Is Lady Gaga Racist?

by Steven

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

and:

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?

23 responses to “Is Lady Gaga Racist?

  1. I never really thought it was racist, although I didn’t hear the lyrics that clearly at all.

    Now that you point it out, I think it’s just weird to call out ANY race. I mean, what about “chola’? Mexican? Why don’t you just say Mexican? I think it’s partly a rhyming thing. Probably easier for the rhyming scheme to use those words and that’s probably why they were chosen.

    I mean, I feel weird saying, “black” but, African American isn’t politically correct either because not all black people are from Africa. I think “orient” may be a personal insult to you, maybe other Asians aren’t as offended? I don’t know. The song, “Born This Way” is meant to be accepting, so I don’t think she meant it as a racist thing at all. Probably just rhyming and possibly the people she knows aren’t offended by those words. Who knows?

  2. Orient was one of the first things I noticed in BTW but I didn’t hear Chola in there because she sings that part rather fast. However it was probably for the sake of rhythm because if she said Asian it’d probably sound way out of place, plus she just had that little Asian girl sing with her on stage so I doubt she’s racist. As far as Chola goes… I lived in Southern California for 17 years and never have I heard of Chola being derogatory, in middle school that’s what the Hispanic girls would call themselves so I just figured it was more of a style since they all looked pretty much the same with the dark penciled lined lips and the really bold eyeliner. I already have mixed feelings about the song but I’m not going to think to much about it just for the sake of avoiding any sort of rude statements that might come out of my mouth.

  3. I agree with you, I think Gaga used all this badwords as they are: social constructions. This means that, even, transexual is other social construction -and constriction.
    Thanks for your post…
    Beth

  4. Very good points. When I heard the song, the words “you’re Orient” sounded like nails on a chalkboard. It was even more jarring when I saw her young Asian fan sing those words. Usually older people use the word, so I’m surprised that the young Chinese waitress you referred to would call herself Oriental.

    The song is about ending racism so I can only come to the conclusion that the use of the word was not an ‘occident'( ha, ha). It was meant to be ironic and stir up controversy/press…Lady G’s specialty.

  5. Well, my sense is that people don’t really use that word “Oriental” and I think Gaga uses the “Orient” not in an Orientalist way, especially consider how “far out” the video is… it’s about aliens! So I feel Gaga’s use is more toward a transformative use of the word… and “Orient” might just sound right in the mix or composition.

    Furthermore, Said always said that the “Orient” is always imaginary and keeps shifting toward regions we don’t know about. It’s a way of exotifying the others whether they are from the middle-east or Asia. So if she uses “Asia” instead of “Orient” it will be too “realistic,” and I don’t think she’s referring to Asia when she uses “Orient.”

    What do you think?

  6. davidtranstylist

    I’m Asian and I choose not to be offended by this at all. Does “Oriental” have negative undertones associated with that term? Yes, of course. However, I believe only in certain contexts nowadays. It’s pretty obvious “orient” was mainly used to help rhyme with “descent”. Yes, yes she could have changed the lyrics, but it’s just Gaga being Gaga trying to used other creative terms for dramatic effect… Let’s not try to fish for racism folks, especially when it’s clear there is no racism involved. For instance, Trader Joes carries these delicious snacks called, “Oriental Crackers”… are they now considered a racist company? No! And it’d be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. There is no ill-intent with that usage. In this case, if the song doesn’t use the term “orient” to insinuate negative opinions about Asians, why would you bring up the racist card? Just because you may be offended by what someone says doesn’t make them a racist… if that were the case, we’d literally all be racists! This situation for me really boils down to the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you said it.” Sometimes words are simply harmless adjectives, nothing more. There is enough genuinely racist people in the world, let’s not focus our attention on someone who has done nothing but promote tolerance and unity among people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, etc.

    It always amazes me how quickly ethnic minorities whip out the race card. Calling, even suggesting, somebody a racist is such a serious accusation. Often-time ignorance is mistaken for racism, but it is important to understand that they are completely different. Let’s all try to give each other the benefit-of-the-doubt and only blurt out “racist” when we’re absolutely, 100% positively, factually secure that someone is indeed a racist…

    I just want to end by saying I completely empathize with the blogger who wrote this entry; being harassed for being different is just wrong, and any acts of racial violence is nothing more than cowardly stunts. But I’ve definitely endured plenty of racism and prejudice in my life as well… which is why it’s so much clearer to me now when someone is or isn’t a racist, and so I just don’t believe racism played a part in this song, which is not even all that great… it’s good, not great.

  7. Orient isn’t racist, it’s obsolete.

    No one (in America) uses it to refer to themselves or to offend others. If someone wanted to be derogatory to Asians, they would choose other words.

    A racist will always sound racist based on their tone.

    This ASIAN got in the way
    This CHINK got in the way
    This ORIENTAL got in the way

    They all sound equally racist to me based on the written tone.

    By using Orient, Lady Gaga fails to properly give a shout out to the Asian community she intended… but rather put big question marks above our heads… “‘Orient?’ Who SAYS that?”

  8. Thanks for the great post. As a latina, I’m totally offended that she uses ‘chola’. It’s not only a derogatory term towards Mexican Americans, it also insinuates that all Latinos are ‘Mexican’ in many peoples’ eyes -ignoring the multicultural identities that fall under the term Latino. This is a common comment made by ignorant people. They don’t care to see that you are Chilean/Puertorican/Cuban/Venezulean/Mexican etc etc., they just what ‘Mexican’ means to them. While we as Latinos/Latinas may use it as a way of reclaiming the word, it doesn’t give LG that right in any way.

  9. I noticed the use of the word “orient” in the song, but didn’t take offense. Also, at her concert in my town last night I noticed a large number of Asian fans. I guess they weren’t offended either.

  10. I am Hispanic & I was not offended in any way by “chola descent”, because I remember my Art History from High School, she is referring to the Chola Dynasty-a Tamil dynasty, ruled primarily in southern India until the thirteenth century, most of what we know and associate with India comes from the Chola Dynasty. I studied the bronze Chola statues & Chola art, she is referring to Chola descendants, people from southern India. The term Chola which is associated today with men or women who are hispanic & dress or act a certain way, who are “gang members”, that term is extremely offensive. It was deigned by hispanic people & that is embarassing to me.

  11. Lady Gaga is not smart. She simply has good handlers and her heart is in the right place. But don’t mistake someone sharing your political values as intelligence. It demeans actual intelligence.

  12. Does there have to be a logical explanation for why a word becomes offensive? I don’t think the geographical explanation really works to explain why “oriental” is outdated, as English-speakers still use “east” in such contexts – “Eastern Philosophy”, “The Far East”, “East Asia”, and the like. The idea of Europe being the center of the world is certainly ethnocentric, but many other languages do the same thing – China is “The Middle Kingdom” in Mandarin, and the Japanese refer to their country as “The Land of the Rising Sun.” The idea that “oriental” makes Asians seem like objects doesn’t really make sense, either, since we still use terms like “Persian rug”, “afghan”, and “fine china” for objects.

    I just think it become outdated as many terms become outdated – “Negro” is similarly viewed as outdated and offensive to most people aside from a few elderly, even though it technically means the same thing as the more socially-acceptable term “black”. We see “oriental” and “negro” as terms associated with an earlier era, when racism was more overt and accepted in North America, so our attempts to abandon those terms are attempts to distance ourselves from our racist forebears.

  13. OK LADY GAGA IS SUPER SINGER BUT SHE IS RASIST NOT ASIAN BUT TO BLACK PEOPLE BECOUSE SHE THINK THAT SHE HAS TO BE BIGGER THN BEYONSE WHICH IS TRUE SHE HAS THE VOICE AND WE WHITE PEOPLE LIKE HER BEYONSE HAS NOT SO GOOD VOISE IF YOU LESSON TO HER LIVE AND SHE IS FAT AND NO SEXY BUT I AGRY SHE HAS GOOD HEART BUT SHE IS BAD SINGER SORRY LADY GAGA IS SUPER WORLD SINGER

  14. LADY GAGA IS NOT RACIST TO MUSLIM AT ALL BECOUSE THE MAN HWO MADE HER TO BECOME A FAMOUSE HER PRODUCER OF RED ONE IS A MUSLIM GUY AND SHE THANKS TO HIM HI DONT BOTHER HER WE LIKE HER NOTE THAT WHTE PEOPLE ARE NOT RACIST AT ALL BUT AFRICAN AMERICAN THINK THAT WE HATE THEM AND THEY BECOME RACIST BUT THATS NOT TRURE WE LIKE EVERYBODY YOU HAS TO STOP THINKIG ABOUT IT HERE IS THE RACIST COME FROM AFRICAN AMERICAN DO CRIME LIKE OTHER THAN THEY GO TO PRISON THAN THEY THINK ITS RACIST EVERYTHING THAT THEY DO UNLAWFULL LIKE OTHER THEY GET PROBLEM WITH THE PEOPLE THAN THEY THINK ITS RACIST DONT THINK IS IT JUST STOP DOING CRIME AND WE WILL LOVE YOU THANKS

  15. I found this post by chance when searching Google regarding the lyrics. I personally take any use of the term “Orient” as a racist tone. It does not matter if one is unaware of the connotation that is carried with the word, and you should correct every person (including other Asians and Asian-Americans) that uses “Orient” in place of Asian.

    I work in a salon where 90% of our staff is Asian, and the other 10% is Hispanic (Please do not use the term Latino, because it is as offensive as the term Orient). Not all of the employees are of one nationality, and it peeves me when a client comes in and tries to request a technician without remembering the name. They usually spout: “Well, I don’t know, one of the oriental ladies.” (Keep in mind we have several men.) The worse I have heard is “How the (expletive) am I supposed to know, they all look the same.”

    Often I will get a client that wants to guess the nationality of a technician. While the majority of them are Vietnamese or Cambodian, I’ll usually have a customer ask me that they only want the Korean girl to take care of them. So tongue-in-cheek I show them the door and refer them to the Consulate General of Korea.

  16. I am not saying it is ok to use those terms. But some terms that were ok to use 10 yrs. ago like Latino I guess are out. Remember Northwest airlines? All flights going to Asia you went on planes with Northwest Orient all over them. I am from a time when it was ok to use those terms. I never said I would like the Oriental. But have said Latino or Latina. I have used those words in front of my (L&L) friends for years and not one of them has ever said that was rude. Or just say that here but not outside of our group. Terms change with the wind. We all know the words that are a big no no’s. For anyone out there that I might have offended sorry. But if someone yelled to me hey Guinea or Wop I would let it go. Or heard it in a song. Bigger fish to fry in this world then who said what in a song. Or who yelled what. Have you listened to rap lately? Most people do not know and are not trying to be rude. So next time instead of showing them a photo of the Gen. in a nice was info. them. You know when someone dose not know or just being rude. I had a brother who passed and when he was alive the term Retarded was ok to use. everyone did used it even the doctors. Now I am not saying it is ok to use some words. But if this over Lady Gaga guess what people turn her off and junk her cds. Like I said things change so fast now some people do not know. Good luck on this. Since this topic has been a issue since people have been around.

  17. Indestructible

    Just to clear things up:

    Chola refers to a female Cholo. Cholo is a word from the Windward Islands, meaning a mutt of disreputable origin- it was used by Spaniards as a racial insult.

    Orient was used to mean the opposite of occidental, which actually means superior. (It’s not surprising that West Europe considered themselves such.) Basically, by calling Far East Asians Oriental was a way of calling them inferior.

  18. Indestructible

    *Basically, by calling Far East Asians Oriental they were calling them inferior.

    Sorry for the typo/grammar error!

  19. Sorry to burst your bubble but…the meaning is it does not matter how you are oriented! She’s giving a pass to gays!
    Occidental has been used as long as I can remember in Canada. The rug is named after the people not the other way around.
    The one thing you’re right about is that gays are the most discriminitive racist group out there.
    If you take a quick look at history as well as racism it’s based on envy and self loathing.
    Losers want to blame others for their inability to succeed. By the way many Ivy league universities still have quotas preventing Asians and Jewish applicants for getting into many programs. They call it affirmative action but tell that to my friend who was kept out by this policy.
    I suppose it may be that Jews were considered oriental until 75 years ago. Maybe people didn’t want to go to an Oriental doctor so they reclassified them.
    I’m proud to be oriental and would welcome my Jewish nieces and inlaws into our oriental grouping but then they’d never be accepted into Harvard. Haters hate not words so get over it.

  20. Oriental is not “acceptable for use” in Canada, fyi.

  21. Lady Gaga is obviously not racist. If you watch the video or listen to the track, Oriental does not refer to being Asian. In fact, Lady Gaga is putting the word “Oriental” back into play to liberate that word of its conventional meaning. It’s about play not politics.

  22. theotherblackgirl

    There are several arguments to why Lady Gaga is the opposite of racist, but then of course there are always going to be a few opinions that differ. (Which is ironic because the topic of discussion is differences in people). It’s actually kind of amazing that you picked this song to back your own argument because the song was written to emphasize the fact that it doesn’t matter what color, race, gender, or sexual preference you are/have because we are all made the same and are “born this way.” It’s doubtful that she wrote a song addressing homophobia, self-loathing, and abuse in every sense of the word and decided to exclude racism. I’m not sure you have a valid point at all with this one. Good luck next time.

  23. theotherblackgirl

    I have to apologize. I guess I got heated in the moment without reading the second half of your article.

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