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Katy Perry's Geisha Act Being Called "Racist"

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During tonight's American Music Awards, Katy Perry showed up dressed in a Japanese kimono. Or in a Chinese cheongsam. Or both, actually. Some folks online aren't happy about that at all.

And because of that, some are calling Perry's performance racist. One Twitter user (via The Huffington Post) said Perry "nailed the traditionally ignorant costume of a white pop singer." Another also asked, "why are you dressed like a geisha katy perry. why. for what. #thisisracist like horribly obviously racist." [SIC]

Other sites like Twitchy pointed out more individuals who thought the whole thing seemed racist—while others didn't at all. Psychology Today even had an explainer as to why her performance was, in fact, racist.


What's the fuss? Perry, who is apparently a Japanophile, dressed up for her "Unconditionally" performance, which mixed and matched Japanese and Chinese culture as if it were a Pan-Asian buffet.

For example, Kimonos don't have exposed chests or slits at the sides, and they are hard to dance about in. The collar and the fit of the dress is more cheongsam than kimono. Yet, the print, the sleeves, the bow, and the hair accessories appear Japanese-influenced. Here is a Japanese kimono:


It feels like someone decided to use a cheongsam for a Japanese-themed performance, simply because it was easier to move around in.

This melding of Chinese and Japanese culture as if they were one monolith seems incredibly common in the West, and if you are familiar with the culture differences throughout Asia, it's something you certainly notice. Then, there were some who didn't like that Perry, who is not Asian, dressed up in Asian-inspired garb.

But, as someone who lives in Japan, I see a similar mix and matching with Western culture all the time as well as seemingly endless appropriation of foreign cultures for entertainment purposes. That doesn't make it right or okay, but it shows that this isn't only an American thing or a white thing or whatever.


This is borrowing something lock stock for the way it looks. Some might call this racist. Others might say it's superficial.


But what do people in Japan think? "Everything about that performance was beautiful" wrote one Japanese Twitter user. "So cute," wrote another. "This makes me so happy," chimed in another.

While the majority of the comments on Twitter (and there still aren't that many) seems fairly positive, there were those who were amused or simply disapproved. "Guess this is an Asian mix," wrote one Japanese Twitter user. "I have no idea why she wore a kimono with a China dress," wrote another. "For hairy, white Americans, I guess it doesn't mater which is which."


Things could get interesting when Japan's largest online forum, 2ch, which is known to have more conservative leanings, catches wind of how Perry combined Japanese and Chinese imagery and dress.

Katy Perry Unconditionally American Music Awards 2013 [Katy Perry@YouTube]


Photos: John Shearer/Invision/AP | AFPBB | Shutterstock

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.


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