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August 1, 2012 10:41 PM   Subscribe

A recent trend in the ultra-fashion-conscious world of Tokyo teen girls: B-Style, or "black lifestyle", that is, emulating the black women in rap videos. In the video you will see Japanese girls with weaves and incredibly dark tans to mimic black skin. Rebellious rejection of convention, or weird sideways racism (one girl says: "when we do it it looks vulgar, but not on the black women")?
posted by DecemberBoy (132 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Note: Tokyo teen-girl fashion moves so fast I have no way of knowing if anyone's doing this still, the material is from around November of last year... anyone in Tokyo actually seen these girls?)
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:43 PM on August 1, 2012


Maybe I'm missing something, but I find this deeply unsettling, especially given the number of super racist blackface videos that have surfaced on the JPOP and KPOP scene lately.
posted by Hello Darling at 10:46 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It may look vulgar on black women (YMMV), but on Japanese girls it looks racist.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:51 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems clearly racist to me, but in the weirdest way I can ever remember seeing. "Let's emulate what we seem to think of as unclean and inferior".
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:53 PM on August 1, 2012


So, how is this different from ganguro, except for the hair color?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:55 PM on August 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


No more racist than US suburban white boys emulating hiphop culture imo.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:57 PM on August 1, 2012 [36 favorites]


Both seem to be caricatures of "blackness" to me. Can someone with more knowledge on the topic elaborate on the motivations behind either movement?
posted by Hello Darling at 10:58 PM on August 1, 2012


How is this more offensive than suburban white kids who dress in baggy pants, or white rastas with dreads who affect a Jamaican accent, or drag queens who caricature women?

I think it's kind of neat how these styles jump the Pacific and get recontextualized in Japan.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:03 PM on August 1, 2012 [18 favorites]


Not to camp the thread, but the article points out that the hair used to make wigs/weaves for black women is usually asian peoples' hair. There's a girl in the video with what at least looks like a weave. It's like an ouroboros. Mind... blown
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:05 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


white rastas with dreads who affect a Jamaican accent

Is this a thing, outside of SNL Digital Shorts?
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:06 PM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Obligatory: Should I use blackface on my blog?
posted by Zed at 11:07 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


does no one remember tokyo breakfast? i'm not going to link it because it's foul, but it's been on youtube for a long time
posted by facetious at 11:09 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this a thing, outside of SNL Digital Shorts?

I think I saw Gary Oldman do this, once, long ago.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:12 PM on August 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Zed: "Obligatory: Should I use blackface on my blog?"

Which, incidentally, mentions these girls.

Sticherbeast: "Is this a thing, outside of SNL Digital Shorts?"

Yes, the DJ before me at my old radio station. He was really obnoxious, but I decided that the cost-to-benefit ratio of me criticizing his genuine emulation of his heroes would probably backfire big time. I would not have felt sorry for him in the least if a bunch of Jamaican guys showed up and beat him with sticks, though. I mean, his reggae sets were utter crap to begin with.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:13 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


May I be the first to state here that it looks vulgar to me on the black women too?


You're being vulgar.
posted by samofidelis at 11:19 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


About as racist as the white dudes here in the USA who are way too into some aspects of Japanese culture. So I'm hesitant to call it racist per se but it sure seems like a problematic fetishization of the exotic.
posted by Justinian at 11:20 PM on August 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


I suppose it could be more fetishizing the exotic in the same way as US anime nerds. Sort of the same thing as when Western fiction needs exotic set pieces it uses things from the East, and why on the flip side some of the more out-there anime/video games use elements of Judeo-Christian mysticism (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Xenosaga, Final Fantasy VII are examples)
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:25 PM on August 1, 2012




i wish white people would stop saying "damn skippy"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:31 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


No more racist than US suburban white boys emulating hiphop culture imo.

It's not a monocultre. Some are just hip hop fans. Some engage in fan behavior that is indistinguishable from racism. I had a bit of a shock when I started pruning my hip hop collection. I threw out a lot of the music I didn't listen and kept the stuff I did, and I realized it was starting to look like I was assembling a collection that could have been called "hip hop lives up to discouraging racial stereotypes." While I didn't really intend to create a playlist of black performers exclusively engaging in behavior that is consistent with degrading stereotypes, I did have to stop and ask myself why this was happening. I think I just liked the silliness of the music, but, then, I expect a lot of white audiences liked Stepin Fetchit because he just seemed funny to them.

There is a risk, when you are a fan of music that mostly comes from a culture that is not your own, of you accidentally selecting the aspects of that music that conform to stereotypes. It may not be deliberate, and may even be entirely innocent, but it's always worth examining. Especially when this culture has a history of being oppressed, and you come from a culture that has a history of oppressing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:31 PM on August 1, 2012 [31 favorites]


And so the universe begins to establish an equilibrium to balance all the U.S. teen girls who dress up for manga cosplay...
posted by anarch at 11:37 PM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]




Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that. The blackface is a bit off, but I suspect it has class, rather than race connotations to a Japanese teen. Japanese teens dressing up b-style is a whole mix of factors - breaking class and racial constructs, plain old rebellion, liking the music and/or the look and/or the attitude. I mean, it's not like we don't have this on our doorsteps either - nice suburban kids who choose to look like truckers, or black gangstas or whatever.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:43 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, one more and I'll stop: the girl says near the end "the important thing is, you don't look Japanese" - when you consider that, and the "vulgar" statement, in context with the Japanese reputation for racist attitudes, there's something that you can unpack from that statement about the context of "Japanese"-ness that they have, i.e. someone can move from Japan to the US and become American, but a black person from the US could never move to Japan and become Japanese.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:43 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


And so the universe begins to establish an equilibrium to balance all the U.S. teen girls who dress up for manga cosplay...

I expect you're kidding, but there is a difference between dressing as a fictional character from cartoons, sans any racial markers, and dressing as a person of another race, making sure to highlight those marker.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:45 PM on August 1, 2012


You're probably not gonna like my opinion, but I feel obligated to speak up here, regardless of the negative feedback I might get, so here goes:

I think it's about as racist as white people here co-opting elements of Black culture (like ghetto culture), assuming that those elements adequetly represent Black people in general, and finding those elements contemptible, yet mimicking them- in a sanitized, slumming, "it's-ok-for-me-to-do-it-cuz-i'm-white-and-we-all-know-im-not-really-like-them" kind of way. Yes, there is a strong element of racism in "suburban white kids who dress in baggy pants", whether those kids are aware of it or not. There's racism in the disgusted reactions of their parents. There's racism in white people- usually teenagers- asking Black people why they don't "act Black", and in the assumption that that style is fully representative of Black culture.

Or all of these implied assumptions, right here on this thread, that there's no nice suburban Black kids, or that poor Black kids (and truckers, apparently? Evil, unacceptable truckers) are neccessarily bad/inferior/threatening.

That implication that Black culture is inferior- that nice Black kids are "acting white".

(By the way, just FYI, I'm pretty sure that suburban kids of both races wear skinny jeans nowadays.)

I'd also like to point out that people emulating cultures that they look down on happens all the time. It's usually the powerful mocking, whoops excuse me, imitating the less powerful, for fun, for fashion,
because they can afford to.

Bottom line: somewhat racist. Very obnoxious. Not a new problem. People are pretty consistently obnoxious throughout all of time, especially teenagers. This, too, shall pass.
posted by windykites at 11:54 PM on August 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'll jump into a brand new skin and then you won't be able to box me in!

Anyway, isn't this pretty much the same kogal bullshit that's been going on for years?
posted by Redfield at 11:59 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


someone can move from Japan to the US and become American, but a black person from the US could never move to Japan and become Japanese

Hasn't that been a hallmark of American culture since the 19th Century? Not to diminish the racism of Japanese culture (fun horror stories of my Korean-American friend who lived there for a year), but America has always nominally been about defining itself through nationalism rather than ethnicity (so long as you were white, I mean; let's be serious here).
posted by cthuljew at 12:00 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am compelled to point out that it's really not like a cargo cult in any meaningful sense.
posted by smoke at 12:03 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's usually the powerful mocking, whoops excuse me, imitating the less powerful, for fun, for fashion, because they can afford to.

Do you have anything to back this assertion up? My experience with, for example, white youth emulating urban culture has predominantly been a matter of some form of self-identification. Misguided or not, that has nothing to do with mockery.
posted by Brak at 12:16 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


About as racist as the white dudes here in the USA who are way too into some aspects of Japanese culture

There's a weird meta-narrative going on. A story about some Japanese kids who obsess over African-American culture, packaged by Japanese reporters who add English subtitles, made ready for consumption by Americans who obsess over Japanese culture.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:17 AM on August 2, 2012 [28 favorites]


I wonder, is B-Style associated with the many ethnic minorities, such as the Ainu or Burakumin, in Japan who are already the flip side to traditional Japanese fetishism of pale skin?
posted by Blasdelb at 12:34 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's usually the powerful mocking, whoops excuse me, imitating the less powerful, for fun, for fashion, because they can afford to.

Huh?
So the "powerful" here is the ganguro girl in Shibuya who's into dark tanning?
And the "less powerful" are the black hip-hoppers she's seen on MTV?
Because apart from the odd American serviceman or maybe Nigerian bouncer in Kabuko-cho, there sure aren't too many black people in Tokyo, and those are not the ones being imitated.

By the way, I think the subtitles are inaccurate. Here's what I hear:

"Yabai-yone, nihonjin kiruto. Demo gaijin kiruto kakkoii."

Subtitles in the Video: "When we wear it, it looks vulgar, but not with black people."

More literal translation: "It's risky on a Japanese, but when a foreigner is wearing it, it looks so cool."

So, no mention of black people and I don't hear any "vulgar" there too. What she's saying is, "this stuff looks much better on non-Japanese people". I don't think the powerful imitating the non-powerful enters into it.
posted by sour cream at 12:39 AM on August 2, 2012 [58 favorites]


windykites: (and truckers, apparently? Evil, unacceptable truckers)

You're overthinking a hill of beans there, old chap.

I mentioned truckers because the point of suburban kids dressing like truckers (or rappers fro that matter) is to rebel against their suburban upbringing.

The implied assumption is in your head only.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:45 AM on August 2, 2012


And besides, isn't it kinda racist to assume that people in other cultures all share your racism?
posted by sour cream at 12:46 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


And so the universe begins to establish an equilibrium to balance all the U.S. teen girls who dress up for manga cosplay

This is not cosplay.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:47 AM on August 2, 2012


When do we get this magical Japanese ~$25 / 10min tanning bed that is cancer risk free? And a Japanese mother who's fine with tattoos and piercings??? Have things really gotten that much better?
posted by zengargoyle at 12:54 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


weird sideways racism

This is a very interesting phrase, as it suggests that the perjorative ways that different non-white cultures view each other are not racism per se, which one might infer to specifically be whit racism. From this it might be fair to assume a model where other cultures radiate out from "whiteness", which is at the same time central to the model and the only true source of racism. That is to say, it seems to be a model of the world that has the (American) white experience at the centre, with other experiences secondary to it.

Young Japanese people have long imitated western styles that they are drawn to, in an excessively extravagant way, more akin to high drag than anything else. This is an example of that. How it fits into Japanese culture is far more complicated than I can really understand properly, but, in itself, I don't see this as any different from the rockabilly kids in Yoyogi Park. Is it an intense, affectionate parody? Yes. So what? What is so special about African-American hip-hop culture in all its absurdity and bling that it should not be subject to intense, affectionate parody?

Is Japanese culture inherently racist? Oh, yes. I mean, there's a popular idea that Koreans don't count as proper people, and they're essentially identical people who just live on a slightly different land mass. But at least give them the credit to be racist in their own way and on their own terms, rather than just "sideways" racist, a sort of secondary imitative racism, not quite as good as the real thing. Whether you're a white American gaijin, or and African-American gaijin, or a Belgian gaijin or an Argentinean gaijin, you're still gaijin. If you don't like the idea of being not-quite-human, you probably shouldn't visit. To be honest, as an Englishman, I find it less onerous than being lower-middle-class in upper class places. YMMV.

But it's slightly ridiculous to think that the rest of the world should unironically share Americans' assumptions about its own cultural subgroups. It's not much fun, and they have their own fish to fry. If they don't do people like you as a drag tribute, it's not because they take you more seriously, but rather because they don't find you interesting or entertaining enough to imitate.
posted by Grangousier at 12:56 AM on August 2, 2012 [31 favorites]


Is Japanese culture inherently racist? Oh, yes. I mean, there's a popular idea that Koreans don't count as proper people, and they're essentially identical people who just live on a slightly different land mass.

Koreans don't count as proper people? In what century did you pick up that nonsense?

But at least give them the credit to be racist in their own way and on their own terms, rather than just "sideways" racist, a sort of secondary imitative racism, not quite as good as the real thing. Whether you're a white American gaijin, or and African-American gaijin, or a Belgian gaijin or an Argentinean gaijin, you're still gaijin. If you don't like the idea of being not-quite-human, you probably shouldn't visit.

It's just a term that means "foreigner". I believe Koreans and Chinese have the same term (same kanji). Yes, I know the term can be a bit loaded, but "gaijin" = "not-quite-human" goes way overboard in my opinion. "Gaijin" = "not Japanese" is more like it.
posted by sour cream at 1:07 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question should be whether their models (black Americans) feel offended. If they aren't, maybe white people don't need to feel offended for them.
posted by pracowity at 1:07 AM on August 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


sour cream: Yes, you're almost certainly right in both cases. The reason I try not to write more than 140 characters these days is because I tend to get carried away. Me==fail. If I could carry a sustained argument I'd have passed an exam once. But I got the former nonsense in the 21st century from my wife, who's from Kobe (though it's a tendency she deplores, so I suspect she rather overplayed it for effect, the way I overdo criticisms of my own country). In the latter case, though gaijin certainly doesn't mean sub-human (or, as I was first told, "hairy-arsed barbarian") isn't it the case that "not-Japanese" is a rather more significant qualification than "not-British" or even "not-American"?
posted by Grangousier at 1:23 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's as stupid as anyone playing dress up for their entire life is.

Oh well, maybe i do it too. I imitate hobo culture.
posted by phylum sinter at 1:31 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


**but i would never pull my teeth out or lose a toe to look more like one.
posted by phylum sinter at 1:33 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, not the sincerest form of racism.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:37 AM on August 2, 2012


If the claim here is that hip hop dress is not an established subculture and style of dress in Japan, I'm floored.

I find it curious the number of people in the thread saying this has to be racist because, well, Japanese people are just really racist etc.
posted by biochemicle at 1:55 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The question should be whether their models (black Americans) feel offended. If they aren't, maybe white people don't need to feel offended for them.

Racism can cause offense, but it is possible for racism to exist without anybody being offended by it. Thus the phenomenon of white people who use racial epithets but claim it is okay because they have black friends who don't mind it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:00 AM on August 2, 2012


Sorry but this is clearly not racist. This is teenagers trying to be different. I don't care what Japan's history with racism is (as it relates to this issue). The girls in the video are a long fucking stone's throw from being in blackface.

Kids do weird shit. This is not news. This is not really any different than me listening to and really getting into music that was popular when my parents were young. It feels good to find your own thing, even if it's really not yours.
posted by TheRedArmy at 2:20 AM on August 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Wow, this thread is such a trainwreck of typical MeFi sanctimoniousness and LOLJapan.

Look, teenagers being fascinated with hiphop culture and trying to look like their idols which are usually (but not always) black is not a specifically Japanese phenomenon. And yes, those kids, when not black, tend to go into deep tanning (c.f. Snooki).

Is it stupid? Yes. Is it racist? You must be kidding. There's also a vibrant hiphop culture among the Arab kids in the French housing projects. They purposely and (very) unselfconsciously set out to imitate the most outrageous aspects of "black American" hiphop culture. The girls also tend to have tans ranging from the orange to the deep brown. Are they also being "sideways racist"? Nope, just naff, although not nearly as much as some of the comments in this thread.

Blackface minstrelsy was racist not because it sought to imitate a white perception of "black culture", but because it deliberately caricatured and ridiculed it. These kids, on the contrary, are moved by admiration. A more accurate parallel than minstrelsy would thus be the zoot suits of the 1940s Zazous. Who just happened to be the original anti-racists.
posted by Skeptic at 2:27 AM on August 2, 2012 [45 favorites]


There was a discussion about this on Clutch (online magazine for Black women), with a range of opinions and reactions from commenters.
posted by taz at 2:31 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


This style has not been popular in Tokyo for years. It was on its way out when I first arrived in 2003, when Takeshita-dori in Harajuku was still full of hiphop clothing stores with African promoters in the street. Now there are only 2 or 3 left there, and the few remaining shops in 109 always seem empty.
Personally I thought the b-girls looked amazing, and definitely better than I would in the same clothes.
posted by koakuma at 2:35 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blackface minstrelsy was racist not because it sought to imitate a white perception of "black culture", but because it deliberately caricatured and ridiculed it.

This is not historically accurate. Many minstrels actually sought to be as accurate as possible, performing actual negro spirituals and folk songs, and advertised themselves as performing authentically. Nonetheless, was resulted was, to our eyes, a cruel parody.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:40 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was wondering abour rebellion and Japanese-ness with these teens wishing to look like Others.

Do Japanese teenagers ever affect Korean or burakumin identities in order to rebel against Japanese society? Or is there a region of "Other, but not other enough for comfort?"
posted by zippy at 2:41 AM on August 2, 2012


These girls are mostly born in the 1990's and have little knowledge of and no context for American race relations.
They're subverting their own culture's ideas about skin color, beauty, and class via their intense admiration for black American style. They're clearly infatuated with hip-hop culture and simply ignorant of all the (justifiable) baggage we bring to the table.
posted by FeralHat at 2:49 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh well, maybe i do it too. I imitate hobo culture.

Ah, but are you mocking me or not?
posted by Hobo at 3:00 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Much like when Americans get Maori tattoos. They are just celebrating another culture and subverting their own.

Never mind that Maori elders find it deeply offensive, and that these tattoos have specific meanings, and, in Maroi culture, must be earned.

Listen, I don't believe these young women are being deliberately racist. But there are problems with appropriating somebody else's culture, and ignorance is not an excuse, or a reason not to discuss those problems.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:01 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Do Japanese teenagers ever affect Korean or burakumin identities in order to rebel against Japanese society?

I don't know that makes a lot of sense. How would kids even emulate Korean or burakumin? It's a status that many Japanese have historically been at pains to avoid - there's little in the way of visible cosigns or subculture to adopt...
posted by smoke at 3:01 AM on August 2, 2012


But I got the former nonsense in the 21st century from my wife, who's from Kobe (though it's a tendency she deplores, so I suspect she rather overplayed it for effect, the way I overdo criticisms of my own country). In the latter case, though gaijin certainly doesn't mean sub-human (or, as I was first told, "hairy-arsed barbarian") isn't it the case that "not-Japanese" is a rather more significant qualification than "not-British" or even "not-American"?

I'm not denying that there is discrimination against Koreans going on in Japan, but I don't think there is a qualitative or quantitative difference to discrimination against Mexicans in the US, Pakistanis or Indians in the UK or Turks in Germany.
There used to be a time when detectives were sent out to make sure that prospective brides/grooms are not of this or that undesired minority, but those times seem to be largely over and I know many cross-cultural (Japanese-American, -Chinese, -Thai, -German, and whatnot) couples.

zippy: Do Japanese teenagers ever affect Korean or burakumin identities in order to rebel against Japanese society?

FWIW, 60% or so of the Yakuza are of burakumin and 30% are of Korean origin.
posted by sour cream at 3:13 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think these teens are on the whole self aware enough to think beyond the fashion.

I do need to work out how to use "problematic fetishization of the exotic" in as many situations as possible this week though.
posted by gomichild at 3:32 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Skeptic: Is it stupid? Yes. Is it racist? You must be kidding. There's also a vibrant hiphop culture among the Arab kids in the French housing projects. They purposely and (very) unselfconsciously set out to imitate the most outrageous aspects of "black American" hiphop culture. The girls also tend to have tans ranging from the orange to the deep brown.
So, is internalized racism not a thing now? You don't think that French-North African kids might be responding cheekily to the racism they receive from mainstream French culture and that the mode of resistance they choose (adoption of imported, prefabricated mass-cultural norms from America) might also be culturally disastrous? Recognizing that a subculture has agency and that that agency might not always have edifying results shouldn't be mutually exclusive things. We shouldn't just celebrate agency and playfulness in themselves and ignore their consequences.

To mind, indigenes and minority groups outside the US assuming the guise of hip-hop hasn't really been something to celebrate. It's more a sign of US cultural hegemony and global homogenization, and at its worst, it involves the actual exportation of some of the most viciously racist ideology ever practised (American plantation-style white-on-black racism) to countries that had been relatively free of it before.

In a few decades' time, mark my words, contemporary white hip-hop fandoms will be looked at through exactly the same lenses of disgust and contempt that we reserve for 19th- and early 20th-century white audiences for black-face minstrelsy, and for the same reasons.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:45 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good comment from the clutch magazine discussion:
Here’s the thing, tho: they get older, get their salaryman job, and leave those things behind like we discarded parachute pants and jheri-curls. And as for ACTUAL Blackanese folks in Tokyo (my daughter’s half-asian/half-black), why not ask [how] they get treated by the Japanese. Not kawaii (cute).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:07 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Everybody wants to be black until the police come..."

Actually, the best part of the video was Patient Mom;" She'll keep this up til it becomes boring"
posted by djrock3k at 4:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish we wouldn't be so quick to jump on the sanctimonious train.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:56 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


You don't think that French-North African kids might be responding cheekily to the racism they receive from mainstream French culture

"Cheekily"? It's quite in-your-face, considering how often French rap lyrics mention the word "ghetto". But while most successful singers may make a big deal about racism, most of their fans are far less political and more likely to adopt the look simply because it's "cool". We are in any case far from the premise that those Japanese hiphop fans are being racist themselves for adopting the same look.

Also, perceived racism != actual racism (cue Ali G: "Is it 'cause I is black?!")

and that the mode of resistance they choose (adoption of imported, prefabricated mass-cultural norms from America) might also be culturally disastrous?

Oh, there's little doubt of that. It's a damn tragedy when those French-North African kids are left to believe they only have a choice between:

a) violently mysoginistic hiphop culture;
b) violently mysoginistic Islamist culture; or
c) "acting white".

But again we are wandering off-subject, the subject being whether honestly admirative yet awkward adoption of "foreign" cultural norms can be considered racist. The answer is an emphatic no (and thank God anyway for those who, awkwardly or not, borrow enthusiastically from "foreign" cultures, because they are the cross-pollinators driving cultural evolution, even when the things they adopt are misguided).
posted by Skeptic at 4:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: jump on the sanctimonious train.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:30 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, does anybody remember Nehru jackets?

Sometimes people wear stuff 'cause they just think it looks cool, whether it actually does or not. When they run out of ideas they steal from other arenas. And remember, these are young people we're talking about here.

The more things change, etc. etc.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:56 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


"when we do it it looks vulgar, but not on the black women"

Funny coincidence. When I put on blackface for a minstrel show, it looks vulgar, but when black people get up in the morning and start their day, it doesn't. Strange world we live in.
posted by ocschwar at 6:34 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to a high school that was 20% Korean, and 79.99% white (with a good deal of second-generation Polish included). There were two prevalent forms of reappropriating black culture. One was the white kids blasting 50 Cent in their borrowed Chevy Suburbans who called anything broken "ghetto". The other kind was the Korean kids who dressed and talked like hip-hop artists. Reaproppriation was happening in both groups, but it was definitely more pervasive among the Korean kids. I don't know if there's a connection here, but if there's anything to be learned from my high school, it's that teenagers will mimic their idols, regardless of their race.
posted by deathpanels at 6:35 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Much like when Americans get Maori tattoos. They are just celebrating another culture and subverting their own.

Never mind that Maori elders find it deeply offensive, and that these tattoos have specific meanings, and, in Maroi culture, must be earned.


That's not "racist" either. It may be offensive for other reasons.
posted by eugenen at 6:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This makes me laugh because I've just been swimming in the currents of the polyester sea that flows through Baltimore when Otakon comes to town, and the view of pink wigs, wooden katanas, creepy kawaii short short skirts, and furry stripey tails from my office window in my giant clocktower always gives me pause. This year, especially, I was watching and wondering if there's another culture that apes ours in the sort of histrionic, absurdly serious way that Americans deal with anime and manga and the rest of the neon-tinted postmodern Victorian orientalist media exoticism that is splattered over youth culture like they're the center girl at a pop bukakke.

This, I think, is that thing.

I have to wonder what the Japanese for "oh, for chrissakes," is, because I imagine my counterpart somewhere across the Pacific probably needs that phrase as much as I do when I'm watching blank-faced warriors in heavy synthetic fabric costumes melting in the sub-Mason-Dixon heat at the crosswalks and trying to stay in character.

What a world this is.
posted by sonascope at 6:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know why I put racist in scare quotes in that last comment, I'm sorry.
posted by eugenen at 6:37 AM on August 2, 2012


Don't do impressions of other races.

oh man lonely island is fucked
posted by fungible at 6:52 AM on August 2, 2012


I think it's worth looking at the comments at Clutch - it's a site with some fairly sophisticated analysis of style and race, and IMwhiteO the commentariat is also pretty sophisticated. Folks' feelings seem to be complicated, a lot more complicated than feelings about, say, white Americans doing something similar.

Do I think it's racist? I think total racial drag in a society where there aren't many of the people you're imitating and where there's a cultural tradition of total-lifestyle-styletribes is really hard to parse. I also think it's interesting testimony to how flattened, stereotyped and yes, racist the depictions of African-American folks in popular media are. It would be difficult to create a total-white-lifestyle style tribe (it would have to be an imitation of one kind of majority-white subculture...which is how it seems to work) because the images of white people in media are comparatively varied and complex. You can't walk away with the impression that White Lifestyle Is One Specific Thing, because there are so many depictions of white lifestyles*.

Maybe this is more a symptom of racism - that blackness is figured in international media as the equivalent to, like, being a goth rather than a complex and varied identity contoured by history, white supremacy and resistance?


*Not that "hippie" "punk" "preppy" "goth" or whatever are non-stereotypical conceptions, or that those subcultures even are exclusively white, which they are not.
posted by Frowner at 6:53 AM on August 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yes, there is a strong element of racism in "suburban white kids who dress in baggy pants", whether those kids are aware of it or not. There's racism in the disgusted reactions of their parents.
I'd join you in shaming those kids and their parents, but wait - am I free from sin? If approving of baggy pants is racist, and disapproving of baggy pants is racist, I fear to guess how super-duper-racist noticing Catch-22s about baggy pants must be.
posted by roystgnr at 6:53 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, is internalized racism not a thing now? You don't think that French-North African kids might be responding cheekily to the racism they receive from mainstream French culture and that the mode of resistance they choose (adoption of imported, prefabricated mass-cultural norms from America) might also be culturally disastrous? Recognizing that a subculture has agency and that that agency might not always have edifying results shouldn't be mutually exclusive things. We shouldn't just celebrate agency and playfulness in themselves and ignore their consequences.

But I feel like "internalized racism" is something that people have to identify in themselves. I assume it exists, as I've definitely struggled with internalized homophobia (which is way more complicated than the 'gays are icky, I don't want to be gay so I will be closeted' thing that straight people assume). But I'm really uncomfortable pointing to a particular racial subculture that is not mine and saying "there's internalized racism!" because I just don't have the complex experience of that culture needed to have a meaningful opinion.

I'm also worried about when folks say that things are "culturally disastrous", because in my experience culture tends to be pretty robust and always in flux, and what you think is disastrous looking at it from the outside tends to be meeting a real need in the community and tends not to be such a disaster after all. Consider the ten million moral panics about communities of color in the US - single parent families! too much of the sex! that hippety-hop! that welfare! those work-shy people! In each case, the moral panic turned out to be bullshit, and the problems that were identified were the result of racism pressing in, not internal cultural processes ruining everything.

I also think that 'culturally disastrous' suggests that there is a clear-cut, optimal path for a culture to take, and that somehow the members of that culture are Doing It Wrong, neither of which has been true historically.
posted by Frowner at 7:08 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


This thread demonstrates the limitations of the practice of categorizing things as "racist" or not.

Racism can be an ideology of the sort that demands different treatment for certain poorly defined groups of allegedly genetic origin. More often, racism is stuff people say and do that supports racist ideologies that are presently in effect. The stereotype of Scandinavians being hard-drinking Viking badasses isn't normally called out for its racism, although it might have been once, because the Scandinavian countries are quite well off, and there isn't really a tradition that I've noticed of using that stereotype as an excuse to imprison or otherwise discriminate against anyone. Same comment for the various regional stereotypes: calling New Yorkers jerks isn't racist because we don't tend to view New Yorkerhood as hereditary. (Just because it's not racist doesn't mean it's not a dick move, btw.)

That means the exact same video can be nonracist during production, and nonracist on release in its country of origin, but hella racist when it gets to the United States.

Is that actually the case with the linked video? I can't tell, because I have no idea what attitudes political and otherwise about black people are in effect in Japan. There might actually be some way that their attitudes about a group of people they will never meet could have some effect on those people. Japan is possibly the most internet-savvy nation in the world, so whatever online spaces black people prefer might feel some, uh, misdirected attention, from fans and from haters. The increased demand for the original, "authentically black" fashion products on display might cause a shift in the market in the USA as well.

I am suspicious of anyone who thinks they know what effect this is having at the moment, unless they are in frequent and active contact with people on the ground in all the subcultures concerned; at a minimum: USA hip hop production, marketing, and consumption, and the corresponding industries and fan groups in Japan.

This being MetaFilter, though, we will probably find that person.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:14 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cultural cross-pollination is cool and almost always leads to Nice Things.

Beanplating over who's more racist? Neither of those things.
posted by downing street memo at 7:22 AM on August 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think the cargo cult reference is sort of racist.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, racism is pretty racist.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2012


How is it racist to like and emulate something that is outside the box society places you in? Hiphop culture with all the bells and whistles that this video shows is quite common in my home country too, and those I know that are into that are because they genuinely like it.

Looking down on it, on the other hand, is racist.

Even when you use the word racist to describe it.

Because then you're working from the assumption (what you see as your own, or one you place in others) that this culture is some how "less-than" other cultures.
posted by svenni at 7:24 AM on August 2, 2012


Dudes, it is possible to be racist through ignorance. It is possible to be racist while attempting to sincerely emulate something in what you intend as a positive manner.

Ignorantly aping the aesthetic of a culture you do not understand is hella racist, even if you mean it as a compliment. For instance it would be extremely racist for me, as a white dude, to get all Noble Savage and start strutting around in feathers and rawhide, even if I meant it as a compliment to Native Americans.

Racism is not entirely about intent, it is also about effect. When you clumsily appropriate the imagery of another race or culture, you offend people from that race or culture. The point is not that you didn't mean to offend anyone, the point is that you should know better and your not bothering to learn before you do your big cut & paste act (and people who do bother to learn pretty much always abort on the wholesale appropriation) shows that you don't give a shit about the people who you're borrowing from, which is racist as fuck.

It's not any less racist because it's cute Japanese girls that we're talking about, and it's actually more racist than some of those suburban white kids we keep mentioning, because at least those kids are trying to be authentic, even if they are pretty doomed to failure in that regard. It would be super fucking racist if a bunch of American high school girls all decided to straighten their hair, dye it black, and start talking in phony Japenese accents because they thought that Japanese women were super beautiful and exotic or whatever.

I mean, you can't hate on this girls too much because it's pretty clear these young women have no idea what they're unleashing on the world, but on the other hand you'd kind of wish that they'd be a little more self-aware and not build their entire aesthetic from some kind of weird, crass, consumer/pop-culture mash-up. Not that they're the only teenagers doing that, but you wish people could be more thoughtful. I don't have a hate on for these people (I really try not to get a hate-on for anyone) and there are certainly more violently racist things that someone could do, and their lack of intent-to-harm makes this more of an educational issue than a oppositional issue, but what they're doing here is still totally racist.
posted by Scientist at 7:28 AM on August 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


How is this more offensive than suburban white kids who dress in baggy pants, or white rastas with dreads who affect a Jamaican accent, or drag queens who caricature women?

That's the most ignorant and superficial possible approach to drag. I made this post about it a while back, mainly because at least one person seems to mention it every time MetaFilter has a conversation about blackface.
posted by hermitosis at 7:40 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Scientist, it is not clear to me that ignorantly imitating someone else's culture is necessarily offensive, nor that it necessarily has any effect at all on the culture being imitated.

Taking your example of the high school girls putting on a Japanese look. Now, the fake accents I can understand being offensive, because fake accents are a classic way to caricature a culture you want to put down. But if you drop just that part, leaving some girls with straightened black hair and (let's say) some imported Gothic Lolita dress, I am less sure that would offend anybody.

Perhaps you meant "ignorantly" to imply that the particular thing being appropriated is a touchier matter than you realize? Is that it?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:44 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Black Jamaican-American anthropologist Marvin Sterling recently published a worthwhile book on a related topic called Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae, and Rastafari in Japan.

Here are some of his points paraphrased from the notes I took when I read it:

Sterling sees Jamaican blackness in Japan as harboring lots of seemingly contradictory meanings. He sees blackness in Japan as representing the fight against and the domination by Western power, purity (the natural) and impurity (the impoverished and corrupt), the cosmopolitan (belonging to the exciting global) yet primitive (third world regressed), the desired but also the devalued.

He also argues that one of the most glaring problems is that Japanese embodiments of blackness in Japan are usually undertaken with the discreet understanding that black people have no say in the matter.
posted by umbú at 7:48 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Probably should be considered as a radical stylistic rebellion against the white makeup of the Geisha (still widely considered the pinnacle of Japanese femininity amongst traditionalists)

( if the ancient tradition comes from China as the link suggests , it probably originated as a class marker ( if you work outside as a peasant or whatever, you get darkly tanned under the hot sun ; if you get to stay indoors all the time, you're probably an aristocrat or powerful official's wife and get to have a untanned skin, which the white makeup is an extreme symbol of ) rather than race marker
posted by Bwithh at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2012


I have to give these people a bit of credit for at least refining the aesthetic of their blackface. In middle school, when I landed back in special ed again, which amounted to me teaching myself a sort of lopsided "great books" program in the back office of the school's counseling center, where I would just spend half the day reading a selection of books of my choice while listening to Switched-On Bach on an old piano-key tape recorder and the other half in the few classes in which I could manage to be minimally disruptive.

Read mountains of science fiction, the Communist Manifesto (which would make the next grade very interesting), and read Malcolm X's autobiography, which sort of knocked me sideways. Now, from an ethnic standpoint, I'm mostly Irish, with a bit of Scotch and English in there somewhere, but my best friends were Jewish and I had a mad asexual crush on our exchange student from Panama, and I just felt like a mushy middle-class schlub without an identity. My grandmother had made a strong case for me being part Indian princess from outer space, which is what she claimed as part of her identity, but I couldn't seem to make anything of that.

We had maybe ten black people that I knew of in our school, and they always seemed interesting and with-it, and my grandmother had inadvertently (at first) taken me to see a string of blaxploitation films at the then-ruinous grand theater in downtown Baltimore, so I was primed for a keen interest in the curious world of blackness. Read through my Malcolm X and I was set. The man was not going to keep me down anymore—no sir.

I bought a couple dashikis at a yard sale up the street where the first multiracial couple in our neighborhood lived, and they were lovely, albeit the kind of funky plastic fantastic seventies dashikis you say in, say, a Pam Grier film, and not the properly traditional kind. I got up one morning, intent on honoring my African ancestry, which I presumed I had since all of humanity had sprung from the mother continent, and spent a good hour in the bathroom doing something atrocious and painful to my hair. I had hair that had a bit of the old oirish lilt to it, but nothing kinky, so I used my mother's turquoise rattail comb and ratted the shit out of my hair until I had a huge, fluffy, off-center orb of hair-don't hanging around my pimply face like a cloud.

Pulled on the dashiki, touched up my frightening wad of hair, put on sandals because sandals seemed blacker than chukkaboots, and wore the bell bottom pants that were a hand-me-down from a girl cousin that my mother always claimed looked perfectly masculine, despite the embroidered butterfly on the backside, and walked to school instead of taking the bus, so I could maximize my reveal. I was fairly sure I looked superfly, though I suspect I was deluded in this belief.

Read through my special ed session in giddy anticipation, and was vibrating like a tuning fork in anticipation of being embraced in my new and hip identity, and—

Well, I don't have a grasp of these things, really, and for the same reason my choice of lip-syncing "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" for my music class project was greeted with horrified silence, the new and improved Joe, now with African-American Heritage™, was met with a shockwave of disbelief that almost defused the obvious potential for derision.

"What the—" was a fairly common response, but hey, heads were turning!

I strutted into my social studies class with my George Jefferson walk, sat down, and adjusted my capsizing tangle of ratted pseudofro. My teacher, a large and boisterous black woman with whom I had a rapport that made her the Mister Wilson to my menace, or the Bert to my Ernie, looked up, sighed audibly, and rolled her eyes, but was resolute in not acknowledging this absurd dayglo idiot-coiffed weirdo in her class...for a while.

A question came up, I raised my hand. I didn't raise it properly, or even with that two-armed excited arm-raising of my usual hyperkinetic interjection. I jammed a fist in the air like strong black Olympians on the dais, just like I saw in a picture.

"Yes, Mr. Wall?"

"Umm," I said, and this is where I ventured into fatal territory, "Mrs. Brown—I would like to be called Joe X now, because I have rejected my slave name."

The class, who normally would pile on in moments like this, were so overwhelmed by the comic potential of the moment that they were almost entirely silent.

"Oh, for the love of God. Okay, Mr. X—do you have an answer for me?"

I answered, and was correct. I was politely asked to use the traditional method of hand-raising and not the angry fist of the Black Panthers, and I complied, mainly out of fear. My proud black ancestry only lasted a few days, and finally, Mrs. Brown pulled me aside, laughing, and gave me a short, sincere lecture.

"Okay, Joe. You know you look like a damn fool, right?"

"What?"

"You look like a fool. I know you're not a fool, and you know you're not a fool, but you look like a clown in that getup."

"But...but...I'm honoring my African heritage!"

"You are so far from Africa it's comin' up fast behind you. You're a skinny white kid from, I dunno—English...maybe German stock?"

"Irish. But we all come from Africa!"

"Damn right," she said, and I always loved that she said "damn" so much, instead of those bland, moderated curse words teachers normally used. "We do, but a lot's happened between now and then, and it's important to be who we are and honor what other people are, too, but not like this. You want to have an ethnic background and you do, but you didn't earn this one. When I went to school to become a teacher, I was the only black girl in my school. When I was your age, there were still water fountains for colored folks and dirty bathrooms just for us. Do you know what that's like?"

"Well, no, but I can imagine."

"No, you can't. It's like a little knot of gristle in your stomach that never goes away. You wake up and you are not as good, you go shopping and you are not as good, and you are always seen through the lens of what people think of you. You can't know it until you've lived it, and though we have come a long, long way, you always have to work harder and be smarter and do better to be as good. If you want to honor your that African heritage—don't be Joe X. Just be Joe, do some reading, and take some creme rinse and comb out whatever the hell you did to your hair. Doesn't that hurt?"

"Well, a little."

She added books to my reading list, and I read up on Bayard Rustin and Gandhi and people less incendiary than Malcom, and I combed out the 'fro and folded up the dashiki and pointedly told my mother that, yes, a butterfly on my butt was girly and made people laugh at me, and I did not let my African heritage go. We all come from the same roots, and there's a way to honor the delight that comes from difference and a way to wear it like a costume, as flimsy and false as a rented tux. Sometimes, we play, and skirt those edges. Sometimes, though, it's just appropriation, borne out of a tickle of shame that we're just not special enough.

She was wrong about the gristle, though. Just watching family members posting their gleeful, supportive photos of them with chicken sandwiches in their hands on facebook—well, yeah, I know that feeling, and it's always there, reminding you that you are not good enough, and never will be, not matter how far you go and how hard you work and how much you strive to make things as good as they can be. I am not a black man, even if you chase my genes all the way back to the plains of Africa, and I have the luxury of a secret I can hide, but I know what she was talking about thirty-two years ago.

Looking the part is only part of looking for that distant point of convergence.
posted by sonascope at 7:51 AM on August 2, 2012 [37 favorites]


"Appropriation" is such a confusing word. What's the property in question? If you take inspiration from other cultures in a way that doesn't offend, are you appropriating or not? Does it make a difference whether you deliberately avoided giving offense, or just got lucky?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:56 AM on August 2, 2012


I don't really see the racism here. Hip Hop is a constantly evolving global aesthetic movement. It began with and still centers on a subset of African American culture, but part of what makes it appealing to global youth is how open it is. These girls are emulating American Hip Hop styles because they love the movement. They're emulating the African American women they see in rap videos because they're the exemplars of female fashion for them. They're rebelling against the Japanese pale skin aesthetic so they can look more like the people they admire. Tanning is not the same as blackface, admiration and emulation is not the same as mockery. These kids aren't carrying the same history of race relations we are and trying to paint them with our cultural guilt is both silly and sad.
posted by Lighthammer at 7:57 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Frowner said:

Do I think it's racist? I think total racial drag in a society where there aren't many of the people you're imitating and where there's a cultural tradition of total-lifestyle-styletribes is really hard to parse. I also think it's interesting testimony to how flattened, stereotyped and yes, racist the depictions of African-American folks in popular media are.

I think this is a really savvy comment.

The fact is, which many people outside the country don't often realize, is that many, many Japanese have a very limited interaction with the world outside of Japan, which is heavily mediated by media representations.

So, while there are many Japanese who have a clue, and are sensitive to many issues relating to cultures outside of their own, most of them are pretty fucking naive.

Does this mean they aren't racist? Well, I think many Japanese are racist; everything about this activity is highlighting a stereotyped, racial image of a group of people.

But what is critical about this is that Japanese racism means something very different from the racism that a black person may experience at the hands of a white person in the United States, for example. For one, the history is just not there. It just doesn't have the same baggage attached to it. I believe this is important to recognize when casting a blanket "this is racism" kind of statement over this kind of activity.

Scientist said:

It's not any less racist because it's cute Japanese girls that we're talking about, and it's actually more racist than some of those suburban white kids we keep mentioning, because at least those kids are trying to be authentic, even if they are pretty doomed to failure in that regard. It would be super fucking racist if a bunch of American high school girls all decided to straighten their hair, dye it black, and start talking in phony Japenese accents because they thought that Japanese women were super beautiful and exotic or whatever.

I'm not sure that "authenticity" is such a good yardstick to measure Japanese cultural appropriations level of racism with. I think authenticity is a particularly American, or maybe European, concept. Authenticity isn't necessarily a marker that something can be viewed as more or less racist; it may be a motivating factor, but it doesn't mean anything other than that it helps shape the final form the racism may take.

In my view, Japanese stereotyping and cultural appropriation may not be searching for authenticity, but rather a more radical sense of "other." This being the case, authenticity becomes an oblique variable to this kind of racism.

I think the thing that this whole conversation is making me realize is that, perhaps, "racism" is too loaded of a term, with too much of an emotional baggage to really have a meaningful conversation about. The stuff that is going on here, along with the stuff that is going on when a suburban white kid is borrowing elements of black culture, is far too complex in its mix of economic, political, social, historical, etc. etc. factors to stuff all into one word like "racism."
posted by dubitable at 8:01 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


By the way, there is a quote floating around this thread about what the one girl says when watching the video towards the beginning: "When we wear it, it looks vulgar, but not with black people."

The problem with this, is that the girl says something slightly different, something that makes a rather large difference. A better translation would be, "it's uncool, when Japanese people wear it. But when foreigners wear it it's cool." I don't hear her say the word for black people, but the word for foreigners.

This shows you a few things: to a larger extent than people realize foreigners are lumped together. Certainly Japanese people recognize the difference between white people and black people, they use different words for them; but it's not clear how distinct this is. As I said in my previous comment, it certainly doesn't have the same relevance as it does in the states.

That's just one reason why it's so hard to talk about these things effectively through the lens of a culture as different from the U.S. or U.K. as Japan.
posted by dubitable at 8:10 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Doh, sour cream beat me to it, sorry I didn't read the thread thoroughly.
posted by dubitable at 8:20 AM on August 2, 2012


I think that those of us who are white Americans in this thread have the tricky issue of, well, the whole thing is happening in Japan....and it's not like there isn't a great deal of racial overdetermination in our understanding of Japan already.

I just wonder whether "is this racist?" is the most productive question to ask.

What about "what does this say about race in media? what does this say about Japanese self-concepts of identity and race? what effects does this have in the world?" (Racism is very much about power and outcomes, right? Privilege-plus-power? Without power, it's just prejudice/stereotype, which may be annoying but isn't destructive.)

Also, I think it would be interesting to gather some opinions and experiences from folks of African descent - I assume there's a wide range of thoughts out there.

umbu's comment seems especially useful.
posted by Frowner at 8:24 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Kind of a weird subculture, and a very, very small one at that. It's worth remembering that the word otaku in Japan can mean someone who is absolutely and totally immersed in the minutia of a particular interest or hobby. While these girls are not otaku, well, it's kinda similar to otaku.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2012


(and truckers, apparently? Evil, unacceptable truckers)

At last, another reason to frown on kids wearing trucker hats.

posted by octobersurprise at 8:53 AM on August 2, 2012


OK, one more and I'll stop: the girl says near the end "the important thing is, you don't look Japanese" - when you consider that, and the "vulgar" statement, in context with the Japanese reputation for racist attitudes

In my experience, Japanese people are far less obsessed with race than are Americans. Besides, if race is mentioned at all (usually anonymously on the internet), people are usually prejudiced against a) Chinese people b) Dowa (aka "burakumin") and c) Koreans. South Asians and Iranians also can get treated pretty harshly in Japan. But the States seems to be worse.

someone can move from Japan to the US and become American, but a black person from the US could never move to Japan and become Japanese.

It's not easy to do (a bit of an understatement), but anyone can become a naturalized Japanese citizen, even "black people". There are plenty of Africans who become Japanese citizens.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:54 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Applying Western conceptions of racism to Japan is racist.
posted by iamck at 9:19 AM on August 2, 2012


A friend of mine who happens to be African American also noted that cultural relativism (eg, "Applying Western conceptions of racism to Japan is racist") is not acceptable.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should have been A friend of mine who happens to be African American who has lived in Japan for the past 15 years
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 AM on August 2, 2012


It's important not to confuse "hip-hop culture" with "black people". These kids are emulating the former, not the latter. "Hip-hop culture", and the multibillion dollar industry behind it, often tries to elide that difference, but it is very, very important.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:04 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blackface minstrelsy was racist not because it sought to imitate a white perception of "black culture", but because it deliberately caricatured and ridiculed it.

This is only partly true. Or, perhaps more accurately, this is true for the most part, but not entirely. Minstrelsy was a really odd and far more complex social and artistic phenomenon than we now choose to remember. It's worth noting that minstrelsy was almost entirely a Northern phenomenon, not a Southern one. It wasn't a slaveholders' amusement--and, indeed, southerners regarded them as dangerously sympathetic to the plight of slaves.
-
It's interesting to watch The Jazz Singer, for example, to get a taste of the last, lingering tradition of vaudeville blackface. Whatever else Al Jolson is trying to convey by singing in blackface, it's certainly not mockery of his stage persona. When he sings "Mammy" it is abundantly clear that there's not meant to be a dry eye in the house--we're supposed to entirely identify with him and to be deeply moved by his emotions.

None of this is to defend minstrelsy or blackface in general: clearly it was by and large rooted in at worst a thoroughgoing contempt for black Americans and at best a benevolent paternalism. But it is to say that even the institution that gets brought in as the clarifying limit case in arguments like this one is actually more complex and contradictory than we usually realize.
posted by yoink at 10:09 AM on August 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Interesting note: The man responsible for Tokyo Breakfast? The same guy responsible for Old Spice's The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.
posted by redsparkler at 10:14 AM on August 2, 2012


A couple people have more or less said that they'd like to hear the opinions of Black people, as if we hadn't already spoken in this thread. I'll be clearer and say that at least one of us has already spoken, probably more. Maybe don't assume that everyone in the thread is white.
posted by windykites at 10:29 AM on August 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Looking at these girls ... it's just weird. They just look kinda ... off. It's like they've created some sort of uncanny valley of black culture.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2012


I can't stop thinking about the leathery, cancerous carapaces they're going to develop from all that tanning.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:40 AM on August 2, 2012


A couple people have more or less said that they'd like to hear the opinions of Black people, as if we hadn't already spoken in this thread. I'll be clearer and say that at least one of us has already spoken, probably more. Maybe don't assume that everyone in the thread is white.

Oh, hey - one of those people was me! I wasn't so much assuming that everyone in the thread was white as clumsily trying to express "I think that white people should pay attention to who is speaking". I hadn't read every comment in the middle of the thread and was not sure exactly who had spoken and who hadn't, also there's that whole "it's obnoxious to expect people to foreground their racial identity but it's also obnoxious to assume and so I often fail!" thing. I apologize for how that came across and for missing your earlier comment(s)!
posted by Frowner at 10:41 AM on August 2, 2012


Part of me is like, "Guh."

But part of me is like, "Yes, black women are beautiful, strong, and proud and you should want to emulate their style, so go, Japanese young women, even if you sometimes do it in strange ways."

Seems to me that a lot of what we enjoy in American culture stems from white people giving shouts out to or otherwise appropriating pieces of black culture, sometimes awkwardly and problematically. Scratch that -- a lot of what we, all around the world, enjoy in various cultures stems from people giving shouts out to or otherwise appropriating pieces of other folks' cultures, sometimes awkwardly and problematically.

And it's not like there aren't black girls who try awkwardly and problematically to emulate the black women they see in videos, movies, and magazines, picking out questionable elements from the representation of black women in those media as markers of power and significance that they want to incorporate into their own lives.

Also, I'd be very surprised if there aren't young Japanese women in this subculture who are doing it only because other young Japanese women in their circles are doing it. As they say in the hippity-hoppity music from time to time, "Get in where you fit in."
posted by lord_wolf at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


It won't be long before American teenagers start, unknowingly at first, emulating KPOP and other Asian culture creating their own sub-genres, and people in China and Korea and Japan will be like "whoa that is just frighteningly weird!" It seems like popular culture may finally start to flow between east and west in more than one direction.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:52 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


a 10 billion+ dollar entertainment industry exists that promotes certain lifestyles and clothing fads and some people emulate it.

Somehow that is being considered racist now?
posted by couchdive at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


In my experience, Japanese people are far less obsessed with race than are Americans.

What you call "obsessed with race" I call "actually dealing with race and a racist past." Imperfectly, sure. But in a lot more above board way than Japan or a lot of other countries tend to do. We're barely a generation past the Greater East Asia Co Prosperity Sphere for fuck's sake.
posted by Justinian at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


white rastas with dreads who affect a Jamaican accent

Is this a thing, outside of SNL Digital Shorts?


Not really, mainly because the whole rasta/reggae thing has been on a slide in popularity since the 80s.

White teenagers dressing like American rappers while for some reason adopting terrible Jamaican accents is definitely a thing though, in England. It's what Ali G is making fun of, but see Attack the Block for a more sympathetic example.
posted by w0mbat at 11:48 AM on August 2, 2012


The GEACPS took the wind out of a lot of sails. After its demise, Japan's reconstruction generated some subtle undercurrents. Japan in the past has not only been racist, it's been actively xenophobic. Some of older Japanese still can't believe that white people can speak Japanese, and they actually can't understand a white person who can speak it fluently. I guess these country folk are diminishing. Well they are dying off. Japan has a history of looking beyond its borders for inspiration, but they Japanize every thing so much that only the foreign shell remains: they put the shell on something intrinsically Japanese. Foreigners see the shell and make the wrong decision about its meaning.

Gaijin has traditional meanings that resonate beyond its core meaning of "outside person," or "foreigner." If translated to mean "not Japanese," you should underline either, but usually not both words. It's not a flattering word. The more polite "gaikokujin" used to be in vogue, but it still resonates to the pure core of the Japanese soul. More likely, a foreigner nowadays would politely be cited by his nationality, "beikokujin" American, for example. But the polite Japanese would address him directly by using his name, followed by the approximation of "mister." John-san, Fred-san. Okay, they usually use the family name, which is polite, rather than the given name, which is familiar, but the san is a linguistic device denoting polite discourse. In Japan, politeness can be a mask, just as in the US or anywhere else. Formal settings among academics conjur other attachments that denote the scholar or doctor, or some such. Some folks, rarely, are honored by "sama" which has ancient roots and means that the speaker is heavily kissing an exhalted person's butt.

But Japanese girls are a whole other universe. Before you take on blackface, you should look into, and deal with, the middle-school craze, where Japanese pre-teens packaged up their soiled underwear and sold it online to middle-aged Japanese businessmen. I'm pretty sure there are a whole box of disquieting forces at work here, and they probably make overarching racism seem sort of warm and fuzzy by comparison.

Above all, don't muddy the water by trying to make direct comparisons of anything that Japanese people do with anything Americans do. People are people when you dig far enough into it: they inhale and exhale and consume food. Japanese racism doesn't resemble American racism, except for a casual, surface definition centered about exclusion and priority.

An almost Zen-like example of how this works happens when you are first learning the language. You are told that "Kore-wa empitsu desu" means "this is a pencil." Some three or four years later you find out that a working translation of anything Japanese may perhaps capture the spirit of the utterance, but it misses the cosmos from which that grammar springs by several layers of reality.
posted by mule98J at 12:44 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the mythical white suburban kids (circa 1989 through 1995, before the whole thing became a completely race-neutral street style) were emulating black rappers they dearly looked up to. Black rappers were hugely cooler than these white kids were, so that’s who they copied. It was the opposite of ridicule or mockery or looking down upon. I say this as someone who isn’t suburban, or black, or American, or young, which I hope gives me some distance.

But really, in 2012 can any form of hiphop style – hair, clothing, jewelry, gait, accent, anything – be considered uniquely African-American? Rap is a global movement and has been for a generation. If anyone of some other description adopts that style, what exactly is the link with U.S. blacks?

Now, Js are tribalist and J youth spend a lot of time trying to differentiate themselves. I remember the Mountain Witch look (yamanba according to Old Farmer’s Wikipedia). I also remember how often African tribes paint their own faces – and I thought blacks were what these Japanese kids were supposedly mocking. I see a commonality in that in none of those cases is the look meant to seem natural or human. Ganguro girls look like dolls to me.

(And I trust everyone here has read the two Fruits books by Shōichi Aoki [LibraryThing entry]?)
posted by joeclark at 1:28 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


(And I trust everyone here has read the two Fruits books by Shōichi Aoki [LibraryThing entry]?) posted by joeclark

I take it all back.
Japanese street fashion is
Star Trek convention

(but) no Klingons.
At least, not yet.
posted by mule98J at 2:12 PM on August 2, 2012


Japan in the past has not only been racist, it's been actively xenophobic. Some of older Japanese still can't believe that white people can speak Japanese, and they actually can't understand a white person who can speak it fluently. I guess these country folk are diminishing. Well they are dying off.

This has happened to me in big cities and in the countryside. FWIW, living in the country is vastly more comfortable - people are friendlier to me as a non-Japanese than in the big city. Far friendlier. Presumably this is because there are fewer non-Japanese folks around to annoy the general population by taking over the train on Halloween.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:58 PM on August 2, 2012


Comparing "maroi" (sic) ta moko with hip-hop bling is the most ... I have never ... *speechlessly watches the Mefi Sanctimonious Train steam through Clueless Hipster Station and smash the Buffer beams of Irony into splinters.
posted by Catch at 2:59 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


...*
posted by Catch at 3:02 PM on August 2, 2012


This style has not been popular in Tokyo for years. It was on its way out when I first arrived in 2003, when Takeshita-dori in Harajuku was still full of hiphop clothing stores with African promoters in the street. Now there are only 2 or 3 left there, and the few remaining shops in 109 always seem empty.

Yeah, doesn't anyone remember the Jynx "blackface" Pokemon fiasco which was in 2002 and that Pokemon was supposedly based on this style.
posted by melissam at 4:36 PM on August 2, 2012


But at least give them the credit to be racist in their own way and on their own terms, rather than just "sideways" racist, a sort of secondary imitative racism, not quite as good as the real thing.

I said "sideways" because the girls seemed to be imitating something that they at least subconsciously looked down on, based on the "vulgar" quote. It seems, though, that the subtitles were wrong and that's not really what the girl said based on someone's translation above (even I know, without speaking Japanese, that "gaijin" just means "foreigner" and not "black person", that's a really bad translation in the video)
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:43 PM on August 2, 2012


Also accusing this of being racist was based on what I know about Japanese attitudes towards American black people, for example Bob Sapp, a black kickboxer who was and may still be a mega-star there but basically had the image of some kind of sub-human gorilla or something.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:47 PM on August 2, 2012


Wow, this thread is such a trainwreck of typical MeFi sanctimoniousness and LOLJapan.

Skeptic my man, I owe you a bottle of good whisky. Don't let me forget that.
posted by Decani at 5:46 PM on August 2, 2012


My highly limited, internet-based understanding of the occasional weird Japanese fashion subculture that pops up on Western radar is that they tend to be very much centered in Tokyo (I think there's a specific district even but the name escapes me.) How (if at all) do these subcultures expand into the broader Japanese pop-milieu? If b-style's hot in Tokyo right now does that mean a year or two down the line the kids out in the country are going to be getting into it too?
posted by passerby at 7:08 PM on August 2, 2012


i wish white people would stop saying "damn skippy"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:31 PM on August 1


Eponysterical
posted by jonp72 at 7:33 PM on August 2, 2012


kokuryu: "Presumably this is because there are fewer non-Japanese folks around to annoy the general population by taking over the train on Halloween..."

Heh. Makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it.

I lived on Hokkaido for a couple years. Wonderful times, back in the late sixties. Good people, friendly to a fault, unless you try to step into the tub without bathing, stuff like that. Otherwise, they treated me as if I were some goofy cousin that needed looking after. I once stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank on my bike, and I asked the attendant, in Japanese, if he thought the town of Chizuwa might be about 60 clicks up the road. He scratched his head and sucked on his teeth, then trotted into his hut, brought me back six roadmaps. I had been practicing that phrase for about fifty miles, and it broke my heart. My time on Okinawa was different. Same friendliness, but they were accustomed to dealing with Americans, and they knew what discrimination is all about: from the Japanese mainland.

The generation of Japanese and Okinawan adults that I knew was alive during WII. They and their children experienced the American occupation of their country. Nowadays only the very old carry those memories, and all that stuff is now legendary, reduced to rationalizations, stuffed into closets, buried with the dead. Very scary when you think about it...imagine if US history was blank for 70 years, and your kids ask grampa what he did in the army. Or anywhere else.

Context, eh?
posted by mule98J at 8:25 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also accusing this of being racist was based on what I know about Japanese attitudes towards American black people, for example Bob Sapp, a black kickboxer who was and may still be a mega-star there but basically had the image of some kind of sub-human gorilla or something.

Bob Sapp was playing Bob Sapp.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:27 PM on August 2, 2012


I think total racial drag in a society where there aren't many of the people you're imitating and where there's a cultural tradition of total-lifestyle-styletribes is really hard to parse.

Like Frowner, I didn't have a simple, immediate, and negative reaction to this. It's an interesting phenomenon and there's a lot going on here. I also can't help but view it in the very wide context of the migration of global pop culture, which is not now and has never been a respecter of boundaries or politesse, but which has also given us most of the world's interesting creole cultural phenomena, from fashion to music to theatrics. There are, I'm sure and will accept, objectionable racist dimensions to the caricaturist aspects of the kinds of representation these folks are thoughtlessly basing their style aspirations on, but at the same time, I can't help but feel that seeing glimpses of this sort of foment happening is much like sitting on a fence in Appalachia in 1810 listening to the birth of American music. Culture evolves in lots of ways, and one of the ways - especially for pop culture - is this messy, chaotic, sometimes shallow and offensive, but sometimes rich and surprisingly innovative way.

What would really be far more interesting is seeing it extend beyond media-based mimicry (and I can't help but wonder how widespread this is - is it yet another J-fashion blip, or a larger subculture?) and into actual communication/collaboration with black American hip-hop and street artists.

In any case, my reaction isn't simple. I'm not sure this is important, and I'm not sure it can't be reasonably called offensive by some, but at the same time I'm certain this is - at least sometimes - what it looks like when you raise the curtain and ask how pop culture ideas are spread and how performance genres form.
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


sonascope: "with a bit of Scotch and English in there somewhere"

Well, everything's better with a little Scotch in you.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:34 PM on August 2, 2012


w0mbat: "White teenagers dressing like American rappers while for some reason adopting terrible Jamaican accents is definitely a thing though, in England. It's what Ali G is making fun of, but see Attack the Block for a more sympathetic example."

That's not actually a "terrible Jamaican accent", but largely how multicultural, working-class kids in southern England actually speak. It's a complex accent, influenced by the languages of immigrants from a bunch of different countries, as well as traditional English working-class accents.

Many European countries have similar phenomena, where individual immigrant communities may be too small to maintain a completely separate accent, but there are enough immigrants in general to create a general immigrant youth accent, and then, as often happens, this bleeds into the general youth population (mostly the working class) through interaction, music and culture, etc., and becomes the general urban youth accent (I'm not using "urban" in the American sense of "code for Black" here).

And, in my personal opinion, this is awesome. It's all the good things about an accent or dialect (the identity) without the actual exclusion, and with a general emphasis on being young, multicultural, and tolerant.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:44 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Black Jamaican-American anthropologist Marvin Sterling recently published a worthwhile book on a related topic called Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae, and Rastafari in Japan.

Thanks for the link - I suspected before even clicking it that it might be about Mighty Crown. I've been a fan for a while, even have one of their dancehall comps. In their case, though, it's completely authentic - yeah, a Japanese guy speaking patois may seem silly but they do it in front of huge Caribbean and NY audiences, and no one seems to think that it is. Reggae is sort of universal.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:46 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would really be far more interesting is seeing it extend beyond media-based mimicry (and I can't help but wonder how widespread this is - is it yet another J-fashion blip, or a larger subculture?) and into actual communication/collaboration with black American hip-hop and street artists.

The Wikipedia article on Japanese Hip-Hop is an interesting read and contains some discussion and context on the whole blackface issue.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:20 PM on August 2, 2012


Why are they so confused about the cancer-causing tanning beds?! She doesn't even put on the little eye-protectors!

(Y'all have handled the rest of it so well, but I couldn't let go of that part)
posted by batmonkey at 8:58 AM on August 3, 2012


i wish white people would stop saying "damn skippy"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:31 PM on August 1


Is it okay if black people say it, though?
posted by Decani at 4:20 PM on August 4, 2012


i wish white people would stop saying "damn skippy"

Really? I wanted to ask about this as it's a phrase I associate mostly with white dudes of a certain age who coach sports and/or had a military career. Like "Should we load these up, coach?" "Damn skippy you should load those up and then get your ass on the bus!" Like when it's used to mean "yes of course, what are you stupid?" I had assumed that it derived from Laugh-In style sixties humor, at least in that usage.

Urban dictionary suggests that there are several meanings and several sources for the phrase. Not that it's something that I ever say, and my mindset is pretty much "when in doubt, don't" on all those "should white people do this thing" questions anyway.

But if anyone feels like expanding on this, I'd be interested.
posted by Frowner at 5:23 PM on August 4, 2012


my mindset is pretty much "when in doubt, don't" on all those "should white people do this thing" questions anyway.

posted by Frowner at 1:23 AM on August 5


Huh. Mine is whenever someone tells me I shouldn't do something because of my race, I will damned well do it, and very often, and very noisily. Because I believe in freedom and I hate racism. No matter which direction it's travelling.
posted by Decani at 11:13 AM on August 6, 2012


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