I did not know what racism is until I immigrated to this country at the age of 9. As soon as I moved here, it seemed like racism bitchslapped me in the face. For example, my elementary school principal who was fired from another school district for being racist toward some Latino kids refused to place me in accelerated math classes even though my math skills were about 2 years ahead of everyone else (schools in Asia teach math at a much faster pace than here). His decision made no sense and I highly think it’s racially motivated given his background. One time in junior high school, a group of kids followed me home, grabbed my belongings and started harassing me by calling me a “chink.” Most recently, I got into a verbal altercation with someone in a gay club because he was spewing hateful comments about Asians (the topic of gays and racism is worthy of a separate blog post!). These are just a few examples but there are many more. Given my experience, I’d say I’m pretty sensitive about racism. So when I listened to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” I was a bit surprised when I heard these lines:
You’re black, white, beige chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
Here in the US, the term “oriental” is considered derogatory by Asian Americans when it is used to refer to Asian people. I believe the reason behind this is the fact that “oriental” is used to refer to inanimate objects like rugs or furniture, therefore it shouldn’t be used to refer to people. I had a discussion about this with my friend today and she explained that “oriental” is an old fashioned European way to describe everything that is east of Europe. Whereas “occidental” would be used to describe everything that is west of Europe. When used this way, Europe in essence is seen as the center of things and everything else outside is just lumped into two different categories. She further elaborated that it’s not right to classify all easterners as “oriental” if westerners aren’t classified as “occidentals.” As a matter of fact, I’ve never heard of the term “occidental” being used to refer to a group of people myself. Whatever the reason, I myself am somewhat sensitive to this word “oriental.” I don’t know when or how I learned that the term “oriental” is considered politically incorrect but whenever I hear it being used, I’m always taken aback, especially when it’s being used by other Asians. For example, during a trip to Vancouver, Canada I was shocked to hear a young Chinese waitress describe herself as “oriental” while taking our order. I was then reminded that different parts of the world sees things differently and the term “oriental” is acceptable for use in Canada. As far as the term “chola” goes, I’m not going to delve into it because I am not of Latino/ Hispanic descent but apparently some groups have been protesting the use of this word.
So what’s my take on the use of “orient” or “orient made” in the lyrics? I must say I would prefer her not using that word but at the same time I don’t believe it’s racist. Given the fact that this song is 100% about acceptance, harmony and non-judgment I don’t believe there is a racist undertone to “Born This Way” at all. Much like the use of “oriental” during a conversation, the context of how it’s said plays a large role in its meaning. For example, when the Chinese waitress from Vancouver used “oriental” to refer to Asians, it wasn’t racist because that wasn’t the intention, but if a KKK member used the term “oriental” then you bet it’s racist. I believe the same can be said of Lady Gaga. I don’t even believe that she’s ignorant about the use of this word because she is one of the most intelligent and politically active artists that I know of. It’s also ironic that groups are protesting her choice of words as racist when the song itself is about ending racism. This begs the question, was this irony intentional? Maybe it was and having followed her career, I believe Lady Gaga is the Queen of Ironies. Anyhow, this is my opinion but what about yours? Do you feel this song is racist?