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7 Celebrities Who Forgot They Were White

Judy Lee |
April 22, 2014 | 10:52 a.m. PDT


There doesn’t seem to be much that can get in the way of Avril Lavigne and her perpetual teen phase. With smash hits like “Sk8er Boi” and “Complicated,” there isn’t a doubt that she once captured the perspective of a generation. But now she’s scaling new heights. According to her latest music video “Hello Kitty,” she is now joining the ranks of various female pop artists who find cultural appropriation particularly fashionable.

Cultural Appropriation is the new black. (toadiepoo, Creative Commons)
Cultural Appropriation is the new black. (toadiepoo, Creative Commons)
Cultural appropriation is different from cultural appreciation because there is often no analysis of that item’s significance to the minority culture. It becomes a mere fashion statement.

Just how many girls at Coachella wearing bindis do you think would actually be able to explain its sacred significance? How many hipsters donning “Aztec print” leggings could tell you about ancient Aztec rituals and perhaps go the extra mile to tell you that the print is just a conglomeration of neon triangles that actually don’t hold any resemblance to anything specifically Aztec?

Mind you, this kind of appropriation isn’t something new to our mainstream media. With this in mind and without further ado, I present my list of the top instances of gross cultural appropriations made by women in our mainstream media (in no particular order).


1. Avril Lavigne – Hello Kitty

Avril Lavigne prances around a super duper kawaii city we can only assume to be Tokyo (because what else would there be in a place like Tokyo other than a sushi place and a colorful candy shop, right?) with four unusual, unnamed, and undifferentiated Asian women as background dancers.

Well, at least they’ve maintained some form of individuality that all humans possess and aren’t made into a homogenous lump of what we assume to be quirky kawaii-tastic Asian mannequins… right?

To be completely honest, I was half-expecting a neon kimono, a Tamagotchi parasol, and a poorly styled fu manchu somewhere in there. How silly silly kitty kitty of me.

This bears a chilling resemblance to…


2. Gwen Stefani - Hollaback Girl

Don’t get me wrong; this song was my middle school anthem. But let’s not ignore the fact that Gwen got away with a few years of using four Asian women as accessories (even turning them into literal accessories). This video also does a weird thing where Gwen appropriates the Harajuku Girls appropriating black culture? It’s just a hot mess of cultural disrespect.

At least “kawaii” is only butchered once?

Though, let’s not forget she began the wearing-sacred-bindis-as-plastic-accessories-movement alongside…


3. Madonna – Vogue

Believe it or not, voguing was a dance form first started by Black and Latino members of the LGBT community. All of this has been lost with the popular hit “Vogue” performed by Madonna—who cashed in on the appropriated dance while the original community continues to suffer constant discrimination.

This is also aside from her strange obsession with appropriated Japanese kimonos.


4. Katy Perry – Dark Horse

Before this music video, I had no idea that Egyptian history was pebbled with shiny grills and hip-hop crypts. How interesting that Katy manages to turn the Eye of Osiris into a plastic accessory but has yet to publically affirm her adoration of ancient Egypt and its practices. Perhaps the pop-locking cat tomb can tell her? Or maybe the one poledancing? Or the glowing Sphinx throne?

Hmm, maybe the answer lies in Juicy J’s weird headdress accompanied by his hieroglyphic sunglasses? Surely, Katy will translate. Or maybe she'll set Allah on fire instead.


5. Miley Cyrus - 23, We Can’t Stop

Oh, Miley. While I adore Miley taking control of her own sexuality and expressing herself, I can’t let her slip by without calling her out on her hideous appropriation of black culture. Firstly, she coined the phrase “Twerk Miley” and often dances surrounded by her anonymous black backup dancers (whom she may or may not respectfully and mindfully smack on the butt every now and then). Then, she asks to be featured in a new track that “sounds Black.” And of course dons a stylish Chicago Bulls jersey in “23” because she’s always been an avid follower of basketball. She may be applauded as the Queen of Twerking but let’s be real: Miley is a rich white girl trying to push her new “edgy” image by pretending to be part of a minority from a lower socioeconomic rung without having to also experience the racism, hatred and poverty that may come along with it. Miley, you have to stop.


6. Lily Allen – Hard Out Here

Good intentions, terrible execution. It’s not a secret that the music video sparked plenty of drama surrounding Allen’s white-girl feminism. What I mean by white-girl feminism is a brand of feminism that doesn’t take into account that there are females of color that would also like equal representation and rights. She exemplifies this brand in the way she finds it imperative to correct Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke yet finds it less important to depict her all-black backup dancers with equality and respect.

So yes, it’s hard out there for a bitch. But it’s even harder when you have to face racism and social injustice on top of that.


7. Katy Perry – Unconditionally (American Music Awards)

Oh, hello again Katy-san. At the American Music Awards, she love you long time (unconditionally) in this amazing performance featuring herself as a symbol of Japanese elegance and mystique. I’m sure she had much difficulty as a maiko, though I question why her kimono’s collar bears a striking resemblance to the Chinese qipao. I guess we can forgive her because she holds her cherry blossom microphone so daintily behind her lotus-folded hands.

However, behind the flurry of colors and her kawaii Madame Butterfly attitude, when will we as an audience ever feel the need to speak up against performances like these, full force?

It doesn’t matter how many times she visited Japan or how much she loves Japan, if Katy can’t see that geisha are highly respected artists in Kyoto and receive years of extensive training to be where they are, she’d probably be more hesitant to step out of a Shinto shrine replica and parade around as if she is the original geisha. It’s an embarrassment to both parties.


8. Selena Gomez – Come And Get It

Before I comment on this, I fully realize that Selena Gomez is not white. What she has in common with the other women on this list, however, is that she is a part of the mainstream media and utilizes her high standing in pop culture to get away with otherwise questionable choices.

Selena is trying to make “bindi” happen again. Like the other hundreds of girls at Coachella, appropriating desi culture is something that makes her feel super cute. However, it becomes particularly problematic in “Come and Get It” because of the contents of the song.

Why did she choose the bindi of all things? Because it’s beautifully ornamental? Not a good enough reason to act Indian. Because her forehead feels naked and a bindi is her miracle accessory? Not a good enough reason to act Indian. Because she wants to appear more mature and sexy? Still not a good enough reason to sexualize Indian women in the process. Although, some of her background dancers in garb don’t even appear to be Indian.

Fun fact: Selena once said in an interview that she thought the song had “a tribal, Middle-Eastern feel to it.”

Which is touching, when not realizing that she’s very clearly trying to emulate India—which is in South Asia.

And what does “tribal” even mean? Please, Selena, educate us all on the specific Middle Eastern tribe you were seeking to honor. If we’re lucky, maybe she’ll screw in an invisible light bulb while imparting her knowledge upon us all.


Reach Contributor Judy Lee here.



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