As an American woman of color in France, I notice all sorts of ways this country is lagging behind in its awareness of and sensitivity to racism. For example, my son’s been learning a song in his preschool class, “Les Petits Chinois.” The lyrics loosely translate to, “The little Chinese are like you, but yeah, they’re not like you because they do these weird exotic things like dream about dragons, wear thong slippers on the streets of Hong Kong and draw, instead of write, their language.” (N.B. I’ve taken some artistic license with the translation.)
While this appears to be a classic French kids song, are the teachers even putting it into context? Are they explaining that Chinese kids now wear sneakers and ride in cars (not bikes) to school just like they do in France and this song is an exoticized and inaccurate portrayal of China, especially modern China? Do they not realize how “othering” the song is? If you tell 4-year-olds via a catchy tune that this is China, don’t they grow up believing it until otherwise informed? And who’s going to do the informing? I haven’t decided if I’m going to raise some objections with the school but considering I’ve spent two paragraphs bitching, I probably should.
Which brings me to our new series: Racist or Just French?
In an effort to inform, question and analyze, I am pointing out French things I’ve come across that are at best, clueless, and at worst, racist. (Laziness and stupidity fall somewhere in the middle.) I know most people aren’t actively trying to be racist, but intention doesn’t strip away harm. Read that again: Intention doesn’t strip away harm. Sure, it might feel annoying to have things “constantly” called out as racist. Why are we minorities so sensitive all the time? But you know what’s worse? Being “constantly” surrounded by reminders you’re a second-class citizen because of your ethnicity. These are called microaggressions, btw.
I hope you see this series as I do, a way to start dialogue and have open discussions about race and culture so we do better as a society, especially when teaching the children in our lives, whether we’re parents or not.
Monoprix, I see you’re hopping on the Asian Beauty bandwagon because it was such a hot trend two years ago. Still, I’m happy to see my country get repped and respected by a huge French company like yours. Let’s spread the Korean skincare love.
But wait, I’m a little confused. Almost all the products here are from Korea—which has been the biggest thing in beauty—yet your headline is about the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Um, that’s Japan. Korea is the “Land of Morning Calm.” A quick search would have turned up that information. It’s not that you think Japan and Korea are the same, is it?
Because then you talk about “kawaii-girls.” Kawaii means cute in Japanese. Again, we are not the same country or people nor do we use the same language. It’s easy, though: Korean is spoken in Korea and Japanese is spoken in Japan. Also, Korea and Japan have a long, fraught history so best not to conflate the two.
So far, the main references are Japanese but the products aren’t:
1. Erborian is a very well-known Korean-French collaboration.
2. The Saem sheet masks have Korean words on the package!
3. This is just lazy. You can’t say a product from Maybelline comes “straight from Korea” because it doesn’t. The cushion compact technology does, yes, but Maybelline is as American as they come. (Until L’Oréal bought them.) The copy editor in me is offended.
4. Well, these are cute. We Asians love all things kawaii!
5. Can we PLEASE stop with the geisha references? I don’t dream of having skin like a geisha because I don’t want to look like I’ve slapped chalk dust all over my face. Why not just say, “Dream of having skin like Marcel Marceau?” But if you’re running with the geisha theme (free advice: don’t), show a Japanese product, not a Korean one.
Though I attribute most of Monoprix’s “all look same” tomfoolery to ignorance and sloth on the parts of the copywriter and marketing team, I don’t appreciate the casual interchangeability of Japanese and Korean culture. So casual they didn’t even bother to google the country they’re writing about. (I looked up the date L’Oréal acquired Maybelline because that’s what writers do! 1996.) It’s this kind of everyday negligence that leads to people saying, “Konichiwa” to me on the street, thinking they’re being a cultural ambassador when they’re actually being stupid and offensive. If you’re selling Korean products, don’t reference Japanese culture. Don’t perpetuate the idea that Asia is one country. We don’t go around talking about French paella, do we?
Finally, do some due diligence. It is 2017. The internet is an amazing tool for knowledge if you want it to be.
What do you think? Is Monoprix racist or just French?
If you have any Racist or Just French stories to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, join the conversation in the comments here or over on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And please sign up for our newsletter for the most provocative stories from Paris and beyond.