Saturday, August 8, 2009

Reclaiming the Ah Kua

Just a quick one in.

Watched Leona Lo's play/performance "The Ah Kua Show" on Thursday night at the Substation, and I realised she's doing something all of us should do - reclaim the words that had been used to insult and hurt us.

When someone calls you an "Ah Kua", it's meant to poke fun, tease and/or insult you. You become a victim when you get hurt by the term, your feelings incited, such that you either react angrily, or feel dejected, or even fight through the tears as you turn away from it, choosing not to engage.

Of course, the context of the term "Ah Kua Show" has its historical roots, and after undergoing considerable mainstreaming, the term has often tended towards neutrality.

Nevertheless, this person unearths the hatred/fear/abuse and engages it, reclaiming it in the process when she herself utters the word "Ah Kua".

This is very much similar to the misogynist Hokkien insult "Chee Bye" being hurled by a man to a woman, and the woman shouts back "Chee Bye" to the man. There is subversion and inversion of meaning as "Chee Bye" is being reclaimed by the previously oppressed.

Empowerment is sought in the least expected sources as the oppressed engages the items of oppression and reclaims it as his/her own.

The implication of this is that insults and words of hate and fear mongering will never be potent, and will cease to hurt and create hatred and fear, when the intended victims stand up, engage it and reclaim it. This leaves no room for marginalisation to develop, for hate and fear to grow. It also shows that the intended victim is no longer afraid.

This can be done on different levels. On the very first, the word is reclaimed and worn, very much like how sexual minorities are now okay with identifying as "queer".

On the second, the word is "returned" to the oppressor, who is only conditioned in attacking but not receiving the same attack. This is similar to the situation in which the woman shouts "Chee Bye" back at the man, for beneath the belittling misogyny, lies an insecurity with his masculine gender role and shaky self-perception of his superiority. Shouting back "Chee Bye" creates a reflection for the perpetrator, under which he might wither.

Of course, this doesn't work all the time in all contexts. Imagine if you're a fundamentalist christian, I doubt you'll call yourself a fundie.

Sometimes, we also make fools of ourselves as we uncritically claim (not reclaim) and adopt terms referring to us. For example, an insecure homophobic man saying "I am a straight man!". The word "straight" is a gay creation. The insecurity, self-professing and wearing the label is very much to a school bully wearing a "kick me" sign on his back.

So, when the "fucking Ah Kua", shouts "fuck you" or "you're a fucking Ah Kua too" back at his/her oppressor, the oppressor will be put into the defensive and probably can't think of any other means of rebutting, other than probably resorting to violence. This is because the oppressor is never prepared to be oppressed.

There are other forms of reclamation. Some do it passive-aggressively, oozing sarcasm and irony, for example, "Okay lor, I'm sexually challenged what... What do I know?" This is another strategy of engaging, more indirect but equally as disrupting as the oppressed readily wears the label and demonstrates how ineffective it is.

That's it from me today. How I wish we had 3-day weekends every week.


Agagooga said...

So does this mean I can call Blacks Niggers?

Sam Ho said...

no silly, it's black people using "nigger" themselves rather than non-blacks using it on them.

Agagooga said...

Yeah, I love double standards