PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania—Angrily, she tells the audience to refrain from trying to guess her race, swearing at them to emphasize her upset.
“I was born in Seoul, which makes me Korean!” Dr. Michelle Meyers, part of the duo Yellow Rage, screams at the crowd gathered to hear the group’s poetry. “These slightly slanted eyes ain’t just for seein’…I see right through you!”
Her audience of mostly African Americans applauds and cheers.
Dr. Myers and her fellow Yellow Rage member, Ms. Catzie Vilayphonh from Laos, are Philadelphia based spoken word artists, using their art to challenge common misconceptions about the Asian American community.
Usually aggressive, their lyrics and performances convey a pain that is often not seen by people outside the Asian American community, giving the mainstream world a peak at some of the community’s prevailing issues.
Such issues include sexual stereotypes placed on Asian women, a lack of mainstream recognition of the various Asian cultures and subgroups, as well as misuse and mispronunciation of Asian languages often due to lacking effort and attention to detail on behalf of the non-native speaker.
“What do you know about napalm and Saigon?” Ms. Vilayphonh asks her audience, adding that knowing a few words or sentences in a native Asian tongue does not make the non-native language speaker able to comprehend an Asian reality.
She tells the audience that she is not their personal translator and not to ask her what she is saying in her native language when they hear her speak it.
If she wanted them to understand what she was saying, she would have said it in English.
Misunderstood, though speaking the same language
Mr. Tyler Perry is an African American actor, director, playwright, entrepreneur, screenwriter, producer, author, and songwriter. In 2011, he was named the highest paid man in entertainment, though has been criticized for such gain being at the expense of the African American community
His films consist of African American cast members who represent a variety of people within the African American community. According to Mr. Perry’s critics, these characters perpetuate negative stereotypes about the community.
A central character in many of Mr. Perry’s films is Madea, an elderly African American woman characterized by critics as “ignorant,” “sassy,” and “loud,” while Mr. Perry’s supporters view her as “humorous,” “real,” and “strong.”
Critics of Mr. Perry feel that he has destroyed the image of the matriarch in African American families. They feel that African American mothers and grandmothers who have endured negative stereotypes and painful, even violent, racism deserve more than to be represented by a character that mainstream society once again laughs at and further stereotypes.
They argue that African Americans have been fed the same lies about themselves for centuries because those lies sell. Thus, the African American community needs fresher stories.
Mr. Perry dismisses the criticisms as jealousy and hate on behalf of the critics.
“It’s attitudes like that, that make Hollywood think that these people [characters] do not exist,” he said in an October 2009 60 Minutes interview. “That is why there’s no material speaking to them, speaking to us [African Americans].”
Mr. Perry’s supporters say that he was raised by strong, African American women whom he reveals in characters like Madea. Characters like her represent the perseverance within the African American community.
Supporters feel as though Mr. Perry is meeting the African American community at its current point of need, accepting who community members are without shame and revealing their pride to a mainstream audience.
In urban cities like Boston with established ethnic minority enclaves, art reflective of the multicultural communities can be found.
For example, a mural outside of the metro station at the Fields Corner stop in the Dorchester neighborhood shows people of different colors and facial characteristics. Some are interacting in conversation and others are playing with a soccer ball.
Further down, the mural shows a building with signs reading, “Bank,” “Post Office,” and “Phơ.”
Under a bridge on Dorchester Ave., there is a mural with various flags including the U.S., Jamaican, Dominican Republic, and Vietnamese Heritage and Freedom flag.
Another mural on a building further down Dorchester Ave. shows the mostly smiling faces of people from various racial groups, youth to elderly.
Under their faces are subway cars with the message on them, “Our community is strong because we communicate.”