Race is a social construct. By the sheer nature of being enrolled in this course, I entered the course assuming that this is a concept that either is universally agreed upon by other members of the class or that once they learn about it they will agree upon it. However since race is constructed, why do we talk about it as though it’s a tangible thing. Race is not a thing to be held nor is it a thing that can burn in a fire, but the effects of it are very tangible. Even the definition of what is considered “real” is up for contention but let’s not get too meta. Although race has been constructed, in this reality the construct is so ingrained into our reality that stating that race is a social construct in a way that negates the reality of race can be problematic. But how does this connect to our conversations about K-Pop girl groups and our experiences playing string instruments? The basis of many of our classes were rooted in the question of “authenticity”. Is it considered “authentic” hip hop if an Asian American is performing it? How do we reconcile being pressured to perform a white art form like Western classical music? “Authenticity” is a concept that was “corporate White interests” since the commodification of the Orient and the consumerism of the Occident (Sharma 25). It centers whiteness at the core of who ultimately decides what’s “authentic”. That’s not to say that members of a culture do not have the agency to say what is their’s but that in the current American sphere of knowledge, whiteness decides what is “real”. “Authenticity” has been constructed in a manner in which the agency of racial and ethnic minorities is restricted through performance
In a prior class, Doug mentioned that it’s clear from some of the initial posts that there is a clear division between those in the class that listen to more “alternative” forms of music and those that listen to hip hop (if that isn’t Racial Triangulation in real life I don’t know what is). I inch closer to hip hop as the music I listen to more, mostly because it was my form of rebellion against the grain of alternative band music that all my white friends listened to. Hip hop is a genre at the center for the battle of authenticity, and one quote from a reading I will never forget is that hip hop is a “multiracial production of Black popular question” (Sharma 215). Somehow the answers to the cyclical conversations we had in class were right there in a reading, yet there is still a focus on identity over approach to the music. Sharma discusses how taking this approach can and will displace hegemonic ideas of what is considered “Blackness” along with perceptions of other minority groups. Although I agree with Sharma in the approach driven mentality, it’s a difficult mentality to have in a time when certain aspects of our identity are so salient in the exchanges we have on an everyday basis. Hip hop has always been a voice for those who are less heard, but I’m so curious to see the way mainstream hip hop may change over the next few years.
Another aspect of the larger “authenticity” conversation involves the use of identifying terms and what they mean on a larger scale. We often referred to Awkwafina and Dumbfoundead as “Asian American hip hop artists” whereas black hip hop artists are just hip hop artists. There has been a move for artists in all forms of art to be identified as just [insert title] rather than have their ethnicity or race attached. I struggled a lot with this because of the weight my Asian American identity has had in my life, both through external and internal pressures. One thing about this conversation specifically that I wish we had tackled more in the course was what the motivations behind this move may be. We questioned if certain music and certain artists should explicitly be called Asian American [insert title] but didn’t really tackle the motivation. I initially perceived the move to not have these identifying terms but towards the end of the course I realized that these identifiers were also used as qualifying terms, as though these artists don’t fit into the larger form because of that qualifier which then restricts their agency as an artist.
This course and Doug’s last Pop Culture course have been two of my difficult courses within Asian American Studies because much of the discussion involve ideas and topics that are so present that they may not have been addressed. Talking about music has been difficult for me because it’s something that I and others take for granted. I get excited when I hear that an artist is Asian American but I realized throughout this course that it isn’t just the artist and their identity that should be examined but the genre as a whole. As musicians that have the pressure to be “authentic” (often musicians of color), Asian American musicians do have the agency for a potential market that white musicians often don’t have. Depending on the experience of the musician, the connection to the homeland is also a possibility. Recently, Dumbfoundead released his new album ‘Foreigner’ but rather than promoting it in the United States, he went to Korea to promote and release the album. I can’t think of any white musician who did a similar thing in which they connected to the homeland of their diasporic group and although there are a plethora of privileges that white musicians have, the uniqueness of Asian American experiences as shown through music has been my greatest takeaway.