Asian Cultural Sensitivity 101: Why is Katy Perry’s “Geisha” performance considered racist?

I know no one asked me to weigh in on this, but what the heck. I am the resident East Eurasian here. Seriously though my social media is awash in East Asian outrage and also cultural insensitivity over Perry’s performance yesterday at the AMAs dressed in modified,sexy geisha apparel.

perry geisha

It is a Kimono mixed with a Chinese Cheongsam, so manages to neatly appropriate 2 different cultures.

There are a number of comments on the story that ask why is this performance racist and/or offensive?

Like these:

Oh I see, she shouldn’t sexualize geishas who were “Just entertainers”? Wrong. Geishas hairstyles were designed to sexually entice and attract men to spend time with them, who do these twits think WOMEN were entertaining in Japan during this era? Other women?? They were appealing and “forbidden fruit”. Not to mention that a young geishas virginity was sold to the highest bidder in a tradition called “mizuage”. Nope. No sexuality there.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/katy-perry-amas-opening-act-called-racist-article-1.1528285#ixzz2lnCLgIh4

They should just stop and not try to explain someone else’s culture to them when they barely understand it themselves. At least this person has been to Japan, but they still don’t get it…

I agree. I have been to Japan, and I thought it was beautiful. I think a lot of western people don’t get the folklore, and mysticism, and traditions that Japanese hold dear. Most of them don’t even know about the many festivals in Japan , like “The Cherry Blossom”, or Tsukimi.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/katy-perry-amas-opening-act-called-racist-article-1.1528285#ixzz2lnEEOptU

At least this person claims to have a Japanese step-mom, so they must get it right?

I agree. Being offended by everything and making uninformed, false accusations about people is classless and a waist of time. I find it ironic that this is considered “racist”. My stepmother is Japanese and she’s laughing as she reads the posts that call Perry out for racism. “I thought it was beautiful and artistic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s cultural take on things.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/katy-perry-amas-opening-act-called-racist-article-1.1528285#ixzz2lnEkifH3

Nope. It’s the old “I have a/an (insert ethnic relationship here)”, so therefore it can’t be racist as if you can adopt authority by proxy.

Hannah at afternoonsnoozebutton has already done a pretty good job of breaking down what people found offensive about the performance. If you are really interested in why people find it offensive, read her thorough explanation there. Here are her 5 key points that she nailed…

1. Katy Perry’s “geisha” performance tonight was culturally appropriative.

2. There is a long history of mistreatment and ill-will towards Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans.

3. Western culture “otherizes” Asians by assigning all Asians certain characteristics.

4. Asian women in particular are fetishized. This sexualization of Asian women causes increased sexual violence against Asian-American women.

5. Racism against Asians is often swept under the rug because of the model minority myth, and that won’t change until we start to address racist acts head-on.

Point 4 is particularly powerful as she supports here…

This fetishization has been empirically proven to hurt Asian women. 41-61% of Asian women experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime, the highest rate for any ethnic group. Between 5,000-8,000 Asian women are trafficked into the US each year for sex slavery, also the largest amount for any ethnic group.

This is one more perspective on it from Jeff Yang on The Wall Street Journal Blog

The thing is, while a bucket of toner can strip the geisha makeup off of Perry’s face, nothing can remove the demeaning and harmful iconography of the lotus blossom from the West’s perception of Asian women — a stereotype that presents them as servile, passive, and as Perry would have it, “unconditional” worshippers of their men, willing to pay any price and weather any kind of abuse in order to keep him happy.

So basically Perry’s performance appropriates Japanese culture in a way that perpetuates harmful stereotypes. The Asian submissive, hypersexual stereotype is particularly damaging to Asian women. I’ve been involved with people, who I didn’t understand at the time had no interest in me other than an Asian fetish. No interest at all in my intellect or talents. No human woman neatly fits into a stereotype, and this stereotype is demeaning and dehumanizing.

What bothers me is how unquestioned these stereotypes are and how uncritically they are accepted. Otherwise enlightened friends post stories like this one about Korean beauty contestants that supposedly had plastic surgery and looked freakishly alike from Jezebel to social media. To date there is no retraction that the photos were photoshopped to intensify the similarity. The stereotype that Asians are weird in this case obsessed with looking white is uncritically accepted.

And if you think the stereotypes of Asian women are bad, Asian men are stereotyped as sexually unattractive, dorks in American culture. Despite kick ass examples of Asian male masculinity like Bruce Lee, the stereotype of the Asian male as a lesser male persists.

Bruce Lee JudgingThe stereotype such as perpetuated in movies like Sixteen Candles have been so damaging that Asian men are thought of as undateable by women of other ethnicities. long duck dong

 

Asian men’s supposed lack of virility is still comedy fodder today. In this Guardian article which manages to combine all three negative stereotypes: Asians are weird, Asian men as unattractive dorks, and includes a former Asian prostitute as sex expert to boot. The story is about how the Japanese are having less sex based on falling marriage rates, which is a trend here too as Salon points out.

In fact this story became comedy fodder for Bill Maher, he facetiously used the story to propose posters to encourage the Japanese to have sex. Among the punchlines were the same old tired tropes like… “He’s Japanese it’s not like it’s gonna hurt.” In the same breath he bemoans progressive causes like overpopulation, yet there is the same old stab at Asian males’ dignity, that has gone on ever since American colonialism. Many in his audience don’t take a minute while they’re laughing at the expense of the Japanese to question the stereotypes.

The more things change the more things stay the same. I grew up not feeling proud of my Asian heritage. Years of having my hair pulled as a kid, being mistaken for the Japanese exchange student, having people ask where I am from and the doubtful looks when I say I am American add up. I am raising my daughter to be proud of her Asian ancestry. She even wants to start a Japanese appreciation club at her school. Japanese culture is becoming more acknowledged and popular here.

But there is a difference between appreciation and appropriation and reinforcing stereotypes. The comments on this story have been more offensive than the performance itself. They reveal how little these commenters actually question how the media portrays East Asians in this case. For all the declaring about wanting to know why people find this offensive; the comments show and unwillingness to listen to the reason why. Most offensive is in place of listening these commenters seek to tell East Asians in this case what their experiences are and how they should feel about them.  As for Ms. Perry herself if you are still wondering if she has some of the same unquestioned cultural insensitivity there is this quote about how she feels about the Japanese…

 “I’m so obsessed I want to skin you and wear you like Versace,”

I hope that this helps people to understand why Asians are tired of being portrayed in American media in the same predictable and stereotypical ways.

 

[important]Much of the ideas in this article were discussed first in The Secular Asian Community facebook discussion group. If you are looking for secular Asian support or to support secular Asians, they are a great group. We are putting something together for the next FtBCon, so watch out for that. [/important]

Do we live in a post-racial society in the secular community?

People of Color Beyond Belief is hosting a webcast to debunk the notion that we live in a post-racial society. It is starting right now, and is moderated by Sikivu Hutchinson.  The panelists are Kimberly Veal, Black Freethinkers & Black Skeptics Chicago Donald Wright, Houston Black Non-Believers Raina Roades: Black Freethinkers – The RSS Feed & Rhoades to Reality.  They are having some technical issues, whicj I think may be related to a feedback loop with the speakers and the microphones. Hopefully, they can figure the problem out.

Thanks to, and from, the Texas Freedom Network

Tonight I received an email from Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.  It is titled, ‘A Victory for Science in Texas’.  It reads (in part) as follows:

Dear Aron,

WE WON!

Moments ago the Texas State Board of Education cast a final vote to approve science textbooks based on established science. This is a huge victory for science education and all the Texas students who will have sound science materials in their classrooms for the next decade.

Predictably, there was a last-minute effort at the board to threaten two widely used textbooks. But that attack yielded no concessions from either publisher that would water down instruction on evolution or climate change. And ultimately, the board voted to approve all the proposed science textbooks.

And you deserve the credit for this. The Texas Freedom Network’s #StandUp4Science campaign has been possible because of supporters like you. You kept the pressure on by taking action online, spreading the word on social media and contacting board members.

Your activism stopped the anti-science forces from vandalizing Texas science textbooks.

Now I realize that lots of other people got this same message, and that it was not intended for me alone.  It might not even have been written with me in mind.  But I like to think that it was, because it makes sense.

Kathy Miller and I both testified before the State Board of Education a couple months ago.  She sat next to me then, and again when she joined my wife and I, and P.Z. Myers at another ‘Stand Up For Science’ event.  That was when we all presented our case to a capacity crowd at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  That was the day after we picketed the Texas Homeschool Coalition for allowing con-men like Ken Ham to represent them as keynote speakers.  After that, The Texas Freedom Network hosted Bill Nye to stir up support for legitimate science education, and my speech at Apostacon both ridiculed and challenged the creationists from the school board hearings.  As part of that presentation, (now viewed over 20,000 times) I also suggested/predicted that text book publishers take the bold step of ignoring the pleas of the Religious Right on that board -which they did.

I have been in-touch with the Texas Freedom Network frequently over the last several months.  They’ve kept me informed, and I’m very happy with the way that our combined efforts have raised awareness of the outrageous under-handed factions seeking to undermine science education. I don’t know how much credit -if any- I can personally claim, but at least I feel as though I did my part -and it worked.

So TFN, allow me to respond accordingly.  You’re welcome, my pleasure, anytime.

Now could you invite me the next time you have Bill Nye over?

We finally pulled in to Skepticon

Only to be told we have been bumped from The University Plaza to the Holiday Inn because the event hotel is overbooked.  It is 2:00 AM local time here, and Aron is still fussing over his speech about Pterosaurs for tomorrow at 10:00 AM. Normally freethinking events are a respite for me from problems that come with being an Atheist Texan.

But this time, I feel a little bit of dread. Admittedly, PZ had more reason to feel dread with people threatening a walkout of his speech. The reason is I’ve gotten so many hateful youtube comments from anti-feminist atheists on the discussion I did about rape culture. I feel a little anxious that I might run into someone like that here.

Every year, Skepticon has been a welcoming haven to me, so the anxiety is probably misplaced. I always try so hard to be decent to people nearly to a fault, so I am a bit flummoxed by hostility. Even from people I know are going to be hostile like Ken Ham. Hostility within the community that has always been a safe haven to me is much harder to get a handle on.