Cultural Appropriation – A Look into Asian Fetishization

The Newsource ThoughtsCo defines cultural appropriation as, “the adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who belong to that culture.” It is a type of racism that, despite stealing others’ culture for another culture’s benefit, is not often recognized. It comes in many different forms, but it’s important to address this behavior to inform many of those who just don’t understand how their behavior can impact others.

One of the most recent trends circulating cultural appropriation is the fox eye trend when it was popular to use makeup to style your eyes in a way that looks similar to the Asian eye shape. This took an eye shape that Asian people have had for years, often mocked, and profited off of it. When it wasn’t “popular” on non-Asian people, many were commonly made fun of for their eyes. However, now Asian people’s eyes and culture are becoming a trend, but Asian people aren’t a part of it; instead, non-Asians are receiving all of the fame for a culture they stole.

Emma Chamberlain, a popular YouTube star, was called out for cultural appropriation when she posted a photo of herself pulling her eyelids to the side for a pose. Many Asian people were upset at her posing, clearly using the method many have used to make fun of Asian people to profit off of it on Instagram. After hearing everyone’s opinions, she took down the photo and posted an apology, but many still use people’s cultures to benefit themselves.

For instance, similar to the fox eye trend, blackfishing is another important topic to mention. Blackfishing is when non-black people try to look as if they are Black, whether it be with makeup, hair, or other things. Addison Rae, a popular TikTok star was recently accused of blackfishing when she posted a photo where her skin color was extremely dark. Many were offended by this, but some were defending her by saying that it was a filter. However, many were quick to combat people’s defense by saying that those who aren’t black don’t have a right to say if it’s right or wrong. If black people are offended by blackfishing, non-black people don’t have a right to tell them that their opinions aren’t valid. The news ource PureWow explains the impact of blackfishing by saying, “When BIPOC celebrate and highlight their features, they have been deemed unprofessional, undesirable and ghetto, while white women who borrow these features are seen as attractive, trendy, and fashionable. As a result, these marginalized communities are overlooked, misrepresented and have to work twice as hard to get the same opportunities.”

Additionally, with the rise of popularity in Anime and Kpop, there have been plenty of cases of cultural appropriation. However, before beginning this topic, it’s important to recognize that the problem of cultural appropriation is not seen in Kpop or Anime itself, but those who appropriate culture after viewing these things. Many who are obsessed with these trends begin to fetishize Asian culture and Asian people themselves. A common case of this is seen in the term Yellow Fever, which is fetishizing Asian people when white men gravitate toward Asian women. By saying that you love Asians or that you think you are Asian yourself because of an obsession with Kpop or Anime is racism itself. By grouping all Asians, you’re assuming that all Asians are the same and look the same when there is a wide variety of cultures and appearances. 

The newsource The Strand says, “No one would think that all Canadian men look like Ryan Reynolds or all Canadian women look like Rachel McAdams, so why would all Korean people look like K-pop idols? In the comment sections of Asian creators’ TikToks, it’s so common to see dozens of comments comparing them to an idol or calling them Unnie and Oppa. It’s one thing to genuinely think that someone resembles a celebrity and another thing to compare the first Asian person you see to a K-pop idol based on their race. Comments like these can seem appealing and flattering on the surface, but they’re a form of generalization, and it feels really gross to hear them.” This type of fetishism trails into cultural appropriation easily, as many non-Asian people try to “seem Asian,” which is racist in the fact that there is no certain way Asian people can be and that it steals Asian people’s culture without their consent. For instance, many will wear traditional Asian outfits or even speak in accents and languages in an attempt to act Asian themselves. 

While this fascination with Asian culture may seem endearing or a way to celebrate Asian culture, it is fueled by colonialism and the desire to discover the “exotic” Asian countries. This is dehumanizing to Asian people as a whole because people see them as this idea they want to learn about instead of considering them as humans. I’ve had personal experience with this when I was walking down the street and a man came and pestered us by saying we looked so exotic. Also, many have been interested in anything I do that seems stereotypically “Asian,” like drinking a Korean smoothie or writing a word in Korean. Asian people are human, and the obsession and fetishization of the culture are not only demeaning but racist.

Being half Korean, I’ve often been told I’m not Asian enough because I don’t completely look a certain way or speak the language. As a mixed-race person, I often don’t fit into either of my ethnicities, which leaves me in the middle. I’ve even been told by non-Asian people that they are “more Asian” than me. However, this completely ignores the fact that not every Asian person acts a certain way. Being Japanese doesn’t mean you speak Japanese and being Korean doesn’t mean you can hold chopsticks the right way. Additionally, that is why I don’t believe the term “white-washed” should be used. By saying that term, you insinuate that you believe there is a certain way that a race should act for a person to be that race. People can identify themselves as whatever ethnicity they are, and someone who is not a part of that culture can not adopt someone else’s culture without consent or tell someone else what they are. By taking parts of someone’s culture, you adopt the pretty and exciting parts, while Asian people have to endure everything, including racism. Culture is not a costume, trend, or something fun to try out. If it’s not yours, it’s not your place to take it.

Many also claim that there is a difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation, and while that holds truth, it’s important not to confuse the two. Learning about a culture and learning languages, in general, is different from obsessing over a culture or a group of people. It’s also different than taking cultural traits and either claiming them as your own or stealing them.

Finally, it’s also important to not diminish the beliefs of those who are offended. If a certain topic offends a person who carries that culture with them, no one should tell them how to feel. It’s not about a person’s intention, but more about their impact. Even if someone did not intend to be racist or offensive, the impact was there, and we should validate someone’s feelings, especially if the topic is concerning a culture they are a part of. Many times in my experience, I have called out racism, but people often tell me I’m too “touchy” or that I’m just being offended for the sake of it. However, we must call out injustice when we see it, to inform others. 

Most of the time racist or offensive behavior, in general, isn’t seen as offensive in that person’s eyes.  If we all speak up and call out other people civilly, we can help make the world more empathetic and understanding. So, if you ever see something you don’t think is right, don’t stay quiet, but try to inform others.