During my senior year of college, I remember stopping at a rest stop in the middle of a road trip to pick up some food and magazines and pausing at the magazine rack. I was in the women’s magazine section and as I looked from left to right at the magazine covers, I saw that it was all white women. 9 out of 10 were blonde. I couldn’t identify with any of them. And this made me profoundly sad.
I was sad because no matter what I did, how fluent I was at English, how much I dressed like an American – I would never be viewed as an American to Caucasian Americans. The girl-next-door is not a girl with yellow skin, small eyes, and black hair. I would always be on the outside. I would always be viewed as being from somewhere else.
Perhaps this is why I identify more closely with my Korean roots than I do with my American ones. And although I identify with being Korean more than I do being American, I have to say that I am truly a mix of both ideals. I can’t help but think that the fact that my heart goes to Korea might be because of the message that I received when I was younger and the message that I still receive today.
That message struck me loud and clear, when I saw Katy Perry’s performance at the AMAs. She was in full-fledged yellowface: Pale skin, eye make-up that made her eyes look sharper, lips stylized like those in old Asian paintings of Geishas and her background dancers’ make-up was even more exaggerated. She was singing a song about unconditional love (submissive Asian wife), while dancing like what she presumably thought Geishas would dance like. Her costume was a sexy-fied version of the traditional kimono (that I discovered has a Mandarin collar – blending Asian cultures, as if the media doesn’t do that already) and her dancing, along with the dancing of the back-up dancers, was doll-like.
Her performance gave me another reminder as to why I have been made to feel excluded in a country that I was born in. It was a reminder as to why in my youth I would be confronted with kids stretching out their eyes and saying indecipherable words that sounded Asian to them. It was a reminder as to why when I was with my other Korean girlfriends, studying for midterms during college, two white college boys asked if we were studying math and science and upon us ignoring them thought it would be okay to say our faces would look pretty on their genitals. It was a reminder as to why the cat-calls I receive are not just because of my gender but tailored specifically for my Asian ethnicity, shouting that they would “love me long time”.
I’ve seen the comments that defend Katy Perry – saying she openly appreciates Japanese culture and other comments saying people are taking everything offensively. But, why be complacent? Haven’t Asians been complacent enough? The people performing and in the media hold a lot of power to change societal perceptions, so when they choose to degrade and objectify a culture, they are perpetuating future stigmatization of upcoming generations of that culture. There is a difference between cultural appreciation and simplifying a culture to one’s convenience. True cultural appreciation strives to spread awareness and accurate facts about a culture. Katy Perry and so many other white artists utilized something exotic so they, the white person, could stand out, while the culture they are mocking is very clearly “othered”.
This trend in popular music and Hollywood needs to stop. White people, stop trying to be anything other than white. Seriously, Miley, Selena, Gwen, Katy – STOP. 100% of the time, you will get it horribly wrong and you will stand out, not by looking or seeming exotic, but by being a massively ignorant clown.
This post originally appeared at Revoir.