Was Katy Perry’s AMA performance racist? Break it down for me, Coke.
Her performance was most certainly culturally appropriative — that much is obvious, but whether that appropriation rises to the level of racism depends on how you frame it.
If she had come out in blackface or wearing some sexed-up Pocahontas outfit and done the same type of performance using either African-American or Native-American cultural signifiers, then it’s an easy yes. As a rich, white American celebrity, that shit would have been racist.
It’s a little tougher to make the same call when it comes to Japanese culture, because there isn’t the same history of oppression that makes appropriation so inherently disrespectful. Then again, given America’s tumultuous relationship with the Japanese (let’s not forget those atomic bombs and internment camps), it’s not an impossible argument to make.
Again, it’s all in how you frame it. Is this an example of a Westerner cartoonishly lampooning an Eastern culture? Yep, it definitely looks that way. She didn’t have malice in her heart when she loaded up her performance with Japanese cultural signifiers, but that’s not really an excuse. She wasn’t intentionally trying to be disrespectful, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a big fat stupid example of Ugly-Americanism writ large at the American Music Awards.
The problem with Katy Perry is that she should have known better. Normally when some American idiot gets obsessed with Japanese culture, she just annoys her high-school friends with a bunch of Hello Kitty nonsense until she grows out of it. Unfortunately, Katy Perry is a fucking superstar, so when she gets obsessed with kimonos and Geishas, dumb shit like this happens.
Ultimately, I’ll be curious to find out how actual Japanese people respond it. I’m comfortable calling Katy Perry’s performance a quintessential case of insensitive cultural appropriation, but that doesn’t automatically mean racism.
Whether it’s racist is for the Japanese to decide, and I honestly couldn’t tell you if they’ll embrace it, reject it, or even give a shit in the first place.