Sunday, June 8, 2008

SCHOLAR SPOTLIGHT: Kristia speaks on Black/Brown speech

Meet Kristia, our featured scholar! She studies language flexibility among Black and Brown folk and hip hop heads. I'm glad people are writing on topics like Black and Brown shared cultural/political spaces. I remember having a small conversation with my cousin about "triple consciousness" among Brown people, so this topic has a special meaning to me. Schola holla!

You can check out Kristia's writings on Doorknockers, where she really bridges the classroom and the street. Her writings are accessible to young and old heads, college-bound or not. Give it a knock!


Who is Kristia?

What a question. Well, I am a young hip hop head, I am a woman, I am Filipina, I am multilingual. I make poetry but hate a lot of shit that passes as poetry/spoken word. I used to make paintings and sculptures - but now I hustle so there is less time for that.

I am an academic on hiatus. I studied cultural anthropology and loved it. I graduated in May 2007.


Who introduced you to hip hop culture, and when?
Nobody in particular introduced me to hip hop. I was born in SF, raised in SF till I was 11. And I was Filipino. Basically - it was inevitable. Hip hop is what we were raised on, it was also what was deemed appropriate for Black and Brown kids. All the Filipinos and Asian kids (the majority of my neighborhood at the time) loved hip hop. This was our cultural practice, this was our adaptation of Black arts into our own life.

Most interesting to me, is my mom never censored hip hop. I listened to the most explicit shit as a kid in the car and she never banned it. She ain't a hip hop head, but in a way she's responsible for my relationship with hip hop.

I understand that at Bard College you really focused on language. What specifically was your focus, and why do you think it's important to study this?
I focused on language in the last 1-2 years. Before that I was lookin at graffiti, movement and travel. I also spent a lot of time lookin at the freestyle as a hip hop verbal form - and in my opinion, a prime example of hip hop's democratic nature. Not democratic like the party, just democratic in the way it creates a open dialogue and structures it. Feel me?

My senior thesis was a study of language use. I studied the languages spoken by hip hop heads - mostly Black and Brown hip hop heads, a few White. I was lookin at the ways Black and Brown folks speak a multitude of languages to navigate everyday life, a ton more compared to White folks. We speak one way to our parents, to our teachers, to our coworkers, on the block, etc. At it's core, I was lookin at how hip hop heads have to put on and take off their hip hop-ness, to get to college, to get a job, to negotiate a parent-teacher conference, to deal with a homie's parole testimony, whatever the fuck it is.

Why's this important? It is important because we live and our youth are living in a time where how we speak, how we act is racialized on a whole other level. This shit affects how far we get, how much we get paid, what our children get access to in life. I mean, understand there is research showin that Hurricane Katrina survivors are being discriminated against by the sound of their voice. If they "sound Black" they're being told that housing isn't available yet, they're being put into homeless, into poverty. Straight up.

It's important because I, like the youth I work with, was told that to sound 'White' was 'good,' was 'smart,' was everything positive. To insult, to disrespect, and to dispose of the language(s) of Black and Brown people - is to say to them that they themselves, their very being, their cultures, their expression, is somehow lesser.

Many of these languages we speak are called (by White folks) "bad English, "incorrect," "slang," etc. What we learn from the past and present research of many folks - mostly Black brothas and a few older White men - is that Black English is a language. It has a grammatical structure, patterns, etc. straight up.

What I struggle with now as a youth worker is trying to show the students that the point is not to change how you talk. The point is to understand that the different kinds of English you speak, the languages you may speak at home with family, etc. are valid forms of expression. Not one is perfect. There is no such thing as perfect English. It is a language, it changes all the damn time. But as people of color, it is most advantageous to you and your family to master different languages and dialects for different situations. If I'm tryna get a discount at the Filipino bakery from an elder I'm going to speak a specific kind of Tagalog, but if I want to negotiate a situation where a cop is tryin to harm a brotha or a sista, I am going to use a very academic White English as I list all the illegal things the cop has just done and what I plan to do about it as I memorize his badge number. Feel me?

Naturally what is needed is big structural change in schools, which is actually happening very slowly. The cultural worlds that our youth bring to the classroom need to be shown respect and value. But, in the meantime, we gotta keep it real with our youth. For many their concern is how to get paid, how to live, how to get out the hood (which is also a way of saying "get out of poverty") - and that's real. My concern thus becomes, how can we get you "out the hood," without you losing yourself in the process.

You lived a large part of your life in the Philippines, New York, and now you live in San Francisco. What are some of the differences you noticed about hip hop culture (among Filipinos or not) in these different parts of the world?
Dang dude, very good question. Filipinos in the Bay are spoiled as hell. Spoiled by liberalism, by the sheer numbers of Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders they got as neighbors, and by the history of our peoples all over the West Coast. Out in NY, we hustle to prove ourselves in hip hop, we work to find each other in substantial numbers, and we face a whole different kind of America. The cops are different, the White folks are different, and the inner-city poverty is different. Visit NY and you will see why they are so hard, it's not sheer coincidence. Racism like that, cold winters like that - you'd be hard as hell too.

Don't get me wrong though. AmeriKKKa is AmeriKKKa regardless.

But Filipinos are known out in the West Coast. And that makes a huge difference. Nobody questions what I'm doin at a show, why I'm in front, or why I go buckwild. Nobody asks what I am out here either. They know.

In the Philippines, as you see in most of the post-colonial world (AKA ex-colonies), hip hop is on a whole other tip. It's like crazy imitation-based on one hand, where they copy whatever they see Black folks do on MTV minstrelsy. And on the other hand, in the hood, it is raw, it is never in English, and it is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen in your life.

Hands down.

(Fil-Ams who don't speak their parents language/dialect, this is #1 reason for you to learn. Forget just talking to your Lola. You need to go to Manila and see hip hop LIVE. You'll never call it dead again.)

What are your feelings of hip hop culture today? What role do you see Filipinos playing in the culture?
Hahah, that first question, man...Shit, that's everyday life. We are hip hop. We keep it going. And I am trying. I am a woman, I am a woman of color, and I am young. You're asking me how I feel about hip hop right now? Look at how I am represented, where I am allowed to have access, how I rapped about - and then ask yourself, as a male hip hop head, how I must be feeling. It's hard yo.

Filipinos have been here since the get. I'm not worried about us being left behind. It's crazy to think about the Jabbawockeez as our mainstream-debut too. Anyone who's a head, knows Filipinos have been well represented as breakers, as DJs, and to lesser degrees as rappers and writers. But to see us on big time tv like that, it is a trip. It is a fuckin trip. Within the past 5 years more and more Filipinos have been getting mainstream acknowledgement.

And that's cool. Cause back in the days, we just hung onto QBert. And the myths that Nas was half-Filipino. That was where we got our pride.

What are the next steps in Kristia's life?
I be tellin my peoples that I'm tired of academia, and they just laugh. They tell me I'm an academic no matter what. I sound like one, I overanalyze like one. It's whack. I will go back to school sooner or later - that's kinda inevitable. Gotta hustle. Our people deserve the best, and the revolution is a slow process. So in the meantime I gotta move on up, cause when the day comes that I'm ready to have a family, my children will get the best I can give them.

To dwell in your poverty - that's bullshit. There ain't nobody from the ghetto who actually wants to stay broke. My Lola cleaned White folks' houses all her life, my mom's a professional and has even cleaned White folks houses. They did that for a reason - so that I would never have to against my will. Now for the record I have a few times in the past. But the point is that I have the option to bigger things with a college degree, to bring resources to my communities - and best believe that the more I have under my belt, the more I can do for our folks.

As for now, I live and work with youth in SF. When I first came back I was such a hater, I compared everything to NY. I grilled everybody and walked hella fast. Now I still grill boys when I like them - that's permanent. But I walk slower, I chill more. And that's what I'm doin right now. I'm good here. I have so many ill Black and Brown people around me, the environment is so much more conducive to organizing for our people. I do community organizing with Filipinos - which is so different from in NY where I rolled deep with a mostly Black and Latin@ group of student organizers. So even though I'm goin to back to New York for the summer, I'll be right back here in August and I plan to stick around for awhile.

References:
Roc the Mic Right by H. Samy Alim
English with an Accent by Ros Lippi-Green

1 comment:

Leo said...

This was a dope interview!

The language and Katrina displaced people is right on, from our fair housing studies, people of color were far more less likely to get leases during the storm based on their accents.

I'm glad sister pointed out the sheer different context aka "spoiled by liberalism" communities from the West Coast, now that transition was going to a equally, densely populated East Coast city..

imagine the struggle our folks get in the Deep South.

let's stay connected. peace & justice.