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Dutch presenter and television chef Miljuschka Witzenhausen was recently made aware of cultural appropriation via Instagram by artist, activist, and intersectional feminist Sioejeng Tsao. It concerned photos that Witzenhausen had posted earlier this year to promote the TV programme Wie is de Mol?, which is set in China. Afterwardsaccording to Tsaoan open and honest conversation took place between the two in which they decided to enter into a paid collaboration. In this way, Tsao hopes to raise more awareness with Witzenhausen and her followers about racism and the Asian community.

Since then most of the photos in question have been removed from Witzenhausen’s account. They showed her posing in ‘sexy’ outfits from traditional East Asian costumes, especially from Japanese and Chinese culture. Tsao pointed out the cultural appropriation of traditional costumes to Witzenhausen.



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Earlier controversy 

The photos were taken in the Amsterdam restaurant Happyhappyjoyjoy, which was criticized by Tsao, among others, for their video ad earlier this year in July. It contained an animation that Happyhappyjoyjoy removed after receiving outraged responses. The animation consisted of a caricature that was supposed to represent an East Asian man with features that are often linked to East Asians: eyes reduced to slits, a rice hat, and a Fu Manchu moustache. In November 2019, the restaurant was also criticized for cultural appropriation and the sexualisation of traditional clothing. Their photos showed models who were styled in a similar way to Witzenhausen.



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“Asian cultures are not costumes and are not to be profited from if you have never included people from these cultures from which you borrow and get inspiration,” Tsao said in her Instagram story.

Cultural appropriation in food culture

It has been argued that cultural appropriation occurs not just in fashion but also in the culinary world. For example, Tsao points to Witzenhausen’s e-book Asian Recipes that went on sale last week for 7.50 euros. On her Instagram story, Tsao shared a screenshot of one of the recipes where Bánh Mì – Vietnamese for “sandwich” – was misspelt as “Bahn Mi”. The title of the recipe was also Sandwich Bahn Mi, which literally means “sandwich sandwich”. These mistakes can be seen as a lack of knowledge about the language and culture that it profits from. The e-book has since then been removed from the website where it was sold.

Miljuschka disapproves of stereotypes at RTL boulevard

In March this year, Witzenhausen reacted with disapproval on RTL Boulevard to the stigmatizing and stereotyping statements of Eddy Zoey. Zoey says in the episode: “It all starts with those Chinese. Because they do things like this, we have the coronavirus.” With “things like this” he refers to a fragment from Witzenhausen’s TV programme Miljuschka in Mexico. In the clip, Witzenhausen explains that crocodile and lion meat is purchased mainly by Chinese customers, who believe that the meat enhances strength, youth, and potency. Witzenhausen responds to Zoey’s condescending and negative stereotypes with: “That is not true and such a stereotype.” Around the same time, Witzenhausen posted the aforementioned photos.




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Paid co-operation with Miljuschka

Following the criticism, Witzenhausen entered into a conversation with Tsao which was open and honest according to Tsao. The outcome of the conversation is a paid collaboration with Witzenhausen to raise awareness about racism, culture, experiences of the (East) Asian community in the Netherlands, and related issues. The collaboration consists of a new series on Witzenhausen’s blog called Cultural Thursday. In this series, Tsao writes weekly articles about East Asian culture for a month. Finally, on Instagram, Witzenhausen shares relevant reading tips and accounts you can follow to make your Instagram feed more diverse.

On Thursday the 5th of November, the first article What if the world didn’t see colour for a while? was published in which Tsao recounts what it is like to grow up in the Netherlands as a Chinese Dutch. The second article What if the world could taste all the flavours? was put out on the 12th of November. Tsao outsourced to Janet Lie who is a journalist for Brandpunt+. In her article, Lie takes the reader on a journey through her childhood memories and the versatility of Chinese cuisine.

Read more about Sioejeng Tsao

Read our interview with Sioejeng and see her artwork for our illustration campaign It’s just a joke, but #IAmNotLaughing.

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Finally, Asian Raisins would like to tell the reader and the Asian Raisins community: when you see racism, discrimination or problems, speak up. Show the other person your point of view. Start a conversation and make clear that this problem must be solved. You don’t have to be angry or unreasonable about it, just don’t keep quiet. Staying silent and hoping that the problem blows over, that’s something we’ll never do again.