There is a tendency in Western culture to envision white people are more modern and progressive than people of color who are seen as more traditional, even tied to ancient ways of life (see this post and its links). This tendency is illustrated in Mattel’s new Japanese Ken and Barbie dolls, released this year:
When was the last time you saw a Japanese person dressed like this? Regarding Ken, Dolls of Color put it:
Right, because an Asian Ken can’t be wearing jeans and a tshirt? Or a tuxedo if one must get fancy? An Asian Ken must be some kind of exotic fantasy and not just that cool dude next door? Right.
We’ll know that we respect people of color as people when we start portraying them as people instead of exotic objects or historical artifacts.
UPDATE: Of course, as several commenters have pointed out, these costumes aren’t at all historically accurate. Instead they exoticize a stereotyped notion of the traditional Japanese person.