Nicki Minaj and Chun Li - Cultural Appropriation?

Not trying to troll but is this considered cultural appropriation? I saw her SNL performance and thought it was pretty blatant but at least her backup dances appear to be Asian. What’s yalls thoughts?

1 Like

I would definitely say so. We as a black community have a love for martial arts movies and fighting games that runs deep, but yeah it’s cultural appropriation. A lot of asian and black culture nowadays is a weird borrowing of a couple things that the other popularized, so it’s kinda weird feeling a line.


I posted about this elsewhere, but I find the objectification of Chinese culture in her video and stuff pretty abhorrent. (I’m not Chinese) I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, but its frustrating to see so few people take issue with such blatant appropriation


It’s pretty much the definition of cultural appropriation. I mean, there’s a more respectful way to do it (see the RZA’s career), so it’s not like Nicki had to go in like this.

…the song itself slaps tho.


There’s an important distinction, I think, between being influenced by a culture, and wearing fucking chopsticks in your hair


This was discussed in another thread: Can you fight the "cult of celebrity", and if so, how?

The tl;dr of that discussion is that some people say Black people cannot culturally appropriate because they lack the institutionalized power to do so, while others say that specifically Black people in the USA are still privileged with regards to third-world oppressed people.


Not sure we can really call China a third-world country these days.

Using another culture’s signifiers in a mish-mashed Orientalist way is appropriative, maybe not quite in the way that white people are doing it given the effects of colonialism but it’s still disrespectful. I don’t know if this is a “Do I have enough privilege to do this” equation when it should be a question of “are you doing this in a respectful, reverent way”?

Upthread comment about RZA is a good example.


Not currently, but historically it is. Oppression targets people more than it does countries and this history is still used to denigrate and oppress Chinese people today.

1 Like

Without claiming that reverse-racism is an excuse, we should remember that racism is definitely a thing in China, including black caricatures.

I don’t see how that’s relevant, to be honest. Antisemitism in Palestine is a thing, and yet I don’t think anyone would argue that’s a factor in how we treat Israeli appropriation of Arab culture.


Well I guess we’re trying to work out to what extent black Americans and traditional Chinese culture are mutually exploitative, or even capable of being so. There’s a pretty clear difference between that and Israel/Palestine as you noted.

We’re possibly also a bit guilty of mashing together traditional, aristocratic Chinese culture, which we would hardly call oppressed, and actually, currently oppressed Chinese peoples.

1 Like

I don’t fault anyone for being skeeved out by the video.

I think there’s a pretty big difference between chop sticking your hair and straight up wearing culture-specific clothing, but like. She’s done it before, she’ll do it again. I wish she’d learn, but you know. Celebrities.

Have you seen some of CL’s more recent videos? She does k-pop, but like. Kinda raps? That shit is brazen. Like it makes me physically uncomfortable to an extent.

1 Like

The analogy is to the part where you said that Chinese anti-black racism somehow lessens the severity of appropriation of Chinese culture. I showed that this doesn’t work by way of a reductio ad absurdum. That the analogy doesn’t hold up in other ways just means that, again, your argument relies on whether or not black people can exploit Chinese culture, which is the heart of the issue. So, again, the issue of alleged anti-black racism by Chinese people adds nothing to the discussion.

The argument that Minaj is interacting with some time in history where Chinese people were dominant strikes me as sophistry. “It’s OK, I’m only appropriating things from when you weren’t oppressed!” Eh. But they are now, so again, what’s the relevance?

1 Like

I thought that first comment was quite clear in starting that I was not making excuses. In hindsight it was admittedly unnecessary and distracting to make the comment.

Which group of people who is currently oppressed is NM actually appropriating from? Is she appropriating as a black American woman, or as an extension of the music industry, or indeed as some combination of both? Is it less troubling if it is her as a black American woman, since that demographic could hardly be said to be oppressing the Chinese population in the same way as some of each sides compatriots?

I don’t know because I’m a white man living in the UK who barely interacts with either group.

The argument that a minority group can’t appropriate another minority group’s culture because the former isn’t in a position of institutionalized power over / doesn’t have a history of colonial subjugation over the latter makes me really uncomfortable.

Many cultures have conservative or reactionary elements who adhere to ideas of racial or culture superiority and hierarchies of racial value (which are often in turn informed by colonialist thought, e.g. notions that a POC who gets hitched with a white person is “marrying up” whereas a relationship with someone from a different minority group is an embarrassment to the family). These ideas actively harm young people trying to make their way in an increase multicultural society. In my own social circle, I can think of three different instances in which interracial couples, neither of whom were white, have had their relationships undermined or successfully dissolved by their parents’ shitty racism.

I understand that trying to create a “calculus of oppression” to figure out who should be allowed crib from who is extremely different from engaging in notions of racial or cultural superiority, and I understand that some people won’t find my line of thought compelling on that basis. But personally, I really struggle to believe that arguments made from relative states of power/oppression are being made in good faith, and I find the idea of setting up cultural hierarchies to determine who has permission to use other cultures as an aesthetic inherently regressive and problematic.

And all that said, complicating my feelings further is that a lot of times when I see this conversation cropping up, it’s in the context of one of my awful conservative Facebook contacts presenting the situation as “Look, black people are racist too! How come nobody talks about that, huh?” and baiting a bunch of their liberal and centrist friends into hand-wringing about oh yes, that’s really problematic, this POC made a big mistake and it’s very disappointing. (I want to point out I’m not accusing anybody of doing that here, of course). And yeah, in my heart of hearts I am still disappointed when I see people of color appropriating other cultures. But also, it’s very frustrating to see only these particular instances spotlighted, and to be thrust into the position of having to either defend shitty behavior or condemn a POC, when many there are many much more problematic instances of cultural appropriation by privileged white people going unremarked upon.


If you really want to break down this specific instance you have Nicki attempting to emulate a Japanese video game’s stereotype of a Chinese woman…so not great.

I think when it comes to cultural appropriation there’s definitely a “you know it when you see it” aspect or again specifically to this case:

The overall topic of cultural appropriation between non-white groups is difficult to navigate because of the myriad ways different races and cultures interact throughout the world and the culture at large in any given country.

This instance and the overall discussion reminds me of the discussion around NBA player Jeremy Lin’s decision to dread his hair at the beginning of this season (there’s a few interjections from the author I don’t necessarily vibe with, but this WaPo article recaps it well).

Personally, I think part of making sure you’re not culturally appropriating is exhibiting respect for not just any people from the specific culture, but also the cultural significance of the elements you’re trying to borrow/exhibit. Which, also means taking into account how people who belong to the culture in question are perceived for exhibiting those elements. For instance, you should ask if it’s something commonly seen as undesirable or often used to mock.


I’m clearly just bad in these conversations, and I’m sorry for making people uncomfortable. I’ll try to be better in future.