Where do you draw the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation?

Just last month, the host of Comedy Central’s The Jim Jefferies Show, Jim Jeffries, came to Japan to investigate the reasons why “Millennials in Japan Aren’t F**king”.

It appears this wasn’t the only hard-hitting issue Australian-born Jeffries had on his radar during the trip, because this week he screened another Japan segment on his show called “Are Japanese B-Stylers racist?

During the segment, Jeffries uses his signature brand of humour to investigate the topic of cultural appropriation, using Japanese B-Stylers as the launching point for the discussion.

Take a look at the clip below:

In the video, Jeffries introduces us to Japanese B-Stylers, whom news site Vice describes as “Japanese teens who want to be black“. B-style stands for “Black Lifestyle”, and 23-year-old Hina, who runs a shop called Baby Shoop in Tokyo’s hip Harajuku district, is a big fan of the fashion trend.

When Jeffries meets up with her, he gets straight to the point by asking, “Would you rather be black than Japanese?” She says she’s happy being Japanese, but explains that a lot of Japanese people simply want to emulate the fashion trends of other countries. 

There’s a lot of truth to what Hina says, as Japan is home to Japanese Chicanos and rockabillies as well. Here, subcultures like these stand alongside cosplay and out-there-fashion trends as a big part of youth culture, but over in America, Jeffries says, there’s a word for it: cultural appropriation.

If cultural appropriation is understood simply as “the dominant culture taking from the minority culture”, where do B-stylers stand? Seth Rodney, a cultural critic who’s written extensively on the topic, says people should think critically when it comes to this type of thing, saying “outrage is really not very useful”.

▼ He then makes a very valid point with the statement: “when the pitchforks and the torches come out, people are no longer thinking.”

Rodney says hip hop is a worldwide phenomenon, and it allows Hina to have “a kind of sense of who she is”. From Rodney’s point of view, her love of hip hop culture is genuine, and not cultural appropriation.

Jeffries then decides to turn the tables by asking Hina if she would mind if he wore a kimono, and she says she would be pleased by it. It’s a sentiment echoed by many people in Japan, despite all the cries of cultural appropriation that ring out from abroad every time a foreigner is seen in kimono.

▼ Katy Perry is one of many foreigners who’ve been slammed for wearing kimono in the past.

Rodney, however, says culture shouldn’t be treated as a precious object off limits to those outside of it as it doesn’t help anyone understand the culture.

It’s a valid point well made, and later in the clip, when Jeffries sits down with a group of individuals who have different views on what is and isn’t racist, it appears there’s a lot of confusion on the topic, proving this is a discussion we should probably be having more often.

With more and more high-profile personalities from overseas — including Queer Eye’s Fab Five and the host of Conan, Conan O’Brien — showcasing Japan in their TV programmes recently, viewers are beginning to see the country on a deeper level, with all its complexities and contradictions.

And if that means one less person will be trying to trademark “kimono” for their clothing line, that has to be a good thing.

Source: YouTube/The Jim Jeffries Show
Featured image: YouTube/The Jim Jeffries Show
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