Presentation: Awkwafina as an Asian American female rapper: productive or destructive to the discourse of race, gender and music?

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When thinking about Awkwafina as an Asian American female rapper, there are two main dynamics that stand out. The first is between the Asian Americans and Blacks within the hip hop scene. This dynamic can be better understood in thinking and analyzing the historical relations of Asian Americans and Blacks in United States that has not only colored the dynamic, but also provides the framework in critically deconstructing these influences.

Historically, the “anti blackness” sentiment has been pervasive not only in white America, but also within the Asians and Asian American communities. This played out in terms of the model minority myth, which was placed to distinguish the clear hierarchy of race. This myth suggests that Asian Americans are the model minority compared to any other race of minorities, which explicitly implies and outlines the hierarchy of race with Black people at the bottom. This is exemplified through Kim’s racial triangulation theory depicted below.

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 7.39.15 PM Ideologies such as “perpetual foreigner” and “the model minority myth” along with the racialized coding of the Black bodies together color the interaction that we see with Awkwafina as an Asian American rapper.

However, the analysis becomes more complicated with the second dynamic of gender as she identifies herself as a female. Due to the fact that Asian females are coded differently than male bodies of races, complications occur when people perceive her as a rapper. One way that Asian/ Asian American women are stereotyped is through the image of docile “Lotus Blossom”, which again strictly opposes the stereotype of the “Black masculinity” (Wang, 41). With these contradicting images of each racialized and sexualized bodies, Awkwafina becomes the embodiment of contradiction as her identity of Asian American, female and rapper complicates the image of Awkwafina.

Wang discusses a lot of Asian American male rappers in his analysis, but fails to intersect gender within his analysis. That being said, the question of how Awkwafina’s gender as a female intersect given the dynamic of Asian American rappers in the hip hop scene that is dominated by Black males arises. A part of the influence of being a female rapper who is most renowned for a song titled, My Vag, points to the strength of the feminist discourse that seems to be prevalent in our culture today. Due to this, many parts of Awkwafina’s content seems to be more relevant with her identity as a female, which does not exclude race, rather than being an Asian American rapper. For example, her song “Green Tea” utilized a hook that really spoke to a stereotype of Asian American females. It says, “ Yellow Bitches in the driver’s seat (x3), Bitch drive that Corolla right into the streets”, which is a direct reference to the stereotype of Asian women not being good drivers. Another interesting usage of identity is seen through the word, “pussy”. The word is used numerous times in the song and this is not an unusual occurrence for Awkwafina as her content has revolved around vagina and queefing previously. Along with that, she intertwines references of race specific examples along with gender specific things very interestingly with examples of “Soon Yi pussy” or “That Long Duk Dong pussy”, which coins race sensitive examples with the word “pussy” that satirically symbolizes female power.

“Yellow Bitches in the driver’s seat

Bitch drive that Corolla right into the streets”

-Green Tea by Awkwafina and Margaret Cho

Although Awkwafina attempts to expose stereotypes of gender and race within her music; she also poses the threat of perpetuating some of the stereotypes. Wang also critiques this similar problem with Jin in saying that “while Jin problematized some stereotypes, he left others in his wake” by failing to “create an alternative to the problematic constructions” (56). Similarly, Awkwafina also left numerous stereotypes open by not suggesting an alternative to these problematic stereotypes of Asian American females after criticizing various stereotypes.

With these questions in mind, the question of whether Awkwafina’s representation as the Asian American female rapper is productive or not arises. While it is not her responsibility to be the representation of the entire Asian American female rappers, it is helpful to be able to critically analyze what her representation contributes to this larger discourse of race and gender within hip hop.

References

  • Oliver Wang, “Rapping and Repping Asian: Race, Authenticity, and the Asian American MC,” in Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America, eds. Mimi Thi Nguyen and Thuy Linh Tu (Durham: Duke U.P., 2007).

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