card, to give out every time I get asked this question, à la Adrian Piper. I’d like to just walk away without having to verbally explain each time why that question is so loaded and why I am so reluctant to indulge the curiousity of the questioner.

I’d been having relevant correspondence with Wai Ho, who is part of  Mellow Yellow blog, among other things. I sent them the poem and their email response ponders where that question comes from…

White people, especially in colonial settler societies, ask that question because it’s like closet homos that bully queers. Colonial settler society imbibes amnesia, because they would like to forget that they did indeed “come from” somewhere not so long ago, and that their “coming” was an invasion (which is why they get so touchy with Asian invasion). Also the shame/guilt they feel from leaving UK/Europe makes them extra touchy about things… They actively forget their shameful colonial histories, which is why they like to think they have no culture, because they’ve cut off their ethnic cultural limbs along with their colonial imperial invader hands.

White Australia makes such a big deal about ‘letting’ certain people into this country, actively forgetting this is not their country either.

RISE is a not-for-profit organisation founded and run by ex-detainees for refugees, asylum seekers and ex-detainees, making a rare, empowering structural choice of striving to function with little involvement by white ‘benevolence’ (which always enacts a power dynamic). Government policies and ‘Go back to where you came from’ attitudes are the obvious racisms that do-gooder white people love to point their fingers at, but institutional racism affects and infects us all. Finger pointing white people who wish to claim they are ‘not racist’ need to question their place in a system that places whiteness in the magnanimous ‘helping hand’ position and Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of colour as the should-be-grateful recipients of ‘tolerance’ and charity.

White people need to ask themselves why they expect gratitude for ‘giving’ access to the benefits of a country that white people stole and now most assume as their own. I don’t hear do-gooder white people who mostly call themselves ‘Australian’ even use the qualifier of ‘non-Indigenous Australian’ (though the term ‘Indigenous’ is also a white construct).

White Australia may forever be defining people who have come here because of circumstances they would probably rather not remember, as ‘refugees’. White people wish to forever remind people of their experiences of trauma, escape, re-location, and detention because it reminds themselves of their own ‘generosity’ in allowing people who ‘needed them’ to let them into ‘their’ country.

White people need to question their very curiousity in ‘other cultures’, because it’s a white-centric viewpoint that places people of colour as curious, unknown ‘other’ waiting to be ‘discovered’ by them, and the ways of whiteness as expected knowledge. No gratitude should be expected for this dehumanising other-ing of people of colour that comes with the normalization of whiteness.

White people recognise only the symptoms of systemic racism that register to their own perspective; physical violence, government policies, verbal intolerance and abuse, ‘obvious’ exclusion and discrimination; but there are other often indescribable power dynamics that I register in my daily lived experience which white people do not recognise, especially in their own behaviour. A white person may ask “Where are you from?” with ‘good intentions’, but ‘good intentions’ have always attempted to justify the oppression of people of colour. I recognise their invasive and other-ing curiousity in ‘different’ physicality as yet another symptom of a white supremacy in which I am made aware of my position within, and am expected to tolerate, every day.

I don’t want a piece of the cake…

June 15, 2011 § 4 Comments

The Recipe

No reason to
Expect respect
You never gave
Me it before

You stroke my arm
Treat me as a child
You help yourself
Say you know best

Your kindly tone
Belies the truth
Your gratitude
Has attitude
At any rate
It’s all for you

While I should know
I am lucky
To get pity
Should be thankful
For a handful

You let me take
A slice of cake
Your recipe
Unshared with me

You live by rules
Entitled to
Believe they are
Applied the same
To me and you

And I have tried
To believe this lie
Swallowed each sigh
Inside myself
All my life

Now your surprise
That I go wild
Out of control
Of your control

You try to keep hold
Choose to dismiss
My anger blind
Myself unkind

The blame on me
For rejecting
All your offers
Of unity

Your offers that
Delete dissent
Refuse critique
Especially
Without comedy
Or calm relay

In any words
However said
You are content
To see yourself
As innocent

The world you know
Supports your view
So I suspect
You won’t take time
To self reflect

My rage is real
And justified
And every day
The world I knew
Including you
Compounds my view

I know that I
Can’t change the world
That includes you
But I can try
To change my world
To exclude you
As you did me
Though you don’t see

My sights are clear
All I expect
Is what I give
My self respect

……………………

I wrote the above poem in consideration of my many interpersonal relationships with people whom have not allowed space and understanding for my anger over institutional racism, that I see clearly reflected in the dynamics between us, yet they do not.

The poem references a quote by comedian Paul Mooney, “I don’t want a piece of the cake, I want the fucking recipe” from his stand-up CD ‘R A C E’ (1993). I realised after writing it, that race is not explicit in the poem. Several people have commented to me, after performing it at POC the MIC Sydney last weekend, that they heard it as reflective of their own lived experiences of oppression, not necessarily to do with race. I wrote it for those who share the frustrations of exclusion to do with race, but recognise that there are many oppressions that contribute to people experiencing anger about their alienation.

No Disrespect

May 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

Last weekend an event was held called No Disrespect; “an exhibition to create alternatives and opposition to the ‘say no to burqas’ mural in Newtown: a visual, aural and sensory display of creative dissent”, put on by Muslim Youth of Sydney, Justice and Arts Network and Cross Border Collective and held at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre in Sydney. Some people claiming politically progressive views decided that the link I posted on my facebook page (I have deleted my facebook account since then) to the event was an appropriate forum to exercise their intellect, ‘valuing freedom of expression over racism’ in regards to the mural. Of my choices to either remain silent to their hurtful ignorance or to focus energy that I’d rather be putting other places into writing a response, I chose to type up the following poem. It’s creative expression I wish there wasn’t reason to create.

I’d like to acknowledge that I am not a Muslim woman; I am not speaking from a perspective of lived experience, unlike most of the women who made work and spoke at No Disrespect. I speak only from empathetic observation and do not intend to represent the many voices of those affected directly by Islamophobia.

On internet intellect or Say no to bigotry

Oh internet intellectuals! I try not to let you drain my battery,
The attention I give you now is not intended for your flattery.
I’d like to ignore your ignorance but it offends my senses,
Your arrogant articulation of politically progressive pretenses.
The choice is yours to deny your place in a white supremacy
And it’s your privilege to believe in an illusion of equality.
Today it’s racism as your stimulating topic for high tea discussion,
Without enduring it daily you engage sans emotional repercussion.
You are free to discuss the complexities of others’ oppression
Without having shared their experience of derision and suspicion.
You ponder the power of a bigoted mural to spark debate,
Shielding your eyes as more fuel feeds a fire of anti-Muslim hate.
You champion ‘freedom of speech’ over oppressive behaviour
While strutting your western gender equality as all women’s saviour.
You support ‘tolerance’ to allow art’s validation of another racist voice
In a choir set to inspire undressing burqas out of fear not freedom of choice.
The politics of race and religion play out yet again on women’s bodies,
Does what you not share in experience exclude you from feeling empathy?
You safely ignore the threat of violence others face for their religious expression,
Dismiss impassioned debate as irrational with emoticons of passive aggression.
Immunised by your privilege against seeing symptoms of a disease pandemic,
Oh institutional racism! If only it was just academic ; )

Dear person of whiteness

March 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

My experiences in Melbourne over the last few months have underlined for me the absence of considered racial politics and the lack of acknowledgment of privilege by many of my peers in supposedly radical communities. I wrote and performed the following piece for POC the MIC II a few weeks ago, a (personally inspiring) night of spoken word and performance by people of colour.

Dear person of whiteness

Would you like me to share my experiences with you?

If I choose to
Treat you with suspicion;
Deny you the respect you assume you deserve;
Deny you the benefit, of the doubt, of my trust;
Never rank your esteem too highly:

Would this be sharing my experience?

I wish I could.
But it’s only going to be a sip of what I swallow everyday.

You may have tasted similar experiences before
For your
Gender identity
Sexuality
Class
Education
Disability
Body size
Mental illness
Manners of speech
or other elements we may not have had choice in and that I haven’t imagined here

And my life has taught me empathy that I do offer
But you’ll never share my experience

Being a person of colour isn’t
A tattoo I inked onto on my body
A political patch I sewed onto my clothes
An outrageous outfit I selected
A behaviour that the authorities don’t approve of
A lifestyle my parents frown upon

You may have chosen some of these things
And good for you to try to feel empowered
Express yourself against a system that seeks to oppress us all.

But just because you’ve chosen these ‘struggles’ doesn’t make you
my ally
nor a revolutionary.

It doesn’t discount the white privilege you were born into even if you seemingly wish to deny it.

You’re not racist, you love brown people!

March 21, 2011 § 5 Comments

A usually unacknowledged racism I have experienced not only from strangers, but regularly from friends and lovers is that of being exoticised for my race and skin tone. I quote, paraphrase and relay with barely any poetic license some of these experiences in the following verses.

**profanity and sexual content warning

You’re not racist, you love brown people!

I’m not your erotic exotic
Not coffee, caramel or chocolate
You want to eat me so you can grow
But I’m a wonderland you’ll never know

You do yoga? You’re spiritualistic?
Want to seduce me to sitar music?
Your third eye’s open? And fixed on me?
Now light your incense to incense me!

You love world music and ethnic food?
What a multi-culti attitude!
You can’t be racist, you only fuck Asians!
You don’t even want to be Caucasian!

You’re brown on the inside? ‘Cause you’re full of shit!
A deep tan don’t mean you understand it
You say that I’m lucky to have my skin
But would you trade where white gets you in?

Thanks for noticing we’re not all the same
Asking me where I’m from before you ask my name
I say Oh Melbourne, Sydney, originally Perth
But you push to locate my ethnic worth

You’re always looking to have an edge
You think you’ll find it in my heritage
Oh so curious about minorities
We make such radical accessories

Up high on my shit list
Mac daddy mactivists
Wanna fuck the system but cum on my tits?
You think you’re god’s gift, but I’m an atheist!

Fuck oppression by fucking the oppressed?
Your cultural fetish doesn’t dress to impress
I’m not flattered by your directed obsession
To put me on a pedestal for your condescension

When you don’t even try to sweat it
How will you ever come to get it?
Don’t turn to me to turn you on
Turn on yourself, it’s your white norm

——-

* please note, I have updated this poem as I realised I had used ableist language regarding visual impairment. The poem appears in it’s old version in my zine/chatbooks printed before May 2012 but will be updated in future publications. Apologies to anyone who may have been alienated by my insensitive use of language in print or at readings in the past.

Brown is the new goth

March 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

During the winter months of Melbourne I often listen to Bauhaus, A Certain Ratio, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and other such somber tunes. I had the revelation that I could easily write my childhood into a goth song. At some point I will perform  a variation of the following words with deep vocals, a bass with distortion and delay and appropriate costumery. For now it is a goth poem.

 

Goth poem

 

Grandfather knew not his name

Orphan raised in a colony’s shame

Indoctrinated with Jesus’ law

White hands drip silent gore

 

Father sought a better life

Better life with his good wife

God brought them across the sea

Terror Australis gave birth to me

 

Children taunt and children tease

With my skin I cannot please

Alone, run from the playground

With no words, no tears, no sound

 

School teaches ignorance

No talk of stolen innocents

Australia’s black history

To this child, unknown mystery

 

Heaven above, church so hollow

We offer hymns, empty echo

Jesus pale with open heart

Our father white in heaven art

 

Television screen, what can I see?

Where is the child dark like me?

With muppet monsters, far away

Small hope for a brighter day

 

Man-boy moonwalks the divide

We three dance, sister each side

Imitate, adorate, brother brown

Hear nothing brings us down

 

In the library, try find the words

In science fiction, other worlds

Look in, until I can look out

Fantasy within, and without

 

The darkness of my shadows

And the brownness of my flesh

Mark the limits of dominion

What your gaze cannot enmesh

 

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