A still from the music video, Margaret Cho and Awkwafina pose in yellow kimonos.

Awkwafina and Margaret Cho Team Up for “Green Tea”

NY rapper and television personality, Awkwafina, just released her newest music video, “Green Tea,” and it’s exactly as  good as you’d expect – or maybe better. The NSFW-but-totally-worth-the-risk video also features none other than comedy pioneer, Margaret Cho.

From the tongue-in-cheek title, “Green Tea,” and the song’s opening line “Flip a stereotype, how an Asian bitch got concubines?” to the welcome and unapologetic refrain repeated throughout, “Yellow bitches in the driver’s seat, yellow bitches in the driver’s seat, yellow bitches in the driver’s seat,” the attitude and drive of the lyrics, visuals and the women themselves is clear. In the midst of various scenes, Margaret Cho’s multiple satirical costume changes, and Awkwafina’s precise delivery, the refrain sticks out as a moment utterly free of satire.

This video is timely. It comes at a moment when the social and political status, and the cultural positioning of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community in the United States is being critically examined in a much more deliberate and mainstream way than it has in recent years. The beginning of May, which is also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, saw the spread of the #whitewashedOUT hashtag on Twitter, which commented on Hollywood’s pattern of using white actors and actresses to play Asian roles and Hollywood’s general erasure of Asian and Asian American characters.

Before this came the absolutely absurd scandal with the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry, in which Michael Derrick Hudson, a white poet, deliberately participated in what many have called “literary yellow face” – a scandal that many Asian writers eloquently responded to. And more recently, Calvin Trillin’s poem in the New Yorker, blatantly exoticizing Asian foods.

It’s all a kind of “white-washing,” isn’t it? The thing that connects each of these issues is the way white supremacy and whiteness in general assumes space that doesn’t belong to it, in narratives that aren’t its own.

In “Green Tea,” Awkwafina and Margaret Cho turn that on its head, re-purposing age-old Asian stereotypes in a dynamic music video with their own voices, their own faces, and their own whole selves in the driver’s seat the whole damn time.

Aside from my own qualms about her use of “ratchet” in the following quote, I think Awkwafina’s comments about her collaboration with Cho are particularly powerful:

I remember watching Margaret Cho with my grandmother on TV. She was my hero, not only because she was funny, but because she showed me that it’s okay to be yourself, that it’s okay to be a brash yellow girl, and to be a strong and brave woman. To collab with her is a dream come true, but larger than that, there has rarely been two Asian AMERICAN WOMEN being ratchet together, or just being in a music video. This song is a tongue and cheek take on traditional stereotypes, with a strong underlying message for all young women of color to embrace their quirkiness, their sexuality, their inner-child and their creativity with passion. I love Margaret, and I hope some young girl (but not too young) watches this video and it inspires them somehow. Stay angry!”

Here, we learn that Awkwafina’s choice to collaborate with Cho was a deliberate one. And really, that makes a lot of sense. Witnessing other women of color struggle to define themselves, often within rigidly defined contexts, is how we begin to imagine doing the same for ourselves. For women of color especially, whose narratives are often pre-written, mishandled or ignored entirely, the struggle to stay “in the driver’s seat” of our own stories is a constant one. Awkwafina’s “Green Tea” and Margaret Cho’s trailblazing career are both examples of women of color embodying – and winning – that fight.

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Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work is focused on historical and contemporary iterations of black, brown and indigenous resistance. She is also a Callaloo Fellow, and author of "When the Ghosts Come Ashore," published through Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press.

Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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