On this Music Monday, I am going to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about Lady Gaga and her new song Born This Way. Because it is irking me a little.
A couple of gay friends of mine have got very misty-eyed over this song, with its message of pride and acceptance. I like that message too, of course. Except, it’s quite hard to hum along to a song that asks you to accept yourself when the lyrics are… kind of racist.
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to be brave
This great article explains why the terms “oriental” and “chola” are probably not the most appropriate terms for Gaga to have chosen:
“Oriental” is a word referring to anything “Eastern.” Note that I said “anyTHING.” Calling someone oriental is dehumanizing because you are basically saying that they are akin to oriental rugs and other “Eastern” merchandise. Oriental should refer to objects, not people. Not only that, Orient is also an antiquated insult because of its connotations with white imperialism and oppressive European rule over many Asian countries.To call someone Oriental is to recall years of white colonialism and commodification of Asian culture.
“Chola” and “cholo” originated in describing people of Hispanic and Native American descent. After a couple hundred years, some white Americans used cholo interchangeably with people of Hispanic descent as a derogatory term. But more recently, “cholo” and “chola” is often used to refer to Latino people in gangs and drug culture, who wear certain types of gang attire and prescribe to certain types of gang behavior. So, when Gaga says “chola descent,” that is basically what she is unknowingly referring to. Not a very appropriate way to give a shout-out to Latino people, is it?
My problem with Born This Way, and with Lady Gaga in general, is that she consistently claims to represent the “freaks” and “misfits” of society. She pushes this point by turning up to awards shows incubating in an egg, wearing dresses made of meat, and pointy prosthetic shoulders in her performances. But at the end of the day, she goes home, takes off her make-up, hangs her meat dress in the fridge and goes to bed. She can take off all the artifice and be a small, blonde, straight, white girl who has (presumably) never experienced homophobia or racism.
I myself don’t know what it’s like to experience homophobia, but I think I can say with some certainty that it’s not like waking up in the morning and deciding to live in an egg. Ditto with race – she can take off her wacky costumes that set her apart, but those who experience racism are judged on the outward appearance they were born with – you can’t “take off” your race if you get tired of other people’s assumptions.
I am sure that Lady Gaga is just ignorant – she doesn’t understand the nuances of the offensive phrases she has just put in a hit single. She obviously means well, but so do so many people who think they can speak on behalf of others and get it right.