OK! Let’s keep this moving…
So, you’re thinking about moving to Japan, are you? You’ve heard rumors that the Japanese are racist and/or xenophobic and you want to hear from reliable, conscientious, thoughtful sources on the ground here whether these claims are on the level or not, and what you can expect to encounter as far as these phenomenons are concerned. Or, you’ve arrived fairly recently, have encountered some questionable behavior, not particularly comfortable with the conclusions you’ve come to on your own, or curious about whether or not others are having similar experiences and what’s their spin on it…particularly those who are knowledgeable or have been in these parts for a while and are presumably in possession of some inside dope.
So, you cruise the net, using keywords like: Japanese people, Japanese culture, racism / discrimination / xenophobia in Japan, etc… I know this because these are some of the top keywords that bring googlers and Yahoos my way. (Those as well as chikan –Japanese subway perverts– easy Japanese girls and blacks in Japan are my consistent winners, for some reason,).
And, much to the chagrin of many, you might find yourself at a site like www.Debito.org , where you are informed unequivocally that the rumors are not only true but that the racism here, both the aggressive and micro-aggressive type, will impact the quality of your life significantly, and is at a level where an aggressive amount of activism is called for to address it.
Or, you may land on a Youtube channel like this one:
…with some persuasive, fairly well-spoken, passionately forthright and seemingly sound thinking individual (typically white) informing and possibly even reassuring you that your concerns are completely unfounded. The video’s very limited scope of what racism really is will, if you allow it, alleviate your concerns:
“Phew! I don’t have to worry about a Japanese lynch mob burning a statue of the Buddha on my front lawn or pelting me with Japanese plums when I walk down the street! That’s a load off! I’ll only encounter, at worst, petty little ignorable ignorance, and even those will be rare if I avoid the countryside. That’s all I needed to hear. All I have to do is travel light and keep it simple, check that cumbersome duffel bag filled with dreamy, complicated MLKisms (i.e. judging people by their character not their race, nationality or skin color) and various other westernized ideals at the door, keep my skin thick and my mind open, and I will be able to enjoy the wonders that Japan has to offer the foreign visitor.…sounds simple enough.”
The dangerous part of videos and commentary like the one above is they are chock-full of truthiness and truisms. So much so that it’s difficult for the average westerner to weed through the rhetoric. It informs you, in no uncertain terms, that only the ignorant, the weak-minded, the over-sensitive, the hate-seekers, and those victim-prone complainers out there will find life in Japan difficult to tolerate. But if you MAN-UP to the challenge, “if you’re even half as tough as a cutesy little Canadian girl-next-door like me,” keep your pride and wits about you, your sense of humor engaged, and embrace your Eurocentric entitlements (whether you’re racially of European descent or not cuz, let’s face it, everyone that matters from the west is of European descent in one way or another), can manage a little humility and cut the natives some slack (cuz, let’s face it, they are perpetually off the western grid) …if you can manage to do these very simple things, Japan will show you the honey!!
Truer words have rarely been spoken about Japan. She was absolutely on the money.
But that’s a lot of sacrifices to ask of someone disinclined to sacrifice such notions…costly fucking sacrifices, if you ask me. Sacrifices that may, if undertaken over a prolonged period of time, have the unintended side effect of making you unfit to rejoin the outside world.
Making such sacrifices would be the dark side of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
I’ve seen this phenomenon up closer and more personally than I felt comfortable with. Yes, friends, it has happened to me.
When people usually use that saying about making your way in Rome, it’s used in a manner to suggest that the action undertaken is by choice. That one chooses to do like the Romans. But, that has not entirely been my experience with it. Sure, sometimes it’s a conscious choice. Removing shoes in the entrance way to a house or school, pre-bathing before entering a public bath or hot springs, or standing to the left side of an escalator (or on the right side in Kansai) are ways it manifests itself here in Japan. In Brooklyn, it might be the nephew of the Yemeni gentleman who owns the grocery store on the corner, who last year arrived in the US and couldn’t speak a lick of English, welcoming you to the store with a “Yo, what’s up, Son? What can I do you for?” and a wink, before making you a ham and cheese hero, when back home in his Islamic country he wouldn’t have ever considered serving the swine of the earth to paying customers.
There are also cases when it is a trait acquired in an unconscious or semi-conscious effort not to stand out in a society where it’s virtually impossible not to. Here in Japan, you might find yourself unwittingly shoving overused Japanese expressions and pauses into English sentences in conversations with English speakers (or, in my case, writing), or waiting for green lights before crossing even when there’s no traffic, or even bowing at weird times like when you meet non-Japanese people for the first time and kinda give them a bow, or a bowing handshake, or even bowing while talking on the phone.
And that’s just the light side.
Which brings us back to the Gaijin Clash. I feel this is a major contributor to all of this infighting.
That microaggression towards foreigners, practiced almost religiously by the natives, is also something I believe the foreigners here pick up on and in some cases emulate or simply accept due to this “When in Rome…” platitude. Sure, sometimes it’s done consciously by those who have condoned the popular insinuations that foreigners are the reason Japanese have adapted their more blatant forms of racism (which the girl in the video above described briefly), but often I think it is done unconsciously.
I mean, when I first encountered foreigners here who rationalized and championed the “microagressive” Japanese behavior I’d describe in my posts, I’d consequently lose my cool. In hindsight, I would conclude that they must’ve been playing devil’s advocate and just trying to get a rise out of me, successfully in a number of cases.
Time passed, and my position evolved a bit.
I’d basically write-off anyone who defended what I thought to be Japan’s atrocities, particularly against black humanity, as racist themselves. After all, only a racist asshole would speak favorably on behalf of these racist assholes, I fumed. Yep. I told myself that these mostly white people had come here from mostly racist countries that were at least paying lip service or in some cases taking steps towards making amends for crimes against black, aboriginal and native humanity… crimes committed by their ancestors but for which they are being held to account, unfairly many believe; countries like the US, Canada, the UK and (OMG) Australia. They’ve found themselves, here in Japan, a haven for backward thinking, a utopia where the totem pole of racial divisions still shamefully stands tall and proudly flaunts a white face atop it; where time has stood still to the point that most people are conveniently clueless to what has transpired beyond their rocky shores. A place where white people aren’t socially obliged to be politically correct and tiptoe around minority sensitivity and insecurities (because, for damn sure, the natives don’t). A place where they’re lauded and rewarded for simply being white, and feel free to don their social dunce caps and be as racist as they wanna be, all under the umbrella of ”When in Rome…”
And for the few black people who’d come out their faces and echo these defenses and other assorted malarkey of entitlement, I’d write them off as well, label them “Oreos”: chocolate on the outside, creamy in the middle, and held firmly in the throes of J-topia.
This idea possessed me for a long time. Early readers of Loco in Yokohama could probably sense that, even though I didn’t consistently call them out directly, that this idea was at the heart of my insinuations about people who spent their energy defending the indefensible here in Japan.
Later, though, as I began to study more carefully the consistencies in the way these commenters would go about their defense, and see patterns in their retorts to my responses, I came to a new conclusion.
The short timers, quick to the apology, I would dismiss as ignorant beyond all recognition , a product of a delusion sweeping the world that we are post-race, or even approaching it, or they’re still under the spell Japan tends to place on foreigners upon arrival. Blogging Under the Influence, as it were…
But, a good number of the people I’d previously written off were, for the most part, here in Japan for the long haul. Many were heavily vested in Japan: families, mortgages, car notes, real jobs/careers, etc… This place was not an extended holiday in utopia for them, not a pit stop on their path to glory in their respective fields. This was home, be it ever-so humble and issue plagued. Such thoughts made me tap the brakes on my high-speed rhetoric, as I considered the ramifications of what I was suggesting. I saw, in cyber-relief, the vileness I must have represented to them.
Of course they experienced the same problems, and suffered at least some of the inequities and indignities I did. Certainly not as negatively as I did, thanks to the great PR white folks have internationally, but still, in many ways, they’re reduced to products and amalgamations of stereotypes, as well. And that had to have a detrimental effect on a human, no matter how beneficial it appears at times.
And, furthermore,, having dropped no major anchors here myself, I could pack up at any moment and make for greener pastures, while many of these guys and gals could not. They were trapped! And here I was describing as vividly as my meager talents afforded, the ugliness of their nasty little trap; Sometimes clearly enough for even those who hadn’t been aware of its existence to finally see it for what it was…informing them, and the world (or rather my handful of readers), that they had made a veeeeery poor investment. Kicking them while they were down, as it were; utterly unhelpful.
And, naturally, some defended their decisions, and in doing so, defended Japanese racism and “microaggressions.” Some even made concerted efforts to shut me down, doing so by way of marginalization and stigmatization…branding my blog the unhinged complaint-ridden rantings of an angry black man, full of misrepresentations and your usual “woe is me, pity me, I’m a downtrodden black man” foolishness.
I couldn’t blame them for trying …I’d probably do the same if our roles were reversed.
It almost worked, too.
For, like the assertions in that video above, these aspersions too are laced with truthiness and truisms. Hell, I am angry. And, I am black. I have written regrettable foolishness some times, posts I’m not particularly proud of, as well as posts where the appeal may have been to the reader’s sympathy for my plight. What can I tell you, I’m human, with all the frailties the human condition often entails.
No one wants to look at the ugly little racist inside of them. I sure as hell didn’t. And, there was a time when I’d clash with ANYONE who suggested I was a racist, as much shit as I’ve been through to lock my little demons away for good. But, “When in Rome…” had gotten the best of me, as well. It had gone and unleashed those little suckers from their pen. I was raised in an environment where racism was used as a defense against racism, as a way to maintain self-esteem and dignity. And I reverted to type.
And, being a blogger, mine found its way to my blog…
So, the current Clash of Gaijin, I hypothesize, is basically yet another battle in the ongoing civil war with our own racist attitudes, mostly, and unconsciously in some cases, in response to the racism we accept, ignore, deny, and / or embrace that surrounds us constantly, fueled by the guilt and shame at the racism that dwells within many of us.
And, to top it all off, the battlefield is on an island where racism is unfortunately condoned.
I gotta tell you…it’s not a good look, people! It’s not a good feeling, either.
All this bickering, finger-pointing, infighting, marginalizing…and nothing gets resolved. On the contrary, I feel like tensions are escalating. Like we’re living on the island of Youtube, or maybe planet Youtube….
I feel a growing intolerance…
Something’s got to give!
PS: Pick up my book, Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist, (on Amazon here) and learn why I’m speaking from experience when I speak of escalating tensions…coming from a time in Brooklyn, NY where racism was similarly condoned, spurring an intolerance that exploded and nearly destroyed a city!