Let’s make one thing clear. I didn’t watch last night’s American Music Awards. I did skim through a youtube upload of Katy’s now infamous performance because of the hoopla, but I didn’t see it live. So I initially had no idea what happened and I woke up this morning to several social media shares regarding her set at the AMAs and how it was racist and disrespectful. Corners of the the internet were in an up-“roar” (see what I did there?), with one camp crying foul while the other side, the Katy apologists, said it was a tribute and that people are making too big a deal out of it. Several media outlets praised the performance before throttling back a bit, as public outcry began to grow. And of course there was a large collective group in the middle, unaware of the entire ordeal and not caring too much one way or the other.
Believe it or not folks, I’m kind of in that middle camp. Kind of.
My initial reaction when I read the headlines was one of anxiety and a mental preparedness to be angered and frustrated. I read the negative articles first, adding fuel to my proverbial torch and was getting ready to sharpen my pitchfork and join in on the public shaming. But then I watched it. And I thought about it. And to be honest, I’m not really that mad – just a little saddened.
I can understand both points of view. From a completely objective standpoint, where I viewed it as a performance piece in terms of art, style, theatrics, and entertainment – I don’t think it was that bad of a show. It was visually rich, well choreographed and the pop song ain’t too shabby either. Of course when you add in the explosive and volatile element of race and culture – and the fact that a gosh-darn-it-white-all-amurican-freedom-fries-lovin’-woman is dressed up in a kimono and using a stereotypical smorgasbord of Asian influences to add some color to her set without any regard to what anything means or represents and without historical context… then yea, I get why people are upset.
But here’s the thing, I don’t think she was being racist – if racism is to be defined as:
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
But I do believe she acted out of ignorance – if ignorant is to be defined as:
lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.
I don’t believe for a second that Katy had any mal-intent when she and her team put this performance together. There was no heart or sense of superiority – only the unspoken acknowledgement that elements of eastern culture are different and was therefore Pop-Culture-Artistically appealing to her and much of the audience – and therefore it was deemed a valuable direction to take with the style. It was a decisive move, but one that lacked discernment and awareness as to what it would mean to paint with such broad strokes of yellow.
But on the other side of the coin… we have to realize that complete awareness is hard to achieve. This wasn’t nearly as blatantly stupid as some other recent examples of Asian caricaturization in media, and the “distastefulness” was certainly on the more mild side. We as Asian-Americans are going to need to understand that it takes time, and that education and sharing of our culture can be done in a progressive, but not excessively angry way. And on top of that we need to understand that we as Asian-Americans are living in an ever-mixing world of culture. There’s a give and take dynamic at play here and we’re not always losing aspects of our history and culture to whitewashing but rather are sometimes injecting just a little bit of lemon zest to the apple pie of American society. And no matter what, certain things will get lost in translation.
Bottom line, racism is real – it is. But let’s call a bigot a bigot and an idiot an idiot with the understanding that they aren’t always one and the same. And let’s also calm down enough for a second to realize that all of us can be a little bit of both too – and so perhaps we can extend just a little bit of grace when we attempt to open up some round-eyes.
Yea, I said round-eye. I’m a “bigidiot™” too.
Two Cents is an editorial feature and the views and comments made by the author do not necessarily reflect those of a-Tunes.net as a whole.