Recently there has been a lot of discussion, both praise and criticism, surrounding a video done by an American about Racism in Japan, aptly called: Racism in Japan. It was produced by a vlogger who goes by the name: Medama Sensei.
Instead of explaining what happened, I’ll let him do it himself.
First he made this video:
Then, once the backlash got waaaaaaaay outta hand, he made this follow-up video about censorship:
First off, let me once again say Well Done, Medama Sensei, on both videos, for having the courage to take a very unpopular stance here in Japan, and share your ideas on human equality publicly, under the law and otherwise, with both NJ and Japanese, as well as the fortitude to stand by these ideas and resist Japanese terrorists’ efforts to force you to take it down. Kudos, bruh!
Before the second video came out, however, I wasn’t planning to say much of anything about this. Not because I believed that there was going to be a severe backlash (though I did, and I suspect he did, as well) but because the video focused primarily on Japanese racism and/or discrimination against other Asians like Koreans and Okinawans as well as against segments of their own people and (purposely I suspect) steered clear of mentioning specifically racism and/or discrimination against Westerners, black people, in particular.
I wasn’t disappointed by that though because I’m of the mind that once you get people talking about intolerance of racism and/or, or discrimination and human rights, against any group, be it women, LGBT, elderly, obese, physically disabled or even the mentally challenged, for any reason, and get people thinking critically about these issues, then you’re definitely barking up the RIGHT tree…anywhere on this planet.
So, I thought I’d sit this one out, simply share the video with friends and followers, allow myself to be sucked into a couple of the inevitable discussions that would be thrust upon me, while trying to stay focused on the projects I have underway, and leave it at that.
But, then, I was forwarded a Washington Post article where Medama Sensei, an American of Japanese descent, was describing the severe backlash including threats to his livelihood and ill wishes for his rapid departure from life, that had resulted from his airing some of Japan’s historical and/or current dirty laundry on his YouTube channel. And I felt compelled to say something.
Unlike most videos I’ve seen done on the topic of Racism in Japan, and there have been quite a few, this one stands out among them, because:
1-It was done intelligently by someone who understood the difference between racism and discrimination,
2- It was done bilingually, in English and Japanese, thus it couldn’t be dismissed as mere whining by a handicapped (by a language barrier) foreigner, for the man had clearly been moved to action, (something whiners are not known for) having taken measures to express to and impress upon the people here his beliefs, in their language,
3- It was done by a man who is of Japanese descent, addressing Asian-on-Asian Hate Crimes, ironically using a White on White love fest as an example of a possible strategy in which Asians could address this hate. (I’d like to think he did this because he surmised that an effective strategy for crossing the blood-brain barrier here in Japan would be the use of cute little white children, or that Japanese would likely respond well to a simple statement on why a sense of superiority as it pertains to people who share your race but not your national or cultural identity is problematic — a brilliant turn — but maybe this didn’t enter into his thinking),
4- The video did not make overt (to the point of enervating the marrow of his monologue) efforts to sit on the fence between whether a problem with these issues exists in Japan or not, you know, that “everyone’s experience will be different” nonsense, which is of course true but utterly besides the point,
5- The production value was appealing and organized,
6- He did very little to no excusing, forgiving, apologizing, or rationalizing of those attitudes and behaviors being addressed in either video, (taking care to be clear to viewers that he wasn’t talking about all Japanese People, of course).
7- He didn’t spoil his argument (in the view of some) by bringing up any personal experience of racism or discrimination in Japan, only the fact that it existed in the past and to some extent still exists.
Yes, it was an exercise in moderation without sacrificing message and intent.
Well done, indeed.
While Loco in Yokohama has come to be one of the first names that pops into the minds of many NJ here in Japan whenever racism is discussed, readers of my blog (and book) know that I refrain from labeling all Japanese as racists or Japan as a racist country. That’s waaaaaay too problematic a stigma.
Instead I illustrate the scenario as objectively as possible, keeping the focus on the behaviors I encounter (taking great pains not to label them as racist, leaving any conjecture and conclusion drawing up to the reader despite my being on the irksome and painful business end of these transgressions) and my response — mentally, physically, emotionally and psychologically– to these behaviors. For, as I’ve said many times before, I think that how foreigners respond to these behaviors is as significant an issue here as the behaviors themselves.
I’ve been here (on Earth, not Japan) long enough to know that while I have been blessed with a high level of intuition, curiosity, sensitivity, critical thinking, skills at observation, and a maturing talent at relating these scenarios, mind reading is not among my gifts. And any claims on my part to know what each individual person here is thinking when they commit these acts that can be easily interpreted as racist/xenophobic/bigoted/ discriminatory/elitist/ insensitive/condescending /criminalizing /ostracizing / patronizing /otherizing/ ignorant/ The “M” Word (microaggressive)/ iwakan etc., are going to be (and should be) met with skepticism, criticism and questions as to my state of mind.
And the response to my approach has been tempered for the most part. I rarely draw the ire of the Japanese…(though occasionally I do draw fire, and trolls, from the foreign Apologists, Japanophiles, Enablers and Protectionists.) Some may think the reason is I don’t (can’t) blog or publish in Japanese, and that might be true in some cases, but my experience here leads me to different conclusions.
Some of which Medame Sensei explained as the Japanese approach to such issues, in the second video.
So as I listened to Medama Sensei describe the nightmare his life has become since speaking out on the ugliness that went and continues to go down here, I tried to imagine the reason the response was so over the top, and I concluded it was because of the conspicuous difference between him and most of the other vloggers who have spoken out on racism in Japan: he is of Japanese descent.
I was reminded of certain events in Black History where a black leader had the audacity to speak out against the wrongheadedness of other black people to a white audience.
Like Malcolm X, when he denigrated MLK for promoting passiveness and un-intelligence by instructing people subject to assault by dogs and water hoses NOT to retaliate. And, more dangerously, when Malcolm called out the Honorable Elijah Muhammad as a womanizer and a deadbeat dad of several children (which many believe ultimately lead to his assassination, especially once they, Farrakhan and others, labeled him a Judas, worthy of death).
I also thought about Marcus Garvey, who went as far as to meet with the Ku Klux Klan and came away from that meeting claiming to respect them more than those professional prevaricating Whites who were playing black folks for fools. I thought too of the venom and viciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois, one of Black History’s greatest intellectuals, responded to Garvey with, calling Garvey “…without doubt, the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world. He is either a lunatic or a traitor.” Garvey even blamed Du Bois for sabotaging the ships he planned to bring blacks back to Africa upon!
And, occasionally, of course, it still occurs:
So, a sense of betrayal could very well be the driving force behind these threats. I suspect those Japanese individuals and groups that have come after Medama Sensei, feel not only that he has betrayed them but that this Americanized Nihonjin has the audacity to tell us how WE should live?! And to exacerbate the insult by force feeding some little white kids from a racist country as role models on our youths?!
After all, Japanese are humans…
They really are.
For the Japanese loving people of the world, who would dismiss virtually all Non-Japanese (including in some cases, even Korean and Chinese) claims of racism or discrimination in Japan as either gaijin paranoia, deserved, exaggerated, or misunderstandings, would (may) be hard-pressed to dismiss the claim when it comes from a fluent nihongo-speaking Japanese source, even one that was raised and schooled in the West.
And these Japanese individuals/groups angered by this video quite possibly know this…or rather believe this.
I mean, it begs the question — assuming I’m correct about his video being seen as racial treachery– why would Medama Sensei’s words be given more heed than any other foreigner’s words, regardless of fluency? He’s just another Japanese speaking gaijin, isn’t he?
Yeah, I think y’all know the answer to that…and so does Medama Sensei, clearly.
But you didn’t hear it from…