I want to like them, and I want to think they are great, but I am not sure if I can. I mean, racial stereotypes are really cute sometimes, and I don’t want to bum everyone out by pointing out the minstrel show. I think it is totally acceptable to enjoy the Harajuku girls, because there are not that many other Asian people out there in the media really, so we have to take whatever we can get. Amos ‘n Andy had lots of fans, didn’t they? At least it is a measure of visibility, which is much better than invisibility. I am so sick of not existing, that I would settle for following any white person around with an umbrella just so I could say I was there.”

That’s an excerpt from Margaret Cho’s 2005 rant about Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls.

When Margaret Cho wrote her rant, the Harajuku Girls were new on the scene. There was quite a bit of online outrage in 2005 and 2006, when blogs like What Tian Has Learned, Brian Behrend, Racialicious, and aLive from New York all spoke out against the then-new pop culture phenomenon. A blog called Gwenihana aimed to “free the Gwenihana four” by promoting awareness of Gwen’s Harajuku Girls, Maya Chino (”Love”), Jennifer Kita (”Angel”), Rino Nakasone (”Music”) and Mayuko Kitayama (”Baby”). The Gwenihana blog may have possibly been inspired by MiHi Ahn’s Salon.com article with the same name, which pulled no punches in its criticism of Ms. Stefani’s cultural appropriation:

Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, even though it’s rumored they’re just plain old Americans and their English is just fine. She’s even named them “Love,” “Angel,” “Music” and “Baby” after her album and new clothing line l.a.m.b. … Stefani fawns over harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she’s swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that’s suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.”

The outrage seemed to have died down since then. The Gwenihana blog hasn’t been updated since 2006. Gwen Stefani has since dropped a second solo album, The Sweet Escape, the title track of which led Mad TV to finally parody her Asian fetish long after the initial furor. By 2007, Gwen Stefani’s employment of Asian stereotypes was being played for laughs.

And all the while, the Harajuku Girls have become even more ubiquitous in terms of marketing and product placement. Sneakers. Handbags. Tote bags. Clothing. Watches. Dolls. And now floating inflatable figures in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

And yes, perfume. Which brings me to the whole reason I’m writing this post.

When I hosted the Harajuku Girls solid perfume giveaway over Thanksgiving, it was so not my intention to offend.

I’ve been dreaming up ways to have even more giveaways for a while now, and I tried to line up some really excellent freebies for the holidays. When the opportunity to give away a set of Harajuku Lovers perfumes, which retail for at Sephora for $60 and really comes in an adorable little gift package, came about, I jumped at the chance.

Yay, perfume! My readers will love this!” was all I thought.

I didn’t think for a second that I’d be compromising what Afrobella is essentially about. I’ve made it my mission as a blogger to celebrate the beauty of women all shades of beautiful, particularly shining a light on the natural beauty of women of color. It was never my intention to exclude or inadvertently celebrate the stereotyping of any ethnicity.

When some readers pointed out the error of my ways, it gave me serious pause.

How would we feel if a white pop princess decided to have Jungle Bunnies following her around and turned them into objects? Would it all be in “fun”?“, a regular commenter, Chelle, asked.

And I must admit – I never really considered how it would make me feel if the Harajuku Girls were, let’s say the Afrobella Girls, all dancing behind Gwen and asked to only speak in a foreign language or accent when they are addressed. Is that because I’ve become so used to seeing talented black people back up white artists as dancers or back-up performers? Would it have been better if Gwen took a page from Janet Jackson in the Nineties and surrounded herself with a veritable Benetton commercial of dancing homegirls? I don’t know. And I don’t think that much analysis went into it on Gwen’s part. I think she saw these women and just thought, “super kawaii!” And that was that.

Before Gwen Stefani became interested in Asian culture, she was obsessed with Jamaican reggae culture, and I didn’t raise so much as an eyebrow when Gwen made a hit song from a cover of a cover (Rich Girl started out as a song from Fiddler on the Roof, If I Were a Rich Man. Then Jamaican artists Louchie Lou and Michie One made it big in the Nineties, long before Gwen and Eve’s pirate inspired video). When No Doubt started wearing Rasta colors and brought artists like Lady Saw and Bounty Killer to the American mainstream, it didn’t bother me as a Caribbean woman. In fact, like her predecessor Madonna, Gwen Stefani’s been finding inspiration in foreign cultures almost since the beginning of her career — remember the bindi she was rocking in the video for Just a Girl? — quite often to success and acclaim.

I am not sorry for offering a perfume giveaway — which I still will do — but I am sorry for not considering the deeper issues involved in Gwen Stefani’s ever expanding brand before I jumped headfirst into offering this giveaway.

Does this mean I don’t support Gwen or the Harajuku Girls? Well, I gotta admit I do love the perfumes. G and Love both smell incredible on my skin. I am still going to honor the giveaway — my people at Coty are aware that I am writing this post, and they’re still ready to send a perfume set to one lucky reader of my choice. And out of 76 comments on the giveaway thread, there was only one that really called me out for offering the giveaway. That means over 95% of you are still down with Gwen, and still want her little perfume bottles decorating your dressers.

Judging from this year’s Macy’s float, I’d say the brand isn’t going anywhere soon. But I do see problematic issues with the house that Gwen built. I also see fundamental and easy ways in which some of these issues could be resolved. I think that some first steps have already been taken. For example — the Harajuku Girls are now visiting Macy’s to pimp their perfume themselves, and judging from the response, they’re quite popular with fans. The ad for the Harajuku Lovers fragrance lingers on the girls — Gwen doesn’t even make an appearance, except in bottle form. So I am imagining next the Harajuku Girls are going to be given some kind of platform to express their “personalities.” Could a cartoon be far behind?

I would like to hear these women speak – not in a language or accent that is not their own. I’d love for Love, Angel, Music, and Baby to come out, express themselves, and say y’know, I am happy and/or proud to be one of Gwen’s girls. And here’s why. Or not. And here’s why. I’d love to know how real Harajuku girls in Japan feel about Gwen’s brand. Do they love it? Are they offended? Or are they clamoring to buy their own little bottles that attempt to capture the street fashion style that influenced Gwen to begin with? I’d love to see a video that reveals the reaction of real Harajuku girls to the ones we’re analyzing here Stateside. I think that could be a real step towards addressing the issues that have caused criticism in the first place.

Coty doesn’t have an official statement addressing any controversy the brand has caused, and in 2006, Gwen spoke out in defense of her Harajuku Girls, against Margaret Cho’s statement that I initially quoted.

The truth is that I basically was saying how great that culture is. It pisses me off that [Cho] would not do the research and then talk out like that. It’s just so embarrassing for her. The Harajuku Girls is an art project. It’s fun!” (Cho told EW via e-mail, ”I absolutely agree! I didn’t do any research! I realize the Harajuku Girls rule!!! How embarrassing for me!!! I was just jealous that I didn’t get to be one¦ I dance really good!!!”)

Stefani continues: ”I was surprised how racist everybody was about them. Especially when I came over here and they’d make all these jokes, like Jonathan Ross.” Ross, a British TV host, asked Stefani whether an ”imaginary hand job” from one of her ”imaginary” dancers would count as cheating on his wife. Stefani responds, ”Everybody’s making jokes about Japanese girls and the stereotypes. I had no idea [I’d be] walking into that.”

I believe her, because I didn’t either. This has been a real learning experience for me. And now, at the end of it all — I think we both should have known better.

But enough about what I think. What do you think, bellas and fellas? Was I wrong to offer this giveaway? What do you think about the Harajuku Girls? What would you like to see from the brand in the future?

Filed Under:


TJ says:
December 8, 2008, 12:19 pm
Gwen Stefani, from Orange County (which has its own share of racial issues), was REALLY surprised how people would react to her art project? Really? If she says so. I know that she and Madonna and others make their bread and butter appropriating elements from other cultures and calling it art, but I can definitely see how people are offended by the Harajuku girls. What you do with your blog is your business though, I just used the grocery store method, taking what I like and leaving what I don't.
Latoya Peterson says:
December 8, 2008, 12:20 pm
Hey Bella, Yeah, I have to admit I was kind of surprised to see what appeared to be a ringing endorsement of Gwen's continued cultural appropriation. I too loved Gwen growing up, but I can't quite swallow the Harajuku lovers line - she's essentially profiting off the idea that Japanese culture is cute, crazy, exotic, and easily commodified. Japan doesn't benefit, and while the women under contract are getting paid, I would wonder about their net benefit as well. From Gwen's comments, it appears that she is fairly naive about racism, despite dating Tony and crafting that song with Andre 3000. She, like many white people, still seem to define racism as individual acts of meanness, and not the system of oppression that it has become. Cho's comment you quoted is the illustration of this fact - how many high profile Asian-Americans do we see held up as purveyors of fashion and beauty? What image does it send that these women are not allowed to have their own personality or thoughts, and instead act out Gwen's concept of what their culture should be? I feel you, Bella, in that it's perfume, a giveaway, and just a fun thing for your readers. Unfortunately, the appropriation of elements of other cultures by the west has a long history, and doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon. What I would personally love to see from the line is an acknowledgment that Japan has its own unique approach to beauty and style - no American intervention needed. For example, the magazine Fruits has been popular here for years - it chronicles Harajuku street fashion as it is worn. For Gwen to truly pay homage to this culture, she would have to stop overwriting the narrative that exists with her own.
Get Togetha says:
December 8, 2008, 12:23 pm
Hmmm...This is a toughie cause I like Gwen and I sincerely think she didn't mean to do any harm. And like you said Bella the Girls themselves are now pimping their very own perfumes...so its kinda like a win win. Gwen is authentic; but she's also a trendy risk taker. Right now there's a bit of an uproar over Asian culture; particularly Asian women being exploited for stereotypical stereotypes. There's this perception that Asian women are docile, passive, don't age, don't talk back, don't gain weight...and apparently white men are leaving their women in droves to be with Asian women. They're calling it "Yellow Fever." So right about now things are tense. There's a thine line between being hip and being offensive and yes I think if it makes people racially uncomfortable then it should be either curtailed or addressed. Great Post Bella! GT
Get Togetha says:
December 8, 2008, 12:25 pm
I'm gonna second TJ on her comment!
NinaG says:
December 8, 2008, 12:37 pm
It's almost like in class when a lecturer or student says, "I know Africa is not a country, but in Africa..." If you know that your actions or words may be promoting or continuing something negative or incorrect then don't say/do it. There are plenty of people who need to be educated, use your platform (whatever it may be) to do so. And with that said, thanks for this post!
Laurel says:
December 8, 2008, 12:44 pm
Instead of barking at Cho to research this Gwen Stefani should have researched this. Every person in this country knows about the different racial stereotypes that are played out in the US. She really didn't think there would be an uproar over this? If she really didn't think there would be a reaction to the Harajuku Girls then how sad she's this ignorant on racial issues in the US and aboard. And did she really call grown women an art project?!
nyc/caribbean ragazza says:
December 8, 2008, 12:53 pm
It's your blog and I would hate for you to feel like you had to edit yourself. I'm glad you posted this today. I was going to say something about the original contest but thought, maybe I'm too sensitive. I wasn't feel Gwen with HG. It's different when you have black back up singers. They are singers, they have talent. I don't see mute girls as an art project. Anyway I'm over non designers with clothing labels. Next No Doubt CD I'm there but L.A.M.B., the perfumes, etc. pass.
KindredSmile says:
December 8, 2008, 12:56 pm
I have to agree with Laurel that ignorance concerning the tensions at hand does not excuse one from taking responsibility when the issues make themselves known. Also, I find it hard to believe that none of the people surrounding Gwen were aware of the potential backlash surrounding this "art project". Yes, the dolls are cute. Yes, the perfume smells lovely. But at the end of the day, what is the real price being paid?
glamah( courtney) says:
December 8, 2008, 1:02 pm
Great post. Honestly I have never even paid much attention to this issue.The Harjuku girls were always in my peripheral vison but just not my area of interest. I do like Gwen Stefani however and as 'designer' or stylist, who's a star first, she seems to have more of understanding of the craft than others who try to claim the title. Was she misguided, perhaps. She's is from Orange County!It's all "so romantic and cool to her". But its a product and a popular one at that. So dont feel remorseful about giving it away as a offer. If we look closly we can all find fault and offense at so many issues and products out there .It's your choice to buy it or not. If anything this offer opened some eyes to people and caused some great dialouge.
Nubeauti says:
December 8, 2008, 1:04 pm
I think that the giveaway was a great idea. You can't please everyone. People will continue to brand their products with whatever is profitable. Sometimes I think we pull the race card just because we can. I say "Get over it." That is my new motto.
NinaG says:
December 8, 2008, 1:13 pm
I wish we could get over racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ALL the isms
sarah says:
December 8, 2008, 1:17 pm
My only question is are the Harajuku girls getting paid for the use of their images and likeness...they should be be getting a cut of the parfum sales and a cut of sales from any other product bearing their images....if that's not the case than Stefani is scandelous and they are stupid.
T.T. says:
December 8, 2008, 1:18 pm
I agree with Nubeaut 100%!!!!!!!!!!! Plus this is your blog. You can promote/giveaway whatever you want to. I hate when people make you feel bad about stuff. *I* think the Harajuku girls are cute. The perfume smells very good, and as I wrote in my entry, I can be a different girl each day of the week, so pick me.
Miss Smith says:
December 8, 2008, 1:33 pm
i think that today it is important to note that regardless of what gwen stefani is doing to culturally appropriate herself, 50 years ago was a very different time in America for people of color. I'd like to think that people are more open-minded, more intelligent. When Amos & Andy were popular there was little dissent and the tone of the entire country was racist. You were hard-pressed to find very many Asians anywhere. Whereas today I have countless Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, all over the continent references as TV personalities, expert advisers, and friends. 50 years ago, I could see the racism in something and only be able to point it out among a group of like-minded individuals for fear of being physically attacked. Now we are able to have conversations and call more people to task when their actions are not seen as appropriate. I don't want to say get over it. I want to say thank you to Gwen Stefani for (however ignorant she was in the process) opening these lines of communication amongst us.
Viva La'Fro says:
December 8, 2008, 2:06 pm
It's always tricky, what we ask of entertainers, and the intersection between artistic expression and personal responsibility. I do wish Gwen had been more aware of the implications of her "art projects...
Alicia/InstantVintage says:
December 8, 2008, 2:23 pm
I totally agree with your statement: "And I don’t think that much analysis went into it on Gwen’s part. I think she saw these women and just thought, “super kawaii!” And that was that." I'm sure everyone here does not think about the larger racial implications of their thought about something foreign to them being cute, funny, or whatever. I think people will find a way to be offended about everything, and while some has legitimate grounds (due to the intent of the offender), this (IMO) does not. I REALLY don't think Gwen wanted to turn those four girls into modern-day Geisha, that they pander around waiting on her hand and foot, and that they entertain her. I think she thought the subversive culture of Harajuku was cool and she incorporated it into her personal brand. Like nearly all artists manage to do with some aspect of a culture/time period that isn't their own. Besides, don't WE know more about Japanese people outside of the Harajuku girls and Benihana? If not, that's our fault. Not Gwen's. Our being uninformed and closed-minded, not her racism.
Gisele says:
December 8, 2008, 2:35 pm
Everyone here has brought up excellent, fair points. But I have never been able to accept the "get over it" reply when it is not their group that is being discussed. I do not know anything about this aspect of Japanese culture, but I do know if Gwen had a bunch of cute little Black girls with afro puffs traipsing behind her who were a living "art project" I would be offended. And Gwen's reply to Cho's statements were offensive, imo. No apology-very arrogant and self serving. It reminds me of the hoopla when Jennifer Lopez replied to the controversy over her use of the n-word in one of her songs-she was informed that there are Black people who (gasp) not only don't use that word, but don't take kindly to non-Blacks saying it. Her response was similar to Gwen's, basically: "well they just need to get over it-a Black man wrote the song, they need to stop being sensitive, get off my back, etc." Not one word of apology, and to this day I cannot stand that chick. I am not a fan of Stefani's either, but an earlier poster reminded me of No Doubt's Ja-Fakin days of simulated reggae music and it makes me think-how many marginally talented non-White artists have so easily appropriated specific White cultures for fame and profit? I can't think of any right now. And I am not saying I don't support White artists singing 'non-White' music at all; there are many White artists I looove who have more soul in them then.. well ya'll get my drift. Sorry for the long post. I have to admit these are some cute perfume bottles though. Hi Bella! lol
NiKita W says:
December 8, 2008, 2:37 pm
I really didn't think much of it until I read this post. I didn't see it as a way of making fun of the culture but bringing the culture to mainstream; how many people even knew what Harajuku was until Gwen's line? As a Black woman born and raised in the US, I developed a thick skin early in life and many things that others find offensive don't bother me at all. Instead of turning this into a racial issue, use it as an opportunity to teach people what Harajuku really is and use it as a teaching tool.
zoe says:
December 8, 2008, 2:43 pm
i don't think that you were offensive at all in offering this giveaway. i think that if people want to get over the issue of race they just need to look past it and look at these dancers as people. forget that they're asian and that gwen is white. yeah the girls are only able to reply in japanese, but that's because gwen is celebrating japanese culture. the girls signed a contract, it's not like they're slaves, they're being payed for being part of this image. this is their job, and they're doing a great job. i've always been interested in japanese culture and i'm glad that gwen made japanese culture more popular over here in america. i'm caribbean/nigerian and if gwen did have jungle bunnies or island bellas as her posse and they all spoke with an accent i think it would be cute, especially if it was bringing island culture/african culture to the mainstream. in a way i can see how it could be offensive to close minded, insecure, paranoid people...and i'm not one of them so i wasn't offended at all.
DW says:
December 8, 2008, 3:08 pm
I never thought about this topic, since I honestly have tuned out all that Harajuku business from day one. But I remember reading a book specifically about Asian women's stereotypes in college and writing about this; as a feminist of sorts, the issue of Asian women and stereotypes has really been of interest to me since I realize it gets so little attention. I wasn't interested in the giveaway, but I will make extra sure I tell my friends not to buy anything Harajuku. (And Gwen sounds like a jackass telling Margaret Cho how to feel about YOUR theft of HER culture!)
Shell says:
December 8, 2008, 3:25 pm
Whoah. I had no idea about all this backstory about the harajuku girls. I'm not really a big fan of Gwen. I know you offered the gift in the good spirit you always have in your giveaways. Don't sweat it, Bella. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows you are all about love.
Nina says:
December 8, 2008, 3:27 pm
Afrobella, I think the giveaway was a nice idea and I appreciate this post (and ensuing discussion) even more. You have done more to foster understanding (and quell misunderstanding) regarding this issue than Gwen Stefani has. I can only hope that one day Gwen Stefani will look back at her comments referring to women as an "art project" and cringe, but if she doesn't, I'm good. Don't get me wrong, we are all very capable of making stupid (sorry, misinformed) comments--even those of us who have people on staff to help craft and market our images. I hope no one thinks that she designed the clothing line or mixed up the scents herself. Nope, she has a staff full of designers, r&d, marketing professionals, lawyers and accountants. There are people out there paid to research demographics for her...and I doubt that cultural issues were researched at all. Actually, it's pretty safe to say that Gwen Stefani is just as much a piece of the gimmick as the Harajuku Girls are.
puff says:
December 8, 2008, 4:38 pm
@ gisele, i definitely agree with your post. one thing on the jennifer lopez tip though... no one's ever asked fat joe to apologise for using the n-word (which he does regularly). why is that?
tayari says:
December 8, 2008, 4:42 pm
Dear Afrobella-- I also know that you are all about love. As for the giveaway, linking to LaToya's comment, I think that offering a product is a tacit endorsement, and that means something. I do worry that when women of color, like Cho speak out, their remarks are filed under "rant." And Stephani is merely "speaking out" or "speaking in defense." I don't think that any of your long-time readers will think less of you for doing the giveaway. In this racist culture, we all slip sometimes, and are guilty of not-seeing something that is very clear to those directly affected by it. I think they key is to do exactly what you did. Address it. And you did so, sincerely. We all stumble and we all grow.
Cheeky says:
December 8, 2008, 4:44 pm
Bella: Love your blog! I agree with Latoya's comment. Additionally, everytime I see this perfume or these products, it just makes me roll my eyes. However, I am an AA woman and I wonder how Asian and Japanese women feel about these images. I do not agree with the point of view that Gwen is simply offering Harajuku culture to the mainstream and educating the public in the process. I do not think that can ever be an excuse for racist images and blatant appropriation. Nonetheless, if Asian and Japanese women feel honored or ambivalent by these images, I would keep my mouth shut because who better to articulate the impact of such images but the target. However, I think we should be careful about saying that its just perfume and they should not take it seriously because I personally hate it when people tell me I should not be offended about something because someone outside the culture did not mean it "that way" and I should have a thick skin. For example, all the hoopla over the Michelle Obama New Yorker cover and the Memin Peguin controversy that erupts every couple of years. To me, those comments are a way of silencing minority people and preventing them from articulating why certain things are offensive to them based on their culture and how their culture has been historically treated by the majority. If there are any Asian or Japanese bellas who read this blog, I wonder what they think of this. Do they roll their eyes when they see this stuff or is it a non-issue?
Maria says:
December 8, 2008, 4:49 pm
I've never even thought about that. It has seriously never crossed my mind. It totally does perpetrate stereotypes and I'm glad you were made aware of that, because if you hadn't been - I never would have.
Y M Williams says:
December 8, 2008, 4:56 pm
My daughters love Gwen Stefani and the Harajuku Girls and the entire Japanese culture. That's one of the best things about growing up in the Military or in foreign countries, you learn tolerance and the cultures of other's. I bought 'Baby' for my daughter for a Christmas present this past weekend. To those who say that Madonna, Gwen and possible other entertainers borrow from the cultures of others, maybe they are appreciate the diverse cultures of the world more than some appreciate their own.
Gisele says:
December 8, 2008, 5:02 pm
Hi Puff, I think the controversy surrounded that because Lopez at one point was part of mainstream culture. Fat Joe is all hizzood, all the time, so I think the perception was that everyone in hip hop culture uses the word so he got a pass on that. A lot of people felt 'how is Lopez on the cover of vanity fair/vogue/etc. one week, and next she is using inflammatory language like this?! I personally don't like for anyone to use the word, but that's a whole different topic! I just get uncomfortable when certain aspects of our culture are often presented to speak for all of us, with no questions asked.
GloLady says:
December 8, 2008, 5:39 pm
I'm still wondering about the African Pride shampoo and leave in giveaway, havent't received it yet....
blair says:
December 8, 2008, 5:52 pm
I loved Gwen when she was in No doubt, I mean come on, bathwater, New, Tragic kingdom, loved loved loved it!! Raised a confused eyebrow during her jamaican phase (even more so after she named her kids kingston and the second kid's middle name is apparently "Nesta" hhmm Robert Nesta Marley ring a bell) Then this hajajuku thing, i'm sorry it's just not that cute. As for Japanese culture, I had a lot of close japanese friends in college and I learned that the japanese have very little culture of their own. They've taken what we would so nicely call "inspiration" from African, African American (black/brown cultures from around the world) and Western cultures way of doing things and try as best they can to make it their own. It's been said before but the black/brown population are the most copied culture but somehow never getting credit for the deep strong culture and art. I don't think it's fair that a group of people are looked down upon while their ways are being taken by others. Oh harajoko, not that cute (-_-) kinda annoying. -snooze.
SacredAngel says:
December 8, 2008, 6:04 pm
Holy shit it's not that serious. It's perfume.
ChocolateOrchid says:
December 8, 2008, 6:16 pm
Wow. I also like Gwen Stefani. And I do appreciate Japanese and all other cultures however, my raised eyebrow came before the perfume. I actually took note when I saw that she had Japanese back-up dancers who mainly did hip-hop. Right then I saw stereotypes poppin' off left and right. However, I really don't think Gwen intended to offend anyone by this. I took it as her appreciating a different culture. Some may look at it as ignorance on her part and that very well may be but I still don't think she meant anything negative by any of this.
tuff-puffs says:
December 8, 2008, 6:38 pm
I was very surprised to see the giveaway on the site because of the controversy surrounding Gwen and the Harajuku girls. But I was not surprised at your gracious and humble article addressing the controversy. Personally, I liken the images of L.A.M.B. to the derogatory pictures of black women in music videos. They serve as a silent sexual/visual accessory like a car or iced out chain… only difference is that Gwen is working with the same parts. The Harjuku Girls embrace many stereotypes that this site does not support. As women that come from a culture where we have huge variances in skin color, hair textures, nose widths, fullness of lips, body types etc. We have been subjected to images that rarely celebrate beauty outside of the scope of Beyonce or Kenya Moore (who are both absolutely fabulous). To combat these influences the articles on this site have perpetually encouraged good health, being comfortable in your own skin and being able to operate outside of cultural norms that tells us what our hair should look like. It has contested the racism and injustice faced by the Jena Six, Genarlow (spelling?)Wilson and President Elect Barack Obama. Again, I PERSONALLY believe that aside from Native Americans and African Americans have been dealt the hardest blows by this country. However, we (in general) can be a little self righteous about our causes and nonchalant about causes for other cultures. Louisiana just elected the first Vietnamese American to congress and the first Japanese secretary of veteran affairs was appointed yesterday. We have to do a better job of being aware of cultural setbacks and breakthroughs in other communities as well. As to rather or not it is wrong to promote these items via a free give away. .. yes it was. If there was a music artist that encouraged drug and alcohol abuse and berated women on his album and someone offered free copies to you for a giveaway I doubt that you would distribute them because the materials go against the convictions that you and majority of your readers hold dear. As a matter of fact I believe that when some women were accidently sent relaxer you openly called it a mistake because you do not support the use of creamy crack. I may be wrong but it seems like the reason that the issues with the Harjuku Girls is not as important is because it does not hit close to home.
Candy says:
December 8, 2008, 9:53 pm
You know,I never thought about the racial aspect before, but I thought it odd that these little asian girls were following her around. I'm not a huge Gwen Stephani fan, so I really did not pay that much attention. But I will say this, I think that it is dangerous to let subtle racism pass and tell people to just get over it. If in any way you are perpetuating people as stereotypes instead of human beings, then there is a problem. And I got to say this because it is bugging me. Why do we need Gwen Stefani or Madonna to "introduce" us to other cultures? They are not helping anybody by bringing these cultures to the "mainstream." That is ridiculous. Whenever people do that, the originating culture never gets the credit and it becomes the identifier of the mainstream youth. Rock and Roll anyone? AAs invented it, yet it is considered the epitome of "mainstream" music.
an asian woman says:
December 8, 2008, 10:32 pm
I have to raise an eyebrow at those who say "Get over it." I do agree that because this is your blog, you are free to do as you please. I must also say, that though I was a bit irked at your promotion of the Harajuku girls, after reading this post I am only a more avid Afrobella supporter than before. I haven't the slightest doubt that you had only good intentions, and I suppose I could say the same for Gwen. Still, that doesn't mean that what she's done isn't easily offensive to anyone cultured. When I hear commenters like Nubeauti say things like "Get over it," I can't help but feel your real motto should be "Don't give a shit! I don't!" and if that is the case, you ought to just come out and say it. I am hard-pressed to believe you'd support anything with, as Afrobella pointed out, "Jungle Bunnies" slinking around hunter-style, wearing "Westernized" skimpy dashikis, afros, holding spears, bouncing around barefoot hissing an African language. Or perhaps, a loud-mouthed, heavyset black woman rolling her neck, snapping her fingers, and speaking ebonics. I know I would not support that. Basically, I feel that for many of us, if the situation doesn't directly apply to us, than we just don't really care. That's where I disagree, once again, because I know that to some extent, everything we do causes an effect, as is the law of the universe. I don't consider myself prudish, irrational, or hypersensitive. But the Harajuku entity is something that I can't support. Perhaps I am biased, being that I am Asian myself, though not Japanese. I must admit, I didn't give much consideration to how Gwen was treating reggae culture earlier (to be fair, I never cared for her anyway). I guess we are always learning and correcting ourselves. I just feel that anyone who comes out of the gate with that dismissive "Get over it" attitude needs to re-evaluate her thoughts. Consumerism is not going to stop me from, as TJ nicely put it, leaving Gwen's blatant objectification and "privileged white female" ignorance to pick up something better.
Sumatra77 says:
December 8, 2008, 11:41 pm
Oh, I'm so exhausted with everyone being so offended all the time! Geez. I lived in Japan for 10 months and the harajuku culture was prevalent then and that was 10 years ago. You saw girls(and boys) dressed in the weirdest, most bizzare, funkiest clothing out there and you just moved on with life. Gwen is an artist who takes inspiration from other cultures. I'm not Indian but I think saris are beautiful. If I wore a sari, should I have to apologize? Believe me, the Japanese are probably thrilled that someone has taken on an aspect of the culture and given it a Western face. It's not worse than American celebrities getting paid big bucks to make corny Japanese commercials. When do we learn to stop trying to find hidden meanings and mal-intent behind EVERYTHING? Yes, racism is real but fighting it on the Harajuku front? Seriously?
4b trini says:
December 9, 2008, 2:11 am
I agree with Gisele, TJ and Nina's comments. Asian girl - thank you also for your perspective. Although I had limited knowledge of Gwen Stephani (who I find untalented) or the Harajuku girls, I find myself enlightened by this topic by Bella's posts. Gwen's statement towards Cho embodied what I call the "clueless racist" sentiment I encounter when I meet people from Orange County although certainly it exists elsewhere. I do not think that not critically analyzing other people's perspectives is actually an acceptable excuse for anything. Finally Bella I have to disagree with you. I am not in favor of outsiders exploiting the culture of others. I personally am disturbed by the likes of Gwen Stefani (or Lauren Hill for that matter) trying to be Jamaican or should I say using a reggae beat to sell records. That hit home for me. The H-J girls may not affect me directly but I respect the perspective of others who could easily be offended by the stereotypes they purvey. I think its a little narrow-minded to say things like "get over it" or "its just perfume". Its quite dismissive and destructive to dialogue. What I hear in those comments is "your opinion is not important to me because I have already decided this topic is a non-issue". Or maybe even that winning the giveaway is more important. Anyway I don't think you meant any ill Bella and I respect you for this post. We are all living and learning.
J.Adia says:
December 9, 2008, 3:07 am
The image of Snoop dragging those women along on dog leashes just came to my mind. We all have the right to be offended or not offended. Some women were not offended by the Snoop's displays many were. Some Japanese people may be offended by Stefani's art, some may not. Everything we do in public is up for judgment. That's the way of the world we live in. Personally, I do not understand why anyone would want to be Gwen's accessories. But I haven't seen how much money these ladies are making ;}. I am offended by what others have described as the OC view on racism. Her intent may have been pure, but she was clearly thinking about what the HG would do for her image, not for the image of people of Japanese and Asian heritage when she ran with this living art idea.
dgh says:
December 9, 2008, 3:14 am
The Harajuku Girls. Is it possible they’re simply Gwen’s outward expression of “what we admire in others, we strive for in ourselves?” Or do they have more in common with the ubiquitous magazine spread? You know the one. Haute-couture-clad Euro model on display…nameless, tattered, “primitives” providing backdrop or counterpoint. A living homage or dehumanization? (Hmm.) Kudos to the bellas, who were courageous enough to speak up, and thanks to everyone for taking a critical view of pop culture!
trish says:
December 9, 2008, 6:25 am
I have a question totally unrelated to the post. I'm desperate so please forgive me for asking it here. I have acne scaring and I can't seem to find makeup to cover it properly. I've spent so much money on make up and nothing seems to help. I've seen other black women with flawless makeup and I would like to know how I can achieve the same affect with makeup. I'm open to any and all suggestions.
Gisele says:
December 9, 2008, 8:02 am
To Sumatra77 You have brought up a good point. I met a young British White woman a few years ago who was one of the poets in the poetry cafe in my neighborhood. She could spit very well, and she was always received with enthusiasm by the audience. The club's host joked about her "Black" hand gestures, attitude, etc. But he was exagerrating, I felt that her performances were much more nuanced and deeper than how he described. She had a passion for her writing, that was influenced by the Black American culture around her. I never once felt like she was a culture vulture. And I don't think it's racist for a non-Indian to wear a beautiful sari in the right setting-I personally love them and henna hand painting also. But that is certainly different than having other human beings as props, I think. Remember that If video by Janet Jackson, with the Asian concept? It starts out with beautiful Asian male and female models in a club, on their turf, with strong and sexy images where they are not being presented as subordinate to a Western figure. In all fairness an Asian person may have another opinion, though. Janet is still the star in the video of course, but there is a strong presentation of another culture. We just might be more sensitive to these differences in the West. I was not aware of this Harajuku controversy at all, but the convo sure has made me think a lot about this topic.
ceecee says:
December 9, 2008, 1:04 pm
I know you meant well Bella and we all learn something new each day about the importance of treating others the way we ourselves would like to be treated. And just because it's not something one person may deem as that important doesn't mean that we shouldn't respect and acknowledge what they're saying. Personally, I'm bothered when I see/hear people passing off others culture as something fun/cool/artsy and not educating consumers on the background. It's the little things that get to me like Beyonce passing off her "oh-oh-oh-oh-no-no" (I think the song is called crazy in love) dance routine as hers when it's a traditional west african dance. Which is why I find it hard to support some famous people. Like what others have said, the whole Gwen Stefani/Harajuku uproar is in protest of a larger phenomenon - cultural appropriation. All in all, thank you for acknowledging it even if you didn't think it was that much of a serious issue, I think we all know that you mean well.
ceecee says:
December 9, 2008, 1:23 pm
PS: I could be totally off on the Beyonce song, I don't pay attention to her
qselby says:
December 9, 2008, 5:02 pm
I feel like I'm always one of the last to post all the time! I guess my whole issue with Gwen, Madonna, Elvis, Bobby Cadwell, Duffy, Amy Winehouse, Picasso and so many others is that the art that they 'create' and call popular culture may be confused by the uninformed as something 'new', 'fresh', and 'brilliant'. I'm sorry but this is just not the case....it has been done before and it irritates me when I meet people who are unaware where these people get their inspiration. Give credit where credit is due! Sooner or later there be so many white British women singing R&B and Soul music that my children won't know about the history of the music....and I'll have to somehow prove my stance on this. And really this ain't nothin' new man...every decade or new cultural movement (at least in the U.S.)Jazz, Be-bop, Blues,Hip hop, R&B, and my favorite Rock & Roll has always had some white groups copying what they hear....and calling it their own. There really are some people who don't know the history and that is what gets me. Cee Cee* And one more thing as far as the history thing....Beyonce, I'm pretty sure, is of West African descent. So, since when does she have ask for permission to do a traditional West African dance which is done by blacks all over the diaspora (whether they realize it or not)?...I'm more irritated when Madonna tries to "krump" or better yet when she has a black girl do it cause she can't (saw it on an award show about a year ago)....or maybe when Honey dances in her self entitled movie and there are a whole bunch of black women in the back putting in over time dancing there behinds off(some of the traditional moves you were talkin' about) but yet they are still....in the BACK. I guess there is a trend ...our art and apparently every other 'sub'culture's art is way more marketable when you a white person doing or maybe just a person who just has those features.
qselby says:
December 9, 2008, 5:10 pm
Just reading your post Candy...AMEN!
qselby says:
December 9, 2008, 6:46 pm
Afrobella, we know you meant well :)
Aleta says:
December 10, 2008, 12:37 pm
Finding inspiration in other cultures is great; it's a part of cultural progression overall. It's almost never a perfect process, but at least it tends to drive things forward. It's when we tie off the voices of other cultures that it becomes problematic, and Gwen has literally done that. I think the root of the problem is that the HG are contractually obligated to speak only in Japanese and adopt cute affects in public. Like, why? Why does Gwen need an entourage of submissive Japanese women? Why not an entourage of women like Margaret Cho? Where did Gwen's 90s girlpower go? I don't know very much about how black back-up dancers are treated, but when I watch something like Beyonce's "Single Ladies" I'm blown away by their talent and the power of their attitude. When I see the HG, I'm just kind of sad for them. The giveaway was a lovely idea. The perfume itself isn't problematic; as you touched on, at least it's a chance for these women to take some of the spotlight.
regina says:
December 10, 2008, 8:16 pm
Bella, I think the giveaway was an awesome idea (would have been better if I had won!). Is racism alive and well in America? YES. HOWEVER people are quick to cry racism and pull the race card when they want to. How many black folks will by pass a black beauty salon to get their nails done in an oriental shop (and you know they be in their talking about us!), how often do black people buy fried chicken wings in a Chinese restaurant (No one in Japan or China is frying chicken!). But no one is crying foul then. I'm sure the HG are making more money than the millions of folk getting paid $1 a day in the oriental sweat shops. Maybe this is there way of expressing themselves, who knows. But ultimately this is your blog, where you are free to post whatever you want. Folks can read it or by pass it, or read selected posts. Keep doing what you do!
WARRIOR11209 says:
December 11, 2008, 11:43 am
Thanks Afrobella for the backstory about Gwen Stefani and the HG - I had no idea . I know that you had only the best intent with the giveaway. Gwen S. comments in regards to Margaret Cho were revealing - GS is definitely the one without a clue. Enjoyed reading all the comments from all the Bellas that responded - living and learning every day!
jill says:
December 11, 2008, 4:59 pm
I think people are looking way into these issues. How many times have I seen white people portrayed as nerdy, rich and out of touch with the world on Chappelle's show? Did I cry about it? No. And this isn't even someone using a culture as a joke, she truly appreciates it and gave it awareness. I had no idea about urban Japanese style until Gwen/Harijuku girls. So, I say more power to her and enough with people looking for something to complain about.
jill says:
December 11, 2008, 5:03 pm
Oh not to mention all the drunk Irish stereotypes out there. But no one's crying about that on St. Paddy's day. Give me a break.
say whatever says:
December 11, 2008, 9:08 pm
I agree with NinaG, there is entirely too much 'isms' and I wish we could end them. Black women are sterotyped the worst and poorly in r&b, rap music videos, their whole nether regions hanging all out, booties swinging in front of the camera, I think that black women should be more frustrated with the black musicians, particularly rappers, managers, who put these images: hoochie coochie parties, gold teeth, blinging here and there, and act like they are some rough tough gang-bangers. Put them in Afghanistan or Iraq, they wouldn't last one day. They would be too busy crying for their mama's milk or their binky. These people who perpetuate these type of idiotic behaviour and persona should seriously stop, enough is enough. And another thing, I am sick and tired of opening up a black magazine of someone famous and see them married to some light skinned woman, or some asian woman, or some white woman or some mixed woman for that matter. So everyone is whining about Gwen, whatever, don't waste your time, the Japanese are too busy trying to be like the western culture, I mean, you have girls over there getting tans and dying their hair pink and whatever 'shocking' color, and that's like a big deal and a culture shock and they are being labeled 'black' over there, the new 'n' word. They don't really care anymore, not the new generation. The old generation, yeah they are still pissed at US of A for dropping not one but two atom bombs unannounced. That's what we really should be apologizing about. Not some damn white girl making money off some crazy 'art' crap.
sahar says:
December 12, 2008, 1:54 am
uhhhh...sorry... but um, who won the giveaway?
bella says:
December 12, 2008, 4:02 am
The previous post announced the winner, Sahar.
jill says:
December 12, 2008, 2:31 pm
Apologize for dropping atom bombs after they attacked Pearl Harbor? Are you serious right now?
tres says:
December 12, 2008, 3:31 pm
“you learn tolerance and the cultures of other’s.” I detest that word “tolerance” when used in reference to race. IMO it insinuates a certain superiority. Almost like minorities should be happy we put up with them.*shrugs*
say whatever says:
December 12, 2008, 10:14 pm
Ignorance is seriously bliss.
Sister Toldja says:
December 19, 2008, 12:01 pm
I didn't like Gwen's "cultural appropriation" of Carribean music and I really thought she crossed the line with the Harajuku Girls mess. White people are lauded for being cultural pirates and they so often co-opt elements of "minority" cultures/sub-cultures and adopt it as there own. Its one thing to bite but its another thing to fetishize. The fact that this Harakuku bull-ish made it past the pitching stage shows you how ignorant and racist Americans are. I liked No Doubt, but when she started all this mess, she lost a fan.
Sister Toldja says:
December 19, 2008, 12:03 pm
Jill= the reason integration didn't work lol. Cry me an effin' river!
Beia says:
February 14, 2009, 6:33 pm
European opinion: This is pathetic. "Cultural appropriation" is not wrong. Throughout history, music, art and dance have been adopted and enjoyed by different cultures who have mixed and matched elements and made them their own. Sadly Americans are very touchy about this and desperate to put everyone in their own little boxes so it all feels safe. I could give a million historical examples- look at the Arabic influence that is still seen in Spanish architecture, 6 centuries later. If Madonna wants to take Voguing from a NY club and take it to the mainstream, or Gwen wants to do the same with Harjuku style from downdown Tokyo, I see no problem. Not all oriental women are Harjuku girls so why should they be offended? The real Harjuku girls are probably annoyed that their cool edgy fashion has spilt over into the mainsteam, but anything that is good usually ends up being popular- that's life. What next? Do we condemn the Rolling Stones for using "black" influences in their music? Shall we tell Justin Timberlake he's only allowed to sing opera because he's a white European?!! Open your minds! The only possible issue might be if Gwen were exploiting poverty but as far as I'm aware Harjuku girls (from the Tokyo neighbourhood where the fashion comes from) are amongst the richest and culturally advanced people in the world and I expect most of their parents work on the Tokyo stock market - they're not victims. If you really want everyone to live in such tiny narrow little "culturally appropriate" boxes- tell black girls they must have natural black afro hair and Asian girls they must never dye their hair blonde. Or, you could get a life and enjoy a few pretty little perfumes.
karenmillensell says:
May 9, 2012, 7:30 pm
The previous post announced the winner, Sahar.
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