PS: You're being racist
I'm sure many of us have heard about Katy Perry's performance at the American Music Awards. Looks familiar?
I should have seen this coming. It seems like cultural appropriation is a new source of profit for white celebrities to capitalize on, and women of colour continue to be hypersexualized; their cultures becoming costumes for celebrities to put on and take off whenever they see fit.
To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to write about this, until I saw how few people truly understood the significance of this performance.
Let's take a look at how it was problematic at surface level. Here is Katy Perry donning another one of her famous, outrageous costumes, and this time, she has chosen to
parade misrepresent the Japanese culture. Her "kimino" appears to be a mashup of the Chinese cheongsam (the mandarin collar and the button is not part of the kimono), has revealing slits at the side and a gaping hole where her boobs pop out. I don't even get what kind of aesthetic she's going for. Is that Chinese opera- inspired makeup on some of the dancers? Is Chinese culture the same as Japanese culture?
Once again, a white celebrity perpetuates a harmful stereotype about people of colour. Chinese and Japanese apparently share the same culture. Women with Asian costumes tiptoe around Katy Perry, silent, as ornaments dancing behind the white woman. She's a woman from a privileged majority, putting on a costume to boost her popularity.
As Asian-American Crystal said:
enaek sent me a link to katy perry performing unconditionally at the AMAs with an "oh boy" and i was like, "what? what, is this going to be racist or something? what the fuck could katy perry possibly do with her performance of this staunchly banal song to — " and then the video loaded and for a second i thought i was watching a clip from the met's last staging of madame butterfly because to sing a song about undying unconditional eternal love katy perry s2g dressed up as a geisha and i was like "oh."
There is a long history of yellowface in media, specifically in film. Katy Perry's terrible costume, as bad as it is, doesn't even begin to touch the enormity of how terrible the fact that her backup dancers have makeup on that makes their eyes look squinty. This is yellowface in 2013.
I am in my 20s, and the shitbag boys who used to pull their eyes back and say "ching chong" still hurt me. This sort of shit is not funny or artistic to me; it just reminds me that I am still not an American to a lot of people and that someone who looks like me still cannot be a Katy Perry of the world.
It seems like many people still don't understand it.
Yes, it seems like many people still don't understand it.
No, it is not automatically racist to don an ethnic costume. It's great to celebrate other cultures, and play the guzheng when you're white, or don a kimono. But don't cut it up to sexualize the suit, and add a mandarin collar on it because CHINESE LOOK LIKE JAPANESE RIGHT HUR HUR HUR. If you appreciate Chinese and Japanese cultures, great! Wear our costumes, if you like (with our permission!!!) but don't cut it up to suit your American needs, and mix our cultures together to produce an offensive costume to make money.
I think it's safe to assume that Katy Perry isn't celebrating Japanese women, but objectifies them instead:
Katy: … we had exchange students come in and live with us at our house, and I was just like [gasps exaggeratedly with wide eyes] Your, like, everything is Hello Kitty and it's perfect and clean, and you eat with sticks!!! It was so incredible, watching them as a culture, and so now I've been obsessed with them ever since. [1:34]
Katy: [Opens her eyes very widely and puts on a creepy face and weird voice] I'm so obsessed with you I want to skin you and wear you like Versace!
As if this weren't gross enough, Kat has actually appeared in an SNL skit lampooning white people who are completely ignorant of and insulting toward Japanese people and their culture despite claiming to love it. In this skit, Katy plays the "Royal Empress of MSU Hello Kitty Appreciation club, Kirstie Davenport," who speaks with fake broken English and a fake Japanese accent, tries to use a Japanese word but accidentally uses the French word instead, and thinks Yao Ming is Japanese. She has visited all three Hello Kitty stores in the US. After showing off her merchandise from the store, she and the other two weeaboos on the show exclaim that they all look "so very Japanese!" (at which point their Japanese professor shouts "YOU'RE WHITE PEOPLE!" and goes on to flat out call them racists). When they thank their professor for being their "source of knowledge" of Japanese culture, the teacher shouts, "Nope, this is all on your heads!"
[Source; worth reading, very insightful]
This is not about accepting other cultures. This is an awful move that highlights racism within Hollywood. Very few Asian women received awards at that show, and if they were to celebrate their cultures publicly, these shows would not be as popular as Katy Perry's. When do you think we can watch an actual, authentic Chinese opera on the stage at the AMAs? (Answer: Never) Yet, a white woman, who probably speaks little to no Japanese or Chinese, sings an English song that has no connection to Asian culture and makes millions. Apparently, the cultures of POC require a white face in order to receive acceptance from white people.
It's fun when white people get to play dress-up for the night, isn't it? It's better that way. Because remember, when you put actual Asian people on stage at the American Music Awards, racist people lose their shit.[Source: Angry Asian Man]
Then, there are these people:
This is like saying widening your eyes is the same as this:
Asian women trying to look like Western women is not racist, though it does reflect the racist standard of beauty in society. It shows that women who look more like white women are considered more beautiful than women who look more "Asian". While I definitely don't think that wearing coloured contacts and dyeing your hair shows that one wants to look white (just like how a white woman dyeing her hair black would rarely be accused of trying to look Asian), there is definitely a preference for a different look in Asia after imperialism. Asians adopted Western clothing and the Western standard of beauty because it is considered "superior" and of a higher class. This reflects racism, but not in the way the commenter thinks. The history of colonialism in Asia has to be factored.
Overall, I do encourage putting more women of colour in the limelight, but putting them in the background to reinforce dangerous stereotypes is definitely not the way. Celebrating other cultures is wonderful, but it could only be done by finally giving women of colour a strong voice.