29 October 2012 ~ 14 Comments

Conversations 2012 #5: He Could Beat Any White Man!

This conversation took place today between myself and a Japanese co-worker.

Japanese Teacher: Can I ask you something, Loco-sensei?

Me: Of course…go ahead.

JT: I told you before that I wanted to show a film to the students…

Me: Which film?

JT: That one with James Earl Jones…

Me: Oh right I remember…”The Great White Hope,” right?

JT: Yes! I tried to get permission from the principal and the other teachers to show the film but many of them said no.

Me: Well, That sucks…  Did they give a reason?

JT: Yeah. You know the black student in this class, right?

(There’s only one student that fits that general description in the school)

Me: Yep, I think so…he’s Japanese isn’t he?

JT: Technically, but his father is black.


JT: Well, anyway, some of the teachers think it’ll cause problems for him, make him a target of discrimination…if we show the film.

(Took a pause for the cause. It was a quick one, during which a hundred thoughts raced through my mind, one of which was…)

Me: Is he the reason you want the film to be shown?

JT: Partially…I think Japanese kids need to know about discrimination and racism. I mean, after all, there’s him, and then there’s you, too, of course. I think this is a great opportunity to teach something important.

Me: It’s definitely more useful than singing in a chorus.

JT: DESHOU??? They spent many hours for weeks practicing for that choral competition. (Shakes his head)

Me: Well, I think it’s a great idea and very conscientious of you to want to introduce children to such issues…perhaps a little younger than Junior High school would be ideal, though. But, better late than never.

JT: Yeah, but the other teachers don’t agree.

Me: There are at least two ways to deal with this issue, far as I can see…and both have their merits and drawbacks: You could ignore it and hope for the best or address it and hope for the best. Both are inherently risky.

JT: That’s true. Based on your book, I know which one you’d choose…haha.

Me: Haha! You know it like a poet! (we share a laugh) Anyway, I haven’t seen that movie in many years but I do remember the movie poster. It was famous. Said something like, “He could beat any whitey!” Haha.

JT: Sou desu ka? Haha.

Me: The issue of discrimination was handled fairly well I think, but I’d have to watch it again. It also dealt with segregation, and with interracial romance and other such complexities…and it was a little heavy on the exploitation of these issues, as I recall. And, even if it weren’t,  I’d still be leery of  the  translation into Japanese. Granted translating cultural ideas is problematic enough… but subtitles, in my experience, tend to skirt or diffuse complex ideas, often sacrificing depth for simplicity and entertainment value. Don’t you think?

JT: Yeah, I know what you mean.

Me: What did the other teachers think of the movie? I guess they thought it was a bit too strong?

JT: Actually, they never watched it.

Me: Huh??? How can they make a determination it would make the student’s life more difficult if they haven’t even seen it???

JT: DESHOU!! That’s exactly what I thought!

(We both took a pause and shook our heads letting that thought percolate.)

JT: Maybe a movie like “Remember The Titans” would be a better introduction to discrimination.

Me: Yeah, maybe. I’m not a big fan of Disney, but that was a good one. By the way, do you know if the student’s being discriminated against now?

JT: He told us he’d been discriminated against in elementary school, but not here, as yet. He seems to be making friends and fitting in.

Me: I see…well, I think your idea has merit and if you feel strongly about it you ought to write a letter to the board of education urging them to make a discussion about race a part of the morals instruction the students already receive…you know?

JT: Hmmm….

Me: Just a thought…



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14 Responses to “Conversations 2012 #5: He Could Beat Any White Man!”

  1. Andrew in Saitama 30 October 2012 at 5:14 am Permalink

    Agreed. JHS is too late for starting to deal with issues like racism.
    I’ve seen too many of those moral education texts where the only part of “international understanding” is dedicated to either “Japanese who go overseas to help developing nations”, or “how important our pop culture is on the world stage”
    If you want the staff to do something about discrimination, you need to make them see the equation 差別=いじめ.

    • Locohama 31 October 2012 at 10:23 am Permalink

      It’s late, but maybe not too late. At least as far as I can see with these J-kids. And yes discrimination and bullying are very closely tied. That is a great point, one with wings my friend. Thanks Andrew!

  2. chris 30 October 2012 at 4:18 pm Permalink

    “Yep, I think so…he’s Japanese isn’t he?

    JT: Technically, but his father is black.”

    How exactly does that …what in the fuck does that mean?

    • Locohama 31 October 2012 at 10:27 am Permalink

      I think it means…well you know what it means lol
      He’s Japanese only on paper, and that was his way of telling me, very matter of factly, that that is the way it is (and perhaps that he doesn’t have any qualm with it.) Shit, even Obama, a man from your neck of the woods, was forced to show his birth certificate by similarly thinking “folk” back in the US!
      Thanks for the love as always yo!

  3. kamo 30 October 2012 at 9:35 pm Permalink

    The other teachers’ logic does smack a bit of grasping for an easy excuse not to do the difficult thing, but taken at face value I’ve actually got a fair bit of sympathy with their reasoning (ignoring the whole “haven’t actually seen the movie” thing). Teenagers the world over are terrifyingly conservative and quick to punish non-conformity, and however well intentioned something like this is, if it’s not done *exactly* right it could very well just give the other kids a new stick to beat that student with.

    “I mean, after all, there’s him, and then there’s you, too, of course. I think this is a great opportunity to teach something important.”

    It’s your/our job to teach the kids about this stuff, but I’d be a bit leary if a teacher saw a specific child as an ‘opportunity’ to teach something to the other kids. You/we are big and ugly enough to cope with any extra fallout, but if your schools are anything like mine, there’s a better than even chance that if the students see the film then that mixed kid’s nickname for the rest of the year will be James Earl Jones (or whatever his character’s called).

    I’m hoping this post generates a decent bit of discussion, because it’s something I’m encountering more and more (I think I may have mentioned previously). There’s an increasing number of mixed kids in my classes, or maybe just more who are comfortable as identifying as such. With the older kids it doesn’t seem -seem- to be much of a thing, but several times in JHS when I get to the “I’m from England” part of my intro the class clown will start flailing around, pointing at another nervous looking kid, and start saying “Korea! He is Korea!” or similar.

    My usual response is just to smile, say, “Cool,’ and move on like it’s not an issue, because it isn’t/shouldn’t be. Sometimes I’ll try to catch the kid afterwards alone, or just with a couple of their friends, and say something like, “My sons are mixed as well. I’d be interested in talking about what you think they might experience, if you’re interested.” Leave the door open. I’m still not sure if this is the best way of dealing with it.

    • Locohama 1 November 2012 at 4:04 pm Permalink

      “Teenagers the world over are terrifyingly conservative and quick to punish non-conformity,” Really??? Oh, you&re from England, right? That has not been my experience in NY, but arguably NY is another planet when compared to some places in the US.
      “if it’s not done *exactly* right it could very well just give the other kids a new stick to beat that student with.” Even as a metaphor that comes off as particularly harsh. The longer I am away from the NY the more I realize the blessing it was.It actually gave me a vision of the possibilities, of not only Japan (and apparently England) but of many stomping grounds for intolerance.
      “but I’d be a bit leery if a teacher saw a specific child as an ‘opportunity’ to teach something to the other kids.” That’s exactly why I asked him what was motivating his contemplated crusade against intolerance and discrimination. I too was leery! It certainly wouldn’t be helpful to the child if his classmates knew that he (and I) were the reason they had to sit through 7 hours of “Roots” lol (which would be on my list of useful films to show J-kids so they could a taste of what it means to be on the butt end of hate and discrimination. Roots has just enough sentimentality to engage without losing its edge and message.
      “I’m hoping this post generates a decent bit of discussion, because it’s something I’m encountering more and more (I think I may have mentioned previously). There’s an increasing number of mixed kids in my classes…”
      I am too! This was why it took me a couple of days to get around to responding to you. I was trying to think of a way to make this talking point…secretly hoping people would find this a compelling conversation. Oh well, guess not. But I&d love to continue it with you! Maybe we can talk each other through a few things!

      Thanks Kamo for dropping a line! Much obliged…

      • kamo 1 November 2012 at 7:34 pm Permalink


        Yeah, perhaps that metaphor was a poor choice of words, and I’d be the first to admit that my schooling was a world away from yours. Rural England in the 90s. There was one black student in an entire schools of 1400, so not exactly a multicultural melting pot. I’d (very) tentatively suggest though that it’s an experience more in line with those of our students than yours perhaps was. Not that it’s a competition, of course 😉

        You are, unfortunately, being too reasonable for me to do anything other than agree with everything else you’ve said. But in an effort to rope some more people into this, here’s a question. If you were Asian-American and that kid was half Chinese, do you think that JTE would have been quite so keen to show whatever the equivalent movie would be?

  4. Jenny 31 October 2012 at 10:33 pm Permalink

    I had to put up with that bullshit in Yokohama the first year I was in Japan. The teacher made it a point of pointing out the halves (Japanese/black, Japanese/Columbian, etc.). I finally told him that these halves are normal in the USA and you purebreds are the oddball.

    One student knew Spanish so I greeted him with “buenos dias”. The student started smiling and went on his way while the teacher demanded to know what I said. Dumbass teacher didn’t realize that Mexico is to the south and we will be picking up Spanish words whether we want to or not.

  5. Will 1 November 2012 at 2:58 pm Permalink

    Writing a letter to the Board of Education sounds almost suicidal, career-wise, in this hammer-that-nail-down/demerit-o-cratic society. Even though Yokohama is rumored to be more progressive in some ways due to their willingness to elect Mayor Hayashi… even though Yokohama may be a ‘more progressive’ kind of place, my experience with educational boards have not been exactly anything that reflects forward thinking by those who wield their power. From my experience, complaints or allegations are pretty much made with anonymity.

    On a side note, “The Great White Hope” looks like it’s available on Youtube along with a lot of historical footage. Just watched an interesting short clip “Jack Johnson vs Jack London”.

    If anyone could craft some kind of story or screenplay that was worthy of being exposed to a young student body’s mind, reckon it would require someone with talent who was perhaps even a little loco.

    Anyway… looking forward to hearing the rest of 2012’s conversations.


    • Locohama 1 November 2012 at 4:16 pm Permalink

      Hey WIll! Thanks for the shout…
      Yeah there are a lot of “blaxploitation” films available on Youtube in their entirety. I wonder why…maybe the companies that produced them are not policing the net periodically to find out who is illegally hooking people up…who knows.
      “Writing a letter to the Board of Education sounds almost suicidal, career-wise, in this hammer-that-nail-down/demerit-o-cratic society.”
      I agree. But, how do things change? Isn’t it always the case that the establishment uses fear tactics to keep the masses in line, and not until someone who refuses to be afraid, to let fear keep them from not only becoming a nail but a stake in the heart of that darkness wielding the hammer? And who is to say that this Japanese teacher is not that guy? A future inspirational leader…a revolutionary. I&d like to think that among the sheep there is one who is one or two episodes from making the sacrifices necessary to make essential changes and inspire others. Nature usually provide these people…they seem to spontaneous appear just when they are most needed.

      Anyway, I &m just dreaming again, the Muttley in me.

      Man a screenplay would be another dream project! And nobody better suited to make my dreams come true than me, ne *-;

      Thanks for the shout as always my friend!

      • Will 1 November 2012 at 5:01 pm Permalink

        I was unaware that that movie was/is understood to be an example of blaxploitation; I didn’t see William Marshall in it anywhere.

        As far as writing letters and all that, people tend not to take action until things directly effect them in an undeniable way. At least, that’s my experience.

        Admittedly, some things do change with a spike to the heart. Only, finding the heart is not always that easy. Shedding light is always an alternative. Garlic…not too sure that works.


        • Locohama 1 November 2012 at 5:05 pm Permalink

          Well that if for no other reason, that movie poster SCREAMS blaxplotation if not just provoking white fear of miscegenation.
          Yeah, you&re right. Unless he has a personal stake, it might be difficult for Davy to feel the proper motivation to take on Goliath. *-;

          • Will 2 November 2012 at 10:08 am Permalink

            Maybe the scream was too high for my ears to perceive, but I doubt it.

            Fear of a word most people my age would have to look up in a dictionary and try not giggle about, had they not we least read Morrison, Butler, Faulkner, Carver, Douglas… fear of misce-I-can’t-freakin’-believe-that’s-even-a-word-genation, I guess the wisdom is not in fear of the Flat Earth, but healthy fear of the people who still believe in the Flat Earth. Which appears to apply, more or less, to people of an ‘older’ generation. A deeper layer in the social strata. Then again, my sphere of experience is somewhat limited and my historical memory is arguable distorted. Time can do that.

            My guess is that there is a generation gap. “The Great White Hope” was released before I was born. And the environment I grew up in… well, let’s just say it may have been at a tie when color blindness prevailed.

            Times change. And so do the lenses we’ve been given. But vision is not the only sense that humans have been endowed with. We can hear, although within somewhat limited range.

            What I started thinking, when I read your response (thank you by the way), what I started thinking was that, no, if the scream of “blaxploitation” is not too high for my generation to hear, maybe it’s too low.

            Lower sounds within the infrasonic range are really hard to detect unless there is a lot of pressure at the time. To barrow a few words from Wiki-P for sake of helping this metaphor along, “at higher levels it is possible to feel infrasound vibrations in various parts of the body”. Oh yeah! That pressure must have felt pretty breathtaking for those who dare be that spike that stuck up. The scope and magnitude of the tectonic shifts in the social structure of america del norte are perhaps beyond what can be perceived in such a short period of time, not too unlike ultrasonic frequencies our trusted canine companions are attuned to. Only, on the other side of the range.

            While my senses do not hear the scream of “blaxploitation”, I suspect that is not due to the shriek being beyond the upper limit of my human perception….no, not because it is too high. I am willing to consider that fact that the resonance may be too low. I know I can’t really hear infrasound, but I can definitely feel it. It just requires some time to sit, listen, feel, and pay attention to the elements. Takes a bit of love and understanding to see What’s Going On. Context says a lot.

            To me, in the picture, I see eyes, mouths, an embrace, and touching. That the social context is beyond me… whether it’s interpreted as good or bad is most likely dependent upon the age of who I am with.

            Anyway… we’re in a place that calls itself Japan.


          • Locohama 2 November 2012 at 2:26 pm Permalink

            I meant it screamed miscegenation in 70s when it was released, and was being marketed as such, which a controversial (at that time) union, sexually charger and showing skin, as the selling point when the movie was about a boxer.
            In this day and age it hardly whispers (though it’s a dog whistle to certain groups who shall remain nameless, like that party named after a beverage consumed widely here in Asia)
            I love your responses man, you clearly keep your poetic license up to date! (-:

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