personal note: SOMEHOW I AM TOTALLY INDIFFERENT TO ANY RACIAL PICTURES OR SLURS AGAIN chinese or japanese or asians! Not important to me! There are more important things in life! steve, peace, feb 16, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china-com
The ‘slant-eyes’ pose is just as offensive ‘blackface’
While Gucci and Katy Perry responded to allegations of ‘blackface’, why have claims of ‘yellowface’ not led to the same reaction?
BY LISA CAM
16 FEB 2019
Katy Perry pulled her line of shoes from stores after a ‘blackface’ controversy. Photo: Instagram @livingwrite
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There is a lot of ambiguity out there over whether the ‘slant-eyes’ pose is offensive. While it made headlines in the past year, most notably during the World Cup soccer tournament in Russia when US-based Telemundo television hosts James Tahhan and Janice Bencosme used the gesture while reporting on South Korea’s triumph over Germany, there is no agreement that ‘yellowface’ is equally offensive as ‘blackface’.
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When I learned about blackface, the history of minstrel shows, its connection to Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the United States from the late 19th century all the way till 1965, I empathised with the history of subjugation and violence it entailed; I knew that it was unacceptable.
So when Flanelle Magazine stood by its decision to publish a photo of a model making a slant-eyed gesture in an Instagram post – which has since been deleted – I am offended, and appalled that supposedly learned individuals from culturally diverse country like Canada could think this is OK in this day and age. The online publication has still to apologise.
As Robert G Lee, associate professor of American studies in Providence, Rhode Island, stated in his book Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture: “Yellowface marks the Asian body as unmistakably Oriental; it sharply defines the Oriental in a racial opposition to whiteness.”
“Yellowface exaggerates ‘racial’ features that have been designated ‘Oriental,’ such as ‘slanted’ eyes, overbite and mustard-yellow skin colour”. Mickey Rooney did that for his character Mr Yunioshi in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is a prime example of yellowface.
There are 50 million overseas-born Chinese in the world, a figure that includes those in Southeast Asia, but since overseas-born Southeast Asians would have also been victims of yellowface, we can safely assume that number is accurate. If we include Asians who have encountered this type of bullying in other countries, this number could easily have trebled.
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While fashion powerhouse Gucci quickly apologised for its balaclava’s likeness to blackface and Katy Perry pulled her line of shoes from stores after another blackface controversy. Flanelle refused to apologise, choosing instead to “seek the perspective of its team”.
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The excuse that “I’m not racist I have Asian and black friends”, does not fly. A friend or colleague could be avoiding conflict, saying things to keep the peace or just being polite. So consulting an Asian photographer about whether something is politically correct is akin to a mother asking her child if he or she wants a bath – the answer does not matter. Ultimately it’s the editor’s decision what they publish. STYLE has previously worked with said photographer Ruo Bing Li, and what ends up on the page is a direct result of communication between the publication and the photographer.
Flanelle’s deleted post had referred to the slant-eyed pose as a piece of art. While I am all for artistic interpretation of fashion, art itself is a double-edged sword. In 2009, the Tate Modern museum in London had to withdraw a piece by American artist Richard Prince, who took a picture of a picture of a naked 10-year-old Brooke Shields, published by Playboy in 1976. Who knows what Prince was trying to convey with his picture, but the Metropolitan Police warned the museum that it could be contravening obscenity laws. When you live by the art sword, be prepared to die by it.
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Asians have suffered at the hands of segregation laws and violence. The Chinese Exclusion Act in the United States, the White Australia Policy, the Lambing Flat Riots in Australia and the internment of Japanese citizens in North America during the second world war – are but a few instances. The oppression has been multifaceted, around the globe and while the population is dispersed, our perceived otherness has been a source of trauma for generations.
Chinese and Southeast Asians have been on the wrong side of racial tension and outright offenders to this day. But before the finger pointing starts, slant-eyes are a depiction of yellowface, equally unacceptable and downright offensive.
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