Since, by my own definition, hate is fear squared, and I’m flirting with hate, it begs the question what am I afraid of.
Once again, please bear with me…
I touched on this subject in a previous post but allow me to expand upon it.
I remember when I first came to Japan and I got my first taste of Japanese-style racial insensitivity. I was working for NOVA at the time. I came into work that afternoon and, as was the practice, I checked the schedule on the wall to see what classes and levels I would be teaching that evening, made a note of them and prepared my lessons. One of the Japanese staff people came into the office a little before classes were to begin to change the schedule. This happened occasionally and was always accompanied by profuse apologies. I saw that one of my classes had been switched from a high level class which I liked to a low-level class which I could live without. I asked the staff why was the change made. It seemed arbitrary. The staff person blushed and confessed via a troubled look that it was for a reason that she didn’t exactly feel comfortable telling me. Not much of a poker face. But, in words she told me only that it was a student’s request. Her blush raised a red flag though and I smelled a rat so I didn’t let it drop. She informed a head teacher of my concerns. I watched them discussing it in Japanese which I could not comprehend at all at the time. Occasionally he would glance at me and also look uncomfortable. Finally, he came to me and said, “The student wanted a different teacher…it’s not a reflection on you. She wants to go to England someday so she wants to study with a teacher from England.” There were several British teachers, all white and all busy that period. The teacher that was to replace me was Australian, also white (with decidedly a different accent than the British). I pointed this out. The Head teacher had screwed up, otherwise I’m sure he would have said the student wanted to go to Aussie not England, to his credit. I wasn’t sore at him. He was just doing his job. I wasn’t sore at the Japanese staff either. She too was just doing her job. I wasn’t even especially sore at the student. She was just expressing a preference based on whatever criteria she had in her head.
I was, however, in due course, sore at NOVA for creating a culture and work environment where this kind of thing was tolerated and/or condoned. I know they are a business (though clearly had other issues besides this one) and お客様神様 (The customer is God) is the rule here in Japan but still… Anyway, I told myself I wasn’t in America and let it go.
…But I hadn’t forgiven nor forgotten. I hadn’t truly let it go. Just stored it away.
It would take several more of these type incidents, and stories from other non-white co-workers of similar occurences, before it got through my benefit-of-the-doubt giving heart that something was amiss; something that was not aimed scatter-shot at “foreigners” but sniper deadly at non-white foreigners.
This actually surprised me. Why? Because, at the time, I half-expected Japanese people to feel we had something in common when I first came to Japan.
I mean, here was a country that was actually nuked by people of European decent, the only country to hold that distinction. So, naturally, I thought that they would feel a certain connection with other people who have seen the dark side of so-called western civilization up-close and personal. After all, modern African-Americans are the survivors of essentially a 400+ year-long European-driven holocaust, and modern Africans are survivors of 400 plus years of European imperialism and genocide. A couple of nukes are nothing in comparison to that, I know, but I thought Japanese might draw some comparisons and reach out. I was predisposed to think this way. It happened a number of times back in New York. For example, Latinos and Blacks often found themselves drawn together by our commonalities for a cause that affected minorities. Also, when I would make friends of Jewish descent (considered a race unto themselves by most whites), most of them had no problem comparing Jewish history and African-American history. And though I was stubborn and would often get into heated debates over whose history was worse, whose ancestors suffered more or longer, and which race continues to suffer the generational repercussions (stupid debate actually) we could all agree who the inquisitors were in the Inquisition and who was on the other side of those oven doors, who was on the deck of the slave ships and whose hands were on the whips.
But, I was wrong. The culture here appears to be infatuated with Euro-everything (but it could be a facade…). They appear to want to be associated with white. For example, if I had a ￥100 for every time I’ve heard a Japanese person compare Japan and England (we’re both island nations, we’re both polite, we both have a parliament and a royal family, etc…) I’d be a millionaire (yen wise at least.) I can’t really blame them, though. White people (for the most part) hold a great deal of the wealth, power and privilege in the world so it’s quite reasonable (maybe not the best word) to want to be like them. Does it matter that they were the ones that unleashed hell on your country and got medieval on civilians not so long ago? That can be rationalized, too, and I’ve heard many Japanese do it. They tell me that the blame for that was the Japanese imperialist, the unyielding emperor and the blind obedience of his legions going about Asia committing all sorts of atrocities. That Japan deserved to be nuked is the implication.
But, somehow Europeans manage to retain a relative positive image here while the image of black people…not so much. And, I’ve intuited the following to be the Japanese beliefs based on their remarks and behavior: on the upside: Success is white but cool is black, intelligent is white but creative is black, cultural superiority is white but physical superiority is black, mental aptitude is white but spiritual aptitude is black, etc… On the downside: arrogance is white and danger is black, heritage is white and homelessness is black, hatred is white and savagery is black, Globalization spreading is white and disease spreading is black, war-mongering is white and whore-mongering is black, etc… Little by little, I could feel something inside me growing like a malignant resentment towards this thinking. All of this has combined into an almost oppressive denial of the diversity of me and people who share my racial distinction and the various views we represent. And the humiliation of it grew and grew, while, in my efforts to endure- in the spirit of whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger– my tolerance has steadily approached critical mass.
And that’s what I was afraid of. That enduring life here wasn’t making me stronger. It was just changing me.
I think the most peculiar side effect of my rationalizing the irrational is that I’ve been developing an argument against any future rationalizations. An argument that I believe will resolve much of what I’ve been discussing here. No more ascribing superficially to causes for Japanese obscenities unrelated to the truth because they seem valid and reasonable. No more inventing plausible explanations for Japanese indiscretions.
A couple of weeks ago I suddenly thought about one of my favorite Kung Fu flicks. A film called Iron Monkey. In it a doctor is poisoned by the deadly Buddha Palm strike of an evil monk and as he is dying he writes a prescription for himself for another doctor to procure in order to save his life. The other doctor reads the prescription. The prescription is a concoction made up of the venom of several poisonous creatures. Poison to remedy poison. Brilliant. Way to think outside the box, doc! Yes, even chemotherapy, basically a poison, can stop the metastasis, send into remission, or even kill cancer cells sometimes.
Then I started thinking about how I could apply that to my life here in Japan.
We are taught in the west that good overcomes evil. That love is the antidote for hate. That it’s always darkest before the dawn…
But I don’t believe in pure evil no more than I believe in pure good. And I’ve seen the most horrendous shit done in the name of love.
And it’s awfully dark.
Life in Japan has tampered with feelings I haven’t tampered with in a long time; my fears about my own self-worth, and my fears about my future. But, this all may yet be for the best.
I’m playing for keeps here…and the stakes are very high.
PS: Should I resume the “On the couch…:” series?