Category Archives: cultural appropriation

Dispatches from the Maid Cafe

by Latoya Peterson

On Saturday, I received this email from regular reader Allison:

I found this article: “For Anime Fansa: Maid For A Day” by Dan Zak. The article talks about American women (read: white women) being hired to work as “Japanese maids” for a DC-area Anime convention. Among other duties, their volunteer responsibilities include “call conventioneers ‘master’ and ‘mistress.’ They gratefully drop to their knees to draw a ketchup smiley face on a Japanese omelet.”

Isn’t it great when white women appropriate Japanese culture in order to sell omlettes to the so-called ‘master’? No race & gender conflicts there, right?

In my horror, I had to pass it along. If anything, it might be fodder for a blog post.

Hope you’re having a great weekend!!

Little did she know I was at that anime convention (it’s called Katsucon) over the weekend. I woke up, checked my email, and laughed. I wasn’t planning on attending the maid cafe, but the Washington Post article made us seems like such gloriously costumed freaks, I felt like I had to go represent. I convinced most of my roomies to come with me, and so we began a quickie investigation with three main goals.

We went downstairs to determine if:

1. The maid cafe idea is sexist.
2. The maid cafe idea is racist.
3. The implementation of the maid cafe at Katsucon was racist/sexist. Continue reading

ALO Again: New Lifestyle Magazine More of the Same Old Orientalism

By Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. An expanded version of this piece can be found at Muslimah Media Watch.

Last summer saw the launch of ALO Hayati, “America’s Top Middle Eastern Lifestyle Magazine.” Thanks to a gracious donor, I finally got my hands on a copy of the July 2008 issue.

All lifestyle magazines have an aspirational feel to them, and this one was no different. Chock full of advertisements for Dubai hotels and Swiss watches, ALO wasn’t particularly different than any other lifestyle magazine. Considering the economic situation of magazines, it doesn’t seem like an incredibly auspicious time to launch one aimed at a materialistic lifestyle. I wasn’t able to find any updates about the magazine’s publication on the website, and as far as I’m aware, this is the only edition, though in the magazine they refer to an earlier issue in some places.

As someone who enjoys a good glossy every now and then, I delighted over advertisements with Kim Kardashian, and interview with exclusive designer Bijan, and a fluffy piece on intercultural relationships (though I did not care for the cover teaser: “Shocking Intercultural Stories”).

The magazine featured an interview with Leila Ahmed, which was a great one, likening the current western media representation of Muslim women to the same patronizing Orientalism that played out in the first wave of colonialism in Middle East. Her interview shed lots of light on the history and future of the headscarf. Despite the educational qualities of her interview, I kept thinking, “Who is this educating?”

While not every Middle Eastern person is going to be familiar with the history behind the headscarf, it seems sort of odd to have an educational feature about hijab in a magazine aimed at a demographic that has a fairly lengthy history with headscarves, even if many of them aren’t Muslim. Something about this piece tugged at me. It almost felt as if it was aimed at people who were not Middle Eastern. Continue reading

Cadillac Records

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally posted at Postbougie

I think if we’re all quite honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the methods to approaching big-screen biopics are finite—especially biopics about musicians. In order for people’s lives to warrant the silver screen treatment in the first place, those lives have to possess extremes—a series of extenuating events that can be exploited for the highest dramatic impact the actors can generate. And face it: biopics are only as good as their actors. Sure, the writing has to be passable. If you’re lucky, the writing makes the actors’ jobs easy, but to our main point: the lives themselves provide the pathos. The writers need only heighten it. Yes, there are glaring historical omissions. Yes, there are all kinds of melodramatic liberties taken—especially in the film’s second to last scene of this film. But that, too, comes with the predictable territory of biopics, and good actors mine that melodrama for all its worth. That’s what makes a decent biopic so watchable.

Everyone involved in Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records understands the pecking order of the biopic genre—which is precisely why this one works so well. Fortunately, the casting directors brought their A-game, tapping Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the Jewish-Polish immigrant who founded the most successful Blues and R&B label in Chicago history, Chess Records, and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Chess’s flagship artist.

With Brody and Wright anchoring the film, the substantial supporting cast had no choice but to tow the Oscar-caliber line and, with very few exceptions, they did. Granted, Cedric the Entertainer was probably miscast as songwriter Willie Dixon. He always sounds like he’s faking an accent, rather than playing a role. It’s as though his acting ability doesn’t extend beyond varying the tenor of his voice. But since he was only in a few scenes, total (even his role as the narrator didn’t yield him that many lines), he wasn’t distracting at all. Continue reading

Busta’s Busted: “Arab Money”

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

I know, I know. If you’re looking for socially conscious rap or hip hop, you don’t go to Busta Rhymes. But this still surprises me:

Maytha from KABOBfest has highlighted Rhyme’s song “Arab Money,” which has some disgustingly racist lyrics. Maytha brings up some great points about this video, namely, that it is a blatant example of the acceptability of anti-Arab racism.

Let me highlight some of Busta’s rhymes:

Women walkin around while security on camelback

Club on fire now — dunno how to act

Sittin in casino’s while im gamblin with Arafat

Money so long watch me purchase pieces of the Almanac

Ya already know i got the streets bust

While i make ya bow down makes salaat like a muslim

Camelback?! Gambling with a dead PLO leader?! Elsewhere, there are references to growing beards and Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family known for his success in business (his…uh…bread).

Busta Rhymes’ song (and its fakey Arabic chorus–shudder) is just one more instance of hip hop’s cultural appropriation of Middle Eastern music (producer Timbaland has been “sampling” Arabic songs for years: remember Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin”? That is Egyptian artist Hossam Ramzy’s “Khusara Khusara” that you hear).

Rhyme’s references to Yasser Arafat and Saudi princes create the illusion of ownership: not only are we expected to think that he and Browz understand/speak Arabic and understand Middle Eastern politics and geography, but we’re also supposed to think that he rolls with said Arabs.

When I first heard the song, I didn’t know whether to be angrier about the sexism (Rhymes makes reference to “Middle East women and Middle East bread”—things), the racism, or the casual name dropping in what Maytha calls “baseless stereotypes masquerading as knowledge.” Continue reading

On Cultural Appropriation: Halloween and Beyond

by Latoya Peterson

While I was sick, I received a few interesting emails. While in the context of a larger Racialicious team discussion about Halloween, Andrea linked to a Sepia Mutiny post about Heidi Klum’s choice of Halloween costume.

Here’s the costume:

Fatemeh commented:

Though I have to admit, it was a bitchin’ costume, I don’t think it’s appropriate. I doubt Catholics appreciate it when people go as Jesus. I know lots of Muslims would have a shit fit if someone went as the Prophet Muhammad. I know that sometimes Hindus dress up as their deities for plays and such, but I doubt they’d appreciate it for a Halloweeen costumes. It’s different than dressing up as a Pope or a priest, which are human. You’re essentially dressing up as God.

Then, Fatemeh followed up with a link about how Hindu leaders were angered by Klum’s choice of costume.

Interested, I asked Fatemeh to do a post. But Fatemeh was flying to Denmark, Thea and I were sick, and the other correspondents had work constraints.

The following week, I got an impassioned email from reader Naomi, who wrote in about the treatment of Klum’s costume in an Us Magazine article.

Starting with the title, “Heidi Klum Explains Her Crazy Halloween Costume,” Naomi immediately launches in on the problematic nature of the coverage:

This article is horrible and ridiculous on so many levels:
1. The fact that Heidi Klum went to India and all she got out of it was an offensive Halloween costume idea.

2. The “othering” of non-Western cultures by making them look as odd and different as possible without even seeking to understand them or learn about them, proven by the following point.

3. This quote from the article, stated by Ms. Klum in regards to the goddess who inspired her costume: “I loved it because she’s so mean and killed all these different people and [had] fingers hanging off [her] and little shrunken heads everywhere.” As my Tamal friend pointed out–wtf, that’s not the point of the goddess at all.

4. That she is taking a RELIGIOUS figure and using it as a “scary” costume.. And that Us Magazine doesn’t find this offensive.. They even open with the gosh golly quote: ‘How did Heidi Klum come up with the idea to be a scary Indian goddess for Halloween?’

Then again, V.V. from Sepia Mutiny admits:

What think you, desis? My initial thought was that I should be offended. Then I thought, why? Is that reasonable? People dress up as versions of evil a range of characters, including ones with religious connotations, every year on Halloween. And this Kali is a pretty awesome costume. Klum certainly pulls it off with panache. Maybe that’s easier if you’re twelve feet tall and a model. She’s got all the details—look at what’s around her neck and waist!

While Halloween is three weeks in the past, I’ve been playing around with how this fits into the larger ideas of culture and appropriation. Klum’s costume is gorgeous in both execution and the technical sense. But, as the interview displays, Klum isn’t really concerned about the true meaning of the goddess outside of her immediate need for a cool costume.

Thoughts, dear readers?

And while we’re thinking, does anyone know what the hell Seal was going for with his costume?

Another Hollywood Remake: Oldboy

by Latoya Peterson

Director Chan-Wook Park shocked the hell out of South Korean audiences in 2003, with his theatrical release Oldboy, the second film in the disturbing The Vengence trilogy.

Now, dear readers, I hate horror movies but I love psychological thrillers. Hence, I watched Oldboy. And while I really enjoyed the movie, it is definitely *not* for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. So, imagine my surprise while perusing Dramabeans to see a post describing how Will Smith is going to star in the US remake.

Javabeans, main poster on the blog, is not pleased. Continue reading

take back the halloween!

by special correspondent Thea Lim

Thanks to the Toronto Asian Arts Freedom School for helping me figure out just why I have a hard time with Halloween, and for allowing me to share our strategies with Racialicious!

white rasta

I’m a Halloween party pooper. I do a dismal job of dressing up. My last costume consisted of a baseball hat with googly eyes and mouse ears. I’ve only given out candy once. Some years I’ve even hidden upstairs in the dark, ashamed of my lack of candy, pumpkin and sense of fun.

I’ve always felt like a bit of a jerk for not participating in the festivities. It doesn’t come that naturally to me – I spent most of my childhood in a country where Halloween wasn’t really celebrated, except as a club night. But since I moved back to North America 8 years ago, Halloween has seemed more like an obligation than a party zone, and every year I fail to rise to the challenge.

A year ago a new friend pointed out to me something that Angry Asian Man nicely illustrated on this here blog a few weeks ago: Halloween is not just a time to wear fake blood and fishnets, it’s also…racist!

white mexican

Mainstream North American culture likes to define itself as cultureless, but Halloween is a very cultural practice. Not only is it a little weird (Just look at it from the point of view of an outsider. Send your kids out to strangers’ houses and tell them to ask for candy? Decorate your house like a graveyard? Dress up like a sexy version of a public health worker?) it is also based on difference – the point of Halloween is to dress up as “something different.” So how do people who are often made to feel visually different – you know, like people of colour – experience Halloween? The average Halloween costume tells us a lot about what we culturally consider to be abnormal.

Continue reading

Indigenous Feminism and Cultural Appropriation

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee

Last year, a friend of mine told me that actress Juliette Lewis started up a band and that their sound was seriously a rockin’.

I was like “Really? Cool!” since I’d always appreciated the versatility Lewis demonstrated in her acting craft with movies like “The Other Sister,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” or even “Old School.”

Off to Google I went searching for her website, when I came up with this image:

Oh no, not again.

Another appropriator.

A quick glance at their website and various other fan photo materials reveals even worse.

Continue reading