I concluded that people who profess shit like:
Japanese can’t be held responsible for their behavior any more than a caged chimp can be held responsible for throwing a fistful of feces at you. You might find it disgusting and offensive, but that’s just how apes are. That’s how they do things in their world. If you don’t like the apes you should leave the zoo. Personally I think they’re adorable…well worth the price of an occasional mouthful of shit …
That’s not shit they’re throwing. You’re mistaken because you’re predisposed to think it’s shit. Probably because you’re used to having shit thrown at you back home. What they’re throwing is actually a traditional shit-like substance that dates back before America was even a twinkle in some European Protestant’s eye. Sure, it smells like shit, and has the same texture as shit, and sometimes, I must admit, it feels like shit, but you know these people are great fabricators and duplicators. Besides, they lack the emotional capacity to throw actual shit…
The onus is on you to find a way to tolerate them. After all, it is their country! We are the beneficiaries of the blessings of understanding that all men are created equal. Us! Not them. We can’t expect these less than blessed, group-thinking, cute-obsessed victims of isolation and archaic thinking to be like US. Cut ‘em some slack, why don’t you? Let them park in the handicap zone of humanitarian reciprocity.
Can a blind person be held responsible if their seeing eye dog urinates on your shoe on the train? Of course not. My God, man, let them be. They’re blind, fr’chrissakes. They have enough problems. How can you blame them? They can’t even see what their dog is doing!
…are not necessarily racist, but most likely are afflicted, if only mildly.
That was the result of my self-assessing investigation. Not pretty.
For this racism series, I’ve rifled through my mental and emotional archives under the subject of racism, reviewing what I had already learned, searching for what I had done to myself. And recently I stumbled across a likely answer.
The best equivalent of what I’d become and what I see and hear from the JDL and others, would be the white Bleeding Heart Liberal. (How ironic is that? Me? A bleeding heart…it’s like Bizarro world: “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!“.)
The defensive arguments of the JDL, and the ones I told myself, are virtually the same malarkey the bleeding hearts have used in defense of the unacceptable behavior of some black people in America.
My god, where’s your heart? I mean, look at him! He’s black, poor, un-educated…so what he’s a thief. So what he’s filled with hate and distrust for us. Don’t we kinda deserve it? Besides, he can’t help it. He’s not like us! He doesn’t enjoy our privileges, doesn’t share our values. How can he? He’s had fewer opportunities than us, fewer options. He’s a victim of the cruel world we’ve upheld and maintained. They All are! Worthy of our pity and tolerance. They need our condemnation like they need a hole in the head!
These thoughts (and others) buzzing in my head made me sick to my stomach, and prompted the series I’ll be concluding with this post!
I think re-visiting characters from my past who have impacted my thinking on the race question was a worthwhile undertaking.
My teachers in my private grade school laid down the racial groundwork and managed to simultaneously hamper and arm me for the challenges I would face ahead. But, without them, I would have been, like many young black men of the time, without a foundation of strong black male role models held up as heroic, and thus I would have grown up without a rich sense of historic and cultural knowledge of self.
Though clearly a race-oriented organization that touted superiority of blacks over whites, without the Five Percenters I probably would have succumbed to the call of religion and found my creativity beset by belief in doctrines that I believe limit free-thinking and restrain one from making morality calls based on ones own best interest, in favor of another’s. Thereby leaving me devoid of two essential tools I feel I need to reach my goal of becoming a writer of note.
Characters like Private Frick, Private Burns, and Drill Sergeant James, helped shaped my thinking on the race question in indelible ways, each by holding up a mirror and forcing me to look into it. The reflection I beheld was not a pretty sight but seeing who you really are can often be alarming. They also taught me about how I view others, both black and white, preparing me for the challenges I facing currently in my views of the yellow. I’m forever indebted to the three of them.
As am I indebted to my professors in University, Barabra Henning and Lewis Warsh, who taught me that, without question, racism is a handicap that hurts the bearer as much or more than the target. Without them there’s a good chance I’d probably be a Postal worker with a chip on his shoulder the size of Plymouth Rock.
I really have to hand it to The Creator, cuz he put these people in my path for a purpose, and gave me the awareness to recognize that purpose.
Enough cannot be said about Aiko’s influence on me. Initially it was she who made racism against Japanese people a ridiculous consideration. How could anyone in their right mind be racist against a people that produced someone with the vitality, the humanity and the courageousness embodied in Aiko?
I guess when she died, something in me died too. And, The Creator, seeing me in crisis, placed another soul in my path to keep me on the path. And, again, blessed me with the wherewithal to recognize his providence.
I’ve written about this person before but I’ve tapered off a bit because I was really suffering with this race question. And this person just happens to be a member of the race I’d designated doomed. I even neglected to write about her departure from my daily life.
Yes, I’m talking about my newest friend, mother, grandmother and, now, former colleague: The unsinkable Mrs. Betty.
I’m gonna try to hold it together here and tell y’all about our last day together. And her contribution to my salvation, so to speak.
I had informed y’all that Yoshida sensei has finally recovered and returned to work, and that Mrs. Betty was to hang around until Yoshida got back in the swing of things. It took a couple of weeks for Yoshida to get her sea legs under her. The kids really gave her a hard time. If it weren’t for Mrs. Betty stepping in from time to time (her hours having been reduced to part-time) she never would have gained any semblance of control.
On Mrs. Betty’s last day, in the morning meeting, she bid us all farewell. I could tell that most of the other teachers would not be impacted by her departure at all. Most seemed pre-occupied, even during her brief speech thanking everyone for their kindness and support. After an almost robotic applause, during which mine was conspicuously the loudest and longest, she returned to her desk across from Akiyama and me, her eyes warmed over yet steely as ever. Apparently, she was aware of the lukewarmness of the farewell as well. Akiyama and I, however, being the beneficiaries of most of what Mrs. Betty had to offer, were afflicted.
“Y’all cut that out, now, hear?” she scolded sternly
“This place won’t be the same without you,” I said, trying to temper my feelings on the matter. I felt out of sorts. “We’re gonna miss having you around.”
Akiyama solemnly nodded her agreement.
Mrs. Betty just waved my words away, and smiled that crooked smile of hers, obviously moved.
“Let’s go out and have a little party tonight!” Akiyama suggested. “Just the three of us.”
Yoshida-sensei wasn’t around I ascertained with a glance. I felt kind of bad about the way Akiyama had just automatically excluded her, but only a little. After all, Mrs. Betty and Akiyama really can’t stand her, and she rubs me the wrong way, too.
“Oh, nooo. Mrs. Betty’s too old and too tired to be going out at night,” she protested, and I was kinda relieved. I wasn’t even so keen on going to an izakaya (Japanese-style bar) myself. “But…if y’all’d like, y’all could come over to my house? I’d love to have ya…and my grandson’s always asking about you, Mr. Loco. Seems you made quite an impression on the boy. He’d love to see you!”
My spirits rose swiftly. “Great idea! I’m in!”
Mrs. Betty might be old, but she could put away some shochu…we went, or rather they, Akiyama and she, went through two bottles while I was still nursing my second glass. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I had begun to refrain from getting drunk with Japanese people, because once drunk I had a tendency to answer questions directly…answers that tended to change the mood (and not in a way conducive to a devil-may-care party atmosphere.)
For example, to a relatively innocent question like, “how long do you plan to stay in Japan,” under the influence, I might answer, “Until I stop believing that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…” followed by a scoffing chuckle or a grim smile. Which of course would instigate follow up questions, and lead into a Q&A where I criticize Japan and Japanese in the subtlest ways an inebriated person can. Unless I find I’m too subtle and they’ve missed the point, whereupon I may or may not turn up the volume, depending on my mood. My criticisms are rarely challenged. Instead, my complaints would be diplomatically responded to, as many Japanese are apt to do, perhaps even agreed with… “You’re very perceptive, Mr. Loco. WE do tend to be cold towards foreigners WE don’t know…” “Oh, you’re quite right, Loco-sensei, WE are afraid of people who are not Japanese…” This would be followed by a bout of shame on my part for being a selfish killjoy with my “negativity.”
Yeah, I know me. I can be a real earnest dick if I don’t keep my wits about me.
And, being that I can hardly address these kinds of issues with the perpetrators among the nameless masses, aside from my fellow Gaijin (whom I’ve long since learned are usually a futile waste of time to get into such things with) my closest friends and colleagues here are the only Japanese ears I have at my disposal.
So, yeah, sober is best.
We talked about work, and laughed at some of the adventures we shared together with the first year students. We also chatted about some of the more serious issues that the school has yet to address, like the outrageous and border-line dangerous behavior of some of the third year kids.
It was around that time that Mrs. Betty suddenly asked: “So, what’s bothering you, Mr. Loco?”
“You’re so quiet…”
They were both looking at me, like they’d been talking about me.
“Yeah, you haven’t really said anything,” Akiyama added. “Are you ok?”
I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. And they were speaking English!
“Not just tonight, by god! I declare, for a few weeks you’ve been sho’nuff keeping to your lonesome…” Mrs. Betty said, her voice a little higher than usual, and slurring a bit. I’d never seen her drunk. “That aint like you!”
“What?” I snapped. “I’ve been talking…Just now I said…umm…I said…”
They just smiled at me and waited patiently. I couldn’t remember what I’d said last, or even when I’d said it. Everything that crossed my mind were thoughts I’d had while they were talking. Thoughts about how difficult it was going to be without a presence like Mrs. Betty’s around. Somebody who was unafraid to speak truth to power, unafraid to speak her mind without an overabundance of censorship and diplomacy, could speak my language in more ways than one. But, it was true: I hadn’t been saying much at all.
“Hora!” (See! I told you) Akiyama shouted and laughed. She was shitfaced. Mrs. Betty’s cheeks were as red as Ume on a mound of rice, but her eyes were as sharp as ever.
“I bet you’re thinking,” Mrs. Betty said, dissecting me with a stare, tilting her head to the side. “I bet yous just a-thinking all the time…thinking so much you can’t even talk, ain’t you?”
“That’s good though,” Mrs. Betty snapped. “Aint nothing wrong with thinking. Aint that right, Akiyama?”
“Sou desu yo ne…” (sure is) Akiyama slurred.
“Why aint you drinking?” Mrs. Betty asked, shrewdly. “You’ve been sucking on that glass for about an hour. What’s going on with you?”
“I have too been drinking…I…”
“Come come now, Mr. Loco” she snapped. “No need to start fibbin’. When a man got problems too big for drink those be the most serious problems…yes indeed. And when that man starts to lying about those problems…well, now you has me worried!”
Akiyama glanced at Mrs. Betty’s concern, then down at my half-filled glass, then at me, compassionately.
“It’s nothing,” I lied, again, as Mrs. Betty shook her head. “I’m just gonna miss you.”
“Why? I’m right here, and you’s welcome here anytime. Anytime! Nah, it’s more than that! Right, Akiyama?”
“I’ve been meaning to say something, but I’ve just been so busy…” Akiyama cried, sincerity in her whole disposition. “You have been different, lately.”
“Un hmm, ain’t that the truth!” Mrs. Betty said. “You used to chat with us during your free time…nowadays all you do is write. You don’t even so much as smile anymore. I ain’t one to be prying in a man’s business. God knows my late husband, may he rest in peace, wouldn’t have none of that. Dear man would sooner die than talk about his troubles. But you has us concerned, you understand? We just wanna know you awright, sugar.”
They were teaming up on me. It felt like an intervention. I pictured some junkie shivering, sniveling, sniffling and rubbing his nose on his sleeve, surrounded by loved ones who he’d mistreated or betrayed or even robbed at some point, coming together in one last ditch effort to save his ass from his worst enemy: himself!
And I laughed. Hard. Laughed cuz I knew there was no way in hell I could be a racist. Not against these people. Not against anyone. I just ain’t built for that shit.
“Hora!” Mrs. Betty yelled. “There you are! I knew you was in there…come on out and have a drink with us! Please…”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said, and threw down that half a glass of shochu I’d been nursing and slid the empty glass over to Akiyama. She promptly re-filled it. Before I knew it we’d finished the bottle and had cracked another. Apparently Mrs. Betty kept ample supply around. Just like my grandmother used to keep her bar well stocked. Mrs.Betty, from the old school.
I started feeling it about the 5th glass. After that, I lost count. I was drinking it like water.
“What you writing about these days,” Akiyama asked, in Japanese, alcohol having adhered a permanent droopy smirk on her face.
“I’m writing about how I started hating Japanese people…”
They both broke out laughing, Akiyama fell back on the tatami, her dress flew up exposing her underwear. Mrs. Betty cackled like some strange bird. I’d never seen her laugh out loud before. Akiyama sat back up after a second, realizing her dress had flown up and quickly brushed it down. I pretended not to have noticed.
“I’m serious, y’all,” I said, hardly containing my own laughter. “Crazy, huh?”
“Ain’t nothing crazy about that!” Mrs. Betty said, still giggling. “Shit, I hate them, too, sometimes!”
I dropped my glass. Luckily it was empty except for some ice cube chips.
“Me too…” Akiyama chimed in, her lips over moist.
“I’m serious!” I repeated, trying to pick up the ice slivers with my fingers, dropping them over and over. Then I gave up. A little water ain’t gonna hurt that tatami none. When I looked up they were both watching me, and I wondered had I stuck my foot in it and killed the mood once again.
That part of my brain that never gets too drunk to remember what time that Last Train home is, and how to get home, and counts my drinks and dollars, and secures my wallet, and tells me not to nanpa co-workers when my dick says “she wants you, man, go for it!” That part of my brain came to full alert as it’s apt to do when ‘ be careful’ is the order of the moment.
“Mr. Loco,” Mrs. Betty said, having caught the catch in my voice. “Is that what’s been bothering you? You think you hate Japanese people?”
“Well…yeah, I guess…” I wasn’t even sure anymore. I felt so ridiculous.
“Listen…” she said, and stopped. She glanced at Akiyama who hiccuped and blushed. Then back to me. “You listening?”
“Yes Mam,” I said, and she smiled. I’d never called her “Mam” before. I must have sounded so serious.
“You’re what I call a thinker,” she said, and I could hear Drill Sergeant James, and a hundred other people I’ve known over the years, saying the same. Some saying it as a good thing, as in as opposed to someone who’s brain is only gray matter that takes up spaceand others for not so complimentary a reason, as in but you need to get off your lazy ass and put those thoughts to good use cuz thinking is only half the battle!
“And that’s a good thing,” she continued. “Lord knows, we need more thinkers in the world…but, most people ain’t thinkers. No sirree. Most people just do. All they know is do. Thinking is like uh…like uh luxury. You know what I mean? And, you are a rich man.
“You’re a dreamer, too. I know, I watch you. I listen to you. The way you teach a lesson. How generous you are with the children. The way you’re unafraid to share your ideas. Cuz, that’s the way you see the world. A place where people share ideas. Yes indeed you have a rich imagination…”
Akiyama was swaying but attentive.
“I’ve been all over the world, as you know. And when I travel, I don’t just go to see the sights. I mean, sure, I like tourist attractions as much as the next person, but that’s not why I travel. I think I’m a lot like you. I wanna learn something about the people I meet. I wanna grow from the experiences. I want to share ideas. Share myself. Almost every place I’ve gone I’ve made friends…I avoid hotels and restaurants as much as possible. I’d much rather have dinner in people’s homes, sleep in their guestrooms or in small local inns. Talk with real people about their lives.
“Sometimes it’s dangerous, of course. And my husband used to catch fits all the time, bless his heart, but that’s Mrs. Betty, and he knew what he was getting into when he asked for my hand. I’ve always been this way.
“You know the worst part of traveling…and I don’t talk about this much. Maybe never. But, god knows, it’s always in my mind. The worst part is when you run into people with closed-minds, or minds that only open for the familiar…which is basically the same thing. It’s easy to feel pity for these people, but pity is a horrible thing. Horrible. Never feel pity. Even hate is better than pity.
“But, remember this…it’s not the people you hate…it’s the idea. Don’t get stuck on the people. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hate. Hell, hate is as natural, as human, as love. All I’m saying is, if you must hate, hate the idea! The idea is the enemy, the people are just the vessel for the idea. Just as you’re a vessel for an idea.
“You’re so lucky, Mr. Loco. So blessed,” she said, her eyes watering up. “You love hard, and you hate hard, and that’s the measure of a full emotional life. Anybody tell you different is a saint or full of shit! You’ll never be content to just do. And that’s what makes you who you are. It’s also what makes you hate!
But, that’s why I’m so fond of you! I love you, Mr. Loco, cuz you…” and she paused, and pursed her lips. “You, my dear, are a human being…a man at-large!”
I was sitting there just watching this woman…her mannerisms, her powerful yet soothing way of making her point. She reminded me of Aiko, so much. Like, if Aiko had lived to be as old as Mrs. Betty, she’d be just like her. I know she would have.
“I want to be these things you say, these things you see in me,” I said to her, looking right in her eyes. “I know I’m going through some changes now…some rough changes. Some of these changes feel like they are out of my hands, and I’m spinning out of control. But I’m really trying to be the best writer I can be, at the same time. You know? Like I’m documenting this chaos I call a life. I just…I don’t know. Maybe I care too much. Or maybe I lie to myself too well. It’s so hard sometimes…”
“Personally, I gotta tell you…” she said, complete comprehension etched in her face. “I read a lot. And, personally, I prefer writers who don’t try so hard, don’t try to change things…you know what I mean? Maybe because deep down I’m just a passive woman. Or conservative. Or maybe because I feel like change doesn’t need writers. It’s the writers who need change. I like writers who can ride the currents of life, encounter things they would change but have the wisdom, the audacity, the power, to just glide through, telling stories along the way…like Gods, distant, aloof, only alive!”
She sat there, in her chair, a glass of shochu grasped within her fingers, weathered with age spots and wrinkles, a little shaky. She poured the moonshine in her mouth, the glass resting on her lip. Once emptied, she glanced at the glass like she were surprised it was empty, and smiled at it. Then she placed it on the table, looked at me and winked her eye.
“But, you see, I’m a dreamer, too.”
PS: Thank you all for your support throughout this series. Starting tomorrow I will be working on my project for NaNoWriMo (see banner at top of page for info). I’m a little anxious and very excited about this new project, but I’m happy I could complete my racism series in time and not keep you guys hanging on for a month. (-:
PPS’ If you dig this series, why not start from the beginning? click here