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Author Topic: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?  (Read 2881 times)

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Offline jouzinkaTopic starter

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Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« on: February 05, 2014, 12:15:16 PM »
I am a makeup artist and I have a problem.  ;D

A clothing designer student friend of mine got recently assigned to design and sew a kimono (of all things). For her graduation she needs to have it photographed for archives and this is where my problem is. We have a very Caucasian model, who has recently dyed her super-short hair peroxide blonde.

Yet, I would like to mask her as if she were a performer of the traditional Kabuki theatre.

Am I crossing the line?

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2014, 12:28:22 PM »
I'm South Asian, and I don't think it is racist at all, but I am sure there will be someone or another who will think it is.  We are a multicultural society, and it is a shame if there are some people out there who will actually try to pick a fight over something like this.

« Last Edit: February 05, 2014, 12:32:39 PM by ValthazarElite »

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2014, 01:38:46 PM »
Seeing that Kabuki is a recognized stage tradition that's influenced many western artists (David Bowie, for instance) I don't see why this would be racist at all. It's not in the least comparable to "blackfacing" a white actor to make fun of black Americans.

Offline jouzinkaTopic starter

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2014, 02:09:11 PM »
You would think, right? Still, seeing how much heat Katy Perry caught for her geisha performance at the AMAs, I realize this is a touchy subject.

Offline Lux12

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2014, 04:20:16 PM »
I am a makeup artist and I have a problem.  ;D

A clothing designer student friend of mine got recently assigned to design and sew a kimono (of all things). For her graduation she needs to have it photographed for archives and this is where my problem is. We have a very Caucasian model, who has recently dyed her super-short hair peroxide blonde.

Yet, I would like to mask her as if she were a performer of the traditional Kabuki theatre.

Am I crossing the line?
While kabuki is a very Japanese art form, a form of theater.But that's just it. It's an art form not inherently restricted to anyone based on ethnic elements. Thus I don't think that adopting it's trappings isn't racist. Anyone can do it really. It's not as if your making them put on black face or the also very offensive but much less used yellow face. While one should be careful to avoid any inadvertent stereotypical use, I don't think that using kabuki style is inherently offensive.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2014, 04:21:33 PM by Lux12 »

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2014, 04:29:02 PM »
I thought it was the Kabuki bit that was supposed to generate trouble, not the kimono. Guess I read it that way because kabuki involves the face, the head - to us the face is so intimately a part of one's identity and individuality, in a way it's where person and society/cultural scene meet. That's partly a western idea, the notion that face equals unique individuality is less obvious in cultures where people often appear veiled or masked, as in the Middle East (especially women).

But I digress...No, seriously I don't think even a kimono and kabuki mask/make-up would lead to accusations of racism or colonial-era dumbing down. Not really. This is not going to be seen by a hundred millions like Katy Perry. I might be wrong, I was surprised by all the fuss about Miley Cyrus and her twerking gang!  ::)
« Last Edit: February 05, 2014, 04:30:32 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline jouzinkaTopic starter

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2014, 04:37:50 PM »
I read a really good blog article about the whole Katy Perry performance and why it was racist. It was actually the act of (arrogance) taking a culture not her own, trampling on it, sexualizing it (basically raping it) for money and then acting like it was no big deal that rubbed people against their fur. By that logic I am way over the line with this idea.

Trying to come up with a way how to do it respectfully. :D

Offline Caeli

Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2014, 04:56:01 PM »
Personally, my issue with most portrayals of different Asian cultures (and they are different, between individual cultures and regions as well as different historical periods; I see a lot of mixing up / confusion / deliberate ignorance when different clothing between different cultures are mixed willy nilly) or "dressing up for Halloween" is that they often stereotype a culture and/or perpetuate harmful cultural stereotypes.  Many of the entertainers who are "inspired" in this way treat non-Western cultures as a costume that they can take off and on; they don't have to live with the cultural baggage of being a minority American or immigrant to America (or living/understanding in the socioeconomical/political context of a culture elsewhere).  They don't live with the stigma, the backhanded racial "compliments", and often don't understand that just because they don't mean to be offensive, does not mean that they are doing something harmful.

I've had a lot of interesting conversations about this (usually in relation to Halloween, but once in a while it delves into what is okay and not okay when it comes to fashion, etc. as well) with people from many different backgrounds, so I've heard a number of perspectives on this.  From my own experiences, though, I've become considerably jaded by what I see in entertainment, pop culture/fashion, etc.

In response to your question:  Personally, I don't think it's over the line if your intent is to take inspiration from the style of traditional Kabuki theatre.  There's also something to be said for the background / context that you'll be doing this in.  If I were to see it, I don't think I would judge it as a case of cultural appropriation or racism, and would instead look at it through the lens of fashion design / makeup design.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2014, 04:57:48 PM by Caeli »

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2014, 05:15:32 PM »
Personally, my issue with most portrayals of different Asian cultures (and they are different, between individual cultures and regions as well as different historical periods; I see a lot of mixing up / confusion / deliberate ignorance when different clothing between different cultures are mixed willy nilly) or "dressing up for Halloween" is that they often stereotype a culture and/or perpetuate harmful cultural stereotypes. 

Personally, I think there is only so much cultural consideration that can be asked of Caucasians before it verges on becoming ridiculous.  It is a sad commentary of our society, that the OP of this discussion thread, who clearly respects all cultures, has to "ask" permission if something will be construed as racist or not.

If you look at Asian Countries, they are nowhere near as accepting of diverse ethnic groups as the United States or Europe.  Even relatively multicultural Asian countries, such as Singapore, blatantly favor their indigenous ethnic group on an institutional level.

I just think that continuing to rehash how we, as minorities, are somehow helpless victims of 'harmful cultural stereotypes' is actually creating an atmosphere of hostility among many Caucasians - which ends up damaging race relations.  For every Caucasian that cracks a race joke, there are just as many Asian-Americans cracking white jokes.  So why can't we accept a harmless joke here and there, if we are all the same? 

Asians and Indians are socioeconomically better off than Caucasians as a whole in the United States, which is why I don't understand how we are victims in this day and age.

Offline Vekseid

Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2014, 05:35:13 PM »
Looking up the incident with Katy Perry, I find more actual Asians offended at misreporting than they are at her (people calling a Chinese dress she wore a 'Geisha outfit' for example). I even found a few who echoed my thoughts regarding the idea of the Japanese, of all people, being offended at the idea of appropriation. Cultures blend when they meet.

Blending Chinese and Japanese styles can irk some people (e.g. the liberties Perry took with her 'Kimono'), and that is by far the most common complaint - people assuming that eastern Asia is a single cultural bloc.

Personally, I think there is only so much cultural consideration that can be asked of Caucasians before it verges on becoming ridiculous.  It is a sad commentary of our society, that the OP of this discussion thread, who clearly respects all cultures, has to "ask" permission if something will be construed as racist or not.

If you look at Asian Countries, they are nowhere near as accepting of diverse ethnic groups as the United States or Europe.  Even relatively multicultural Asian countries, such as Singapore, blatantly favor their indigenous ethnic group on an institutional level.

I just think that continuing to rehash how we, as minorities, are somehow helpless victims of 'harmful cultural stereotypes' is actually creating an atmosphere of hostility among many Caucasians - which ends up damaging race relations.  For every Caucasian that cracks a race joke, there are just as many Asian-Americans cracking white jokes.  So why can't we accept a harmless joke here and there, if we are all the same? 

Asians and Indians are socioeconomically better off than Caucasians as a whole in the United States, which is why I don't understand how we are victims in this day and age.

It is good to worry about cultural appropriation when it risks becoming the single story we know said culture by. This isn't a situation most of Eastern Asia is under. That takes what amounts to willful ignorance in this age.


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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2014, 05:43:10 PM »
It is good to worry about cultural appropriation when it risks becoming the single story we know said culture by. This isn't a situation most of Eastern Asia is under. That takes what amounts to willful ignorance in this age.

While I can certainly agree with this, and it is nice to see members of E are eager to learn the true nature of different cultures, I do not feel that this is a quality representative of the majority of Americans.  I fear that making claims of racism over petty matters such as wearing a costume will actually detrimentally affect the way most uneducated Caucasians perceive minorities.

Online Neysha

Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2014, 06:11:10 PM »
I couldn't care less. I'm Lebanese and True Lies was an awesome film.

Then again, as a proud Murrican with a fiance in the service, I loved Valley of the Wolves Iraq as well.

It'd take some massive ignorance or stupidity for me to be offended by something that wasn't meant to be offensive.

Offline Sho

Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2014, 11:56:56 AM »
First off, no, I don't think it's racist. I'd just do my research and try to get the look as close to a real kabuki mask as you can. Then again, fashion is all about making risky stylistic choices

Also, I'm going to have to agree with Valthazar, at least to a certain extent. I've lived in Japan and worked with two separate groups that helped teach about Japanese culture, and when we had a party and I wore a yukata (summer kimono made of cotton), I essentially got accused of being racist because I was white and it wasn't my culture. Despite my speaking the language. Despite my having lived there for years. I hit a point where I practically had both middle fingers up, and figured that there wasn't even any point in being interested in other cultures or letting it influence what I did since no matter how I looked at things, or talked about things, I was apparently going to offend someone.

Eventually I realized that you just can't make everyone happy; all you can do is try to appease the reasonable majority.

Also. I do have to ask, in regards to the Victoria's Secret geisha outfit - how is that 'racist'? How does that put down an entire race? I mean, the French Maid costume doesn't put down French peopleor maids. Sometimes I think that people complain just for the sake of complaining, honestly. :/ I think some things really do need to be addressed, but this over-sensitivity is actually harmful, imho, since people just stop discussing different cultures, period, out of fear of their being labeled racist.

Then again, that's just me. No scientific information to support it, just my own personal experiences.

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2014, 12:36:39 PM »
Eventually I realized that you just can't make everyone happy; all you can do is try to appease the reasonable majority.

I think we are going through a very transitory period of race relations in this country, and globally.

Historically, it was understood that the mainstream culture in the United States was distinctly Anglo-Saxon and European in origin, which is why Caucasians were seen as the 'dominant' racial group in the United States.  In the 1950s, Caucasians were nearly 90% of the United States' population.  This is also the reason why in the Western world, for the last half-century, there has been a push to celebrate the cultural richness of other ethnic groups, and downplay the cultural identity of Caucasians and European heritage.  Sadly, one of the negative implications of this has been that we are continuing to place the burden of racism largely upon Caucasians, even as they steadily become a minority around the year 2043.

It will be interesting to see how things progress in the future.  My unfortunate prediction is that Caucasians will continue to be marginalized by these questionable assertions of racism, since any organization promoting the interests of European-Americans as a minority will likely be immediately lambasted as racist.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2014, 12:45:57 PM »
This is also the reason why in the Western world, for the last half-century, there has been a push to celebrate the cultural richness of other ethnic groups, and downplay the cultural identity of Caucasians and European heritage. 

Would you say that such celebrations as St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest (both culturally Anglo-European) are seen as 'racist'?  There's a lot of cultural diversity bundled up under the umbrella of 'Caucasian and European'.

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #15 on: February 07, 2014, 01:16:35 PM »
Would you say that such celebrations as St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest (both culturally Anglo-European) are seen as 'racist'?  There's a lot of cultural diversity bundled up under the umbrella of 'Caucasian and European'.

I think it would be seen as racist by society at large, if Anglo-Europeans, or even Caucasians on a wider level, began to outspokenly 'own' those celebrations as 'theirs.'

The difference is, I can wear a Leprechaun hat and say, "We're all Irish on St. Pats!" and most Irish-Americans wouldn't think anything of this, they'd probably be glad I was celebrating their heritage - even though I am clearly culturally appropriating Irish heritage through this gesture.  I will be the first to admit that I don't know much about Irish history or culture.

Why is it any different if a Caucasian wears a kimono?  Why is one racist, but the other isn't?

Offline Oniya

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2014, 01:44:33 PM »
Gotcha - I hadn't grasped the distinction.  :-)

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2014, 01:51:19 PM »
Also. I do have to ask, in regards to the Victoria's Secret geisha outfit - how is that 'racist'? How does that put down an entire race?

Why is it any different if a Caucasian wears a kimono?  Why is one racist, but the other isn't?

There are two major differences here, one subtle and one not. First and not so subtle: When St. Patrick's Day became a thing, it was pretty exclusive to Ireland and the Irish diaspora. It's celebrated widely now because the Irish are no longer 'other'; they're white, which was very distinctly not true relatively recently. This is a status that Asians in general and the Japanese in particular are getting close to, but not quite at.

Second, the subtler one: There's no long and ongoing history of exoticizing and sexualizing Irish culture, whereas Asian cultures are basically the poster child for this sort of treatment. This makes a huge difference. Important point to Sho in particular: 'Positive' racism? Still racist. The 'noble savage' was an incredibly racist narrative advanced by incredibly racist people, and the 'exotic Orient' - direct parent to the Victoria's Secret piece - is part and parcel of this line of thinking.

jouzinka: As I see it, there are two key questions. How easy would it be to get an Asian model for this shoot, and how hard did you look? Judging from the fact that you're asking here instead of to Asian friends in real life, I'm guessing the answer to at least one of these is 'not very'. This can be key to how it's interpreted - if there are candidates within relatively easy reach, then yes, this will come off as racism and cultural appropriation.

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2014, 02:21:20 PM »
There are two major differences here, one subtle and one not. First and not so subtle: When St. Patrick's Day became a thing, it was pretty exclusive to Ireland and the Irish diaspora. It's celebrated widely now because the Irish are no longer 'other'; they're white, which was very distinctly not true relatively recently. This is a status that Asians in general and the Japanese in particular are getting close to, but not quite at.

I'm hard-pressed to think of any European-American holiday or cultural practice, where if I participated in it, would be told I am culturally appropriating that holiday or heritage.  In fact, almost every holiday or cultural celebration of European heritage in the United States seems to be very welcoming of other cultures and ethnic groups.  Can you tell me any situation where I, as a South Asian-American, would be told I am culturally appropriating a European tradition?  For obvious reasons, I am excluding the clear-cut racist groups (KKK, Neo-Nazis, etc.)

Second, the subtler one: There's no long and ongoing history of exoticizing and sexualizing Irish culture, whereas Asian cultures are basically the poster child for this sort of treatment. This makes a huge difference.

So at what point can this guilt of the past end, and we can view each other as fellow human beings who are equal?  I figured that as minorities slowly become the majority, this would end, but it seems you are suggesting that this should continue.  I certainly don't view myself as exotic or sexualized inherently due to my culture.  I go about my day working, paying taxes, and living my life just like everyone else, and most people nowadays treat me like a human being like they are - not due to my ethnicity.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2014, 02:30:26 PM »
jouzinka: As I see it, there are two key questions. How easy would it be to get an Asian model for this shoot, and how hard did you look? Judging from the fact that you're asking here instead of to Asian friends in real life, I'm guessing the answer to at least one of these is 'not very'. This can be key to how it's interpreted - if there are candidates within relatively easy reach, then yes, this will come off as racism and cultural appropriation.

If I remember right, Jouzi is in central Europe.  That might make finding an ethnically appropriate model difficult, depending on the city.

Offline jouzinkaTopic starter

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2014, 02:32:01 PM »
jouzinka: As I see it, there are two key questions. How easy would it be to get an Asian model for this shoot, and how hard did you look? Judging from the fact that you're asking here instead of to Asian friends in real life, I'm guessing the answer to at least one of these is 'not very'. This can be key to how it's interpreted - if there are candidates within relatively easy reach, then yes, this will come off as racism and cultural appropriation.
I had zero say in the appearance of the model. The designer picked this one, so that's what I have to work with. The chances of getting a Japanese model do the shoot would be below zero - personally, I don't know of a single Japanese model in Czech Republic. Getting geneally an Asian model would probably be easier, but not so easy either. Plus, honestly, I find this whole "it has Asian features so who cares if it's Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese" concept offensive myself. I will rather do this with a Caucasian model than a Vietnamese one.

P.S. As unbelievable as it may sound, I do not have any Asian friends in my life. I have acquaintances, but not the kind I would discuss a subject like this with.

Offline jouzinkaTopic starter

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #21 on: February 07, 2014, 02:42:14 PM »
Sorry for double post. :)

Tomorrow is THE day. Will let you all know what we decided to go with in the end. I appreciate all the input - I've been reading and taking notes. <3

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #22 on: February 07, 2014, 03:12:36 PM »
I'm hard-pressed to think of any European-American holiday or cultural practice, where if I participated in it, would be told I am culturally appropriating that holiday or heritage.  In fact, almost every holiday or cultural celebration of European heritage in the United States seems to be very welcoming of other cultures and ethnic groups.  Can you tell me any situation where I, as a South Asian-American, would be told I am culturally appropriating a European tradition?  For obvious reasons, I am excluding the clear-cut racist groups (KKK, Neo-Nazis, etc.)
I'm not in a position to give a long-winded essay on cultural imperialism right now, but the short version is that European culture welcoming outsiders stems from an uncomfortably recent history of forcing the other to adopt European culture under threat of violence as a means of subjugating and breaking potentially-resistant locals. (And by "uncomfortably recent", I mean I can point to explicit examples within my lifetime.)

So at what point can this guilt of the past end, and we can view each other as fellow human beings who are equal?  I figured that as minorities slowly become the majority, this would end, but it seems you are suggesting that this should continue.  I certainly don't view myself as exotic or sexualized inherently due to my culture.  I go about my day working, paying taxes, and living my life just like everyone else, and most people nowadays treat me like a human being like they are - not due to my ethnicity.

You're speaking like this is a thing of the past; it isn't. Ask some female friends of your ethnic group if they've ever had a white guy who hit on them/wanted to date them because of their race. I will be surprised if the overwhelming majority don't have multiple stories to regale you with. For darker examples, well... remember that there are people living today who remember being thrown in internment camps because their parents came from across the Pacific. And... I can't believe I'm saying this, but of course you don't see yourself as exotic. That's why it's called "exoticising the other."




I had zero say in the appearance of the model. The designer picked this one, so that's what I have to work with. The chances of getting a Japanese model do the shoot would be below zero - personally, I don't know of a single Japanese model in Czech Republic. Getting geneally an Asian model would probably be easier, but not so easy either. Plus, honestly, I find this whole "it has Asian features so who cares if it's Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese" concept offensive myself. I will rather do this with a Caucasian model than a Vietnamese one.

I think you're right on Japanese vs generically Asian, but... generally speaking, there's an acceptance of interchangeable Asians in media. (Pay attention to TV Asian characters' stated ethnicity and the ethnicity of the actors who play them sometime. You'd be amazed how rarely they match up.) Yes, this is a problem, and no, it's not good to contribute to it, but... you probably wouldn't be called out as racist for it.

As to the rest: I think I came across much harsher than intended; I'm sorry. There's an easy trap to fall into, of basically glancing around within arm's reach and saying "Nope, don't see any minority representatives here, guess there's none to be found"; I was simply trying to call it to attention. In your specific case, it sounds like it would be genuinely impossible to find someone of the appropriate ethnicity, which does avoid the trap.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2014, 03:21:59 PM by Ephiral »

Offline Vekseid

Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #23 on: February 07, 2014, 04:51:58 PM »
I'm not in a position to give a long-winded essay on cultural imperialism right now, but the short version is that European culture welcoming outsiders stems from an uncomfortably recent history of forcing the other to adopt European culture under threat of violence as a means of subjugating and breaking potentially-resistant locals. (And by "uncomfortably recent", I mean I can point to explicit examples within my lifetime.)

I actually find this rather offensive, especially when the subject is Japan. Not every European power was colonial. Japan was. My own Japanese teacher had to ask me about a certain act that is recently in the news again due to yet another public denial.

When does it stop, anyway?

We get the word slave from the ethnic group Jouzinka may be a part of (and to whom I trace my paternal lineage, with a very unique last name to match) - her country has no history of colonialism, regardless. Slavic lands, minus the slavs, were the entire point of of lebensraum - it's not like this mistreatment is only in the ancient past.

It's one thing to acknowledge that I'm privileged in my country because I'm white. It's entirely another to try to equate whiteness or 'European' with 'oppressor'. The former can lead to a resolution. The latter is the sort of thing genocides are made of in the first place.

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Calling all Asians: How racist is this idea?
« Reply #24 on: February 07, 2014, 05:27:45 PM »
I actually find this rather offensive, especially when the subject is Japan. Not every European power was colonial. Japan was. My own Japanese teacher had to ask me about a certain act that is recently in the news again due to yet another public denial.

When does it stop, anyway?

We get the word slave from the ethnic group Jouzinka may be a part of (and to whom I trace my paternal lineage, with a very unique last name to match) - her country has no history of colonialism, regardless. Slavic lands, minus the slavs, were the entire point of of lebensraum - it's not like this mistreatment is only in the ancient past.

It's one thing to acknowledge that I'm privileged in my country because I'm white. It's entirely another to try to equate whiteness or 'European' with 'oppressor'. The former can lead to a resolution. The latter is the sort of thing genocides are made of in the first place.

I know exactly what you're talking about without checking recent news. And yes, 'atrocity' barely even begins to cover it, and Japan's handling of it since then is nothing short of disgraceful. But... does that make it right to accept and enshrine racist attitudes and behaviour toward them in return? Where does that stop? Progress, to me, is not just being better than the worst, but striving to better ourselves.

I'm not tying to equate 'white' with 'oppressor', and I'm sorry I came across that way. It's entirely possible to be a white European without being actively racist or oppressive - that's my heritage, in fact. I was addressing a very specific topic - the generalization of white European culture to include everyone. It is possible to freely and respectfully share of your culture and partake of others'. But... violent enforcement of Western culture as not just the norm but the only acceptable culture? It's not even history. I can point to examples as recent as 1996 of the top of my head. This context matters when it comes to the question of why minority cultures need to be handled carefully, even if nobody you know is actively oppressing minorities right now.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2014, 05:30:47 PM by Ephiral »