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Proud to be maladjusted!

14 Apr

Watch this.

Super Sunday

5 Jun

1. I have spent this week in London, working at the office of the Institute for Public Policy Research, helping them out with the report on the San Francisco green jobs trip I went on in April. I have also spent a lot of time catching up with London-based friends and somehow that has gone hand in hand with some a-may-zing mexican food. Mestizo near Warren St tube and Lupita near Embankment to be exact.

2. This is my favourite.

3. A while ago I featured the blog Of Another Fashion, that charts the fashion histories of U.S women of color. Well, here is its parent blog Threadbared that discusses the politics of fashion and is great. I really enjoyed this recent post on The Racial Construction of Preppiness.

4. Louis Theroux’s recent 2-part Miami Mega Jail series really affected me. I spent most of the last part crying, which admittedly isn’t super, but it is enlightening. Watch it on iPlayer.

5. Big super shout out to my friend Jo and her lovely housemates for letting me stay for a week! Thanks Jo!

6. Great post on Racialicious on the challenges facing multiracial actors like Keanu Reeves, which I found particularly interesting since a few years ago I was all about the acting. Also, what a great excuse to post a picture of Keanu Reeves. You’re welcome.

7. Heart-warming to see UK Feminista out in force last night to protest the re-opening of the Playboy club in London. Photo care of @MaeveMckeown who also tweeted this “The london playboy club closed 30 years ago cos it was anachronistic. Why reopen it now? We don’t want this. #effoffhef

hanna ♥

 

The arrival of the asian supermodels?

10 May

I’ve been trying to ration my magazine consumption lately, but I had to buy the latest issue of Vogue because one of the headline articles is titled “The Arrival of the Asian Supermodels”. Boo yeah! I thought. Take that idealised stereotypes of barbie women! He-llo asian invasion!

But reading the article highlighted two things for me – one is that the rise of Asian models is being almost exclusively driven by the new elite class of mega-rich Chinese. The Chinese market for luxury items has gained so much power that Givenchy showed their Spring 2011 collection using exclusively Asian models, in an attempt to appeal to this “new” demographic (below).

I’m happy that there will be faces that look more like mine peppering the media from now on. I’m glad that being Asian will be seen as simultaneously more ordinary and beautiful. But the fact that this is happening as a result of market forces and greater consumer clout is perturbing me. It’s the translation of money into beauty that ensures greater representation and yet highlights those other ethnicities or “markets” who remain invisible in the western media. Must we wait for economic development before we see beauty?

The second point is one about racism in the fashion industry in general. The first paragraph of the article summarises it perfectly:

Chinese model Li Ai vividly remembers her attempts to break on to the international fashion stage in the early 2000s. Season after season, as she made the London, Paris and Milan circuits, “at most places, casting said, ‘We don’t want an Asian,’ or, ‘We just want one and we already have her.’ I gave up and went home.”

The article also touches on the fact that many of the Asian models being used at the moment have particularly “western” features and do not necessarily conform to what is considered beautiful by Asian societies – “Often Western stylists and photographers mistakenly think they know what makes an Asian beautiful better than Asians themselves.”

I was pleased to be reading an article with these perceptive insights around race in Vogue. That is, until I turned to p.124, where I was confronted with a fashion spread titled “Neo Geisha” with the blurb “With the eyes of the world on Japan, designers are referencing the colours, shapes and forms of its past. The serene beauty of the traditional geisha gets a twenty-first-century remix”. 

Over the following ten pages, we see a white model in various states of geisha-inspired dress which include bondage referencing headdresses and some revealing boob shots.

There is so much wrong with this situation I find it hard to know where to begin. But I’ll have a crack at it:

Dear Vogue,

1) Why after an article 60 pages earlier referring to the rise of the Asian supermodel, do you use a white model in a fashion spread that is inspired by Japan?

2) Why do you use no Japanese designers? An excellent way to support Japan while “the eyes of the world” are on it in the wake of the earthquake, might be to celebrate Japanese designers and models.

3) A “geisha” inspired fashion spread is just weird. Geishas, even if they weren’t all “courtesans”, are commonly thought of that way. The geisha motif just perpetuates images of Asian women in the west being “exotic” and sexually available. And the bondage-inspired headdresses? Seriously?

4) You also use the word “oriental” to use an outfit. I would have thought after an article investigating racism against Asian models, you would have thought twice before using a loaded term that recalls colonialism and commodification of Asian culture.

That’s all.

hanna ♥

Of Another Fashion

24 Mar

Of Another Fashion is an amazing blog I came across a few weeks ago that documents the “not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color”. You can see some beautiful, beautiful pictures on the site, as well as fascinating glimpses of social history. I could stare at it all day long. (I do).

hanna ♥

Music Monday

14 Mar

I can think of no better song to share with you today than Wrong Ways, by my friend Amy. She is half Japanese, half American, and we grew up together in Tokyo when I was very small – I don’t think I’ve known anyone longer than her, apart from my parents! We’ve lived on different continents for many years, but somehow, our lives are still connected. Through the twists and turns of fate, we’ve ended up doing very similar work around youth advocacy and social justice. Except she’s waaaay cooler than me, because she also uses music and dance as a tool for her work!

Thankfully, I heard from her today and her family is safe, although shaken. When I listen to this, I feel like she sums up how it feels to live away from your birthland perfectly, especially when something like this is going on.

Call out for contributions!

4 Mar

I am SO excited to be posting this up! Nothing would make me happier than if you wanted to be involved this project. Please forward this call-out to anyone else you think might be interested! Thank you!

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We are creating a zine and fully-fledged, comprehensive resource list around the themes of anti-oppression and privilege.

We are calling out for two types of information:

1. We’re looking for submissions for the zine on privilege and oppression – articles, theory, personal stories, resources, poetry, artwork, film, music, recipes… however you want to tackle the subject. We’re looking for any and all contributions you want to write in response to this call out as well as existing work/articles you know of. Some submissions we receive may not be suitable this time round, but we hope the experience of trying to tackle these issues will be worthwhile for everyone.

2. ALL articles/books/film/music/websites/authors/activists that you know of that deal with these topics – literally anything and everything. Theory or practice. Specific forms of privilege (for example, able bodied, white, class, age, gender, sexuality, cis gender) through to theory of oppression. Examples would include (authors) Bell Hooks, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Tim Wise, Eli Clare, (websites) anarcha.org, rantcollective.net, racialicious.com etc etc etc! Obviously some people will overlap different categories, as will articles and websites.

If all goes well, we will be scaling up this project into a fully-fledged, comprehensive edited handbook, so if you want to be involved, now is the time!

Deadline for submissions is 17th April. Please send submissions, addressed to Hanna and Nim, to antioppressionproject@gmail.com. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. If you’re interested in working with us to take this project further, please get in touch and tell us a little more about yourself. We’d love to hear from you.

Hanna is an anti-oppression practitioner who has worked with the UK Youth Climate Coalition and The Otesha Project UK. She is currently working with the East London Green Jobs Alliance, a coalition of trade unions, NGOs, community based organisations and green businesses working together to create green and decent jobs for East London citizens.

Nim is an anti-oppression practitioner who works with MOSAIC Black and Mixed Parentage family group, LGBT young people and coordinates So We Stand, a UK based group which recognises the integral links between anti-racist struggle, social justice and environmental injustices. SWS works with frontline communities fighting environmental injustices on their terms.

Music Monday

21 Feb

On this Music Monday, I am going to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about Lady Gaga and her new song Born This Way. Because it is irking me a little.

A couple of gay friends of mine have got very misty-eyed over this song, with its message of pride and acceptance. I like that message too, of course. Except, it’s quite hard to hum along to a song that asks you to accept yourself when the lyrics are… kind of racist.

No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to be brave

This great article explains why the terms “oriental” and “chola” are probably not the most appropriate terms for Gaga to have chosen:

“Oriental” is a word referring to anything “Eastern.” Note that I said “anyTHING.” Calling someone oriental is dehumanizing because you are basically saying that they are akin to oriental rugs and other “Eastern” merchandise. Oriental should refer to objects, not people. Not only that, Orient is also an antiquated insult because of its connotations with white imperialism and oppressive European rule over many Asian countries.To call someone Oriental is to recall years of white colonialism and commodification of Asian culture.

“Chola” and “cholo” originated in describing people of Hispanic and Native American descent. After a couple hundred years, some white Americans used cholo interchangeably with people of Hispanic descent as a derogatory term. But more recently, “cholo” and “chola” is often used to refer to Latino people in gangs and drug culture, who wear certain types of gang attire and prescribe to certain types of gang behavior. So, when Gaga says “chola descent,” that is basically what she is unknowingly referring to. Not a very appropriate way to give a shout-out to Latino people, is it?

My problem with Born This Way, and with Lady Gaga in general, is that she consistently claims to represent the “freaks” and “misfits” of society. She pushes this point by turning up to awards shows incubating in an egg, wearing dresses made of meat, and pointy prosthetic shoulders in her performances. But at the end of the day, she goes home, takes off her make-up, hangs her meat dress in the fridge and goes to bed. She can take off all the artifice and be a small, blonde, straight, white girl who has (presumably) never experienced homophobia or racism.

I myself don’t know what it’s like to experience homophobia, but I think I can say with some certainty that it’s not like waking up in the morning and deciding to live in an egg. Ditto with race – she can take off her wacky costumes that set her apart, but those who experience racism are judged on the outward appearance they were born with – you can’t “take off” your race if you get tired of other people’s assumptions.

I am sure that Lady Gaga is just ignorant – she doesn’t understand the nuances of the offensive phrases she has just put in a hit single. She obviously means well, but so do so many people who think they can speak on behalf of others and get it right.