Am I the Only Person not Outraged By Cultural Appropriation?

I’ve been pretty confused lately. It seems like almost every celebrity is being accused of racism, and I just don’t think that’s fair. Cultural appropriation is well worthy of conversation, yet to group every instance of it into the same category and scream racism seems just as, if not more ignorant, than the act itself.

No sooner had Avril Lavigne released ‘Hello Kitty,’ than the masses begin screaming racism. Her appropriation of kawaii culture could be easily viewed as tacky, tasteless and shallow, but racist? I don’t think so.

The clip is similar to Katy Perry’s performance of ‘Unconditional’ at the American Music Awards, yet lacking the mash-up of different Asian cultures as seen by Perry’s fusion between a traditional Japanese kimono and a Chinese cheongsam. The cultural references in Lavigne’s video consist of all things cute: the epitome of kawaii culture.

While the song does nothing to intentionally degrade or offend, it’s under heavy fire. Sourcefed called it ‘a racist appropriation of Japanese culture,’ and Policy Mic said that Lavigne was ‘one step away from squinting her way through this one,’ which really, is a pretty racist thing to say.

But here’s the thing. The Japanese love her.

After the hoards of outraged westerners cried racism, a couple of people thought that it might be a good idea to see how Japanese people felt about the song. Finally.

A spokesperson from the Japanese embassy in Washington DC stated that they were fine with it, and that Lavigne ‘only had good intentions when making the video.’ In fact, he added that he was happy if the video would help people to ‘discover the rich and beautiful culture of Japan.’

This has been the common response from Japan, but for some reason, we still feel the need to be offended on their behalf, which is discriminatory in itself. Why do we, Australians, have the right to be outraged at the use of Japanese culture? Surely we should wait to hear the perspective of the affected parties, without immediately responding with how we think they should feel.

It’s all a bit sensitive. Lavigne has been criticised for using Japanese women as props. Well yes, she is. But isn’t any backup dancer essentially that? Music videos and songs providing cultural references have become ticking time bombs. It’s only a matter of time until a foreign cultural reference is discovered and the whole thing becomes racist. Which is ridiculous. We need to look further than what’s on the surface, and develop a deeper, more intelligent critique. Calling something offensive, because of an Asian reference, can be racism in itself.

Initially pulled from Youtube and bombarded by western critics, the song has been highly praised by Lavigne’s Japanese fans. The singer herself responded to the racist claims by expressing her affinity with Japanese culture. 

‘I love Japanese culture and I spend half my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video,’ she wrote. 

And her fans in Japan seem to see it as nothing more than an expression of this. 

‘It’s a pleasure that she loves Japan and takes Japanese culture into her song!’

‘The thinking of “this song is discriminatory” generates real racial discrimination.’

One fan found the resemblance between the clip and those of a popular Japanese pop star: 

‘Avril is inspired by “KYARY PAMYU PAMYU”, isn’t it? I don’t understand why she is racist at all.’ 

Of course, not all forms of cultural appropriation should be easily dismissed. The use of blackface, traditionally meant to offend, is never okay. It’s important to look at an artist’s intentions before jumping to conclusions, especially when you are not a part of the cultural group appropriated at all.

Westerners need to stop jumpstarting the racism machine. Isn’t it just the same, another form of cultural appropriation to adopt a response based on the way we think another culture should feel? We can’t get offended when they don’t. And when we do, we’re the racist ones for assuming that they don’t feel the way we think they should. Look further, think deeper, get over your surface criticism.  


  1. Cassandra L.

    Interesting you’ve brought this up. I had a similar conversation with a co-worker (originally hailing from Mumbai) yesterday. I saw something on my adventures around the internet where it was deemed ‘racist’ for non-Indians to wear bindis, and I’m reasonably certain the source of the criticism wasn’t from someone of Indian heritage. So I asked my colleague: is it racist for non-Indians to wear bindis?

    The reaction I got was ‘No, that’s stupid. Of course it’s not.’ She explained that unmarried women shouldn’t wear red bindis, married women should only wear red bindis, and unless you’re a widow you shouldn’t wear black bindis – if you’re a practicing hindu. Otherwise, it’s open to all when it comes to bindis. Anyone of any race or religion can wear them, just follow the rules if you’re hindu.

    What she did say was offensive is images of the gods on fabric worn against the skin: t-shirts, skirts, sarongs, etc, often peddled to and bought by Westerners. What might be seen as a cool design is actually a religious infraction (c.f., the Lisa Blue Lakshmi swimwear collection debacle).

    It’s one thing to be sensitive and respectful of other cultures, but without asking first – as with this Avril Lavigne case – we’re just subjugating the relevant culture further by speaking for them and denying them a voice. We’re also stopping dead a conversation that could create understanding and the exchange of knowledge.

  2. Gon

    It’s an absolute abomination of a song, and album, but it is by no means racist. Calling it racist is racist.