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Japan Isn't Offended By Avril. So Why Are We?

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AVRIL LAVIGNE
TPG via Getty Images

No sooner had Avril Lavigne released her atrocious "Hello Kitty" video last week than her legions of haters began accusing her of racism.

By and large, the train of outrage was conducted by white people in the west, by those with little connection to Japan.

Sourcefed called it a "racist appropriation of Japanese kawaii culture." Policy Mic said Lavigne was "one step away from squinting her way through this one."

And on our shores, Canada.com wrote that she treated her Asian backup dancers as "passive, adorable background decoration for a wealthy North American pop singer."

What did Japan think of the video? Funny, few seemed to ask.

A spokesperson at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. told TMZ that they were A-OK with it, that Avril "had only good intentions when making the video." He added that they'd be happy if discussions around the video helped people "discover the beautiful and rich culture of Japan."

It seems like Avril's critics were less concerned with learning anything about Japan or checking to see what the affected party thought.

For her part, Avril laughed off the accusations, saying that she made the video for her overseas fans, in Tokyo, with a Japanese director and Japanese choreographers.

Tokyo-based Twitter user @IdealDaddy said, "Huh? What is discriminatory about this video? Those who think it is discriminatory are the ones who are discriminatory."

Indeed, Avril's accusers engaged in their own discrimination when they didn't first think to hear from the affected parties. Why are they telling them what they should think and how they should feel, without listening first?

The reaction to "Hello Kitty" was similar to that which greeted Miley Cyrus when she performed at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Blogger Anne Theriault said the performance amounted to a "minstrel show," that she used black women as "props" when she smacked a backup dancer on the backside.

Reactions were mixed. Backup dancer Hollis Jane objected to be tokenized for her height. Fair point. It was hers to make.

Jezebel's Dodai Stewart criticized Miley for "accessorizing with black people" and for being a rich, white woman "'playing' at being a minority specifically from a lower socio-economic level."

But Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Lil' Kim all praised Miley, with the latter calling the artist "my little pumpkin."

When hipsters started wearing indigenous headdresses to concerts and festivals, A Tribe Called Red, an indigenous hip hop group, summed up best why the practice was offensive.

They didn't need a privileged, white yuppie to jumpstart the outrage on their behalf.

The point here is that it's a whole other kind of cultural appropriation when a privileged party tries to jumpstart the engine of outrage before the affected class has had a chance. In effect, it tells them what they should be angry about and assumes they don't have a good idea themselves.

Of course, privileged people can take a stand against racism. Allies are important. But they can also stand back and not overshadow the people who might be the actual targets of discrimination.

In the case of "Hello Kitty," we could have all waited to hear what Japanese people had to say, and maybe learned a thing or two about their culture, as the government hoped.

Perhaps we'll all learn more when white people stop rushing to take offence on someone else's behalf and start asking them what they think.

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