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Posted by on Dec 8, 2013 in Featured

Solidarity Over Privilege, By Danielle Miller

Solidarity Over Privilege, By Danielle Miller

When analyzing cultural appropriation it is important to consider other aspects which may determine an appropriator’s true intentions before claiming they have good intentions. Katy Perry has had several questionable incidents.

Perry hosted a cowboys and Indians party in 2011, never apologized or said a word about it, despite the backlash. The fact that she wouldn’t even acknowledge it goes to show how trivial she deemed the situation to be.

Katy Perry dressed in an 'Indian' costume

Katy Perry dressed in an ‘Indian’ costume, photo courtesy Rob Schmidt

After seeing that first incident I wondered is this a genuine “mistake”, publicity stunt, or just another case of those with white privilege playing dress up and degrading culture? Only her future actions would tell.

As someone who once performed at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show, I’m sure Perry became aware of the war bonnet controversy. Perry has at least been intelligent enough not to pull another stunt involving Native Americans, but this did not stop her from her “fascination” with Japanese culture. Her remark about skinning Japanese people on the Jimmy Kimmel show was disturbing and about as flattering as a compliment from Silence of the Lamb’s Buffalo Bill.

Perry participated in a skit on SNL which mocked white teenagers obsessed with Japanese culture, implying that she knew how harmful appropriation could be. The professor character exclaimed “If there is such a thing as a loving version of racism, I think you found it”. Seem familiar? It really leaves one to wonder, did this skit even once cross Perry’s mind when planning for the AMA show?

Media outlets frequently interview those with white privilege to speak on issues which most affect people of color. Lady Gaga was interviewed and defended Katy Perry.

“I think people are generally too sensitive and they should just leave her be, but you know, I’m not really the person to ask.” –Lady Gaga

You are correct Gaga, you ARE NOT the person to ask. You are not Japanese, you are a rich celebrity benefiting from white privilege so of course it’s highly unlikely that you will have the ability to empathize with those affected by these problematic depictions and performances.

Really disappointing was the underhanded comment stating that people are “generally too sensitive.” This is a micro aggression and a bullying tactic used in most situations of white privilege.  The comment trivializes struggles people of color face every day. It is a control tactic meant to perpetuate victim blaming, or invalidate those who stand up in the face of oppression. As someone who claims to be such an advocate against bullying Gaga is showing true hypocrisy.

A whole other aspect to take into consideration is the fact that Gaga has been guilty of appropriating the burqa. This would explain why she is obligated to side with Perry to avoid looking hypocritical. In her Aura song some of the lyrics state: “do you want to see me naked lover, do you want to peek underneath the cover?”

Lady Gaga dressed in a see through burqa

Lady Gaga dressed in a see through burqa

Sexualization of the burqa is highly problematic. Yet again much like the stereotypical depictions of Native women, we see another racial group of women being sexualized.

Repetitive appropriation already left Gaga’s underlying intentions questionable, but that remark reeks of privilege. It is not her place to define what is offensive for people of color. It is not her place to label those who defend their cultures from being exploited or appropriated as being “overly sensitive”.

Lack of cultural identity, lack of originality and pathetic attempts for publicity will continue to fuel cultural appropriation. But it is our duty to hold these people accountable to let them know our cultures are not a costume and they are not welcome to assert systems of imperialism without being held accountable. Smiling, good intentioned racist can be just as harmful as blatant racist because of their ability to silence people of color, stunt progress and excuse oppression. In the end actions speak louder than words, excuses or justifications.

In light of the passing of Nelson Mandela, many gave their condolences including Lady Gaga. I wanted to share one quote from him that really resonates with me in the context of my feelings of social justice. Cultural appropriators and others who claim to be touched by Mandela should think long and hard about this before thinking of disrespecting other cultures. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

I don’t claim knowledge of every culture appropriated or discriminated against, and it’s not my place to define what is racist or offensive for other racial groups.  But I will say that I stand in solidarity with and I will acknowledge when something is problematic.  In my awakening to the presence of imperialism and internal structures of oppression I have learned that solidarity is conducive in dismantling corrupt systems of power.

I would like to thank all the allies and other racial groups who stand in solidarity with Native American causes.  In the end we (poc and allies) have each other. No matter how many attempts are made to silence us, we will have our unique experiences and perspectives to motivate us in demanding equality and bringing positive change to our world. Mitakuye Oyasin.