Racism, Colorism, and the Gyaru Community

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Hey cutie! How are you? Today I am back with another post for my “interview with a gyaru/gyaruo” series, and this time I had a lil’ chat with Hekkuwrekku about their experiences tackling racism and colourism within the gyaru community, as well as about Kagayaku Kuro Gyarusa! 

Hey Hekkuwrekku! Thank you so much for joining me today. Before we sink our teeth into the main topic I wanted to start right from the beginning – what’s your gyaru story?

My first exposure to gyaru was finding Miwa Ueda’s art in the library of my middle school. I was raised very sheltered in a conservative black family and constantly discouraged from investing in Asian art and culture. If it didn’t have “obvious” academic value, my parents were not interested. I was specifically drawn to kurogal and bgal, but I didn’t get a chance to participate in Jfashion until I was an adult paying my own bills. I was just dipping my toes into Lolita when I met a very established Black gal who introduced (read: adopted) me to the gyaru lifestyle and held my hand while I dove hardcore. I actually started with gyaruo and host. I’m not gonna lie fam, life in our gyarusa was LITTY. I worked my ass off with 40/60hr work weeks, but so did most of my friends. I was a dreamboat and a gym rat; so was my gyaruo(and fellow host) boyfriend at the time. Our gyarusa hung out all the time, usually going out for Korean BBQ and karaoke, concerts/events, shopping downtown and finding purikura booths, and going to the beach. Every birthday, holiday, and convention was a gyaru party (omg did we know how to F***ing party). Even our pets were gal. Eventually we even started a monthly, casino themed host club (the Red Royal Lounge) on the second floor of a Kpop nightclub in Baltimore. These were passionate fun times that I poured my heart into and I truly feel like I lived “That Gyaru Dream” for a couple years. It was very hard work though (and wayyyy too much alcohol) and I know I’ll never go back to the whole routine, but I think about it often. I grew out of my friend group and I took a big break from my hobbies after I fell ill with Lupus and had to move across the country for proper care. Now I’m a PNW gal planning many endeavors both for my communities and myself, but I still have room for modeling and meeting my gyaru goals. Me and a few other gaijin gals started the Kagayaku Kuro Gyarusa for Black and dark-skinned POC gaijin gals (a.k.a KK gals) on facebook with some other gals! I’m very invested in a balance of gal and guy styles though and my ultimate gal dream is to start up my own host cafe/club.

Aaah a host cafe/club sounds AMAZING! I absolutely love that. Let’s dive into the main part of this interview. I’ve seen you make posts on social media about racism and colourism in the gal community. Can you tell us a bit more about your experiences? 

Colorism is something that is experienced worldwide. There is the colorism that stems from racism and then there is a colorism within poc cultures. In such diverse international communities like gaijin gal, we have to note this difference. In the U.S.A, where I live, ‘skin politics’ is most often due to institutionalized racism. Not all black people experience racism and colorism the same way, but skin tone plays a large part in the privileges this society allows people of color. Privileges can translate to “opportunities and beneficial attention”. The lighter your skin, the more privilege society will allow you over those that are darker than you. Unfortunately this much is also true within many poc cultures as well as anywhere that favors European beauty standards. The meaning of “dark-skinned” also varies between different cultures and ethnicities.There is no rational explanation as to why people that enjoy Jfashion would be exempt from these issues considering we were all raised on the same Earth.

In my experience, society generally conditions us to either silently benefit or silently suffer from the effects of oppression. Oftentimes when it is brought up, no one wants to speak about a solution or how to keep ourselves aware of our conditioning. Many gals with dark skin or unambiguous features end up barely engaging with the larger gaijin communities or flat out leave gal altogether because they don’t feel welcome. Others of us speak out about it when we can only to be silenced or drained by gaslighting and hostility. Putting these things into words is an acquired skill and not all KK gals have the patience to break it down for the folks causing harm. That’s entirely reasonable in my opinion and no one should expect us to. It’s 2021 and gaijin gals are one of the most ambitious and capable communities on earth. There is no good excuse for refusing to learn about this topic considering all the KK gals that keep trying to raise awareness. In my experience in the gal community, the leading problem is ignorance rather than hate. Educating yourself on the struggles of your community and reducing your output of harm, unintentional or otherwise, is the accountability side of love. But for some reason, that’s not what folks in the gaijin comm mean when they say “love each other”. 

Sometimes it feels like it would be easier if the gals in the community just said “We don’t care to help fix this in our comm and we never will”, because that’s how it genuinely feels to me and other KK gals. After the most recent reveal of hostilities towards us on social media, I pitched an idea to some of my gals. A few weeks later we created Kagayaku Kuro Gyarusa for the Black and dark skinned gaijin gals (KK gals) of the world so we would have a safe place to uplift each other without any resistance or ignorance. 

I’m so sorry that you had to go through that, and I’m happy that you were able to create a safe space for you and your KK gals! How many are in your Gyarusa?

Right now KKG has 50 members. Like the popular “Sekai no Gyarusa: Gals of the World” facebook group, it’s an online community with no member limit. The differences being quality control and that it is exclusively for all Black and dark skinned POC. The name “Kagayaku Kuro” translates to “Dazzling Black”. We wanted the Japanese equivalent to “Melanin Magic” and I think we nailed it! To be a KK gal just means to be a “melanin magic gal” and you don’t have to join a Gyarusa for that!

That’s amazing! And have you had any meets recently?

KKG was just established in January and hasn’t had any meets yet, but our fellow KK gals over at Gal Dynasty hosted a meet for Black gaijin gals on Feb 13. KKG will be hosting online meets and events soon tho, so keep your eyes peeled!

Why do you think gyaru keep getting mistaken for black face?

“Black face” was a caricature created by white Europeans and Americans to mock Black people. It is actually still very common, with non-Black people showing up to costume parties with black face paint and exaggerated features claiming to be some famous African-American person. The visage often included drawing white paint around the eyes and white or red around the lips for gross contrast. This was used primarily in theatrics so that white actors could perform their racist perspectives of Black people. It has since evolved with the times and has now branched into something called Black/brown-fishing, which involves people tanning and doing makeup in such a way that their skin tone and features are dramatically altered to naturally look like another ethnicity. These people then proceed to live a caricature lifestyle of the ethnicity they are impersonating, even going so far as to lie about the culture and origins of their entire family. It is a source of humor and recreation for those individuals and their communities. 

Kurogal involves exaggerated makeup and sometimes extreme skin-darkening, especially back in the day. Asian gyaru would tan to a naturally darker shade (a shade within the range of their ethnicity) and then exaggerate their makeup further if they wanted to make a statement. Unlike KK gals, white gals have no connection to colorism or living a lifestyle against it. With white gaijin gals darkening their skin and wearing exaggerated makeup and fashion, often in styles that are reminiscent of fashion within Black and other POC cultures, wires get crossed. I know this topic became especially heated during the worldwide protests for BLM and equality. There was a spike in racist nonsense in the world and Black folks and their allies saw white gals doing kurogal and considered it inappropriate.

The amount of threads I’ve seen circling around on social media about people calling gyaru black face really sky-rocketed last year. So what would you recommend is the best way for White people to respond when others call gyaru “Black face”?

I feel that if you’re going to be doing kurogal, a style belonging to an Asian culture, you should brush up on its history and be able to explain why it isn’t offensive even during times of racial tension. White and light skin gals should normalize knowing about how colorism and racism affect their local and international communities, especially if they’re going to be indulging so heavily in poc cultures. After all, racism and colorism are problems Asian people deal with as well, as we all saw in glaring clarity during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. 

In my opinion, white gals should be finding out what black face is on their own time and they should be able to gracefully explain the difference between kurogal and blackface. If you can’t properly explain how kurogal is different from black face, maybe take it as a wake up call to educate yourself. They also shouldn’t be rude about it because it is a logical misunderstanding. Enjoying J-fashion doesn’t mean you just get to blue-skidoo out of what’s going on around you.

Thank you SO much for that. And how can non-Black people be better allies in the gyaru community?

In gaijin gal, there is such a heavy focus on beautifying your features in creative ways. I love that, but because colorism and racism are uncomfortable topics, many people choose to avoid examining themselves and any conditioning they may be bringing into their beauty communities. Gals are people too. A recent example would be gyaru pages on facebook and instagram that only post models with light skin, despite receiving KK gal submissions. Another example is KK gals being talked over or otherwise treated rudely by gals with lighter skin tones when they try to speak out about their experiences with colorism. These issues require an intelligent response, both to explain the harm and to offer education to those that want to unlearn harmful conditioning. Telling gals to just love and boost each other, avoiding the topic, and offering feel-good posts isn’t a very helpful response as it doesn’t directly address any issues or help anyone learn how to do better. It creates a palpable false peace within the comm.  

What can y’all do?

Examine yourselves and your conditioning before conflict. Stop expecting this topic to not come up. Many light skin and white people feel entitled to not hearing black and darker skin people speak about their experiences with colorism because they prioritize their feelings of discomfort instead of solutions and accountability. Stop tolerating that from yourself and your peers. Fight your own conditioning by making an active effort to find and support KK gals and their experiences. Hold your peers accountable and make an effort to educate them when conditioned prejudice slips its way into the comm. Normalize the conversation, it’s already a part of honoring the history of gal. Create educational resources for your peers instead of waiting for KK gals to do all the work for you. If you have a blog or other platform, amplify our voices with interviews and chances to share our unique experiences. Colorism and racism are a force you have to actively fight. It takes active efforts to offset the negative impact because the conditioning of colorist and racist societies is international and so are we. We as a comm have to work against it by giving our beloved KK gals the boosts they deserve and talking about it openly. Understand that the problem is in fact so large, widespread and old that you as one person cannot stop the impact on the comm. What you can do is educate yourself, contribute your love, encourage others to contribute, and raise awareness. You can normalize focusing on and drawing attention to the KK gals in the community that are working their asses off. It’s something we as an entire community have to focus on and something we have to change together. 

Thank you so much, once again, for joining me in this interview and providing such an insightful view of yours and your community’s experiences. But before you go, I have one more thing to ask… What is your favourite dessert?

Oh my god this is the hardest question here, no cap. I thought really hard about it and I think it’s a tie between key lime pie and tiramisu! They’re both complex and easy to mess up, but when they’re made right they are just….Pure. Heaven. 

YESSS I love a good Tiramisu! Thanks so much, Hekkuwrekku!

Are there any questions that you have for Hekkuwrekku on this topic?
Please don’t hesitate to ask below in the comments!
They’ve also very kindly left some links if you want to learn more about racism and colorism.

What do you think?

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  • Julia Seco
    March 5, 2021

    This was such a good and important interview!

  • Amy
    September 15, 2021

    I’ve been bullied and abused all my life, never once have a job because of my mental health issues. And people think I’m a privileged asshole just because I’m white. People need to realize that EVERYBODY, no matter what your race is, experiences hardships and bullying based on who you are and even what you do/like. I think the thing about racism in the gyaru community is primarily on TikTok where people there think black girls can’t be gal or that white people are the scum of the earth (spoilers, they both aren’t true). We just need to accept our differences and not try to place the blame on one singular race/person/whatever. This isn’t a black vs white issue, it’s an everybody issue!

    • Somebody
      June 4, 2022

      I see your point but this isn’t about everybody,it’s..about her :/