Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thoughts on Katy Perry's "Geisha" performance at the AMAs

So, since Katy Perry felt compelled to open the American Music Awards with a tribute to Japan through her song "Unconditionally" and people are compelled to criticize, I feel compelled to write about it.

I watched the performance - and didn't see the overt "sexualization" that was so prominent in the criticisms. Was her kimono altered with hip-high slits so she could walk and move? Absolutely. If you've ever been in a yukata (summer kimono) or winter silk kimono, you know that it is impossible to move around in one. And it would have been deathly hot on stage. I'll also give her credit for wearing opaque tights. But did Katy twerk or dance provocatively during her number? No. From the photos I've seen of the AMAs, I'm more offended by Christina Aguilera's push-up outfit or other scantily-clad performers than Katy Perry (which is too bad, because I really like most of their songs).

Others will say that dressing up as a "geisha" automatically sexualizes her performance. The term "geisha" (芸者) means artist. The younger ladies-in-training are called maiko. It is tragic that at a certain time in Japanese history, these artists were sexualized and exploited due to the country's economy. And I recognize the fact that the geisha image conjures up that historical reference. But the bottom line definition is "artist".

In my opinion, her stylist could have taken the maiko/geisha image a lot further with complete white-face, white-neck and starkly contrasting red lips. They didn't. Katy has appreciation for Japanese people because of the exchange students that have lived in her home, according to a Yahoo article. Also, some of the critics probably don't know that when Japanese women turn 20, they dress in the traditional long-sleeve kimono on the second Monday of each January to celebrate Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi). This is a tradition that is practiced today. That style of dress is not exclusively reserved for maiko/geisha.

I will also state that Katy's performance IS DIFFERENT than dressing up as a "geisha" for Halloween. To respond to a re-post on one of my favorite blogs Lost Daughters, I wholeheartedly agree that race is not a costume - but after watching a video of her performance (twice), my opinion is that Katy was paying tribute to Japan not trivializing it. Would it have been a better tribute if the song she performed was the Japanese National Anthem or "Sakura"? Perhaps. But... a Japanese-American woman, East Asian Studies major who lived in Japan for twelve years, my question is this: how does a non-Asian person pay tribute to an Asian country or culture WITHOUT being seen as racist? Why do people always have something to say when a white person loves Japan and Japanese culture? Does it automatically mean they are fetishizing Japanese women? How can they express this appreciation without seeming weird or creepy to Asians or Asian-Americans?

What about my neighbors in Western Mass who participate in a taiko drum group (most of them white)? Are they being racist? Or if a white man wants to travel to Ghana to study traditional dance and drumming - then perform here in the U.S.? Is he racist for performing authentic Ghanaian arts?

Especially in the visual and performing arts, it's a fine line and a slippery slope, folks. As usual, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

NAIS PoCC 2013: Day 1

So, as I attempt to re-enter the atmosphere after the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC), I felt that the best way to do that is to write a quick post. Ok, well, maybe not so quick.

Thursday, December 5, 2013
1. Opening Ceremonies: as I expected, the opening ceremonies took quite a bit longer than planned. It was nice to see the new NAIS President John Chubb and the new VP for Equity and Justice Caroline Blackwell. The formalities leading up to their speeches was a little long -- but understandable. This is a BIG year of change for NAIS. I could tell that people (especially first-timers) were a little skeptical...waiting for the "wow" factor. Then the keynote speaker, Daniel Hernandez, Jr.: the intern who help save Gabrielle Giffords' life. He is such a formidable presence that you forget he's only 23! My workshop was slated to follow this session so, sadly, I had to excuse myself early to make sure my room was ready (A/V, handouts, etc.). Turns out, I probably could have stayed to hear the rest of his story.

2. Workshop A: my Adoption Fusion workshop.Although my workshop title and description had not changed from two years ago, everything else was new and improved. Switching from Powerpoint to Prezi was about the best thing I could have done. Mind mapping is a beautiful thing...Prezi helped link the title & description to the content as I was able to focus on the intersections between race, culture and adoption. Some of my same personal experiences were still there, but I referenced "The Dance of Identities" by John D. Palmer and shared my recent experiences with DNA with 23andMe, including recent article about Anne Wojcicki in Fast Company. And, of course, I referenced the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Adoption Mentoring Program and other resources/documentaries. If any of you readers attended my workshop, be sure to give me feedback: good, bad or ugly. I can take it...really. I'm already thinking of a future topic: ways to increase awareness about adoption in the classroom. At my workshop, even though I left room for questions, I could sense that people still had MORE questions.

3. Affinity Group work: This year, I served as a peer facilitator alongside the external facilitator Dr. Mike Funk (yes, that is his real name...). It is an honor to work together with him year after year. Our group is traditionally small: lass than 30 people. But what a powerful group it is. One of the Community Norms is "Lean into Discomfort" - and, boy, did we! But in the end, consensus was reached and we were able to move forward and create/sustain group synergy. It was a two-hour lots of time for synergy!

4. Workshop B: Embracing the Multifacted Identity of the Transnational Adoptee: an Affinity Group Experience. I was so inspired to see this workshop offered this year by two women who are educators in Washington State, Nell Brewer and Oriana Isaacson. I was able to participate for the first part of their workshop, but was unable to stay for the whole time. And I felt that their workshop was slightly underattended: a presentation about cultural competency (with speakers Steven Jones, Gene Batiste, Rosetta Lee and Tim Wise) was slated for the same time slot. Boo. Who can compete with that? But IMHO, Nell and Oriana did a great job. I especially liked their incorporation of video clips from ABC's Modern Family, demonstrating how adoption has become visible in mainstream TV culture. They also gave practicals on starting a student organization.

5. PoCC General Session: Keynote: Junot Diaz. Ok, wow. Don't even know where to start for this one. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have not had the pleasure to read his literary works...yet. But even I knew how big this keynote speaker is. He came out on the stage, dressed casually with a pin mic for maximum mobility. And then he began to speak. I'm not one to use "colorful" language -- Junot Diaz overflows with it. However, if you can filter through the tangled curse words, you can hear his message, his truth. Which is a universal truth. At conferences, for keynotes or other workshops, I like to tweet instead of take notes. But Junot Diaz's words, language and speech were so fluid, so quick, so full of punch after punch of memorable truths, I was unable to keep up. And I wasn't the only one. Check out the hashtag #PoCC2013 and you'll see what I mean. Anyone going to MIT out there? Be sure to register for one of Professor Diaz's creative writing classes. He is nothing short of brilliant.

Saty tuned for Day 2...