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Ricky Martin is Not a Role Model

white interviewer misinterprets Asian singer-songwriter

Forum: Letter to Alice magazine
Date: 01/24/2000

Hello editors of Alice mag... Glad to see someone start up a new multicultural magazine! I've just received the first (trial) issue, and I am happy just because you exist. You rock.

However, I was very disappointed by how you presented the interview with Magdalen Hsu-Li, the talented Asian American artist. I am assuming that the interviewer was a white woman who had not taken sufficient anti-racist training to understand how racism works beacuse it reflected typical white ignorance when it comes to racism.

Sure, Magdalen may have described her family as "yellow Southern aristocracy," but for a white writer to relay this description without any analysis of the function of internalized racism (which is very different from white racism) and classism among people of color, how it is created and whom it benefits is offensive. As an Asian American lesbian myself, I would like us women of color to be able to be honest about how we internalize white supremacy in the form of colorism (often to protect ourselves by assimilating to the mainstream culture) so that we can help each other unlearn it, but the last thing I want in this process is for some ignorant white person to come in screaming "Gotcha!"

The way the interviewer ponders whether or not Magdalen would become "the first bisexual, Chinese American pop sensation," "the Ricky Martin of the Asian pop phenomenon" is also patronizing. Does the writer seriously believe that embracing multiculturalism or pluralism equals worshipping Ricky Martin? The evidence is clear: with all this craziness over "Latin pop sensation," white people generally do not get any more interested in the issues ordinary Latino/as in this country face (how many people joined the demonstration in defense of Farmworkers' Union after listening to Ricky Martin?) I am not criticizing Ricky Martin per se because it is not his fault that he was tokenized and commodified by the mainstream white consumerism. The real problem is the narrow-mindedness of the white majority that does not allow for a true diversity, insisting on the worldview that people of color, the exotic "Other," exist only to entertain the white audience.

Of course, the writer of this interview would deny having such a mindset. Please refer her to one of those successful white women's anti-racist trainings or something, because I resent having to prove others' racism to them just to protect myself from their hurtful assaults guised as friendly exchanges.

Emi Koyama