As someone with British Asian heritage, Katy Perry’s new British Asian Trust role is insulting
She’s neither British nor Asian. Come on.
Katy Perry has sent the Internet into meltdown in the wake of news that she has been elected by Prince Charles as an Ambassador for the British Asian Trust. As a woman who is neither British nor Asian, I just want to know what brought them to this decision.
Prince Charles says he chose Katy Perry because of her “long-standing commitment to charitable causes around the world”. But really, the British Monarchy deciding to put a white Californian woman as a face of an Asian ambassador for the next five years can only do more harm than good. And as someone with British Asian heritage, I find it incredibly insulting.
I’ve been seriously racking my brain to try and find any connections Perry has to India, which might justify her being given this position. She got married to Russell Brand in Rajasthan. She has a Sanskrit tattoo. But that’s about it, and even those are dubious.
This is something I can’t help but take personally. My Mum’s side of the family is Irish, and my Dad’s is Indian: growing up surrounded by these two very different cultures, I’ve seen first-hand how distinct each’s practices can be. There’s no way that Perry, who has no Indian heritage whatsoever, would be able to understand the contrasts in lifestyle at play here.
Without a doubt, I feel lucky to have had access to both “cultures”, but even at that, I’ve always felt that my Indian side isn’t anywhere near as strong a part of my identity. I was raised Catholic, and I’ve never even been to India, but still, I’ve been to more weddings in a gurdwara than in a church, and my Granny’s broken English meant that I spent years watching my Dad try and help interpret so that I could speak to her. My grandparents moved to the UK in the 1960s as part of a wave of migration of Sikh people coming to Britain.
Previously, famous actors including Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar, film director Gurinder Chadha and the TV presenter Konnie Huq have served as ambassadors for the British Asian Trust. To put an American popstar in this list just feels jarring.
In an Instagram post published on Tuesday, Perry stated: “India has always been a place I have a magnetic connection with, and in addition to my work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, I’m excited to be part of the work of helping the children of South Asia”.
Magnetic connection alone doesn’t render you the best person for the job, Katy. Sure, there are lots of things I’m passionate about – let’s just say climate change, for example – but I’m not out here to steal Greta Thunberg or David Attenborough’s jobs. They know more. They deserve it more. That’s a fact.
She doesn’t exactly have a great record when it comes to cultural appropriation
What’s more, there’s a ridiculous irony behind this “magnetic” connection Perry speaks of. A tweet of hers from 2010 says “I have a zit where my bindi should be, does that count? Dang”. How she hasn’t deleted this despite her new role is astounding.
i have a zit where my bindi should be, does that count? Dang.
— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) January 5, 2010
The bindi holds massive cultural significance in India: It is both a marker of a married woman as well as a symbol of a “third eye” designed to ward off bad luck. In 2010, Perry was 25, so definitely old enough to recognise that tweeting something like this goes against better judgement. If someone finds it appropriate to compare such a sacred symbol with a bout of bad skin, then the British Asian Trust is surely in deep trouble.
Yet this isn’t an isolated incident. In 2013, she performed at the AMAs dressed as a geisha, prompting a huge cultural appropriation backlash. Sensitivity to other cultures is clearly not her strong point, and sends a damaging message to all young British Asians that her credibility somehow outweighs theirs.
It’s baffling that Prince Charles couldn’t find a single British Asian, or indeed even a non-British Asian who might have been more suited to the role.
Katy Perry… As a British Asia trust ambassador… I don't know why, but I'd have chosen, hear me out on this one,.. A British Asian person….
I know, crazy, right??? https://t.co/iwwPX7mOCP
— Audrey (@AudreyAurus1) February 5, 2020
mfw I hear Katy Perry is the new ambassador for the British Asian Trust https://t.co/ZQHeLAkf9Y
— Tara Joshi (@tara_dwmd) February 5, 2020
How about we, you know, appoint someone British and Asian?
As much as people hate to admit it, cultural tensions do exist in Britain, and there’s a distinct lack of understanding. When I was younger, at times I was hit with comments along the lines of “Why doesn’t your Grandma speak any English?” (she definitely could), and even “Brown people smell like curry. Do your family?”
Giving the platform to someone who has very little first-hand understanding of India only sends a negative message to young Asian people. Surely they need someone who can relate to them in some capacity, rather than someone who, by the default of being white, holds a privilege they never can anyway?
Sure, some might argue that she’s a famous face who might serve to be something of a good PR stunt, but where do you draw the line between good publicity and poverty porn? If Perry’s aim is to provide hope for young Indian children, surely they’d be more appreciative of someone who can speak their language or you know, actually relate to some of their cultural practices?
I’m glad that this whole saga has prompted such a backlash, because frankly, people need to start talking about the dangers a move like this can do. I’m not necessarily suggesting we revoke her Ambassadorship. Rather, I’m saying that in 2020, it’s time we begin to recognise the merits of the many amazing, actual British Asians instead.