Is Gwen Stefani Racist?

no doubt looking hot gwen stefani racist

You might remember a month or so ago the brief debut of No Doubt’s Native American culturally appropriated video for their single, “Looking Hot”. Or, as it was aptly dubbed by one YouTube commenter, “Looking Racist”.

While the Native imagery is arguably stunning, it’s not No Doubt’s to share, and that’s what pissed most viewers of the clip off, Indigenous or not.

The band issued this statement after removing the clip:

“As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialise Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realise now that we have offended people. This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately. The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness. We sincerely apologise to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video. Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.”

And just in time for Native American Heritage Month. And Thanksgiving. Double-points for sensitivity!

Looking back on No Doubt and, more pertinently, Gwen Stefani’s history of image changes, it’s not really surprising that they committed this most recent offence in a long line of racial faux pas.

Remember in the mid-to-late ’90s when Stefani got around in that bindi? Or, a lot more offensively, her harem of identically silent Harajuku girls that followed her every move whilst promoting her first solo album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., and appearing lyrically and starring in the music videos of the singles from it. Eight years after its release, Stefani’s still making money off the appropriation of the Japanese culture in her line of L.A.M.B. fragrances, one of which I requested for my birthday this year. I guess we’re all a little bit guilty of buying into this reappropriation stuff (just look at the recent Navajo-inspired line from Urban Outfitters, and Victoria’s Secret’s penchant for fetishising Asian culture with their “Go East” line of lingerie).

As is pointed out in a roundtable about racism and cultural appropriation on Rookie, the fact that white little Gwen and hipsters alike are able to wear Native American headdresses, bindis and headscarves without a second thought is because they’re white; no matter how well meaning the appropriation might be, they’re not likely to be threatened with racist taunts, “considered weird, or [putting up] some kind of resistance to assimilating into [Western] society…” says Jenny Zhang, a writer and poet.

Fellow Rookie Marie Lodi takes issue more specifically with the Harajuku girls:

“[W]hen she had the four SILENT Harajuku Girls following her around everywhere it was strange. Like, OK, here’s four Japanese girls (I don’t even think they were all Japanese?!) following around this white woman and not saying a word. GWEN, DO YOU LET THEM SPEAK? And now I bet if you did some word-association about Harajuku with a random white American person they’d most likely respond, ‘Oh, you mean the line at Target?’ first and not the area in Tokyo…”

’Cause Asians are relegated to the cute, quiet best friend or background role, didn’t you know? But at least that’s something, according to legendary comedian Margaret Cho:

“Even though to me, a Japanese schoolgirl uniform is kind of like blackface, I am just in acceptance over it, because something is better than nothing.”

I guess black-, yellow- and red-face are the best we can hope for in this sad, sad reality.

So goes the reasoning of many regular people not so well versed in the politics of racism: when someone dresses up as a Mexican who’ll “mow lawns for weed and beer” or a Middle Eastern terrorist (you might think I’m referring only to Chris Brown, but someone I went to high school with actually came as one for an “Around the World” party, the pictures of which were posted on Facebook for the presumably more culturally sensitive world to see) for Halloween or, as with the most recent pop cultural exemplar, a sexy Native American as seen on Gossip Girl’s Thanksgiving episode, the collective opinion is often, “lighten up, it’s just for fun.”

But Sasha Houston Brown writes for Racialicious:

“Recent acts of cultural appropriation do not occur in a vacuum and should not be viewed as isolated instances separate from their social and historic contexts. It is far more complex than hipsters in Navajo panties and pop stars in headdresses. These contemporary instances of cultural appropriation and stereotypes are really byproducts of ongoing colonialism, systemic racism, and the deliberately false narratives perpetuated about Native peoples by white society. Cultural commodification and dehumanised stereotypes extended far beyond any single corporation, retail franchise, or celebrity.

“We are not a relic of the past, a theme or a trend; we are not a style or costume; we are not mascots, noble savages or romantic fictional entities. We are human beings and, despite all odds, we have survived.”

Seeing as pretty much every other TV show, movie, brand and band are doing it, why are Gwen Stefani and No Dobut being singled out for their racism? We can’t expect better of them than we can Victoria’s Secret or scum of the earth Chris Brown because of their history of appropriation, but they’re the ones who said it: No Doubt is a multicultural band, so someone in it should have realised that maybe glamourising a game of cowboys and Indians that was a reality for so many Indigenous people for hundreds of years probably wasn’t the most PC direction they could take the clip in. Or maybe that’s just a hipster-racist excuse: I know black people so therefore I’m allowed to make racist jokes and assumptions about a culture that isn’t mine.

While people and corporations in the public eye who mass produce items for consumption (whether that be music, film or clothing) should be held to a higher standard than your average Joe, as they inevitably influence the Zeitgeist, they can’t be completely accountable for modern racism because it happens in a vicious cycle: we accept it because it’s perpetuated in the media, politics and everyday life, but when those sectors try to make positive changes they oftentimes fall on collectively deaf ears. That such a furor erupted over No Doubt’s latest gaffe is sign of hope, though… at least until next Halloween, Thanksgiving, Victoria’s Secret Fashion parade or No Doubt video.

Elsewhere: [Billboard] No Doubt Pulls “Looking Hot” Video, Apologises for Insensitivity.

[The White House] Presidential Proclamation: National Native American Heritage Month 2012.

[Jezebel] Urban Outfitters & The Navajo Nation: What Does the Law Say?

[Racialicious] Victoria’s Secret Does it Again: When Racism Meets Fashion.

[Rookie] Something Borrowed.

[MamaMia] Racial Abuse on a Melbourne Bus: What Would You Have Done?

[Margaret Cho] Harajuku Girls.

[Jezebel] Cosmetics Brand Pulls, Then Reinstates, Weird Blackface Ad.

[Jezebel] Crystal Reen Wasn’t Trying to “Look Asian” in That Eye Tape Shoot.

[Jezebel] Karlie Kloss as a Half-Naked “Indian” & Other Absurdities from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

[Jezebel] Penn State Sorority Girls Dress Up as Mexicans Who’ll “Mow Lawn for Weed & Beer”.

[HuffPo] Chris Brown Halloween Costume: Singer Tweets Picture of Himself Dressed Up as Terrorist for Rihanna’s Party.

[NewNowNext] Gossip Girl Style Recap: “It’s Really Complicated”.

[Racialicious] Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls in Headdresses.

[Jezebel] A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism.

Image via Jezebel.

6 thoughts on “Is Gwen Stefani Racist?

  1. Pingback: On the (Rest of the) Net. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  2. So I can assume we’ll be seeing The Lone Ranger when it comes out so you can comment on Johnny Depp being racist? (And drool all over Armie Hammer, of course!)

  3. Pingback: 12 Trends of 2012. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  4. “OK, here’s four Japanese girls (I don’t even think they were all Japanese?!) ”

    If that’s the extent of Marie Lodi’s research skills….

    A 2 second google search can tell you that they were indeed all Japanese.

    Sorry, don’t let me stop you all from your time-consuming offence taking…carry on.

  5. Pingback: Katy Perry & Cultural Ignorance. | The Scarlett Woman

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