We just did a disaster of a group presentation on Haigh’s chocolates for a media class. Going with the assignment criteria, I had created a fake persona to represent Instagram consumers of Haigh’s chocolates and assigned her the name Katrina and made her a young student who visited Adelaide while a tourist.
Someone in our group found stock images, I presume it was the one boy I at least got along with. One stock photo was of an Asian girl. Alright, looks like a decent slide show now, or so I thought. When finally watching back the video in the full classroom, a queasiness and a thought hit me.
Is this racist?
Is it racist to say they are a tourist and Asian? Is it simply racist to have the two sometimes associated labels overlapping, I suddenly felt a chunk lodge itself in my dry throat. Oh no. Had I done it again? Not been with the times? Maybe I had inadvertently pissed off the Asians in the room.
Being an Asian is fine, and being a tourist is fine. Then why is it I suddenly realised too late, how maybe someone would feel upset by combining the two?
As far as intent goes, I didn’t have a choice in the photo and had written that she was a tourist before the photo was assigned to my slide. My intent was good, so was the other boy in the group, who also happened to be white. I even tried to give the fictitious Katrina more depth by writing she is a well known artist online. Is that also racist? Someone tell me!
Racism is negative stereotypes, right? So what happens when two things overlap that innocently fall into some form of a generalization? People of any race can be tourists. If they are typically ruddy-tan, blonde Germanic or such type of tourists, nobody bats an eye, despite this also being a stereotype associated with free spirited backpackers who (used to) frequently visit Australia.
Because it’s only racism if its not targeting white people. Yes I’m aware of this, because (timely) colonialism bad, bad.
Everything falls into a stereotype and white people definitely aren’t spared in fact, they are emphasised more heavily nowadays. Sporty eco-friendly trendy white girl, white tattooed tradie bloke who drives a busted up ute, 40 something year old white busy mum who bakes, were some stereotypes *cough* ‘design personas‘, that frequented other students group presentations.
Maybe whiteness is considered some form of default? This is why people desperately struggle against portraying white people so favourably all the time. Nobody said it is default, but mass media infiltration and the economies of ‘Western’ countries being so powerful, puts more white faces up on stage. It is what it is.
Ironically I went to an Asian Studies seminar yesterday. I realised from one of the lectures that there is a lot of potential for analysing Japanese media. Duh, I’ve known that. This is where I seg-way a bit and draw upon, surprise suprise….my favorite media.
Berserk is an obscenely strong example of appropriation. It seems an Anglo-European medieval setting is somewhat of a cultural and historic ‘free for all‘ for anyone to grab and use. God forbid a white person do the reverse story. Berserk however, is obviously intrinsically Japanese because of the author. The depiction of sword battles at it’s core often feels strangely ‘Eastern’ (for lack of better words) whenever I look at most of it. This beautiful mushing of a Western fantasy fundamentals, tied with a Japanese spin on things and you get the most artistically successful manga in existence.
Still, it is appropriation, just not done by a white person. Just because medieval stories appears to be ‘up for grabs’ or ‘just generic fantasy‘ doesn’t mean there isn’t an associated history and culture that it stems from, a medieval European history. Yet because Europeans don’t cause a stink when other people enjoy their culture or history, we, yes, we, are pleased when others want to participate in it, even with things as specific as renaissance or Viking fairs. It’s inclusive, it’s open. I remember my Japanese-Australian friend was going on about how romantic all the tales of chivalry and knighthood were. I guess I could be talking about the star-struck, bedazzled appropriation of Fate Grand Order here, but I’ve fallen out of caring about it.
Kentaro Miura is quoted for saying something along the lines of “Do Westerners think it’s weird for a Japanese man to make a medieval story?” I’m not hunting down the original quote because Berserks internet presence triggers me. This quote is fascinating as it shows his awareness of doing a story outside his cultural realm. He respected that Westerners have their own stories and culture. Not everyone does.
In short, people are ‘appropriating‘ white culture without even thinking of it. Oh yeah never mind, it doesn’t count against whites.
Yet, some people will claim that ‘fantasy’ has always belonged to everyone. No, but medieval wackiness, kings, queens, knights and dragons began to mush together and form something entirely new, that is fantasy. Berserk is far more than fantasy, it’s insulting to call it a ‘fantasy manga‘. Just call it Berserk.
My point is, whiteness has a sense of openness, for those of a open-minded disposition. Anglo culture and history is associated with the default through its variations across UK, Australia and America etc. They become their own cultures with their own history, but still we love to turn back to medieval roots as something weirdly nostalgic.
As far as racial discussions go, it’s safe to say most of the characters in Berserk aren’t Japanese. They are just cartoons right? There is however, the ugly side to the determined races of cartoon characters, which is something I’m interested in.
From what I can tell, it seems that most Japanese identify characters of being ‘cartoons’, asides from a few extremist weirdos. With that Uzaki-chan scandal, it seemed like Japanese fans couldn’t stand the ‘re-draws’ as they made Uzaki ‘look white‘. Although I agree that the re-draws were unnecessary, there’s some Japanese nationalistic, racist tendencies rearing their talons.
As you can obviously see, racism exists on both sides, but there is no comparison between what I just mentioned, and me innocently making Katrina a tourist. One is malicious, it says, ‘my race is better/cuter than yours‘, which is absolutely unacceptable. That’s pure racism my dudes, not accidently making the Asian one a tourist, something that I am dubious is even worthy of being offensive.
Racism exists towards white people, it definitely is prevalent in Japan from the credible sources I’ve heard from. This is a blog so trust my word of mouth yeah? Yet we’re told not to talk about it because, why? Oh yeah, because white culture is so approachable, so neutral, transparent even. It’s consumed by everyone without them knowing it, however it is still a culture and history and is valid.
I guess my longwinded argument is, other people use white-things without even acknowledging it therefore harmlessly associating the Asian one with the tourist is fine. Right? Yes. Right. At the end of the day, it’s usually whiny snowflakes policing what is ‘acceptable‘ to do or say, not a reasonable well rounded human. Making enemies based on being un-PC wouldn’t be the first for me. It’s probably unacceptable for my grubby mitts to even put an Asian stock photo up there.
At the end of the day, I’m trying my best. I live with the weight of being a white female, which is that you are told your experience in your skin is now lesser than a person of color. There is no equal ground for now as I notice that ‘POC’ (hate that word, just say ‘human’) tend to mingle together and keep whiteys out of things. It makes finding friends at university rather hard. 😦
I don’t know what to make of my faux pas with tourist Katrina. I had no intention of reinforcing a stereotype, and despite how innocent I probably goofed up. I am human, I make mistakes. Hope this post has been engaging. Cheers~