Katy Perry and her “Asian” performance of Unconditional?
Of course we have to talk about this.
The complaints and backlash about racism is already out there (for good reason). So I wanted to talk about what it means for the people that really don’t understand why this is such a big deal and possibly why it’s hard for them to understand it. I speak from my own experience of what I think is the reasons for this lack of understanding
I’ve been a racist for a majority of my life.
I was raised to think that people of another ethnicity (other than Asian/Korean) are scary and dangerous. As I was little, people around would frame how people of color weren’t to be trusted or joke over some stereotype attributed to particular cultures. Impressionable as I am as a child, I naturally took part in the same discussion taking the same side and never questioned why it was this way.
I was even taught that Asians were inferior when it came to certain sectors of society. Ever since high school I’ve wanted to be a musician. I would listen to tons of rock bands but rarely ever saw an Asian face as a part of the ensemble (especially rare was an Asian lead singer). I’ve never even shared this sentiment to anyone about this but somehow I eventually came to the conclusion that Asian people weren’t cool enough to be rock stars. It got to the point where I wished I had been born white to have a chance to make it as a musician.
There are many of us that had this tunnel vision put upon as we grew up. But alongside it was education about racism being wrong and hatefulness due to racism was frowned upon. So my circles settled with “good stereotypes” and “not-as-hateful stereotypes” to be the level of speech that we accepted. Racism was still such a normal and prevalent thing throughout the course of my education.
In the last few years I’ve come to realize what racism does and how deeply it resides in our subconscious. Mal-intent or hatefulness is not a prerequisite for something to be racist (they are results of racism).
Racism can be detected by the default actions/thoughts/feelings that come from the mere mention/observance of people other another race. When we think of any categorized group of people (black, hispanic, asian, white, etc), we’re taught to associate certain attributes with these people (aka stereotypes which are often negative). Thus with this “putting down” of people comes with a sense of hierarchy and a pass to treat people like “lesser people”.
So to put it together I’ll put it this way. When I saw Katy Perry’s performance, I didn’t feel any disgust over it (my racist tendencies and allowances are strong). But only after thinking about it’s implications on what the performance means as a whole, I began to feel saddened. The appropriation that occurred here sends a subconscious message of allowance for making any culture into a commodity. This says “We’re allowed to use this to decorate our performance with this culture since these(Asian) people aren’t as important or need to be as respected”.
It sounds extreme, but this idea gets implanted into people at a subconscious level and stuff like this happens.
For people who don’t understand, this issue is below the surface (It’s difficult to see). It’s not immediately seen what the implications are but they are real. It causes displacement of power and respect away from those whose cultures are being appropriated (the fact that the words chink, spic, nigger, etc still are used is proof enough). It’s hard enough to see that Katy and a whole team of people agreed that it was OK to do this performance (I’m sure even Asian people OK’d it on their team).
And I understand it seems trivial that some pop star was acting the fool and it should just be shrugged off. But this reaction undermines all the validity and merit that anyone has when there is a complaint about anything. So understand where we’re coming from when we say that this performance was racist.