Introducing: Ibeyi

All my life I have felt uninspired and isolated from the mainstream artists who supposedly represent me and my generation. However, this year, I discovered a new rising talent who I find relatable and inspiring: Ibeyi.

For artists not part of an Anglophone country, never mind while also being part of an ethnic minority, acquiring international fame as a music artist can be difficult. However, with this French-Cuban duo of twins, these obstacles do not seem to pose a problem. With millions of views on their music videos and a world tour this year, it is likely that in a year’s time everyone will know their name.

In addition to this success, Ibeyi embraces their mixed race identity and integrates it both in their music and in their persona. For instance, they chose to incorporate the Yoruba language in their songs, an homage to their Yoruba culture, and to their deceased father who brought them their passion for music. The Yoruba are a West African ethnic minority that developed a diaspora in Cuba due to slave trade.

Blended language use is an example of mixed race people refusing to choose between the facets of their identities. Ibeyi is not speaking only English, or only Yoruba: they are using both to create something beautiful. Ibeyi’s linguistic diversity in their music should encourage more polyglot mixed race artists to do the same.

Ibeyi is directing their whole identity into their creations; they are not afraid of showing their emotional side and they are not afraid of showing their culture. Their father’s memory is a common theme, and in their music video ‘Mama says’ we see one of the twins breaking down while singing with her sister and mother. They are not trying to appear perfect, and therefore unrelatable.

I genuinely hope that Ibeyi will make history in the music world. In our current society, the number of mixed race individuals is constantly increasing, which calls for more representation in the music sphere. Artists should not hide their culture to please the music world, and the introduction of more artists like Ibeyi could allow this.

Ariana Miyamoto: Colorism and Anti-Black Racism in Japan

ariana

ariana

Ariana Miyamoto, a beautiful 20-year-old with great skin, was recently crowned Miss Universe Japan and will represent Japan at the 2015 Miss Universe pageant. Unfortunately, because she’s mixed, there are people who think that Miyamoto isn’t “Japanese enough” and shouldn’t represent Japan. These people are terrible and racist.

There’s no doubt that mixed people face discrimination in Japan simply for being mixed. In 2006, during the succession controversyover the Japanese Chrysanthemum Throne, one politician famously denounced the idea of allowing women to reign, as, he said, an empress might marry outside Japan and have mixed children (very objectionable!). “If Aiko [the eldest princess] becomes the reigning empress, and gets involved with a blue-eyed foreigner while studying abroad and marries him, their child may be the emperor,” said politician Takeo Hiranuma. “We should never let that happen.” The argument is that a mixed Japanese person can’t represent Japan.

Miyamoto faces the same criticism, especially since she’ll be a cultural ambassador as she heads to Miss Universe. But discrimination for being mixed isn’t all she faces: she also faces bigotry specifically because she’s black.

The most common term for “mixed” in Japan is “hafu,” a pronunciation of “half,” and it describes a person with one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent. The term is supposed to encompass all mixed people, regardless of where their other parent is from. But the most visible examples of hafu individuals are mixed Japanese and white.

Anyone familiar with Japanese entertainment can tell you that hafu are overrepresented there, and most, if not all of them, are Japanese and white. Famous names like Becky, Anna Tsuchiya, Christel Takigawa, and Angela Aki, off the top of my head, are all part white. (My grandmother, for instance, regularly tells me that I should be a tarento specifically because I’m hafu.)

In Japanese entertainment, being visibly part white codes for social capital and desirability. This isn’t a new construct: it was chronicled in Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1924 novel Chijin no Ai, or Naomi, about a young couple at the turn of the century, obsessed with bucking tradition and embracing Western culture and trends. The titular character, Naomi, is known as an effervescent party girl blessed with Eurasian features and a name that can be pronounced easily by foreigners. It’s said that Naomi is beautiful because she looks like a white American movie star.

Being visibly part white can confer privilege. And visible whiteness is certainly valuable in an industry built on Western beauty standards. But Ariana Miyamoto, though she’s mixed, is perceived differently: her visible blackness shapes how she is seen. And Japan is no stranger to anti-black racism and colorism.

All mixed people face discrimination in Japan for being mixed, but beyond this there is no singular hafu experience. Conversations about Miyamoto’s reception in Japan need to focus on her blackness as much as they focus on her mixedness.