Reflections on the 4th

As we celebrate the 240th birthday of this nation today with barbecues, hours at the beach and fireworks, we also need to reflect on the many issues that we need to continue to work on. It may come as a surprise to some, but I do love this country. I might not cheer “USA, USA” during the Olympics and other international sporting events, particularly the World Cup – both men and women, but I do show my patriotism in other ways and will defend this nation, even when it has behaved badly to other nations. This is why I take the liberty to be critical of it, so it can always be better. Maybe it is the Asian in me – joke. While I would like to see a whole array of reforms and improves on various issues, these are the three that are most important to me, as they are to others. This is especially significant this year, as this is another presidential election year, as strange as this one is. I like to think of this as my birthday wishlist.

Health Care:

If you do not have your health, nothing else really matters. Our health care system is too convoluted and complicated with too many tiers of service and restrictions that make some people only eligible for this service and some people eligible for that service. As a result we have one of the most segregated systems that is not only separate and unequal, but inaccessible to many. It is also not a surprise that we pay more per capita than any other industrialized nation in the world, at least double for many other nations. There is too much paper work to justify a particular procedure. I understand that there is the potential for insurance fraud, especially when it involves public money, but when the cost of regulating these procedures wind up costing more than the actual procedures themselves, then we have a serious problem.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka ObamaCare, has done a great deal to increase accessibility of health coverage to more Americans, but it is now time to move beyond this policy, even though we still have a Congress that is hostile to ACA. This is also why Congressional races matter, too. Eventually, we do need to move towards a single payer system, which could start out as the “Public Option” measure that was often discussed when the Affordable Care Act was being drafted. By having a basic coverage for all, we are able to guarantee that people do not go seek medical help, when it is too late, which winds up driving up cost.

At the same time we need to do so much more to develop some of the best and brightest talent to become part of our future health care and human services work force. This involves tapping into a much more diverse population who is able to understand the complexities of the people of this nation in a way that others cannot. If we want to address health disparities, we need to not only remove barriers that prevent for healthier outcomes but engage communities so that they are part of the process. Piecemeal solutions that do very little to address the root cause of some of these health problems and do not eliminated barriers to better health are just a waste of time and money. All it does is create jobs for a few people.


Our current educations system is under attack in a similar way the health care system is. Rather than addressing real issues for why children are not learning, which also requires engaging parents, teachers and students, we have moved more towards a trend to privatize our public education system through the use of corporate charter schools and an over emphasis on standardized tests. Once again, rather than looking at investing in programs that may actually work, we continue to blame “bad teachers” for children not learning and the unions that enable these “bad teachers”.

While I am not against standardized exams as some parents may be, I do believe that we need to step back and look at what our priorities and philosophies are, when it comes to developing an education system. What do we want our children to acquire and achieve after 13 to 14 years of public education? How do w prepare them to be not only functional citizens who can hold down a job and manage their finances, but also civic-minded adults who understand that the greater good of contributing to society. They must be able to have the common knowledge and the critical thinking skills to make decisions for themselves, others whom they are responsible for, and the public when they go to the voting booth, which should be a civic duty, not an optional choice.

Rather than focusing too much on standardized exams, we need to provide learning experiences that relate to their every day lives, as well as opportunities that allow them to explore different career paths and how the subjects that they are learning are actually very relevant to preparing them for these careers and other aspects of every day life. At the same time curiosity should be encouraged, and students should be encouraged to question, not accept things for what they are but at the same time know how to do the research to answer these questions. An example would be trying to connect students with different careers in health care, as I had previously mentioned. These conversations should be starting early on in high school and junior high school, not when they are in college choosing their majors.

At the same time higher education needs to be much more affordable and accessible to those who have the potential to do well and excel. Once again, piecemeal solutions are not enough. Real reform, which may involved universities and other institutes redesigning themselves to adjust for a population that is changing faster than we realize, is required so that we do not prolong systems that no longer serve their purposes.

Law Enforcement and Its Relations with the Community:

The #BlackLiveMatter movement has brought the issue of police brutality to the national forefront, as the names of Ramarley Graham, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Akai Gurley and many others have continued to make headlines.  This is the civil right issue of our era. While those of us understand the difficulty of being a law enforcement officer, more needs to be done to bring justice to victims of police brutality and shootings, and more needs to be done to reform the system so that incidents such as these do not continue. As the mothers of Ramarley Graham and Eric Garner stated in a #BlackLivesMatter, “We do not want any more members in this club”.

Increased dialogue between the community and the law enforcement agencies are critical in moving this forward. This involves serious self-reflection from everyone, as well as substantial reform within enforcement agencies, moving more towards a community policing model that engages all members of the community, especially those most vulnerable to being targeted by law enforcement officers. Furthermore, we cannot deny the role of race in all of this. This has to be discussed by all, no matter how uncomfortable the subject might be.

It is true that victims of police brutality and shootings are not just limited to African-Americans, but we cannot deny the gross disproportion and disparity that affects African-Americans for this issue and other issues for that matter. It involves a painful discussion on race relations that all Americans must be able to confront and discuss, and this is why the #BlackLivesMatter movement has grown so strongly these past few years. People are angry and are not just settling for the status quo any more. As another speaker at this same #BlackLivesMatter demonstration mentioned, “Black Lives Matter; All Lives Matter, but black lives are being snuffed every day”.

As a daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, I used to wonder as an adolescent whether my parents should have moved to this nation. As an adult, I could not be more thankful that my parents did because I know I would not be who I am had they not. The knowledge I have acquired, the people I have met, and the experiences I have encountered could not be replicated anywhere else but here, especially in the City of New York. This may have been a nation founded by white, wealthy landowners, many of whom owned slaves, but that does not mean that it did not work for others.

While there are still many problems we as a nation face, I am still grateful to be born and raised here because I never would have had these same experiences and opportunities living in Taiwan, which does by the way have a health care system we could learn from, or any other part of Asia, and while people talk about all of the wonderful social programs in Canada and European nations, such as universal health care and at least one year of paid family leave, I still would not trade it for what I have here. However, that does not mean we can do much more to improve our nation, and this is what real patriotism is about, being able to self-criticize for the betterment of your society. It will probably take generations to tackle the issues that I have cited above, but that is also why we need to stay focused on what really needs to be done.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!


Can We Please Move on about the Oscars?

Last week the most hotly discussed topic in the world of the Asian-American blogosphere and social media was the outrage over how Asians continue to be the “butt of everyone’s jokes” during this year’s Oscars, which was even brought to attention by Charlotte Hornets Guard, Jeremy Lin, and Fresh of the Boat actress, Constance Wu. Asian bloggers and You Tube videos continued to express their outrage on the Web in reaction to what they had seen on the award show. The jokes of course were related to a skit by MC, Chris Rock, who presented three Asian kids, referring them to the accountants for the Oscars, and Sacha Barron Cohen’s joke about Minions, which can both be seen here. However, Chris Rock seems to bear more of the brunt.

I finally got a chance to view both skits on the Web, since I stopped watching the Oscars years before the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and I have to say, what is the big deal? As for the S.B. Cohen joke, that one is up for debate. I have close to zero respect for Cohen as an entertainer, who makes his living through mean-spirited humor often done at the expense of people’s good nature to be nice to his character personalities. If he was poking fun at the stereotype of Asian men, as opposed to actually making fun of Asian men, then I would be seriously surprised, given all of his past films and roles, but this piece will focus on Chris Rock.

Overall, I thought the joke was lame, unoriginal, cliché, and way below his talent. If you are still making jokes about Asians being good at math and Jewish people being good with money, you seriously need to come up with some new and original material. Those jokes need to be buried, along with Asians being bad drivers. I am not completely against ethnic jokes, even if they are told my someone not of that race and ethnicity, as long as it is not meant to be mean-spirited and hurtful, which comedy can be. It all has to do with the context in how it is presented. For example, Rock did a great job presenting this same subject in a skit he did back in 1993, when he was a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live.

In this skit Rock points out that positive stereotypes associated with other races are still much better than the negative stereotypes often associated with black people, as he states:

That’s not racist. I would trade being good with money and very smart for big-lipped, dancing, stealing, watermelon-eating person any day, all right. Very smart, I pray for the day they say that about black people. I would love to hear a guy go “alright, you’re cheating on a test, cheat off the black guy” Good with money, I would love to hear somebody go “oh those blacks are so good with cash”. I would love to hear a guy go “hey, got me a n*gg*r accountant, haha”.

Of course, he fails to mention stereotypes of black people that could be considered positive, such as being good in sports or being able to sing, but that could also be because he values intellect and being financially savvy over other attributes. He has an ongoing routine, where he criticizes certain elements of the black community for “Keeping it Real”, or “Keeping it Real Dumb”, as he calls it.

Furthermore, if you go back to the context of the joke from this original SNL skit, he is pretty much telling us to stop complaining about trivial issues like this, which is what he is also trying to point out in this skit with the three children and even in his opening monologue, which I will discuss later. He finishes the joke by telling the audience to “just tweet about it on your phone that was probably also made by these kids”, which brought on another wave of outrage.

As wrong as that may sound to many, making jokes about child labor, let us not deny that it does exist. That phone you own is probably made from child labor, as are the clothes you are wearing. Who are we fooling? When my students used to complain about how much homework they had and how much they had to study, I used to respond, “Well, at least you are not working in a sweatshop like many kids your age in other countries.” Maybe I got away with it more because I was Asian, especially when a large number of my students were also Asian, but this is a reality that we are dealing with in this world. It is funny that people are more outraged over the joke than the actual existence of child labor, but I guess it is easier to rant over a racist joke you saw on TV and express it on social media, or even spend time blogging about it, than to actually do something about the issue child labor itself.

In the opening monologue, he jokes about black people in the 60s not caring about whether any black actors/actresses were nominated for the Oscars because their “grandmother is hanging from a tree”. A lot of people within the black community were offended by the joke, due to its sensitive nature. They accused him of “conducting a minstrel show to get some cheap laughs from a predominantly white audience”. I, myself, found it funny, as did other members of the black community, and thought that he made a really good point. Comedy is about pushing boundaries and taking chances. Sometimes it works; other times it does not, such as that awkward moment with Stacy Dash. Yes, it is a shame that the Oscars continue to snub talented actors and actresses of color, but I am not going to waste all of my time on this, when there are more important concerns, and that is exactly how I feel about this joke with the three Asians kids. There are more important issues for Asians to be concerned about.

Is it wrong that Asians continue to be the butt of jokes? Yes, but I am not going to lose sleep over it, either. Maybe, if we focus on more important issues, more trivial issues like being the butt of jokes on an award show might decrease, too, as the mainstream media realize that we are a force to be reckoned with. I also remember laughing at Polish jokes, when I was a kid in elementary school. Ten years later I would laugh at blonde jokes in high school and college, which were sometimes recycled Polish jokes. I now realize how wrong that was, and now we live in a society, where either of these types of jokes are not considered acceptable. Hopefully, the same will occur with jokes about Asians, hopefully sooner than later, when society, as a whole, realizes that you just don’t go there. In the meantime, I have more important things to worry about.

Follow me on Twitter: @ichiou1


Empty R32 C-Train

Fixing the C Train

Transit equity is a social justice issue. The quality of service that residents in Midtown, Upper East Side or Grammercy receive should be equitable to what residents in other neighborhoods in the rest of the city receive. After all, public transportation is such a vital part of our lives. Sadly, we know that this is far from the truth. The quality of C train service has been an issue that affects many Upper Manhattan residents, as well as residents in Central Brooklyn, as riders continue to complain about its substandard service. Here is a piece that I had written with a fellow Uptown transit justice advocate as one way we can improve service for this often forgotten train line.

Fixing the C Train
Written By:
Flora Ichiou Huang and Louis Bailey,
Members of Transit Riders Action Committee (TRAC)

The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s most recent preliminary budget for 2016 revealed that its promised delivery of the new R179 cars that were supposed to arrive in 2017 will be delayed another five years. This means that C Train riders should not expect these new trains until 2022, causing us to continue to rely on the old R32 cars that C Train riders have been accustomed to for years, a train car that was considered “cutting edge” during the World’s Fair of 1964. These older cars are much more likely to break down. According to the Straphangers’ Campaign, the C train breaks down every 66,382 miles, compared to an average of 141,202 miles for all New York City Subway lines. However, this is really not our worst concern as C Train riders of upper Manhattan; our concern has always been how infrequently this train runs, on top of it breaking down often, too.


According to the Straphangers’ Campaign’s line rating, the C train ranks 16th out of 19th out of all train lines, making it worth $1.50 per ride, compared to the $2.75 base fare we pay. While riders are more likely to get a seat, probably because people are avoiding the line if they can, and it is much cleaner than other lines, the wait time in between trains is around 10 minutes during rush hour. Compare this with the 1 train, which is scheduled to run three to four minutes in between trains during rush hour. The C Train runs 2% above average in terms of being on schedule, compared to other trains, because it is already scheduled to run less frequently than other trains. For many Uptown commuters it is faster to take the Uptown 1 to 168th Street to catch the A downtown, instead of taking the downtown C to 145th or 125th to catch the A or D downtown trains.

An MTA employee once explained to us that because the C runs in conjunction with the B, E, and A (downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn) trains, there is not as much of a need for as many C trains. That is great for people who live from 135th to Hoyt-Schermerhorn, but what about the rest of us? Is it a coincidence that these are all low-income, black and brown communities affected by this?

Some Uptown residents, but not all, have the 1 train to rely on as an alternative, which gets very crowded, if it does not run more frequently than three to four minutes per train. Could it be that people take the 1 train to avoid the C? This is similar to the way some people who live near St. Nicholas and 181st Street still take the A to avoid dealing with those elevators in that station, another transit issue we have worked on for years. Unfortunately, the people of Central Brooklyn, mainly Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant, do not have that option. The 2,5 trains is quite a distance, if you live near Fulton Street. The same goes for those who live near the 163rd Street station.

What is our solution as members of Transit Riders Action Committee (TRAC), a transit advocacy group of Northern Manhattan? Just as the 4, 5 and 6 lines have express and local trains often noted by diamonds and circles, respectively, when they are in the Bronx, we are proposing that the same could be done for the A trains. The A line currently separates into three tracks when it reaches 80th Street in Queens: Ozone Park, Far Rockaway, and Rockaway Park. One of these three trains could be made into a local train for stops north of 145th in upper Manhattan and past Hoyt-Schermerhorn in Brooklyn. We are talking about an 11-stop difference for only one out of three A trains that run, which will probably have little inconvenience for most people while giving others a much needed relief by having another option other than the C train.

This solution may not solve the problem with the C Trains cars breaking down more frequently, but it may at least resolve the issue of those of us who rely on the C complaining about how infrequently it runs, when the C trains are actually working. This may also help relieve some crowding on the 1 train, which also seems to break down frequently, too, while helping the C Train shed its reputation as one of the worst trains in the New York City Transit system. Of course, this might mean that C train riders might not get a seat as often, if more people ride it, but that is a small price to pay, if it means more frequent service. After all, it is a local train.

*A few edits were made to this original blog post after the Straphangers Campaign updated their line ratings. Also, many of you may have realized that the MTA has not returned many of the old R32 train cars back to the C line, even though it is way past the summer months. The R32 train cars are usually take out of the C line during the summer months to prevent breakdown due to the hot weather. – October 25,2015

*Flora Ichiou Huang is an active member of WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT) and long-time resident of Washington Heights. She was one of the founding members of the Transit Riders Action Committee (TRAC), a project of WE ACT to fight for better public transportation in Northern Manhattan. As a TRAC member, she had the opportunity to attend the TRPT conference in October 2011, a meeting of transit equity advocates all throughout the nation, which was held at the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles. Prior to her involvement with TRAC, she has been a strong advocate for better public transportation, as well as other social justice issues in Northern Manhattan. She was also a member of Communities United for Transportation Equity (COMMUTE), a project of the Pratt Center to develop of coalition of organizations who have come together to advocate for investment of public transportation in low-income, inadequately served communities.

*Louis Bailey also started out as an active TRAC member who spent a great deal of his time helping to convert the M60 bus line into a Select Bus Service bus, an issue that the original founding members of TRAC decided was one of the most pressing issues for Northern Manhattan riders, the slowness of the crosstown busses along 125th Street. He is currently a staff member of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, where he continues to advocate for transit equity and other environmental justice issues that affect the community. As someone who was born and raised in Harlem, these issues are important to him.

The Palestinian Hip Hop Scene

Hip hop is not dead; it lives in Palestine, reads a popular t-shirt

Early last year I came across an article from Al-Monitor, a Middle Eastern publication, focused on the best of Palestinian hip hop in 2013 and what was to come for Palestinian hip hop in 2014. This same article is also available on the The Palestine Center’s Website, which is how I found it. This article was actually what inspired me to write my curriculum, Hip Hop as a Vehicle for Social Change.

I had heard a great deal about the rise of hip hop music in the Middle East, as well as in the Middle Eastern and South Asian communities of Europe. As a Gen X-er who grew up on hip hop music from its roots, I am one of those who complain that the hip hop music we hear today is no longer socially and politically conscious with the exception of maybe a few artists. We lament about how there are no longer artists and groups, such as Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, and Paris, and that hip hop music in the U.S. has taken a downturn ever since it has become commercialized. As a teenager, I looked up to rappers such as MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and Hurricane G, and I groan, when I see some of the female rappers now, although I have recently gotten into Awkafina. The hip hop music we listened to made us think and question the system and the status quo. However, I had heard a great deal about this kind of hip hop thriving in the Arab, Turkish, South Asian, and African communities of Europe and even the Middle East itself. This article from Al Monitor brought it all to life.

It makes a lot of sense that hip hop music is thriving in many of these communities in Europe. I never bought into the idea of Europe being this socialist utopia that many American liberals paint it as. The reality is that there are many communities within Europe, where immigrants continue to feel disconnected, marginalized and disenfranchised, and those are the conditions that allow hip hop music to thrive in many communities. The same conditions felt by the people of the South Bronx during the 1970s, which is when hip hop emerged, are not that much different than the conditions felt by the people in the Moroccan and Algerian communities of Paris, the Turkish Communities of Berlin or the Palestinian communities of London, who have also been able to use this art form as their voice. I became introduced to rappers like Abdallah in France, highlighted in my previous piece, and Lowkey in the United Kingdom. Hip hop has gained so much traction in these communities that many intelligence agencies are now spying on them, suspicious that they might be involved in radical Islam that may lead to terrorism.

It is not a surprise that the Middle East would be another region, where hip hop music has thrived, particularly the occupied Palestinian territories. Rappers like Tamer Nafar, otherwise known as the godfather of Palestinian hip hop, who hails from the rap group, Dam, continue to educate the public about the state of things in Palestine, with songs such as Bab-Al-Shams, where he talks about a village where residents were forced out by the Israeli government, and the former residents are now trying to reclaim the village, as they hold a wedding at that site. Even some of Nafar’s more lighthearted songs like “Super Lancer” with fellow rapper Murad Abdo Ahmad, a homage to Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow”, are filled with social and political commentary: “You spent eight years to be a doctor; one wrong look, and you will see a thousand doctors in a second”… “I am your own product, so don’t throw it on me”.

Tamer Nafar has also begun rapping in English. Here is a somewhat comical and satirical song, where he pokes fun at Scarlett Johansson for her continued decision to endorse Soda Stream, despite pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement. Nafar is now mentoring a new generation of hip hop artists, but as he states, “We are not doing this to make them musicians but to give them their childhood back.”

Another rising star in the Palestinian hip hop scene is 17 year-old rapper, Hoss Basha, who hails from the city of Nazareth. In addition to recording songs, the young and talented artist also goes to school and works at his brother’s car wash business after his classes. In his album “Made in Safafri” he gives listeners an understanding of how tough life is in his neighborhood in Nazareth, reminiscent of much of the hip hop music that used to exist in the 1990s. (Yes, the city of Nazareth is one of the most impoverished, drug-infested and crime ridden cities in Israel.) However, Hoss Basha has made it known that he plans to rise above it all. “I see that my community is in deep, and I don’t want to be connected to that. I want to change that,” says the young, aspiring artist. Hoss Basha, like many aspiring young Palestinian rappers, have been mentored by 29 year-old producer, Anan Ksym.

This is the power of hip hop music. It has the ability to connect to young people who feel the disconnected, disenfranchised and marginalized, particularly young men who have felt that they have been cast away by society. Just as hip hop had resonated in the inner-city communities in the United States, a new generation of hip hop artists throughout the world have also adopted this art form who also feel the same struggle. It is not a surprise that as residents in Ferguson were protesting the police shooting death of Michael Brown last summer, Palestinians in Gaza, dealing with their own Israeli air strikes, were tweeting to the people of Ferguson about how to avoid and deal with the harmful effects of the tear gas being sprayed on them by riot police while also showing their solidarity, another piece that I had written about. Months later a delegate of community activists and artists from the Ferguson protests went to visit the occupied Palestinian territories of Israel, where, once again, they were connected through hip hop music. Music and art have the power to connect, transform, and affect change, and this is a perfect example.

Follow Me on Twitter: @ichiou1

*This piece is part of a curriculum that I had developed called “Hip Hop as a Vehicle for Social Change”. If you are interested in learning more about this curriculum, you can view it here. I have just been invited to present this curriculum at an international education conference, where I have the opportunity to discuss how I developed this curriculum and how it can be implemented in the classroom to some of the brightest and most dedicated educators from all over the world, including many educators from the Middle East. This conference is being organized by an NGO that I have been a member of for almost 15 years. I managed to crowd fund enough to cover room, board and registration fee and have now started a new crowd funding campaign to finance the airfare. If you are interested in supporting innovative curriculum that challenges the mind and connects with the most difficult to reach students, feel free to make a contribution, so I can reach out to more educators at this conference.

The Palestinian-Ferguson Connection

In the summer of 2014 two of the largest news stories were the protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer and the Israeli Air Strikes in Gaza. Because of the digital age these two communities found themselves connected in a way that no one would ever think of. Young people in the occupied Palestinian territories, who heard about what was going on in Ferguson, began tweeting to the protesters in Ferguson about how to avoid tear gas. Some advice included washing it off with milk or cola and running against the wind to keep calm and making sure not to rub on one’s eyes. Another Palestinian tweeted to not keep a distance from the police because it is much more difficult for the police to spray tear gas on them.

These two communities were thousands of miles apart but had shared experiences, and because of the power of social media, they were able to connect with each other. As one Palestinian tweeted: The oppressed stand with the Oppressed. #Palestine stands with #Ferguson.

Another Palestinian Tweeted: Dear #Ferguson The Tear Gas used against you was probably tested on us first by Israel. No worries, Stay Strong. Love #Palestine. Another Palestinian tweeted that the tear gas used against the people of Ferguson was made in the U.S., used against Palestinians by Israel, and now used against their own people: Made in USA teargas canister was shot at us a few days ago in #Palestine by Israel, now they are used in #Ferguson.

Many Americans involved in the #Black Lives Matter movement, particularly the people of Ferguson, Mo. finding out about this, responded with appreciation and support. The fact that people in Gaza were showing solidarity helped them realize even more that they were both dealing with similar struggles. This bond between Palestinians protesting the Israeli occupation and the residents of Ferguson protesting the treatment by police grew further.

In December 2014/January 2015 black journalists, community organizers, and artists involved in much of the civil action in Ferguson went on a 10-day tour to visit the Occupied Palestinian territories and Israel so that leaders within the social movement in Ferguson could experience the effects of the Israeli occupation. Similarly, many of the Palestinians who had met with these community activists from Ferguson cited being influenced and inspired by the American Civil Rights movement. “As a Palestinian who has learned a great deal about struggle, movement, militancy and liberation from African Americans in the US, I dreamt of the day where I could bring that power back to my people in Palestine. This trip is a part of that process.”, said Abuznaid, legal and policy director of Dream Defenders, who organized this trip.

Members of the delegate even engaged in a demonstration of solidarity in Nazareth in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was started by Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) 10 years ago. A video of this Solidarity Demonstration can be seen on Vimeo. Demonstrators chanted the famous line heard throughout police brutality protests here in the U.S., #Black Lives Matter, as they also cried out their support for the people of Palestine.

Another unifying force between these two groups was hip hop music, proving that music and art are truly one of the universal languages of the world. One of the members of the American delegation was St. Louis-based rapper, Tef Poe, who stated that his experience to be able to connect with Palestinians in the occupied territories through hip hop music was the best day of his life. “A refugee camp with a bunch of people fighting for their lives and using hip hop to lift their spirits and spark the minds of the children and break down gender barriers between young girls and boys,” Tef posted to Facebook. “I spent a day with these ppl .. Most amazing day of my life. Thanks be to the Most the struggle is beautiful.” Palestinian hip hop artists such as the group DAM, the group that Tamer Nafar is part of, also tweeted their support to the protestors in Ferguson back in August 2014, so the support was certainly reciprocal.

This is not surprising, as the art form of hip hop was first created in the South Bronx during the 1970s amidst struggle, so it makes so much sense that another group of people who could identify with similar types of struggle would also be drawn to this same art form and adopt it as theirs, too. Music and art have the ability to unite people who are in the struggle, while also being  able to collectively affect change.

Follow me on Twitter: @ichiou1

*This piece is part of a curriculum that I had developed called “Hip Hop as a Vehicle for Social Change”. If you are interested in learning more about this curriculum, you can view it here. I have just been invited to present this curriculum at an international education conference, where I have the opportunity to discuss how I developed this curriculum and how it can be implemented in the classroom to some of the brightest and most dedicated educators from all over the world, including many educators from the Middle East. This conference is being organized by an NGO that I have been a member of for almost 15 years. I have managed to crowd fund enough to cover room, board, and registration fee and have now started a new crowd funding campaign to finance the airfare. If you are interested in supporting innovative curriculum that challenges the mind and connects with some of the most difficult to reach students, feel free to make a contribution, so I am able to reach out to other educators at this conference.

The Rapper who Dared to Challenge the Status Quo: #jenepasuischarlie

On January 7, 2015 France faced one of the bloodiest attacks in modern history, in which gun men went into the controversial magazine publication Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people, including two police officers who responded to the shooting. The magazine was often criticized for its controversial covers and cartoons that many deemed to be offensive, particularly to Islam. News of this tragic story spread throughout the country and the world, outraged by this senseless act of violence.

Charlie Hebdo became the new symbol for freedom of speech, sparking the Twitter Hash tag campaign, #jesuischarlie. A free speech rally even took place the weekend after, where many international leaders attended, except President Obama, who was criticized for not doing so. However, not everyone was getting swept up by this new Twitter wave and support for free speech at every cost.

While many condemned the heinous crime, they also did not want to put the controversial magazine on a pedestal either. Here is a piece about the subject by Max Fisher. Political cartoonist, Gary Trudeau, also gave his thoughts recently during his acceptance speech for the George Polk Career Award. Much of Charlie Hebdo’s content was seen as more crude and vulgar than satirical. At that same time an Arab-French rapper named Abdallah took it one step further. Prior to this incident, he was known for rapping in a Santa Claus suit in a mall.

Abdallah decided to take one of Charlie Hebdo’s very offensive magazine covers and turn the tables around to give supporters of Charlie Hebdo a taste of their own medicine. During the deadly massacre in Egypt, where over 1,000 supporters of ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, were shot point blank by the Egyptian military in 2013, Charlie Hebdo released an issue of their magazine with a cover that read, « Le Coran c’est de la merde ça n’arrête pas les balles », which translates as: The Koran is sh*t. It cannot stop bullets. Abdallah posted a picture of that same cover on his Facebook page, but included in his post, « Charlie Hebdo c’est de la merde, ça n’arrête pas les balles«, which translates as: Charlie Hebdo is sh*t. It cannot stop bullets.

Immediately, Aballah was attacked for his tasteless humor after a tragedy such as this. Exposing the French public and the media for their own hypocrisy, Abdallah gave his own response in a very long Facebook post, as he continued to get berated by the French public for his actions. He admitted that his joke was crude and tasteless, but that was exactly his point. When the original cover about the massacre in Egypt came out, those who were offended were told to “just get over it”, and if they are offended, then they can fight “words with words”. Well, that is exactly what the young rapper did. Abdallah challenged the French public and media to understand that freedom of speech is a right, but there is also responsibility that comes with it, too. A copy of his response can be found here, which was included in an article from a French Hip Hop Web site.

A translated version of this article is included below:

Abdallah towels criticism! Abdallah is a rapper who has “buzz” for Christmas rapping dressed as Santa Claus in a shopping center. But he also made ​​a “bad buzz” after the attacks in Charlie Hebdo disseminating a caricature of Charlie Hebdo on which one can see an imam with a Koran in their hands that says “The Koran is shit. It cannot stop bullets “ Abdallah accompanied his post on Facebook with the issue photograph of a magazine cover and wrote “Charlie Hebdo is sh*t, it cannot not stop the bullets “.

Abdallah was keen to explain to his post! – Abdallah justified his actions in a very long Facebook post: 


So there … I really can’t comprehend anything more. Why do you put in all your statements? Why so much hate? What? This is my last publication of this effect that makes you outraged? Okay. Let us put things in order.

Yesterday I published one of the famous covers of Charlie Hebdo who made so much controversy, taking their slogan in order to modify two miserable words. Even formulation. Even humor. This is called satire, ladies and gentlemen, and that’s exactly what Charlie Hebdo practiced. I am even sure that the unfortunate victims are laughing, reading my publication where they are. So, why do I not have the right to make EXACTLY the same joke they? What? Anyone have the monopoly of humor? Oh, I forgot! I hear you answer me: “Because it is a drama and do not laugh with death!”. Oh … We do not laugh with death? But the cartoon in question, Charlie Hebdo was talking about the massacre of 1150 (1150) people in Egypt! What? All human lives, do they not have the same value? So explain to me why I cannot do the same damn f*cking joke? Why are you shocked? 

Wait … I think I know … Maybe it’s nothing logical, nothing consistent. It is purely emotional. In fact, as I understand it, it does not happen in the brain … but at heart level. My joke hurt you. I see where you’re coming from … This is exactly where I wanted to take you …

Actually, I agree with you. My joke was horrible. Indecent and offensive. Besides, can we really say that it was a joke? It was rather a bunch of vomit and hate. And I take this opportunity to apologize because it made ​​me, myself, deeply hurt that I published it yesterday. But it was for a good cause … Because you see, I think there are 3 types of humor:  There are those who laugh at everything. There are those who laugh at anything. And then there are those who laugh at all but with RESPECT. I belong to the third category of people. You see, my friends, there is a fine line between freedom of expression and freedom to insult or humiliate someone. A line that I was clearly out last night. Now I have to tell you something … 

You see this feeling of stabbing in the heart that you felt yesterday by reading my publication? Your fellow Muslims felt EXACTLY the same thing by taking the subway every day and seeing plastered everywhere: “The Koran is sh*t! “. They felt humiliated. They may not have said it out of modesty, but we need you to know: For a Muslim, his prophets are dearer to his heart, more than his father or his mother! We cannot agree with that! We can debate! We can laugh! But in mutual respect. So let me ask you a question: Where is the respect when drawing a prophet on all fours on a bed? Would you have agreed with your mother? Finally, I do not know, it might be funny … The humor is relative. Dignity is not.

Believe me, freedom of expression as ABSOLUTE is an illusion. It is a lie that you were sold. Look, even your best friend, you can treat as “motherfucker” and “nozzle”, but you never allow yourself to say “your mother is a bitch.” Why? Because there are limits. Which ones? Those of decency. And even if you have no relationship with his mother, would you do this to hurt him? It’s instinctive. It is a primitive reflex in humans. This is called “Shame”. Amount to be stripped back to the animal stage. Just like those who kill innocent people. Know this, we can go very far in humor, but the carry is something natural. It is the absolute freedom of expression that is not.

Finally, I’ll tell you a little story. As you all know, I do not hide it, I’m a big fan of Dieudonné. When I went to see his famous show “The Wall” at a time we see him urinating against the Wailing Wall. You know, at this point, I subconsciously looked down. I did not find it funny. I found it indecent. I think on this one, it had exceeded the fine line I was talking about …  Say no to terrorism. Laugh together. Laugh even over each other. But do it with respect for each other. For it is in compliance with our differences. That is the key to living together.

Feel free to tag all the people who have taken my evil publication yesterday and explain my approach. Thank you for sharing this most massive message and making it possible because I believe that much of the Muslim voice was not heard on January 7, 2015. Muslims are doubly victims. Charlie Hebdo. And their assassins …



Follow me on Twitter: @ichiou1

For more interesting information like this, about the role of hip hop in politics and the course of modern history, check out a curriculum that I had developed last year called Hip Hop as a Vehicle for Social Change. I have been approved to present this curriculum to a group of educators from all over the world at an international education conference. This professional development workshop will allow me to expand my outreach to a more global audience, but in a more personal setting. This conference is being organized by an NGO I have been a member of for almost 15 years. I have crowd funded enough to cover room, board and registration fee and have started a new crowd funding campaign to cover the arifare. If you are interested in supporting innovative curriculum that challenges the mind and connects to the most difficult to reach students, feel free to make a contribution, so I can reach out to more educators at this conference. You can do so here.

The Role of Hip Hop in the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election

In the summer of 1992 President George H. W. Bush and Vice-President Dan Quayle condemned a controversial song by Ice-T, called “Cop Killer”, which was also condemned by many police organizations, since they believed the song advocated the shooting of police officers. Both the President and Vice-President made these remarks during the aftermath of one of the largest riots in Los Angeles that spread to other parts of the country. While the president was trying to play to his base, young voters, especially those from communities who viewed police brutality as part of their reality, were put off by them.  These comments continued to reinforce the idea that President Bush was out of touch with everyday people, particularly low-income communities of color. The famous scene of President Bush not knowing what a supermarket scanner was did not help either.

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was able to resonate with younger voters, particularly young, urban voters, as he demonstrated his saxophone-playing skills on the Arsenio Hall Show. Many political strategists view this as a perfect example of how to play to one’s voting base, changing the format and strategies of presidential campaigns.  Clinton was seen as the hipper candidate who could appeal to young voters, while Bush was seen as old, out of touch, and stodgy.

Clinton, however, had his own discourse with hip hop artist, Sister Souljah, where he also condemned remarks that she had made in a song and compared it to similar remarks made by white supremacists; Sister Souljah was part of the controversial political rap group, Public Enemy. Many criticized Bill Clinton for trying to score political points; some political strategists have even coined the term, Sister Souljah Moment, because of this incident. Sister Souljah also fired back.

Who would have thought that hip hop music would have had that kind of influence on the presidential election, but it certainly did. While those within the progressive left argued that there really is not much difference between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush as presidents, arguing that he had moved the Democratic Party so far to the center that Democrats did not know what their party stood for anymore, one cannot deny how the course of the election might have turned out, had there not been artists like Ice-T and songs like Cop Killer. Music and other forms of art are able to read the pulse of a society. Artists are able to channel the feelings and emotions of people, no matter how controversial, and these works of art are able to transform societies. This is something to think about, as we might face another Bush-Clinton Presidential race in 2016.

Follow Me on Twitter: @ichiou1

*For more interesting information like this ,about the role of hip hop in politics and the course of modern history, check out a curriculum that I had developed last year called Hip Hop as a Vehicle for Social Change. I have been approved to present this curriculum to a group of educators from all over the world at an international education conference. This professional development workshop will allow me to expand my outreach to a more global audience, but in a more personal setting. This conference is being organized by an NGO I have been a member of for almost 15 years. I have managed to crowd fund enough to cover room, board and registration fees and have just launched a new crowd funding campaign to cover the airfare. If you support innovative curriculum that challenges the mind and connects with the most difficult to reach students, feel free to make a contribution here, so I can reach out to more educators at this conference.

Hip Hop: The Soundtrack for the Marginalized and the Voiceless

Recently, I have been approved by a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), which I have been a member of for almost 15 years, to present at their annual conference. I have been asked to present my Hip Hop as a Vehicle for Social Change curriculum that I had created last year as a professional development workshop, and I am absolutely excited about it. Unfortunately, I now have to figure out a way to finance this trip, which is why I set up this Crowd Funding Campaign on Indie Go Go.

If you believe in innovative curriculum that reaches out to some of the most difficult to reach students that also challenges them to think and make a difference in the world, this is the kind of curriculum that you can get behind, and now I have the opportunity to present it to some of the brightest and most dedicated educators from all over the world, which fits well with my curriculum that illustrates how hip hop started out as an art form on the streets of the South Bronx and spread to become a global movement, particularly in the Middle East and the Middle Eastern and South Asian communities in Europe. Brazil is another hub of hip hop, which is where the conference is taking place.

If you are a hip hop fan and miss all of the political rappers, such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, this is the curriculum for you. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to combine my commitment to social justice and a childhood passion of mine. I looked up to hip hop artists who challenged the consciousness of society; it is so nice to see a new generation of artists doing the same, and it is found all over the world. Please support my campaign.

“This project curriculum is an effective way to reach out to youth who feel marginalized and teach them how to use their voice to create change by awakening the societal consciousness,” said Renee Noelle Day, a high school teacher at the Riverside Unified School District in Southern California. Ms. Day is also a member of IEARN and is always interested in finding new and interesting curriculum that she can use to better reach out to her students. She was very impressed, when she saw this curriculum.
The crowd funding campaign for the link above had expired in May. Thanks to people’s generous contributions, I was able to crowd fund enough for room, board and registration fees to for this conference. I have just launched a new crowd funding campaign to cover the airfare. If you are interested in contributing, feel free to click on this link:

Peter Liang: Why some Asian-Americans are supporting the wrong person

Recently, I had found out about a petition that was being circulated to ask the White House to ask Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney (DA) Kenneth Thompson to withdraw the indictment of Officer Peter Liang for the death of Akai Gurley. Immediately, I buried my face in my hands and was brought to dismay. According to the link where I discovered this petition, it was created by a Chinese-American woman in California, and the petition basically says that because Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo were acquitted or not even indicted for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively, neither should he.  After all, he was only a scapegoat for the previous two white officers who were not indicted. This woman who lives 3,000 miles away and knows nothing about the local climate here in New York has created a petition for a man she only shares her ethnicity with while possibly souring relations between the Asian and black community over here.

When I first heard about the death of Akai Gurley, I really wanted to give Officer Liang the benefit of the doubt, not only because he was an Asian-American, but because there were so many factors that were just not working in his favor. He was a rookie officer paired with another rookie officer, so neither was really able to give each other guidance. He was patrolling in the Louis H. Pink Houses, where the lights of the stairwell were not working, a common problem that exists in many New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings, so he had to take out his flashlight, while carrying his gun. Akai Gurley took the stairs because the elevator in the building was broken, another common problem in NYCHA buildings, causing him to be accidentally shot by Officer Liang, as Liang was startled by Gurley opening the door. Unlike Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a chokehold, and Darren Wilson, who was still in his patrol car, where he could have driven away, had he really feared for his life against Michael Brown, Officer Liang was in a dark stairwell, where he probably did feel a certain level of anxiety. According to the NYPD, he and his partner, Shaun Landau, were not supposed to be doing a vertical patrol, and his commanding officer told them not to, as well, so we can ask what they were doing in the building in the first place.

However, when I found out that he waited minutes before he and Officer Landau finally called to get medical assistance for Mr. Gurley, even I could no longer support him. As a police officer, he should also know basic First Aid, if I am not mistaken. Anyone who has taken a CPR and First Aid course knows that those first few minutes are crucial. The fact that he did not do more to save Mr. Gurley’s life is inexcusable. To put it another way it is like going to your child’s school, when your child gets in trouble and finding out that your child did not tell you the whole story. As a parent, you have two choices: accept that your child did wrong and let the school discipline your child accordingly or make excuses that someone else’s child got away with the same thing, even though it happened in another school, so your child should get away with it, too. This is exactly how the Asian-American community, specifically the Chinese-American community, needs to see this case. Accept responsibility that Officer Liang did wrong and needs to be held accountable.

As writer and activist Sahra Vang Nguyen had stated in her article, “Asian-Americans, A Popular Tool in Anti-Black Propaganda “, many of us within the Asian-American community cringed when we first found out that the officer who had shot Akai Gurley was Asian, fearing that the media would create a narrative that might drive a wedge between the black and Asian community. However, I did not see that early on, at least not to my knowledge. The sentiment among both police officers and the community is “blue first”, then your race. That is why, when former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly made it a point that one of the officers who had shot Sean Bell was black so it could not have been racial, people seeking justice for the Bell family collectively laughed. Furthermore, many residents in East New York were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, stating that it can be dangerous for an police officer.

Even after finding out what Liang had done wrong, I have not heard too much in the media about any kind of anti-Asian sentiment. Hopefully, most people understood that this was a police officer who just happened to be Asian. I have even heard many within the black community, including a New York Times journalist say on New York Times Close-Up on NY1, make statements along the lines of: It is a relief to finally see an officer get indicted but unfortunate that the first officer to get indicted was an officer of color. The most that I have heard was from a loved one of Mr. Gurley’s, who stated that had it been a black or Latino officer, he probably would not have been released. I do not know, if that is completely true.

I do understand how many in the Chinese-American community feel, as illustrated in this recent article in the New York Times. However, the woman and the people who have signed this petition clearly do not realize the consequences of their actions. They may not know about how 20,000 New Yorkers who came together on May 19, 1975 to protest the beating of Peter Yew by police officers, closing down the Chinatown community in the process. They may not understand how this issue affects so many within the black community and why it is so important to see the Gurley family get justice. For those who are circulating a petition, all they see is that two white officers were acquitted, and this Asian officer was not.

Many of them fail to understand that Kenneth Thompson was elected as the new Kings County DA because the people of Brooklyn wanted to see reform, and I was one of the people celebrating, when he defeated incumbent Charles Hynes in the Democratic Primary. Had Charles Hynes still been the DA, there is the chance that Peter Liang would not have been indicted, since Hynes was the kind of DA who just went with the status quo. Is it unfair that the outcome of a case can be determined by who is in office and what borough you live in? Yes, but that is why it is so important to be involved in local elections. You cannot complain, unless you are actually involved. That has always been my rule. The recent Eric Garner decision has inspired a local attorney in Staten Island to run for DA, which may be vacated by current DA, Dan Donovan, who is running for the Congress.

What bothers me even more about this petition is that this petition reached its goal of at least 100,000 petitions in less than a week, while another petition being circulated on Change.Org to seek justice for Qingyou Li only reached its half way mark of 5,000 signatures in a month and has not reached any traction after. This petition was created two months ago. Why are Asians not rallying behind this cause? Or, were these same Asians who signed this petition involved with fighting for the justice of Fong Lee, Cao Bich Tran, and Michael Cho, who were all killed by officers with no consequences? This is where Asians should focus our activism on, while also requesting that same solidarity from the black community in the same way that many Asians have given the same support for both Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Yes, many of us can claim that we did not know about these cases because there was minimal media coverage about these stories, but that is why it is so important to educate ourselves and understand the larger picture and the context of our actions. It is rather selfish for some within the Asian-American community, particularly within the Chinese-American community, say: Officer Peter Liang should not be charged because two white officers were acquitted. That is selfish and insensitive to the members of the Gurley family who are still mourning his loss and are now seeking justice.

Follow Me on Twitter: @ichiou1

Mayor Bill deBlasio and the PBA President: Pat Lynch’s Smear Campaign against the Mayor

Pat Lynch’s Smear Campaign against the Mayor

January 18, 2015

It has been almost a month since the shooting death of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, in which Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) president Patrick Lynch uttered those famous words, “Blood is on the hands of this mayor and the protestors.” Never mind that the crime was committed by a mentally deranged man, in which his own family members feared him and tried to get him help. Lynch immediately blames Mayor deBlasio for this murder, causing a rift between some of his members and the mayor.

The famous images of police officers turning their backs on the mayor continued to make headlines. First, it was during his visit to Woodhull Hospital, where Officers Ramos and Liu were taken to, and, then, it was during their funerals, even though both the Liu and Ramos families welcomed the mayor’s presence at their respective funerals. Then, the father of Officer Andrew Dossi, another NYPD officer shot on the job, made it known that his son did not want the mayor visiting him, while he was recovering at St. Barnabas Hospital. Thankfully, Office Dossi has been recently released from the hospital, where he can be back with his family.

Why so much animosity between the mayor and the New York Police Department (NYPD) officers? I think we can all agree that being a police officer is an extremely stressful and dangerous job, and nothing takes away from the hard work that they put in day in and day out, but at the same time they also have to acknowledge the discontent and outrage that is being felt by people all over the city and the nation, not to mention the fear still felt by many people of color. I, myself, wrote about my own personal fear about this issue.

The mayor was blasted by Lynch for saying the same statements that I have made recently. I fear for my son’s life, too, which is why I have to teach him to talk to the police differently than some of his other friends. This is one of the reasons why the mayor was elected into office. He understood that many communities were still concerned over Stop-and-Frisk policies, which is why many New Yorkers voted him into office, both during the Democratic primary and, then, the general election.

A recent Quinipiac poll, however, shows that the mayor is actually polling close to a 50% approval rating, while New Yorkers look at PBA President Pat Lynch much less favorably. The Reverend Al Sharpton, whom the NYPD officers associate the mayor with, did not poll as favorably as the mayor did, but he still polled much better than Pat Lynch. Lynch, of course, downplayed this by saying that he is not concerned with gaining popularity among the public; his job is to speak for his members. However, things are not looking well for Lynch within his own union, either.

In a recent meeting of PBA delegates, many of his rank-and-file members expressed their anger and discontent to Lynch that they do not want an apology from the mayor, which he continues to demand; they want better equipment to protect themselves. This is what I have been saying for weeks. If Pat Lynch was really concerned about his members, he would be working with the NYPD to get them better equipment to protect themselves. We live in the information age. There is no reason for information and intelligence to be transferred much more quickly between law enforcement agencies. The Baltimore Police Department had intelligence about Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s intent to shoot New York City police officers, but it got to the NYPD too late.

If Lynch really wanted to support his members, this is what he should be doing, not crying out that there is blood on the hands of the mayor and the protestors. That is irresponsible of him. It also does not help that his members are one of the few municipal unions still working without a contract.

It is easier to blame the mayor and certain members of the City Council for not supporting his members. Many of his members should be asking what he has done to secure them a better contract and guarantee that the NYPD is buying the best equipment that the NYPD can afford to ensure their safety. Lynch, himself, is up for re-election in June of this year. However, there is even more to this story.

The law enforcement unions have never worked closely with the other labor unions. They are not even members of the New York City Central Labor Council, a coalition of different trade unions found throughout the city. Unlike other unions, who have a tendency to work with the Democratic Party, the law enforcement unions are one of the few unions that have a close relationship with the Republican Party. As pointed out by Firestone, they also have the support of right-wing pundits on their side. Think of all of the editorials written by columnists in the New York Post and to a, lesser extent, the Daily News blasting the mayor while supporting Lynch and the PBA leadership. There are other reports of the PBA and other law enforcement unions having close ties with Tea Party Republicans, who are also linked to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

However, Lynch also has to realize that his membership continues to grow in diversity; people of color make up over half of his membership. While the black, Latino, and Asian officers may also be more conservative in their political views, compared to the rest of the city, they are still part of these same communities of color. Lynch’s battle with the mayor demonstrates an old guard within the PBA, when it was still made up of a predominantly white male membership. The officers who now make up the PBA come from the same communities where many members have expressed concerns about stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, and, eventually, he does have to address that. Many officers of color have admitted to being profiled themselves, when they were either off duty or in plain clothes.

There is now talk within the PBA about some members running a slate against Lynch and his allies. Another sign of things not going well for Lynch: last week only four percent of his members signed a petition stating that they did not want the mayor and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to attend their funeral, in the unfortunate event of that ever happening.

Lynch, however, will most likely continue to play the strategy of playing to his base and getting his members riled up against the mayor and the council speaker. We will see how well that strategy works in June.

*Addendum: Right after I had published this, I find an article in the The Daily News that stated that Pat Lynch actually backed down on his demand for that apology from Mayor deBlasio.

Follow me on Twitter: @ichiou1