02 November 2009 ~ 18 Comments

Playing for keeps pt.2

I used to think that white people were evil.

Silly, right?

I’ve told you about the school I attended as a child. In addition to being a fine place to learn about and develop pride in African and African-American history and culture,  it was also a good breeding place for the “watu weusi” (black people) versus “adui” (the enemy) mentality I held for all of my youth and the early portion of my adulthood. The bad of the world, as it was explained to me and as I came to understand it, often had a white face. Sure there were  drugs in the community, but the cops that allowed these drugs to run rampart, and the government that allow them to get into the country, and into the ‘hood, and into my Uncle Raheem’s veins, killing him, was controlled by white people. A similar tale can be told of the guns that have injured and killed several of my friends growing up. Public education in black communities is the worst in the nation, Health care is a disaster, disease is pandemic, mental illness is off the charts, homelessness is a common sight, domestic and street violence goes virtually unchecked, sanitation is horrendous…you better believe somehow almost all the ghetto ills got attributed to racist policies…a white conspiracy to destroy black people or create an environment that fostered self-destruction.

You think president Obama’s former pastor Reverend Wright was an aberration? He wasn’t. He’s actually pretty typical, and compared to what could be heard any day (in and out of church) back in Brooklyn, a little watered down.

It was easy to make out white people as the Creator’s way of challenging the righteous determination, tenacity, and perseverance of black people; to keep us on our spiritual toes, to hone us into the instrument of change that the world sorely needs. It was easy for blacks to see ourselves as the Meek, and thus would, in due course, inherit the Earth. A worthy nemesis was required to rouse a downtrodden people into a black rabble and this idea, this image, this delusion of the evil white race had proven time after time to be more than adequate to the task. There was enough truth in the falsehood to make it feasible and palatable. It could be rationalized. Many black leaders drew from this well of tragedy and despair and used it to galvanize and manipulate. Many black people drew motivation to succeed in the “white world” from it. Many black souls  drowned within it.

I was nearly one of them. There, but for the gift of some semblance of a self-esteem I received from my primary school, go I.

It took a long time and a lot of outside-the-box thinking for my mentality to move from the “isn’t it obvious they’re evil?” category to the “even if there is a conspiracy, that doesn’t mean all white people should be condemned as evil” to “people are people, some are good and some aint,” to where my racial politics currently reside (for the time being): “All humans regardless of color, race or creed, have the capacity for good and evil in them, and no race is more inclined than another to do either.” It took a great deal of soul searching to reach this conclusion, to clean out my mind and heart and make room for more positive and constructive thoughts and feelings. I had to turn against all I was raised to believe, all I was instructed to take to heart by well-meaning people who had crawled through hell on earth to bring me the instructions, who had kept what they thought to be a gold watch of wisdom hidden in their asses while the Vietnamese tortured them (sorry, Pulp Fiction reference…gotta love Tarantino).

I felt like I had betrayed their vision for a long time.

But, during all that time,believe it or not, somehow, genuine hate never crept into my heart. Fear, yes, but not hate. I was afraid of white people the same way I was afraid of snakes. But, I don’t hate snakes. I actually think they’re pretty cool. Some people see a snake for what it is. For example, a rattlesnake is poisonous and a garter snake isn’t. They’re both snakes. Some people see a garter snake and run for their lives. Some people see a rattlesnake and say, “I’d love to have one of those for a pet”   or have its poison producing organs removed and wear it around their necks like a living necklace. Some people understand snakes and the effect the snake has on people, its power, the primal fear it induces, and play on that fear, siphon that power, make the snake out to be a monster, and use it to manipulate people. My fear was more like a common sense. Snakes bite and a rattlesnake’s can kill so best to avoid them. Don’t be a fool like that frog in the Scorpion and the frog fable.

No, I’ve never known hate…at least not personally, not intimately. The dictionary defines hate as to dislike intensely or passionately or to feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward. Even that, I feel, doesn’t quite capture what I’ve built hate up in my mind to be. To me, hate is simply what fear evolves into when one allows it  to enter the realm of the irrational, when the mind is incapable of addressing the fear in a way so as to alleviate it and thus seeks to justify it in any way imaginable, even delusionally. Just as necessity is the mother of invention, I believe fear is the mother of hate. Often the hater is not even aware of what he/she is afraid of, but their fear is real and palpable. Like me and those cockroaches.

Where am I going with this?

Well…the Japanese have had me thinking about hate quite a bit.

I think I’ve been able to keep my heart free of hate because I’ve never been personally given any reason to hate anyone. Sure, America has a dark history and that history impacted my life a great deal, and for the most part negatively, but the vast majority of that impacting was indirect. I experienced racism vicariously. Never personally. Never been called a Nigger (except by my friends). Never been denied a job. Never been told to use the side or back door. Never been denied entry anywhere. Doors have opened for me throughout my life. I was the token (or one of them) in most the office places I’ve worked in. I am the beneficiary of the sacrifices my ancestors, ancient and not-so ancient, have made, the ones my primary school made sure I understood well, and so I have a full appreciation of them.

I grew up in a city that was for most part tolerant (compared to earlier times.) I grew up in a sophisticated society. Of course there was racism, but, it was a much more sophisticated version of racism, less conspicuous. Racism, due to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, for the most part, had mutated in order to survive. So I never had to face the humiliations and dehumanization my parents experienced. The racism I detected actually required detection. Racism didn’t wear a white pointy hood and spew epithets that would make my skin crawl. Now, it had a friendly face, an innocent smile, it hid behind innocuous questions and it verbally identified that Pre-Civil Rights Movement racism as a great evil. Sometimes it was ignorant, self-righteously so. It said things like “No offense, but you do like basketball don’t you?” or “I know I’m not supposed to say black people like watermelon but where I grew up  that’s all we eat in the summer, blacks and whites, so I don’t see the problem with saying black people like Watermelon…shit, i like it too,” or “Sometimes when I hang out with the brothers I have more fun than when I hang out with my white homies. Brothers know how to party, youknowwhatumsaying?” An occasional white woman might  clutch her purse a little tighter on an elevator, but that was rare. This kind of thing was the worse of what I encountered personally in my life.

Then I come to Japan.

Here, in Japan, I’ve had my first taste of the humiliations my parents endured, only politely and dare I say pure? The Japanese version has an innocence. Like a baby racist’s first steps. Like being spat in the face…by children, or old people. You can forgive children for doing so because you tell yourself there’s no way this child has the life experience required to hate someone enough to spit on so either they’re mentally challenged or their parents have told them that this was how they should show their feelings. In the case of old people, you can forgive  them too but it’s a much more difficult task. They ought to know better but maybe they’ve settled into and are now trapped in a mentality that allows for spitting in the face of people that don’t look the same as they do. In the  case of Japanese people,  it’s much more difficult to think of them like children incapable of thinking for themselves, or even as old people, too feeble to see the problem, too Alzheimer’d to know their asses from their elbows, or too obstinate to change. I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want to bring myself to do it.

Nor do I want to think they are taking their cue from the world at large, or should I say from racist white people from the past. Part of the reason black people started calling other black people nigger was because the person doing so wanted to be associated with power- whether that power was derived from wealth or intelligence- and it was usually directed at someone who you thought to be of less value than yourself, lower than yourself. If Japanese are taking their cue from racists whites then basically the same thing is occurring.  Sometimes, I find myself observing some Japanese and their pseudo-polite vileness and pseudo-passive obscenities and I can see what my grandmother saw back in Savannah Georgia, and feel what my grandfather felt, albeit to a much lesser degree, and I can feel those instructions their generation has passed on to mine trying to claw their way back to the surface…instructions as to how to think of and feel about such people.

But I dare not follow those instructions…not here in Japan.

And, so I rationalize the spittle dripping from my face with something ultimately as ridiculous as:  “The Japanese spit in each other’s faces all the time and almost everyone takes it without getting too bent out of shape.  That’s why in front of virtually every station someone is giving out tissues.  It’s just part of life here in Kawaiiland. Just wipe the flim off and keep moving. But, since you’re not Japanese, you shouldn’t do any spitting because the art of and timing involved in spitting is something only Japanese know well and if it’s done poorly you’ll only make the situation worse, and in the process make life more difficult for the other foreigners living here who are (presumably, but perhaps not) having great gobs of flim spat at them and handling it.”

Yes, when I find myself rationalizing the irrational, and by all appearances to my own disadvantage, I can taste the bile collecting in my mouth.

My heart is flirting with hate.

Loco

to be continued…

click here for the conclusion

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18 Responses to “Playing for keeps pt.2”

  1. RYO 3 November 2009 at 12:26 pm Permalink

    I'm sort of repeating myself here, but great stuff, Loco. Your posts read like the submissions of a great newspaper columnist (back in the days when newspapers weren't just treading water).

  2. Najima 4 November 2009 at 6:57 am Permalink

    wow.I cant wait to hear what happens next.

  3. David 4 November 2009 at 11:54 pm Permalink

    Wow, I couldn't imagine that happening to any of the black gaijin I know down here in Kansai. A kid doing it too. Who spits in someones face in the first place, gross, stupid, and rude. How does a kid get it in his/her head that such behavior is ok? *Sigh* Sorry that happened to you.

    • Locohama 5 November 2009 at 5:27 pm Permalink

      David, you misunderstood. That was a conditional. No kid spat at me. You would have read about it inthe newspaper if it had happened. I'd be the one between the two cops with my hands still wrapped around some kids throat. hehehe

  4. Usagi 6 November 2009 at 2:21 am Permalink

    You should have known all this before you came to Japan.
    Nothing new…

    There is also a "science" about it called NIHONJIN RON. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonjinron

    Have fun, don't hate…

    • Locohama 6 November 2009 at 4:34 am Permalink

      Usagi, thanks for the shout.
      Knowing about and experiencing and sharing the experience with other people are different things. I can read all about love in a Shakespeare poem but until you experience it it's just pretty words and platitudes on a page, youknowhutumsayin? But thanks for the link anyway.

    • Usagi 8 November 2009 at 12:25 am Permalink

      Sorry, I didn't wanted to come around that harsh…
      I lived in Yokohama as well, and experienced a fair
      share of racism myself.
      Stupid people are everywhere. If someone bugs you hard, just ask
      him to write down the kanjis for Tanpopo (蒲公英) because you might
      got a stroke wrong in a letter you send and you just want to check….

      BTW, more seating space in a crowded train are not so bad…

      Cheer up

  5. gaininja 6 November 2009 at 3:12 am Permalink

    Don't flirt with hate too long – it'll eat you up. We all go through it here at times – just gotta clear your head and move on, hopefully into a situation where someone will prove to you what an awesome bunch of people the Japanese are. Ganbare!

    • Locohama 6 November 2009 at 4:38 am Permalink

      Gaininja, some Japanese are awesome, some aren't. Just like people everywhere. Somebody ought to tell them that though. (joke…kinda) Most of the ones I know are awesome and have nothing to prove, most of the ones I don't aren't or at least don't know how to show me they are, and have no problem showing me they aren't naturally inclined to be. And they certainly aren't going out of their way to prove anything to me except maybe that they prefer some distance (in every sense of the word) between us. Syouganai. I used to be able to rationalize with that delusion of their being awesome just a bit a closed off until you get to know them, but it doesn't work for me anymore. Lucky you! The fact remains the vast majority of the people I have to navigate I don't know and will never know and, sorry, most of them are not awesome (to put it as nicely as I can)
      Anyway, thanks for the shout as always…(-:

  6. areason2write 8 November 2009 at 9:14 pm Permalink

    I enjoyed reading the background on your perceptions growing up. You should write a book about that really. A white person cannot talk about it at all. And we have so, so many questions. I recently had a conversation with a mom at school because the word Nigga was written on a table in one of the eatery sections. I do not know her heritage but she must have strong African-American roots. It was written on a "graffiti" table where kids were invited to express themselves. A curse word was also written on the table. She was furious. And of course, in my true devil advocate mode, I asked if she knew in what context it was written. She said that if she said it to her brother it would be fine but that someone like me would never be able to use it. I asked if she knew who wrote it and in what context they wrote it. She said it didn't matter. I asked about Freedom of Speech – the climate here is very peace, love, and granola. She said the word should not be there period. I want to be clear that I do not think words that could even possibly offend others are appropriate. However, we are talking about teenagers here – give them a pen and they are going to write something stupid. But I really, truly do not understand the – it's okay for me, but don't you dare do it. It feels hypocritical. She asked what I would think if the word was on the elementary school cafeteria table – what would I think – I think if it is wrong, it should not be anywhere. But how do you balance all of it? Freedom for teenagers to express themselves – the intent of the word is not clear. Why does she assume it is was written with bad intent – why do I assume it might not have been? Many American kids from this school have never even lived in America. They do not have the same experiences as American kids. Most parents are so open-minded it is almost scary. In my polly anna world, I want to believe it could have been two friends sitting together who did not mean it offensively. We don't even have that many African American students at the school – we probably have more actual Africans. Anyway – your post wasn't about what was written on the table – sorry – but your insights are so helpful to me – and you have made me feel it's okay to really ask you anything – I hope it is – I am just trying to understand. This mom is very ready to get out her sharpie and mark through the words she found inappropriate. I don't think she can select what is okay and what is not okay. I think either the whole table needs to be painted or none of the words get covered. At the very least it is a teachable moment for kids to be careful about what they write and how it can be perceived. Even if it wasn't meant to be nasty or hateful, it has very much offended someone. It is curious to me that she immediately thought it was meant as hateful. I do hope that at some point in life you and I get to sit down and have a cup of coffee.

  7. Rubi 9 November 2009 at 6:00 am Permalink

    Hello Reason,

    I know you didn't ask me but I thought that I would have a crack at addressing your post if you don't mind, while you wait for Loco to type his own response.

    I'm an awful writer, so if there's anything that's unclear please do not hesitate to ask.

    One of my teachers said to me that an important lesson in dealing with conflict is to never assume that intent excuses impact. It never does. For some people the word "nigga" and any other variation is a word that in the vast majority of contexts is infused with a centuries old system of chattel slavery and oppression, the structures of which are still a very tangible part of many Western societies -at least for non-white minorities. Thus the anger at seeing the word cannot really be adequately addressed IMHO with an appeal to the intent or context of its use.

    This is not to say that context and intent are unimportant when we consider appropriate responses to what it is we perceive. If you've followed my small number of postings here or on my own blog you'll know that I'm a big believer in empathy. So, to avoid misunderstanding I must also make it clear that I'm not in agreement with your interlocutor's claim that context does not matter.

    That being said, I think your appeal to context here is a double edged sword. If Loco addresses his girlfriend as "sexy" that's fine. If I were to address his girlfriend by saying "hey, sexy!" There'd be tears. Do I have good reason to feel aggrieved by this apparent asymmetry?

    Furthermore it is my perception that an appeal to freedom of speech also fails to address the issue at hand. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from accountability. It does not mean freedom from having to consider the possible impact of your words or deeds on other people. Therefore, while I would not ban any words from the graffiti table outright. I would ask that students at the very least prepare to discuss the words people find offensive, and deal with the reactions of those who are offended.

    • areason2write 9 November 2009 at 8:54 pm Permalink

      Thanks – I completely agree that this is a teachable moment. And it is very important to not ignore it. I do believe it should be addressed. By why assume the worst? These are (most likely foolish) teenagers in a very open-minded environment. That is what I hate to see – the automatic assumption that it was hate-driven. that it was meant to divide and insult. It could have simply been a very stupid thing to write. There is a responsibility on both sides of the aisle to mend fences of the attitudes that exist out there. I just wish we could move forward from today. Clearly that is just not possible. That makes me very sad. Sorry Loco – didn't mean to start a chat room! 😎

  8. Rubi 10 November 2009 at 3:32 am Permalink

    I wasn't there, so I cannot speak to the assumption of your interlocutor. Though I'm really curious to know what it is that you perceived that caused you to impute her anger to an assumption on her part that the word was written with hate. Did she actually claim, however indirectly, that the person who wrote the word must hate black people, or must have wanted to insult black people?

  9. areason2write 12 November 2009 at 2:08 am Permalink

    It was pretty clear how she felt about it.

  10. Rubi 19 November 2009 at 5:43 am Permalink

    Do you remember what she said specifically that made you conclude she imputed it to a hatred of black people?


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