A: Because she is pretty.
The singer/celebrity/pop star Shakira was born in Colombia. Do many people nevertheless think of her as "white"? Or instead as "Hispanic," or a "Latina"?
Or even as something else? After all, as Wikipedia explains, "She is the only child of Nidya del Carmen Ripoll Torrado and William Mebarak Chadid who are of Lebanese, Spanish (Catalan) and Italian descent."
As for me, I'm pretty tempted to say that when Shakira appeared recently on Saturday Night Live, she was at least acting white, center-staging herself the way she did against a backdrop of homogenized Asians.
If she's going for some new global, World Music thing here, she's definitely not doing something new in terms or racial choreography. Didn't this mode of cultural appropriation go out with Gwen Stefani?
The women on the drums behind Shakira, by the way, are wearing outfits in a traditional Korean style. Here's a performance where you can actually hear some other women performing this distinctly Korean form of drumming.
Are the women behind Shakira actually even playing their drums? I couldn't hear them.
Is it fair or right for Shakira to use Korean (or probably to most Americans watching it, "Asian") women as a backdrop like this? She can do whatever she wants, I suppose, but again, it sure is a familiar white thing she's doing. And it involves such familiar white moves -- homogenizing Asians (which Western people have long done, often in far more injurious ways), and silencing them (even when they're playing drums!), and failing to recognize and appreciate their distinct national cultures and traditions.
Since Shakira's use of these women involves all of that, for the sole purpose of spicing up her own self-presentation, rather than for actual recognition and celebration of traditional Korean women drummers (whom she doesn't even significantly incorporate into her music), I don't think it's at all right or fair. I think it's racist. Her racial choreography perpetuates ongoing, racist conceptions of Asians, and it participates in the more or less general silencing of them in U.S. culture.
As I've noted in previous posts, aside from Gwen Stefani's silenced Harajuku Girls, an Australian clothing outlet recently used a notably silenced, homogeneous group of Asians the same way:
Here's another recent example, which I wrote about here, a commercial for the Palm Pre. Once again, a white woman at the center, and anonymous, homogeneous Asians collectively, uniformly serving as her backdrop.
It seems to me that what's happening in these and many other examples is a particularly stark version of cultural appropriation. It's as if in terms of race, the white individuals at the center are just that, individuals -- as if they don't have a race, nor any particular culture. As they stand front and center in the brighter lights, it's as though these individuals are supposed to be absorbing racial and cultural energy, which flows onto them from the auras of the silent, anonymous, but culturally rich others. And in the process, those individualized performers become, I suppose, less white.
But they don't become less white, do they? As Shakira's performance in another example of this racist staging demonstrates, they're actually acting as white as ever.