So, a reader sends me a link to this Asian cat who made a video about racism in Japan, and why it needs to be taught in Japanese schools.
Check it out:
It was pretty hot topic on Redditt yesterday as well, so I wound up getting into a conversation with someone, that went a little something like this:
Testdex: America thinks it’s the shit because it elected a guy who is half-white, and half a member of a race that makes up 12.6% of the population. Yet they’re so excited by the vague decline in racism that led to this that they can ignore the actual hatred directed toward that same man, and how often it is unmistakably couched in terms of race.
They are so busy smelling their own farts they think that their hate-fueled racism that leads to actual interpersonal violence and murders is no big deal, and that in Asia where people assume that you speak English because you’re white — those are the real racists.
Racism has been defined now to exclude the actually virulent stuff that involves ideas of superiority and hatred.
(edit: to be clear, I think there is indeed plenty of “racism” here, but it’s more “lack of understanding” than hatred. I think America is a terrible example of healthy race relations.) (2nd edit: — and healthy gender relations for that matter. gimme dem downvotes. downvotes make me strong.)
Me: Racism isn’t simply limited to hatred, it is also race based fear which results in a good amount of the behaviors one encounters here in japan. I’ve lived here for 8 years and am constantly being avoided, evaded, eluded, fled from…all normal behavior for people here. What prompts this fear response in every individual of course I cannot say but it is consistent and predictable. As a foreigner here you simply have to accept it like taxes as a cost of living…but it’s a daily challenge.
Testdex: Loco? Hey, I read your book and I liked it — though didn’t agree with a lot of the sentiment.
I’m absolutely sure you face a lot more racially-rooted fear than I do. I am a (devilishly handsome) white dude of average height, on the skinny side of the fence. My being a blond-haired white dude definitely factors, but I’m not convinced that it’s the only factor. I think a similarly unassuming, similarly blandly dressed, similarly average-sized-for-Japan black man would face more empty train seat than I do. But a big, tatted-up, US-Marine-Corps-lookin white dude would face a lot more than the testdex-sized black dude. The right look on a Japanese person would all but guarantee empty seats.
I think the racism manifests in the threshhold at which a foreigner becomes scary – white dude can get pretty scary (4/10) before he’s scary; black dude is scary faster (2/10); Japanese dude is scary slow (6/10). It’s definitely racism, and it’s definitely unfair.
But it feels sensationalist to use exactly the same word and speak in the same tone of condemning inhumanity for Japanese people’s literal “fear/mistrust of the unknown” as for a white friend of mine in Tokyo who uses the word “nigger” casually, or the frats at my college back home that would subtly refuse to admit blacks (or of course, racial supremacists/separatists). Given the genetic breakdown of Japan’s population, it seems a given that people of significantly different race are “the unknown”.
(though the frat example isn’t great because of the more pernicious and less common Debito-”japanese only”-sign sort of exclusionary racism.)
(edit: grammar, sp etc and this: the “threshold of scary” isn’t that different from the “threshold of hot”, where people are attracted to one race more than another (for deep-rooted, personally inexplicable reasons)
Me: Thanks for picking up my book, and glad you enjoyed it! It wasn’t written to be agreed with, just to raise important questions and to get readers thinking about some of the things I think about…clearly you have (-; Ummm…as for racism being a sensationalist term for someone Fearing/mistrusting someone based on skin color, this may be that disagreed upon thought you alluded to. I think it’s not an overstatement or hyperbole at all, for I think we can agree that most racial hate is fear and/or ignorance based. In fact, hate is generally the ultimate destination of many fears. I fear cockroaches, and that fear evolved into hate. Often express their fears in terms of hate. And as for ignorance, well, let’s take my often ill-compared and derided US for example, where much of the racial hate that existed in her history was due to white people’s ignorance about black people, thinking they were another species…or they were afraid, ignorantly so, that blacks would come and steal their livelihoods from them by taking jobs, or were genetically disposed to crime, sloth, and sexual crimes (which is insane but was upheld and bolstered by propaganda in the media, etc, and thus embraced as unquestionable truths) and so on. Personally I think anyone who still maintains these ideas ANYWHERE in the world, does so willingly and almost derisively, for there are abundant examples of not only blacks disinclined toward such things but of other racial groups inclined towards such things, which should dispel any ideas about these traits being racially exclusive…but still i manage to cut people here, for example, some slack because they have been victimized by their own institutions into such thought patterns when it comes to foreigners of any race. Fearing people who don’t share your nationality or racial designation is not a natural reaction, it is a learned one…perhaps we have a difference of opinion on that point as well, but I’m a firm believer in that, and there is far too much evidence I think to even make it debatable.
Testdex: I can agree with that… mostly.
I’m sure you’ve spent a few minutes almost every day since your book came out talking to someone like me, so I’m not gonna rant and rail against you on those spots where I disagree.
Just want to say: 1) I don’t think ignorance is “the” root cause of racism, though it’s certainly an important one. 2) You say the Japanese have been victimized by their own institutions, but certainly external institutions (like the US entertainment media) have factored strongly in how the average Japanese person understands black people.
I think people inevitably have a lot of trouble tearing “culture” away from “race”. The two are so bound together in Japan, that people in and outside the term “Japanese” often treat culture and race as completely interchangeable (too often). But binding race and culture together in the US is very dangerous territory — to suggest that there is anything “culturally typical” of race X that is not specifically “traditional to the regions/ nations of origin” of race X is to my knowledge generally understood as racist.
I’m not sure either approach is really reasonable, and I’m not certain it’s fair/logical to criticize one approach from the standpoint of the other.
(edited for clarity and to add: Japan, and other low immigration countries seem to have a good reason to strongly link race and culture; America and other high-immigration/ low social-cohesion cultures seem to have a good reason to lean the other way. I don’t think either side has a lock on the truth, especially a truth applicable to all circumstances)
Me: Actually I don’t get into these type convos on the regular…at least not compelling ones where I feel the other person is not so immersed in their own opinions and an affinity for Japanese culture/people that I feel like there is simply not much use in my expending too much energy on the matter. I don’t feel that way at the moment. (-; I agree, ignorance is not a solo act, fear is often its faithful companion, and together the likeliness of hate resulting are increased. I agree that American media transmits some very dubious images for the rest of the world to digest, but I think HOW that information is processed is essential and that comes from the institutions on the ground in the areas where those images are seen. Here, for example, it has been my experience that people are not taught to think critically, or to question stereotypes. In fact the opposite is being positively reinforced in many cases. If you inserted a simple premise like “stereotyping is bad/Problematic/potentially offensive/lazy/limiting your own options/etc.,” into the thinking here, or merely inform the populace that asserting presumptions is rude/bad/microaggressive/problematic, etc../ then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And this is at the root of most of the problems I’ve encounters here and is not entirely the result of The American media…I mean, my mother told me the TV was an idiot box. (-: I want to avoid getting into a sociology issue with you because I base most of my beliefs off of observation (which im aware has as much or more a likeliness of being flawed as study.)
I have a feeling this convo may continue