Remember when Katy Perry said she wanted to skin Japanese people and “wear them like Versace?” Looks like she’s getting one step closer. The singer made headlines at last night’s American Music Award’s when she and her back-up dancers performed her hit song “Unconditional” in full Geisha regalia.
Ravi Chandara sums up why the costume was racist over at Psychology Today:
If you don’t think Katy Perry was racist–let me ask you, what if she had performed in blackface? Perhaps a costume isn’t the same as changing skin color to you, but it is agonizingly close for me–I remember Mickey Rooney in buckteeth for his role as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Jonathan Pryce in Yellowface in Miss Saigon; Gwen Stefani in her Harajuku phase. Every Halloween brings up the same issues. As I pointed out in my article, this kind of “costume” is a way of acting out a power relationship. “Whites have historically held power. Therefore Katy Perry has the right to use Japanese culture.” Racism is defined as prejudice plus power–I think Katy Perry’s performance meets the criteria for a racist performance. (An article by Jeff Yang linked below points out that her song, Unconditional, itself fits into the stereotype of the submissive, man pleasing Asian woman — the fantasized “geisha”.)