This congratulations business had started back before the summer when Obama handed Hillary Clinton her hat and sent her packing with an unexpected (and unaccepted) loss. For several weeks that followed I was being congratulated by Japanese people. Granted, I often wore Obama paraphernalia, at minimum a button and at max an assemble. So, it wasn’t so much presumption on their part as it was acknowledgment. Perhaps their way of saying that the person you supported was a winner so, by virtue of that, you are a winner, too. Sometimes I want to tell strangers who tell me congratulations that I’d wanted McCain to win just to see their reaction.
Whether they think it’s simply impossible for a black person to have supported anyone but Obama or for anyone to have supported McCain and thus the Republican Party and their foulness over the past 8 years, I have no way of knowing.
But, what difference does it make anyway, right?
Well, it makes a difference to me. It means that, unfortunately, I can’t really share my joy with them because they just don’t get it…
…And why should they be expected to get it? After all, America isn’t their country, so they shouldn’t be expected to understand a god damn thing that happens in the US. Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t expect anyone outside of America to truly get it, especially a people as devoid of political and social acumen as most Japanese are. Maybe I’m not in my right mind.
Don’t worry, though. I know, in my heart of hearts, I can’t really fault Japanese for their idea of what Obama means to African Americans, for missing the point entirely…I mean, from the outside, it probably looked simply like some kind of black bloodless coup d’ tat, like black people had finally come together, finally realized that in addition to the significant financial and cultural power we wield, we were also in possession of substantial political power and resources which we’ve finally used to rally behind a viable black candidate with cross-cultural and cross-racial appeal, foster his ambitions, amplify his message and succeed in undermining a status quo that has been in place for well over two centuries…
But, for some inexplicable reason, I really expected that an election of this magnitude would have a significant effect on my experience here. I thought, at minimum, the japanese would be stunned into rethinking their ideas about black people…and maybe they are currently. I mean, hell, I was stunned! My shock at the result remains almost as strong as it was on Election Day.
I’m not totally bonkers though. I know any kind of radical change takes time. Hell, it took Americans all of 200 years to get it through our thick skulls. So, no, I didn’t expect that empty seat beside me to be eagerly occupied with Japanese people wanting to be close to the energy that produced a politician whose popularity here in Japan has no precedence. And, no, I didn’t expect that Japanese-free perimeter that surrounds me wherever I might find myself to shrink, filled with people just aching to breath the same air as I. Nor did I fully expect the Japanese political IQ to skyrocket over night.
I did, however ludicrously, expect something. Some glimmer of the contagious hope Obama tried to spread around the world. It was my hope that this election would alter the Japanese predisposition towards irrational fear of my kind, perhaps reduce its intensity, bring it down to a more tolerable level. It was a secret desire, bolstered by a couple of my students explanations of Japanese behavior towards me.
While Obama was slugging it out with McCain and Sarah Palin. one student explained the Japanese position this way (I’m paraphrasing of course):
“We Japanese do not care about minorities.”
“Because we have no minorities in Japan…we are homogeneous.”
“What about the Chinese and Koreans? Ainu and Okinawans?”
“Anyway,” I said, letting that question drop. No Japanese has been able to answer that question. “What’s your point?”
“ Minorities have no power, and we, Japanese, respect power. American power has always been white. If the face of power in America becomes black, I think it will have a strong influence on Japanese thinking about black people.”
“For example? Anything tangible I can look forward to?”
“If Obama wins, I think Japanese will associate power with black people and we will not fear you.”
That made sense to me. I only half-believed it but it was logical and rational, however as erroneous as associating us with crime, violence and disease based on movies, but I’ll prefer an error that favors me over an error that harms me any day.
“You don’t think it will affect how Japanese think of Americans as a whole? I mean, the black thing, I feel, is only a part of what Obama represents. To me, his ascension indicates an evolution in the minds and hearts of most Americans not just the ones of color. It would be the equivalent of say Japanese people voting for a half Chinese / half Japanese, or half Filipino / Half Japanese prime minister.”
“EE!!” You had to see his face.
Well, so far, my life in Yokohama has not changed a bit. And the behavior of the people around me has not altered a bit. Their behavior is just as xenophobic, offensive and ignorant as it’s been since I arrived here.
But maybe this post is a little premature. Maybe the idea needs time to sit, like a freshly baked apple pie needs to sit on a window ledge cooling in the breeze, or the way Lasagna and homemade Potato salad and Fried Chicken always taste better on day 2.