One of the strongest points I wanted to make with this series is how much effort is required to NOT be a racist. Doesn’t matter if you’re from homogeneous islands like Japan or Jamaica, or diverse cities like New York and Paris.
It’s always a challenge.
I imagine I had advantages over people from less diverse areas, but in reality I had to work as hard or even harder to ward off racist thoughts, feelings and behavior. The upside of diversity is you actually get to encounter and interact with people from various races, cultures and backgrounds. The downside is if you or anyone around you should develop into a racist in such an environment, the resulting resentment is much more intense, the anger so much more violent because you, and they, should know better. With so many contradicting individuals at your disposal, so much information within your grasp, so many arguments against any racially divisive stance you might take, to allow yourself to become a racist becomes virtually a willful act, beyond ignorant, beyond offensive. It becomes contemptible.
Plus, there’s this whole history thing.
American history, as it pertains to race- which it inevitably does- is filled with events that many (I want to say most) Americans wish had not occurred. It’s a dark painful saga of dehumanization for all involved. The whites (and the government) who perpetrated these crimes and the blacks (and others) who were victimized. I’ve come to believe that every American was significantly damaged by this. And, as much as I would like the slate to be wiped clean and all parties to start from scratch, that just ain’t the way human beings do things.
We depend on history. History is the foundation of everything we stand for and upon. Everything we do, everything we are, is measured by and against what has happened previously. Records are kept, memories are cherished, and history is taught, fraught with distortions, willful misrepresentations and sometimes indelible truths about who we are as a people and from whence we’ve come. We define success and failure based on what has occurred previously. Experience is learning from the past, using this knowledge to enable ourselves in the present, and to plan for the future. Even originality is based on comparison with what has been accomplished already. That’s just the way we are. That’s just the way it is. That’s a huge part of what makes us human.
So, through 32 segments thus far, I have shared with you guys the highlights, and the lowlights; an overview of my personal history as it pertains to the Race question. And, you know what? There’s not a moment of it I regret or wish I hadn’t gone through. Not that I think it has made me a better person, or even a wiser person…I couldn’t make that claim with a straight face. But it has made me who I am today. With all my virtues and faults, my strengths and weaknesses, I am alive, in every sense of the word, because of what I’ve experienced.
This life and this history I brought with me to Japan.
And, almost immediately, almost collectively, Japan said, “Fuck You!”
Politely, of course.
It was a humbling experience, and not all that awful…at first. I mean, I admit, I needed to be taken down a peg or two. I came here replete with these ideas of how things are and how they ought to be, and although I was wary of broadcasting them, they were always teeming just behind my guile-less eyes. I came here harboring a superficially high but arduously tempered opinion of myself and of the culture (meaning African-American, not just American) from which I sprang. But, I realized early on that if I was going to learn anything from my time in Japan then I had better do more listening and observing, and less proselytizing and judging.
And, yes, this was as difficult as it sounds. Maybe more so because of my character.
My sensitivity, in every respect, has always been rather high. I can intuit a slight, even an unintentional one, rather quickly, and respond to it appropriately, even if the most appropriate response is ignoring it. And, I was well-equipped to defend what I hold dear, be that cultural, racial, personal, or what have you. I could hold my own against most comers, be they Asian, Caucasian, or even my fiercest opposition: people who share my racial designation.
I was a one-man Anti-Defamation League.
Only problem was, for the first time in my life, I found myself living in a country amongst a people who would delineate my doctrines of defamation as common sense. Here was a people , I ascertained rather quickly, to whom the sum total of my life and history is reduced to something to be feared and evaded if at all possible, as a matter of course, with no more consideration nor ill will than a driver might have for a pothole in the road. Here was a nation no more worthy of my contempt for full-blown ignorance than children or mentally challenged people are.
At least I came to believe so in my early days here.
So, when and why did that change?
The answer to when is about the time I started this blog, two years ago.
The answer to why is still elusive. At least the complete answer is. But, I’m sure a big part of it was losing Aiko.
She was more than this country’s saving grace. She’d become Japan to me.
But, after I lost Aiko, I got lost, too.
She came along at a time when I was still assembling my ideas about life in Japan and Japanese people, particularly women. She managed to simultaneously reinforce and undermine the stereotype I was constructing at the time. In other words, in many ways, she was just like me: Just another human being, a random and not-so random mosaic of life experiences.
I love basketball, and fried chicken, and watermelon, and Hip Hop (mostly old-school, though), and any number of other stereotypes that might come to mind. But at the same time I’ve never been to jail, never harmed anyone (unless you count broken hearts), never owned a gun, I graduated University, I’m still alive post-30, I love Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, Pre-Disney Elton John, The Beatles, Mozart, etc etc etc…
Aiko wasn’t dainty, but she could wear a Yukata and Kimono like nobody’s business, and look as fragile as a porcelain geisha in it. She was passive occasionally, but you’d soon forget that once she got a full head of steam. She loved Cherry Blossoms, fireworks and cute little cellphone doodads, but she’d be the first to say “fuck Mickey Mouse,” “Temples and Shrines are overrated and boring as fuck,” and “I’d rather fuck than go slave away in the office!” (And, she loved to say, “fuck” too, if you haven’t guessed.)
She was my kind of girl, regardless of race.
I know I shouldn’t have placed such a heavy burden on her but she was strong. Stronger than me. She redeemed Japanese and, in the process, redeemed me. She set me free from the thoughts that were conspiring to corrupt my soul. Her very existence spoke so highly of Japan and its capacity to create wonders to behold. Her essence was an irrefutable argument against pigeonholing her people.
She made life here beautiful. She’d make life anywhere beautiful. She was the light, revealing a brilliant blazing path before us.
But, once she was taken from me- and the way she was taken from me- life got darker, and Japan got darker.
…and, eventually, I got darker.
to be continued…