On Sunday August 30th, 2009, MTV Networks aired the 4th episode of the 4th season of their popular dance competition show, “America’s Best Dance Crew" (ABDC). The 4th episode featured a "Bollywood” challenge where dance crews were told to incorporate South Asian dance styles into a hip hop routine. However, this episode unfortunately presented elements of blatant racial insensitivity and cultural ignorance that could have been highly preventable.
Ethnic names of dance styles such as “Bharatanatyam” and “Garba” were deliberately mispronounced and mocked by dancers, judges, and the audience. No effort was made to take the pronunciations seriously or respectfully of a cultural dance style and no effort was made highlight such racial insensitivity. Furthermore, the choice of costumes by the dance crews “We are Heroes” and “AfroBoriké” was not only disrespectful to the many cultures of South Asia but also unbecoming of a progressive and historically racially-sensitive network such as MTV. Finally, the dance crew “We Are Heroes” danced to the South Asian dance style of Giddha to the popular American rap song “Arab Money,” which has already garnered extensive controversy for its insinuated racism against people of the Middle East. Furthermore, a blatant association was made between South Asia and the Middle East with such a dance routine, perpetuating the problematic and completely false stereotype that South Asians and Arab culture are one and the same. We are reminded of the incident shortly after 9/11 where a Sikh man of South Asian descent was brutally shot and killed because the murderer thought he was of "Middle Eastern/Arab descent" and "one of the terrorists."
The East Coast Asian American Student Union and its allies denounce all forms of racial insensitivity and ignorance in the media, especially when the majority of the viewing demographic consist of college-age students of all ethnicities and races. Due to the culturally insensitive elements of the “Bollywood” episode of Season 4, we thus condemn this treatment of South Asian American culture as offensive to Asian American students across the country. We also find ABDC's portrayal of South Asian culture misleading, perpetuating stereotypes and numerous inaccuracies that is only made more problematic when it becomes televised to the general public.
We demand that ABDC producer Randy Jackson and MTV strongly reconsider its programming in the future as an act of apology to the very community it is trying to reach out to. Most of these aforementioned issues could have been largely avoided had ABDC simply invited an expert on South Asian styles of dance as a guest judge. However, Randy Jackson and MTV chose to be careless in its portrayal of Asian Americans and South Asian dance, thus causing ABDC to lose its credibility as a viable and representative dance competition.
Although we have had positive experiences with MTV in the past regarding its progressive support of Asian Americans taking positive roles in the media, we are disappointed with these recent turn of events regarding ABDC. Thus, we ask MTV to issue a formal apology and acknowledgment that more research and sensitivity could have been paid to Asian Americans regarding this specific episode.
authored by the East Coast Asian American Student Union, 2009
East Coast Asian American Student Union