Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stuff my students say

In year 7 Indonesian language class:

Female student: "Sir, you're Indonesian, right?"
Me: "Well, my Mum is from Indonesia."
Female student: "Because your English is really good. Like, really good. How did you get to speak English so well?"
Me: "Well, I was born in Australia... but thank you, your English is really good too."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Brown Eurovision

(Cross-posted at Brown Pundits)

The Eurovision Song Contest is where all the nations of Europe celebrate their national pride through a terrible pop song which is almost inevitably in English. It is a particularly bizarre ode to whackness that for some reason people get excited about every year. Not me. But I noted with interest how this year’s contest, held in Azerbaijan, was particularly brownish.

Sweden took the honours with a song by Loreen, a singer with a Moroccan Berber background. At the other end of the popularity scale was Norway’s entrant Tooji, a dude who was born in Iran. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that meant Loreen’s song was deemed awesome and Tooji’s was not.

France’s entrant was Anggun, a chanteuse originally from Indonesia. The UK helped Norway bring up the rear, veteran crooner Engelbert Humperdink – born in Madras – failing to inspire the masses. I would have picked Anggun, for reasons of hotness and Indonesian nationalism. I know that has nothing to do with music, but neither does Eurovision.

To be honest, Anggun's song is about as rubbish as every other rubbish song at Eurovision.

However I can overlook that. I've had something of a crush on Anggun since coming across this video. Any woman who can seem sexy while talking about eating offal has to score a 10/10 in my book.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A tip for putting on accents

In this funny clip, comedian Jimmy Carr demonstrates a common technique used for assuming an accent. He also makes the most of the opportunity to poke fun at Scousers (people from Liverpool).

As someone with a bit of a talent for accents myself, I have a few of my own phrases. They are useful because they encapsulate the things that make the accent distinctive. If you're not familiar with the accents I'm referring to here, this may be lost on you, but bear with me.

For example, for sounding like a Filipino, a phrase like "This burger has a nice flavour" is ideal, because it forces you to highlight the distinctive way Filipinos speak - heavy emphasis on the r sound, and f and v pronounced as p and b respectively.

For an Indonesian accent, the phrase I use is one that I heard while at a karaoke bar in Jakarta: "You are the sunshine of my life" (yes, it's the Stevie Wonder song). The r is rolled, the th becomes a d, "sunshine" becomes "sunsine", and "of" becomes either "off" or "op", according to your preference (a lot of Indonesians, like Filipinos, struggle with f and v).

For a Vietnamese accent, I like "This tastes very nice", which ends up sounding something like "This tay vey nai".

Know any other phrases that encapsulate a particular accent? Share them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Shut the gate once you get in (@ Peril Magazine)

Got another post up at Peril, the Asian-Australian arts and culture magazine. It's about how the being a migrant, or the descendant of migrants, doesn't necessarily give you much empathy for new migrants.

Today, manufacturing is in decline, and there are less jobs around that unskilled refugees can easily do. The Australian workforce is becoming increasingly white-collar, and increasingly reliant on technology. This is a disadvantage for someone who struggles with English or is a latecomer to the use of computers. So the Italians and Yugoslavs and Greeks who arrived 60 years ago didn’t necessarily face the same obstacles to success that new arrivals from Myanmar, Afghanistan or Sudan might face today. 

Check it here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On using the word "Negro"

So a friend of mine recently sparked an interesting discussion about the use of the word "Negro". To put it in context, some unidentified acquaintance of this friend was trying to describe a person of African extraction and referred to them using that word. My friend was wondering whether to correct the terminology used by this person, who was of an older generation. A number of other folks added their two cents to this discussion, and among the comments were several condemning this heinous racism and advising that my friend had a duty to correct it.

Me? I have a problem with that actually. In fact it's a pet peeve of mine.
Now I know some of you might find something fundamentally wrong with me, a non-black person, telling people what they should or shouldn't find offensive when it comes to words referring to black people. But f#ck it, here I go anyway.

 Not that I think the term should go uncorrected. But what I'm focusing on is when people are all too quick to conclude that racism is at play, when it may be little more than outdated terminology used by well-meaning individuals. 

Saying "Negro" does not make someone racist, although it could of course depend on the context. "Negro" is not the same as "nigger". Virtually everyone knows that "nigger" is racist and offensive; even if, following the recontextualizing of it by hip-hop culture, some non-black folks think it's appropriate to use in ways that it's not. "Negro" on the other hand, elicits a range of responses. Some people think it's straight-up racist to call someone that, whereas some of you reading this will undoubtedly be thinking right now, "Huh? 'Negro' is racist? Since when?"

"Negro" is certainly out of fashion, and politically incorrect. But it was once a relatively acceptable term, and a lot of old people use it to this day. It is a word with Latin roots - it still features in languages such Spanish and Italian, meaning simply "black" - and thus it was long used in scientific and anthropological contexts. I've heard my grandmother - formerly a biology teacher - refer to people as Negroes, and there's no hint of malice or prejudice there. It's like when old-timers sometimes refer to Asian people as "Orientals"; some Asian-Americans consider that a racist term, but again, to my mind it is merely old-fashioned. You could label a person who talks about Negroes and Orientals as being ignorant, but calling them racist is a step too far without further evidence.

The appropriate terminology changes with time, and it's not always easy to keep up. "African American", of course, is the proper term to use, but even as someone who takes an active interest in ethnic and racial matters, I honestly can't tell you whether or not that term should be hyphenated, or if it's still okay to use "Afro-American". Or whether it's okay to call someone "Black". Or whether "Black" needs that capital letter at all. (My spell checker is telling me that "Negro" requires a capital.)

Now, this post is not intended as a rant against "political correctness gone mad", even though that is something that bugs me. Rather, it's something that anyone who considers him or herself an anti-racist should bear in mind. The more you label people racist when they are not racist, you just contribute to making the label "racist" meaningless. When it feels like anything and everything is potentially racist, we shall reach a point where people just won't care any more.

This is not say that it's not important to get the terminology right, as it shows respect to whoever is being talked about. But fixation on this kind of hair-splitting starts to get unhealthy, and it's something that bugs me about certain sections of the Left-liberal intelligentsia. Why go out of one's way to see racism where it doesn't necessarily exist? And why go out of one's way to potentially make enemies (by branding people as racist), when they might otherwise be a potential ally?

So my advice to my friend was along these lines: It's okay to correct that person, but if you do it, do it in an understanding and tactful way. Presuming they are speaking out of racial animosity is going to make things go south very quickly. If I was unwittingly using words which some people found hurtful and inappropriate, personally I would want to know, so I could reflect on it and perhaps find different ways to express myself. But if it comes across like some holier-than-thou person calling me a racist... well that never goes down too well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

RIP Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch, aka MCA, of the Beastie Boys passed away this week after a 3-year battle with cancer. Yauch is known as the Beastie who played bass, was really into Tibetan Buddhism, and was the only one with a rapping voice that wasn't annoyingly nasal. I listened to a lot of Beastie Boys stuff back in the early 90s, and while they weren't always the greatest in pure rap terms, they were usually innovative and interesting. And in an age when hip-hop was getting way too serious, they were one of the few big names in the genre willing to get stoopid and keep it fun. There's a nice obituary of MCA here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stuff my students say

"So you know how they're always talking about 'Don't buy palm oil, save the orang-utans, blah blah blah... does that mean they actually cut off the orang-utans' hands to make the oil? That's so mean."
- A girl in Year 9 Geography. (I'm on teaching placement at the moment, which is why I've been away from this blog for a week.)