How much of a culture are you really allowed to like?

Avril

Hello there lovely readers. Long time no see. I think it’s pretty safe to say the only person reading this blog who enjoys my sporadic blog posts is myself. But, I’m sorry and I have to admit, I do enjoy writing every so often. Maybe that means I should contemplate reformatting how I write my blog. But that’s neither here or there, or what this post is even about. No instead I want to talk about one of the most hot button issues of the moment. And of course I mean Avril Lavigne.

I’m sure by now absolutely everyone on the internet all over the world is well aware of the whole Avril Lavigne Hello Kitty situation. You’d literally have to live in a cave 3 miles below the surface of the Earth to not have heard about it. And I’m sure even if that was the case as soon as you rose to the surface you’d immediately be bombarded with chants of ka-ka-ka-kawaii.

Ok, maybe that’s stretching things a little too far. But it is in fact every where. I think it’s even more prevalent in our little corner of the internet since we’re all about Japanese music, pop culture, television, etc. But I think this has been prevalent on the internet long before the atrocity that is Hello Kitty. And by that I mean cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is a term I myself wasn’t even aware of until I heard about it some months ago on tumblr. I of course knew that basis of what cultural appropriation is was going on in the world, but I wasn’t aware that there was a term for it. Now, I absolutely think cultural appropriation is abhorrent and not even remotely ok. But what I consider just as bad is the way people define cultural appropriation is maybe a little too strong. And I might go as far as saying a lot of it is mislabeled.

If you go on certain sites, say tumblr, you’ll find that a lot of the times what they consider cultural appropriation is if a White person shows any sort of interest in any non-White culture at all. And a lot of times it’s written in such a manner that you should feel bad that you are White and you should be ashamed of yourself if you even want to care about another country.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I always thought that the world was one. And that everyone should be open to, and should explore, cultures other than their own. But it seems that that isn’t the case at all anymore.

Now I’ve heard a lot of people say things such as White aren’t allowed to like or mix in other cultures, even though tons of other cultures mix in European or American cultures. Those other cultures are allowed to do so because European culture was forced on them and they had no choice but to adapt and add that culture into their own. White people aren’t allowed under any circumstances to wear other culture’s traditional garb. Even if they are currently residing in a Foreign country and a native from that country insisted that they purchase and wear a piece of traditional clothing. The only time it is ok is if they are attending an event where tradition clothing must be worn, such as a wedding.

And I might add that this is usually only said about White people. I’ve heard people straight up say that other non-White races are allowed to embrace other cultures because they themselves are also minorities. You’re also not allowed to say that that itself is a racist statement because then you are only being a whiny privileged White person.

I can wholeheartedly understand if you are being racist towards another culture and putting down their traditional clothing. Or inappropriately wearing them. Or only wearing them to make a fashion statement. Or being a male or female wearing traditional grab that’s only supposed to be worn by someone of the gender opposite of your own. Then you are absolutely doing something wrong.

But to basically tell people that they aren’t allowed to like something because of their race of where they were brought up, is absolutely ridiculous. So, I now ask the main question of this article, how much of a culture is someone really allowed to like?

I think the first time I took actual notice of cultural appropriation beyond reading a post here or there on tumblr was around Halloween. I was looking up Sugar Skulls on tumblr because I was thinking of painting myself like that for Halloween. And I came across someone on tumblr saying some random woman was disgusting for wearing Dia de los Muertos makeup without being Mexican. Ironically, the woman actually turned out to be half Mexican. But that’s the first time I went, “but why can’t I like something that’s Mexican?”

Maybe it’s in bad form to think of it as a costume. But then, aren’t beer wench Halloween costumes equally offensive to me because I’m German? Oh wait, I forgot, being a privileged White person I’m not allowed to think like that. I guess since I live in America which is right above Mexico it doesn’t matter at all that we learn a lot about Mexico. Or that Cinco de Mayo is hugely celebrated in the US. Or that I’ve always been fascinated by Dia de los Muertos in general. And I suppose that I’m not allowed to because liking any aspect of another country’s culture is disrespectful for some reason.

This also takes me back to when I was learning Spanish in school. I had an extremely cool Spanish teacher. I was actually one of his favorite students and we got along swimmingly. Mostly because I was pretty much the only one who ever tried in Spanish. One time around Valentine’s Day I was the only person who was willing to conjugate verbs on the board. When I conjugated them correctly he gave me a heart shaped cookie. We also bonded over pork rinds. Because he brought them into class one day for everyone to try because they eat them a lot in Puerto Rico apparently. I was the only one in my entire class who didn’t think they were disgusting. It was mostly because pork rinds are delicious and I’ve been eating them my whole life. But I think that’s more of everyone in my town being weird. We went on field trip to the Pine Barrens once and tried fresh root beer. I was literally the only one who liked it. To this day that was the most delicious root beer I’ve ever had in my life.

Anyway, he was originally from Puerto Rico and all he would ever say was how beautiful a country it is. And how it’s such a great country for swimming. And how everyone should make sure they go to Puerto Rico once in their life because it’s that pretty. Well, in 6th grade to further share his culture with us, everyone that was in a Junior High grade at the time had to make vejigante masks and costumes. We then had to wear them in Spanish class the day they were due. And afterwards they were displayed all over the classroom for a few months.

And all that makes me think of is, that if I still had my vejigante mask and posted a picture of myself wearing it I’d be called racist for not being Puerto Rican. Even though out teacher was hoping we’d be interested in it and wanted us to experience a bit of his culture.

Also, in Spanish class in 8th grade we had a gigantic dominoes tournament because Cuban-Americans in Florida love to play dominoes. That’s not me saying it by the way, that was literally a section in my Spanish text book. Specifically Cuban-Americans in Florida playing dominoes. You can call my textbook racist if you want. Since then I’ve been a big fan of playing dominoes, I always try to get my family to play with me but they never want to. But I suppose I’m not allowed to play dominoes right?

But let’s shift our focus now away from Central America and focus on what I’m sure everyone cares about, Japan.

Japan is pretty notorious for some things that if were done by White people would be considered cultural appropriation. For one, Japanese music mixes English words into their songs. It’s done to such an extent that it’s often hard to find Japanese songs that don’t have at least one English word in them. And the Japanese language itself has a ton of loan words from English and European languages. That one may be a bit of a stretch though, since most languages have loan words.

Japan is also influenced heavily by predominantly White cultures when it comes to fashion. The most famous influence probably being school uniforms. The familiar sailor uniforms were inspired by the sailor suits children in royal European families wore, and were first introduced in the late 19th century. Huh, I guess that rules out Commodore Matthew Perry and his American Navy ships forcing the naval stripes on their uniforms, since he visited Japan in the mid 19th century.

Also, the lolita sub-culture was inspired by the Rococo period in Europe. The ganguro sub-culture (which literally means black face by the way) was a way for Japanese girls to emulate the way girls in California looked and dressed. Not to mention that there’s the trend of black culture in Japan.

I’m sure there are other cases but these are the ones I know off hand, and too be honest I can’t be bothered to look up anymore. Surely these cases are purely innocent right? And it’s just Japan showing how much love and admiration they have for America and Europe? Quite honestly in my opinion it is. But make no mistake, if a White culture was doing the same thing about Japanese culture or any other non-White culture it would be a gigantic deal. After all, every other race of people besides White are allowed to do these types of things. That’s fair right?

So, that brings up another question was Avril Lavigne’s Hello Kitty racist to Japan and Japanese people? I read a great article on tumblr that showed that people in Japan don’t find it even a little bit racist. Instead they think Avril is showing great love for Japan. And they don’t understand why Foreigners find it to be so racist. While I personally do find the song itself to be terribly written, and her Japanese pronunciation leaving something to be desired, I don’t see how the song itself is racist.

I listened to the song yet again just to be sure. (God, the things I go through for this blog.) The song is literally about having pillow fights, slumber parties, playing spin the bottle, making pinky swears, and asking someone to play with you. The song is incredibly immature and truly something only a pre-teen girl could relate to. The only thing the people perceive as being racist about the song is her speaking in Japanese. But how is that any different than Japanese people singing in English?

The song itself is obviously solely for the Japanese market. Since a great deal of Avril’s fanbase currently is in Japan. It seems to be the only country that cares about her music. Case in point being I only heard Avril’s What The Hell because I was watching a Oricon chart video a few years back. I never heard it play in the US.

The main point for racism is then put on the music. It’s racist to some people because she’s wearing a cupcake skirt, has an overly cutesy set, and is also filmed in a candy store. Which makes people say that Avril is being racist and saying that Japan is only about and known for it’s wild clothing and cute culture. But is it really doing that? Or is the music video this sugary sweet because the song sounds like it was written for an 11 year old girl?

Let’s say that Avril is playing off of Japan’s cute culture, is that itself really wrong either? Japan does have a lot of playful, cute, and colorful aspects to it’s pop culture. And Japan itself seems to be marketing itself with this image. NHK World features a show called Kawaii International, which is a show in English marketed to the Foreign market. The show itself is about teaching people about Japanese fashion sub-cultures and cute cultures and shows people all over the world who wear these styles. And also teaches you how to wear these styles yourself.

Let’s say Avril wasn’t wearing a cupcake skirt. Let’s say she was wearing a lolita dress. Or what about if she was wearing the gyaru style? Or maybe she was even wearing shironuri. Would that make her racist? There are thousands of girls all over the world who dress in these styles because they genuinely like them. Does that make it wrong? Or is this a case of once again it not being ok because the people doing it are White?

I know that pretty much anyone in the world that like’s anything Japanese is associated as being this horrible weeaboo. This person who is fetishizing a country and race of people. Or someone who thinks Japan is superior to their own country. And I won’t deny that most people who like Japanese things do go through this annoying phase. Myself included. But believe me, most of the time it’s short lived and you realized how much of an idiot you were. But no matter how much you’ve matured and no matter what you like about Japan, there is still this stigma that you are forever a weeaboo. And it’s absurd.

So, is Avril in her embarrassing weeboo phase currently? Probably. But honestly I could care less. It’s not really important to the topic at hand. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about how much are people really allowed to like of a culture. And how did just liking another culture automatically become cultural appropriation?

Isn’t telling someone they can’t like another culture continuing the divide of people? Isn’t it making racism an even bigger issue? Isn’t it basically saying, “hey you can’t like that because you’re not from here.” When news flash, I am from there? Last time I checked we all live on the same planet. The planet is closer than ever thanks to the internet. So, why are people using it to push people farther apart? I understand if someone is genuinely being ignorant to another person’s cultures and traditions. But when people just want to experience something new, why is that wrong?

9 thoughts on “How much of a culture are you really allowed to like?”

  1. Yup yup I agree entirely. It’s called the double standard for only us white people can be racists. Well by my political posts you know I’m not politically correct & will call it for what it is 8P

    1. It really is though. Either it’s wrong for everybody or it’s not wrong at all. Saying only certain races can do things and others can’t is the definition of racism.
      Of course I do. Well, I agree with them myself. What’s politically correct anyway? It’s all subjective.

  2. I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way you do. I don’t think liking a culture = cultural appropriation. One way to look at it is the difference between someone who is interested in Japanese culture (music, fashion, films, ect) and a weeboo. Cultural appropriation is often considered insensitive/ offensive because they fetishisize someone’s culture and sometimes with only a shallow understanding. For example, women wearing hair accessories based on a Native American culture. That hair accessory might have religious significance. It isn’t that white people are always the culprit, but the dominant group. There is a ton of cultural appropriation in Japan of other cultures (including of European culture) that I think is offensive. I can call them out on it because when I am in Japan I am a member of a minority group and have the suffer all the problems that come along with it (daily microaggressions, institutionalized racism/ xenophobia). Another comparison I like to make is that if someone called my a cracker, would it hurt my feelings? No. But I was offended when I saw Japanese comedians or celebrities putting on blonde wigs and fake noses, talking in a horrible accents and acting like a complete fool. I have negative social experiences to associate with it. I don’t have any negative social or historical experiences to associate with it. But, if I were to call a Japanese person a ‘Jap’ it might be offensive to them because of historical associations like the internment camps. It is all based on power imbalance. Avril’s problem was execution, probably because of her being in a weeboo stage. She didn’t properly show respect to the other culture, and that is the difference between cultural exchange and appropriation. If a Japanese artist wore a cowboy hat and fetishized American culture, I bet that wouldn’t go over well either.

    1. I don’t think it is either. But for some reason a lot of people think just liking another culture is cultural appropriation, especially if the person that’s liking it is White. And it makes absolutely no sense.

      I know why cultural appropriation is offensive, I touched on it bit in this post. But I didn’t really feel the need to go into great detail because most people know what it is. And the definition of the term wasn’t really the point of this post.
      As for White people being the dominant group I don’t think that’s true at all. As a White person in the United States I can really only speak for my race group and my country, but I’m sure other races in other countries are doing cultural appropriation just as much. The point I was trying to make in this post is that cultural appropriation by White people is the only one you seem to see. And most of the time it’s done intentionally. People that run tumblrs for posts about their specific race’s cultural appropriation are only calling out White people. As I said in my blog post a lot of these people don’t think when non-White races do cultural appropriation it even matters since they are minorities themselves. They also believe that if say a South American country appropriates a European country that it’s fine because White people have been forcing themselves on the entire world for hundreds of years. So, are White people really the dominant group, or just the only group really ever being called out about it?

      I think it’s absolutely wrong that you feel the only time you can ever call out racism as a White person is when you are a minority in another country. So, now White people aren’t allowed to call out, or acknowledge, racism because they usually never deal with racism themselves and are too privileged? How is that not backwards logic? How is racism of anyone ever ok? And how is acting like racism isn’t going on because you’re White, and not allowed to acknowledge racism, ok? Also, I personally wouldn’t be offended if someone called me a cracker. But possibly it offends someone somewhere. You can’t really diminish racism because it doesn’t personally bother or offend you. Sure, cracker is one of the ones that people usually roll their eyes at. But believe me, if someone called me a kraut or a guinea I’m absolutely going to be offended. Also, I find it highly offensive when Japanese people put on those fake noses to act White. I completely forgot about that, and really regret not mentioning it in my blog. XD

      If you were to call a Japanese person a Jap it would be offensive because it’s a racist slur, plain and simple. So, is it racist if a White European person called them a Jap? By your reasoning it shouldn’t be because they never put them in internment camps. That’s absurd. When it comes down to it the world is a terrible place filled with war and atrocities. And to simply say that White people are the only ones to have committed atrocities and are the only people that are racist is also absurd. Maybe it’s because you don’t know, and we’re not really taught, about the rest of the world. In an American schools, and most likely European schools, you are taught solely about you country of origin’s history and then the history of European countries. Other country’s great cultures and histories are often a footnote. Now, that is a gigantic problem. But because most of these associates are committed on one race, their own, and not against other races in their country, does that somehow make it better? So Cambodians are wonderful people because Pol Pot only killed his own people, but Americans are terrible people because a predominately White country put one their country’s minority races in internment camps?

      I agree that Avril’s problem may have been execution. But she didn’t show proper respect because she only focused on cute culture? But why can’t she just like that one particular part of Japanese culture? So, you either just like traditional Japanese culture or your racist? I’m sorry but if she was in a kimono instead and surrounded by cherry blossoms, people would say that’s racist too. And I’m sorry if a Japanese person wore a cowboy hat and fetishized American culture no one would say anything. Because since they are minority most people wouldn’t have a problem with it. And would say that it’s Japan showing great love for America. Just like no one says anything about the girls in Japan who emulate African-Americans. Even though they are only emulating the African-American stereotype. But since that’s not featured in a music video I’m sure that’s fine.

    1. That’s fine. I’m sometimes too lazy to edit before posting myself. XD Also, I’m sorry for replying late.

  3. I started writing a comment here, and ended up with about 800 words. I’ve cross-posted my comment to my blog (which you can read at http://thenumber244.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/on-avril-lavignes-hello-kitty/)

    My conclusion:
    What is “Hello Kitty”? While I think the song is disposable pop (there’s nothing wrong with disposable pop) I have no choice but to take the viewpoint of an Asian-American when assessing the video. Avril’s smattering of kaleidoscopic images is no different than the myriad offerings of Asians fulfilling their assigned stereotypes. Blinded to the plight of Asian Americans, I think Avril truly thinks “Hello Kitty” a benign piece of celluloid. While the video is much less outwardly offensive than (say) Han Lee from “2 Broke Girls” (how is this still on the air?) the implications contained therein contribute to the internalized acceptable racial roles for Asians. Even if she didn’t make the “Hello Kitty” video for Asian Americans, I think we are right to expect more from someone who ” love(s) Japanese culture” and “spend(s) half of my time in Japan”.

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