Team, We Have To Give Up On "Ninja"

Guest Post by Andrew Ti

Remember this bullshit?

For anyone who didn't see it, or doesn't feel like clicking, this is an insane video of a lady who was on The Apprentice (great pedigree), singing a bizarre racist song called "I want to be NEENJA." I don't recommend listening to this shit for very long, but thanks to Phil for finding this.

The song kicked off a train of thought for me, that ended at this stop. Asian folks: I think we've lost the word "ninja."

Now, of course, the extent to which "we" even have the word "ninja" is tenuous at best. The only reason Asian (and let's be real, East Asian) folks even had the opportunity to embrace this term in the first place is through that same lens of White Culture that says "Chinese, Japanese, Korean... eh, whatever." So, the best case scenario for running with it is a version of "reclaiming" this (non-exactly-a) slur.

Does this even work for "ninja" and Asian folks, though? Can we reclaim that shit? This gets muddy because, unlike a more traditional slur, "ninja" has basically positive connotations. To the average American bozo, a ninja is crafty, competent and kind of cool. And, because we're mostly starved of stereotypes that are cool, Asian Americans embrace this idea. I know I did. I remember as a kid asking my mom for a ninja costume for Halloween, and losing my goddamn mind when she came through (white ninja, of course, because it's way too dangerous to run around the streets of Michigan at night in all black).

But, like all "positive" stereotypes, "ninja" isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Just like every time you've ever had someone ask you if you know kung fu, or done a "HIIIYAAAH" sound at you, that shit gets old real quick. And, in the modern context, as a synonym for competence, or excellence, "ninja" just plays into the same old tired tropes about Hard Working Nerds that we could all do without.

Anyway, as someone who's getting into combat sports late in life, I can assure you, being Asian doesn't make you automatically competent at this in any way. That's right, I'm not even a "ninja" at fucking martial arts.

Lastly, whenever push comes to shove, the coolness of a "ninja" can be effortlessly blended with the confidence of a white person to create a superior product. American Ninja, American Ninja Warrior, shit, even a Beverly Hills Ninja is more loved by American culture than an actual Asian person.

So, anyway, sad though this may be to some people, I think it's time to let that shit go (NO FUCKING SHIT, my Japanese friends are hollering). Racists, you win again, "ninja" is all yours.

Andrew Ti hosts the podcast Yo, Is This Racist? He's the creator of the popular blog of the same name, and is also the creator and author of the blog Yo, Should I Dump This Asshole?

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