Hey there, Katy Perry.
We genuinely like you. You’ve said a lot of positive stuff, you make great singalong music, and you seem like you really want to be a good role model to your young fans. From your confused apologies, we can tell that your repeated racism has always been unintentional– but regardless of your intentions, your actions are having a negative effect. It’s time to cut it out.
All I was trying to do is just give a very beautiful performance about a place that I have so much love for and find so much beauty in, and that was exactly where I was coming from, with no other thought besides it.
We totally get that! Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way.
When you’re a wealthy white person, you live in a position of privilege that is invisible to you. Things that come easily in your life– respect, acceptance, being treated like a complex human being– are privileges that are not always afforded to people of color in this country. How often do you see Asian characters in TV and movies that are exactly as fleshed-out and realistic as their white counterparts? How often do you hear stereotypes about Asian-Americans, or hear jokes about all Asian people looking identical, or see Asian people portrayed in the media with over-the-top accents and the same few stereotypical traits?
Because of that, when you play dress-up with clothes and symbols that belong to another culture, you’re subtly declaring that that culture isn’t as real as yours. It’s a costume, it’s a game, it’s a performance. You’re sending the message that white people are complex and diverse and that Asian people are whimsical characters. We completely understand that you’re intending to honor that culture and show your respect for it, but in reality, your position of power makes it look like you’re degrading it and treating it like it’s make-believe.
You were actually part of a Saturday Night Live sketch, “J-Pop America Fun Time Now,” that really expertly (and hilariously) illustrates cultural appropriation. Taran Killam and Vanessa Bayer play two very white college students with a seemingly innocent obsession with all things Japanese– which leads them to speak in exaggerated fake accents, wear anime-inspired makeup, and thoroughly humiliate their professor (Jason Sudeikis) who frequently interjects to say things like, “Rebecca and Jonathan, while enthusiastic, have latched on to a very narrow and mostly cartoon-based view of Japanese culture. Also, I don’t know what language they think they’re speaking, but it’s definitely not Japanese. They’re just terrible students.”
In your episode, Katy, you play the blonde president of a Hello Kitty fan club, declaring in a horrible accent that you look “so very, very Japanese!” and causing Jason Sudeikis to yell from the corner, “YOU’RE WHITE PEOPLE. If there’s such a thing as a loving version of racism, I think you’ve found it.”
That’s exactly the problem with your appropriation of Japanese culture. We totally get why you reject the criticism you’ve received, because you’re not trying to be hateful in any way– but racism doesn’t always have to be intentional to be harmful. When you “play” Japanese and wear Asian cultures as a costume, you accidentally send the message that your life is more real than theirs. When we hear that message often enough, it contributes to the idea that white people are the most important, the most worthy of respect, and the most worthy of power.
You’re not trying to hurt anybody, Katy, and we don’t mean to suggest that you are– but sometimes you need to reevaluate the way your actions can negatively impact other people. We’re not asking you to stop loving Japanese culture. Japanese culture is awesome. We’re just asking that you consider how much power you have and that you make an effort to use your power wisely.