Is dressing up as a ninja racist?


jistu-1 (1)

As the Halloween season draws near, we are gifted with cooler weather, Hocus Pocus re-runs on ABC family, and free candy always within arms length. But, as many POCs (People of Color) know, the holiday also comes with the cringe-inflicting sight of Americans, particularly White-Americans, appropriating the cultures we call our own. Cultural cheap nfl jerseys appropriation, is the act of adoption or use of elements of another’s culture, particularly when I perpetuating the oppression of a marginalized group. cheap nba jerseys Recently, out-of-touch Welcome! millennials, have been justly called out by the multicultural community for wearing Native-American headdresses , Hindu bindis, and wearing “black face” at college frat parties.

While it is obvious that these are examples of cultural appropriation, what about ninja costume? Is dressing up as a ninja acceptable, because anyone, of any race, can achieve that level of ninjutsu mastery? Or is dressing up as a ninja far more complicated?

I, before this month, did not have a problem with people dressing up as ninjas for Halloween. It wasn’t until one of my friends, brought up the question, that I began to really think about the issue. I had originally defended the use of ninja costume, based on the idea that Asian-Americans have not been oppressed by the American interpretation of the ninja, while wearing a Native-American headdress would be wrong, because their entire population was wiped out when they wouldn’t assimilate to western culture.

It wasn’t until the awesome, and ever-aware, Danica Lee, a member of Asian Student Association at App State University, pointed out her misgivings with ninja costume, that I began to understand the ill-effects it can have on the Asian-American community.

Her rebuttal pointed out that Asians HAVE been oppressed by the American interpretation of the ninja, “because they reinforce stereotypes about a culture / represent only a fraction of said culture,” she also added that it is important to remember “most western depictions of ninjas are just that, WESTERN depictions.” 

As I thought about what she said, I decided to start researching the misrepresentations of ninjas in Hollywood and American pop culture, and what I have learned has entirely disgusted me.

In Hollywood, ninjas are always portrayed as secondary characters, unless they’re white, in which case they are presented as protagonists; this dehumanizes, villainizes, and perpetuates stereotypes of Asians. This concept will be further delineated as we analyze different pieces from American pop culture.

From the “White protagonist who trains to become a ninja” depicted in American Ninja (1985), Wolverine (2013), and 47 Ronin (2013), to the complete and unforgiving white-washing in M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar the Last Airbender (never forget), any ninja perceived as a protagonist in Hollywood will inevitably be white. The only times an Asian can be a ninja, is if they are A). a villain , or B). a sidekick.

ra-1 (1)The 2009 film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a perfect example of this concept. For the many that chose not to witness Hasbro’s desperate attempt to make some money by reviving intellectual property no-one cares about (think Battleship), I will sum up what is important. Essentially there are two ninjas in the movie, the White-American protagonist donning black armor, known as Snake-Eyes, played by Ray Park, and the cold, villainous Storm Shadow, donning white armor, played by Korean actor Lee Byung-hun (이병헌). Both Snake cheap jerseys from China Eyes and Storm Shadow trained under the same master in Japan, but soon Snake Eyes won the favor of their master. Storm Shadow, being DAY the sneaky, competitive Asian antagonist Hollywood wants him to be, kills his master and leaves the school to fight alongside the villains. When Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow finally face off, Storm Shadow removes his mask and shirt, reminding us once again that “He is Asian!” and that “He is the bad guy!”, before he is killed by the superior White-American Ninja.

1401690-the_green_hornet_katoBut don’t worry, Asians aren’t always the villains, they get to be sidekicks too. This concept is illustrated in a video, wherein Frank Chin, renowned Asian-American author and playwright, casted Bruce Lee as a western attempt to stereotype and oppress the Asian-American. In his argument, he notes that Bruce Lee was Anchor always a protagonist in his Chinese films, but in the Green Hornet, a 1960’s American television series (later re-imagined as a movie of the same title in 2011), he is forced to wear a mask and act as the white protagonists’ submissive sidekick.

Because Asians are never given primary roles, the majority of the American population perceives them as characters.

This is dehumanizing.

Dehumanization allows people to justify the oppression of marginalized group, and fail to see the no immorality of their actions. Hollywood perpetuates the dehumanization of Asians by casting them in secondary, or worse, villainous roles. The archetypical “ninja” is a just vehicle of this concept. In fact, mischaracterization of Asians, in Hollywood, is evident across all genres. I have never seen any sort of media featuring an asian protagonist, made by the American film industry, that doesn’t portray them as a token asian (besides the excellent, short-lived ABC wholesale nfl jerseys rom-sit-com Selfie [RIP]).

We, as Asian-Americans, are underrepresented in Western pop-culture, and it is these depictions that oppress us. The ninja is an example of the oppression Asian-Americans face from the American entertainment industry. So therefore, dressing up as a ninja is an oppressive act, because white people benefit from the oppression Hollywood representations of ninjas have created.

Basically, don’t dress up as a ninja for Halloween.

If you are interested in learning more about cultural appropriation, and how you can avoid looking like a fool in the eyes of the multicultural community, watch out for an upcoming social media campaign led by the major multicultural organizations and the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, #myidentityisnotacostume .

Remember, this is the opinion of Joshua Chung.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this article, please contact me at joshuayjchung(at)(

12165475_902225906499859_969212475_oJoshua Chung is a Sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is the Outreach chair for Asian Students Association, and a new addition to the Fall 2015-Spring 2016 Executive Board. He for is an Advertising major, because pre-business was too hard (RIP).

4 thoughts on “Is dressing up as a ninja racist?

  • thank goodness this has no “why are there no African Ninjas? or Hispanic Ninjas? Native Americans can’t be Ninjas? I am sure thousands of Black kids have been told they cannot be any kind of Ninja because they are Black.

  • Sho Kosugi was the Japanese ninja protagonist while a white male portrayed the ninja villain in “Revenge of the Ninja” among many other ninja movies he played in. Rain, a Korean pop star played the protagonist in “Ninja Assassin” hmmm. Liking one aspect of a culture opens the door to other aspects. Anime for instance has lead to many wanting to learn the Japanese language. Let’s not forget that people imitate what they enjoy. Regardless of accuracy it should be used as a conversation piece to enhance goodwill rather than shaming them for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *