On Our Radar: Kuttin Kandi

Jason Sperber shared this Colorlines article with us on our Facebook Page, and we’re glad that he did because it was a powerful article on Kuttin Kandi, a Hip-Hop activist and DJ. An influential figure in the Hip-Hop space, DJ Kuttin Kandi was “the first woman to reach the DMC USA Finals and a founding member of the all-female Anomolies crew, the Queens-bred Filipina turntablist has shared the stage with legends (Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa), big kids (MC Lyte, LL Cool J) and period contemporaries (Jay-Z, dead prez, Immortal Technique). In addition to beat juggling and competition-judging, she writes revealing poems, lectures regularly, does grassroots organizing and serves as a mentor and educator at the UC San Diego Women’s Center. She’s also spearheading a compilation album, The Womyn’s Hip-Hop Movement, co-writing a book about Filipino-Americans in hip-hop culture, and she proudly represents the 5th Platoon crew, Guerrilla Words and R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop (Representing Education, Activism & Community Through Hip Hop).”

At the moment, though, DJ Kuttin Kandi, also known by friends and family as Candice Custodio-Tan, is fighting a critical heart disease. She has been documenting her experience through this process on Facebook, and here’s an excerpt from the article.

In one of your “Notes of a Revolutionary Patient” entries, “Oppression is Trauma,” you describe how doctors have made your weight the central issue without asking your key questions about your mental health, past eating disorders or other relevant factors. How did you recognize that bias was a factor?

I realized I was receiving biased medical care the moment they didn’t ask me what work I have done and haven’t done to “be healthy.” The moment they told me, “You need to lose weight” without asking my personal health journey, I knew they were judging me. They didn’t look at me as though I was a person; they just looked at my pounds. If weight is the issue, okay fine—let’s discuss the weight [and] what got me here. But i think it’s more than just weight. For any patient, doctors need to know the details. I know that there’s a whole herstory about me. I’ve [suffered] a range of mostly invisible disabilities including depression, bulimia and binge-eating/compulsive disorder. In my 30s I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder, agoraphobia, diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, bipolar disorder and severe allergies that require two shots a week for three years. I also have an Auditory Processing Disorder, which I occasionally reframe as a different learning style. Doctors need to take their time explaining things to people; many people have different learning styles.

Talk about how systemic racism has shaped your own medical care.

Well, the simple fact that the health care industry is not [generally] educated in social justice, power, privilege and oppression* is* systemic racism. Any healthcare space treating people of different races, classes and genders need to be educated about systems of oppression. The better informed they are about the challenges that different people of multiple identities face, the better they are going to be able to understand the needs of that person.

For example, if a doctor knew what struggles a Pinay like me faces, [he or she] would know that Filipino adults are 70 percent more likely to be obese in comparison to the rest of the Asian population. They would also know that in the U.S., 15.93 percent of Asian-American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetime and that there is a rise of depression amongst Filipino Americans. … They would understand cultural norms and know that there is a thing called “hiya” in where we don’t bring shame to our families by seeking something like mental healthcare.

How does sexual violence factor in?

It is important to understand that the sexual violence of womyn of color in itself already shows the intersection of sexism and racism. In general, sexual violence has always been a way to dehumanize womyn, just as racism is used to disempower people of color overall. So the sexual violence against womyn of color is a combo of racism and sexism. These intersected isms, along with [negative] stereotypes increase the vulnerability of different womyn of color.

For young(er) women of color embarking on multilayered careers like yours—one that involves male-dominated competition, art, travel, teaching and speaking about often unpopular topics—are there any self-protective steps you can suggest?

It is important that when we give so much of ourselves to our careers, to our activism, to our communities that we are grounded. I’m surprised I have lasted this long, going the way I was going. I feel I’m already a pretty grounded person; I’ve been able to maintain my morals and values but yet I still fell sick.

What I have been learning as of recently, is to really be balanced. Sometimes, we think we’re okay, that we are invincible and that we can keep on going. But the truth is, we might not really be. We need to listen to our bodies, our minds, our souls and our hearts. I need to do a better job of listening to my whole me. … If we can be honest [with] ourselves, be open and vulnerable in knowing that it’s okay to make mistakes, to see our own imperfections and still love ourselves, we will then be stronger for the long run—for a real revolution.

Read the piece in its entirety here.

“The better informed [doctors] are about the challenges that different people of multiple identities face, the better they are going to be able to understand the needs of that person” really spoke to us. One of the main reasons why this site was founded was because there was that lack of context, and there was the lack of understanding that Asian Americans can and do have eating disorders. Being skinny is not in our genes like many people believe it is.

Our hope is that one day, Thick Dumpling Skin will be used as a resource for people in the medical profession to understand a side of complexity of eating disorders that might not have been considered before. 

Thank you Candice for your bravery and strength.

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