Sunday, August 30, 2009

Can I appropriate some black culture!?

So I was thinking of a lesson that I could teach my English class here in Japan. No holidays- it’s been done. No presidents- they all know Obama (and excuse me for saying, but if I hear one more person say ‘We Can Do It!’ I may have to tear out my hair)- no money- believe me they know all about American money ( and if I hear ‘ I have no money!’ one more time, I may tear out their hair- who taught them that!?) Besides, the dollar is getting its butt whipped by the yen right now. So what’s left? I’m supposed to be a cultural ambassador- okay, let’s teach some culture. But then I look around- what can I teach about American culture, African- American culture even? If you look at t. v. black culture is about money, dancing hoes-grammatical mistake there folks- I meant dancing..and dancing hoes- two separate categories but definitely intertwined in most people’s minds when it comes to black culture. Where did I leave off? Oh, yeah- I forgot the gratuitous violence, sexuality and ignorance prevalent in every media that depicts black people. Oh, yeah, it’s everywhere- it’s a multimedia empire- only a piece of which is actually owned by black people. So shame on us for not “moving on up” and getting our piece of the market share and shame on us for buying into the market that so obviously does not define us. Or maybe it does- maybe it truly is “for us, by us” – otherwise why haven’t we put our Nike clad feet down and said enough of this @#*^! Can I tell a class that what they see on BET is not the whole of black culture when I don’t know what is? The appropriation of "blackness" is apparently where its at- it means "massaging" the image of blackness as cool, hip and urban- which somehow sells Mcdonalds cheeseburgers and Lexuses (Lexii?) like nobody's business. It means every person of "African descent" - apparently the new way to say "black as hell"- can walk tall, because you can dance, play sports - and girl, you know you can saang! But let's get real. Historically, being black has been a state of confusion- the effects of colonization and slavery causing a ripple effect that will be felt for generations to come. But ignorance is its own reward. While we could blame the nontraditional family, the economy, and prejudice ( and we do- don’t get me started on that boogie monster “The Man” – who is purposely keeping black folk down- personally, I suspect that “The Man” has a deeper tan than most people want to admit), the truth is that culture is the result of a united people- and we haven’t been that for a long time, if ever. What is needed is unification of purpose- a people without purpose are nomads- and surely blacks in America are strangers in a strange land. A black girl in Japan – is just a curiosity- because the people here are unified. They want to educate their children- internationalize them and empower them to take over the world. And it’s working. That's why I’m here. So, what will I teach my class? That America and African- Americans are about hard work, independence, education and achievement-despite what they see on t.v. And while I’m teaching them, I’ll try really hard to believe it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Can a sister get some hair ge!?

Okay, so for the first time while in Japan I started thinking about washing my hair. Now don't get me wrong! I had my hair done to a T before I left the states,but five weeks later it's about that time. So, I pull out my supply, brought all the way from home mind you, and realize- there's not enough. I need to do my hair-a total stranger in the tai chi class I found here (thank goodness) PULLed my hair the other day, touching it without asking!You would be proud to know that I didn't slap the white off her. Something I would never allow in the States, I endure here for the sake of international relations. But back to the story, I have no hair products! So I google some shops while at work- the perfect cover for internet piracy- and discover- nobody ships to Japan. If I didn't feel lonely before, I do now. Every black girl knows the panic that ensues when you can't do your do and in Japan, Sally's Beauty Supply does not exist. So I ask around- I have natural hair- I can make do with natural supplies. Is there aloe vera gel for twisting? Is there peppermint oil for my wash? And only when they look at me funny, which here means not straight in the eyes, do I fully despair. How can I be a Nubian queen if I can't style my locs, my crowning glory? Bad enough, people here have already started to ask me when I wash it or conversely have compared me (in pidgin English no less) to Bob Marley. No offense, but there was one and only one Bob Marley. I am me- and having locs is a central part of who I am or at least who I consider myself to be. How interesting that being in Japan is causing me to think more and more about what that really means. At first everytime I had to "represent" all Americans, all African- Americans, all female Americans I got a more than a little resentful. But then I got thoughtful and proactive. Here I am uberpolite, thoughtful and helpful- all things I was before. But not generally seen as the "American" stereotype. (Thanks to MTV for spreading L'il John to Japan before I got here!) I have always been polite, and helpful but here those things carry an extra weight. I am more than mindful that I represent America in everything that I do here- but more importantly, most importantly, I always represent myself. Locs or no, I carry my crowning glory inside my head. That being said- a sister still needs that aloe vera gel, ya heard?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Picture it....Nagasaki 2009

For those who don`t know that phrase, it`s a classic from the Golden Girls series. " Picture it...Sicicly 1945." Anyway, picture this- a black girl abroad in Japan. I celebrated Peace Day in Nagasaki prefecture where I am an English teacher at Kamigotou High School. I hadn't started teaching yet, but had been in the office for three weeks- just piddling around, trying to learn Japanese. But my co-workers started a conversation that for the first time really made me think about being American and alone, abroad. They asked me "Why did American feel they had the right to drop the bomb on Japan?" I was stunned. Why would they ask? Do they really want an answer? What can I say- I wasn't there. And then they sprang it on me- I was going to be introduced to the whole school on Sunday- during Peace day- which commemorates the "Forgotten Bomb"- the attack on Nagasaki. Picture me aggravated-first I had to write the speech-in English and Japanese- and then deliver it- right before they show a film with graphic pictures detailing the bombing. Let's welcome the American everyone! But then I got an epiphany- this is where being an international ambassador comes in . So I wrote the speech- I practiced the speech- and I gave the speech. And afterwards, every kid I saw said "Hello! Nice to meet you!" When I got to my first class and slid open the door- they hand slapped each other and went "Yes!" They were happy to have me here- they wanted to take my class. And suddenly, I felt like a teacher again and not an interloper. These island kids may never meet another American, or African American again- but they are happy to have me and I am happy to be here. Funny, how it took moving to another country for a black girl to feel appreciated. And ironic, that I was, at first, a typical American- feeling resentful of those who- I felt- didn't understand me- those who questioned me and my way of life. Of course I defended America in that conversation- I am American and I will not turn my back on my country. But the primary ideal of America is the right to question in a free democracy. I don't know that that is an ideal in Japan- but I answered truthfully - and they listened. In the end, we agreed to disagree. But again I have learned a valuable lesson- America is not always perceived as the hero of the world- but I don't have to worry about the world. Just me. Here I am D-sensei and they- students and all- are happy to learn from me.. and I from them.


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