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Is Nicki Minaj's 'Chun Li' Problematic?

You bet, hunny.

If you haven’t heard it through the airwaves or peeped it on Spotify, Chun Li is the comeback (did she ever really leave?) track from rap kween Nicki Minaj. The song is an ode to superheroes, with Chun Li – an Asian female character in the iconic Street Fighter II games – at the centre of the lyrics.

Watch the video here:

Following its release, the #ChunLiChallenge is swiftly taking over social media, calling for users to record themselves lip-synching Nicki’s bars – Insta Story-style. The videos range from the spontaneous to the choreographed, but some people are calling the content out for perpetuating racist stereotypes through cultural appropriation.

Nicki Minaj’s recent performance of the song on the hit comedy series, Saturday Night Live is being criticised for using Japanese imagery whereas Chun Li is a Chinese character, and the song and video are motifs of Chinese culture.

As we know, cultural appropriation is nothing new. Despite the lengthy conversations we’ve had about why taking a cultural identity out of context, co-opting it as your own and capitalising off of it in some shape or form is a no-no, we’re still chatting about it.

Asian writer David Yi spoke out against Chun Li and the reactions of the challenge to fetishise Asian culture.

Yi explains that from the lyrical content of the song including lyrics like ‘I went and copped the chopsticks / put it in my bun just to pop sh*t,’ and the onslaught of non-Asian people recycling the same tropes of putting chopsticks in their hair, wearing kimonos and anything remotely ‘oriental’ as caricatures of Asian culture raises a red flag for how cultural identities are reduced to gimmicks.

Uh, Asia is made of more than two countries…

‘The way people are interpreting the #ChunLiChallenge with signifiers like double buns and chopsticks as hair accessories is yet another instance of people co-opting another culture with impunity,’ writes Yi. Chopsticks are eating utensils so it’s about as appropriate as sticking forks in your hair and crossing them over or sticking them in a bun which is considered extremely disrespectful, particularly in Japanese culture where it signifies death.

It’s also problematic to view Asian culture as the sum of either Japanese or Chinese identity. As Yi points out, Asia is a continent with multiple countries, nationalities, diverse cultures and dialects. To see Asian culture as just ramen and cherry blossoms is erasure of the various Asian identities.

We see the marginalisation of Asian identity all.the.time – from Gwen Stefani’s ‘Harajuku Girl’ phase where she used Asian women as her props, to Katy Perry going full-geisha at the 2013 American Music Awards. From Victoria Secrets 2016 show where white models donned Chinese dragons to Logan Paul’s disgusting behaviour in Japan that went viral, it does more harm than good to use someone’s community as a joke.

And the Narrative?

Shifting the narrative starts with looking at ourselves and asking ‘do I really want to give my coins to ideas that discriminate?’ This goes for when we support artists and brands racism, sexism and homophobia. Maybe it’s time to stop demanding brands do the right thing and stand up for the right thing anyway.

Want to see cultural appreciation in action? Read our #HERitage series for a look at celebration done right.

You Decide:

Tell us what you think of Nicki Minaj’s – Chun Li, do you think it’s problematic, or you couldn’t really be bothered! Tweet us!

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