|

Time to shut down this modern-day minstrel show

by

“Why are Americans, particularly black Americans, so quick to holler racism?”

I’ve heard this asked a lot. Actually, it’s not always in question form. It’s more like an incontrovertible statement, usually from the lips of nonblack people here in Japan. Some black people, too.

I’ve been accused of dropping R-bombs so often — sometimes without having even uttered the word — that I’ve unconsciously, and sometimes even consciously, modified my gut responses to the foolishness that constantly goes on here. I tell myself these modifications are sanity preservation — a survival tactic, and quite necessary for long-term happiness not only in Japan but in the U.S., too.

Whenever possible — that is, when the incident in question is not blatantly screaming “racism” at the top of its lungs — one must learn to extend the benefit of the doubt to what might seem to be way beyond the reasonable. Otherwise, it’s very likely you’ll be seeing behavior that could be classified as racist at every turn. You really will. Especially in Japan.

And, to make these modifications all the more appealing, I’ve found that this kind of thinking and behavior gets rewarded. People, particularly whites and Japanese, find you much more appealing and approachable. After all, nobody wants to be told that they’ve been unintentionally racist — or that behavior they’ve sanctioned as cultural quirks and implicit biases are likely indicative of something a lot uglier. But, if you modify that modus operandi, you get labeled an evenhanded, fair-minded guy — instead of a hothead who presumes racist intent, or un-intent, at every questionable act they come upon. These guys lose credibility quickly, like the boy who cried wolf when the canine in question was just a beagle or chihuahua.

So when that Japanese person stands, vacates the seat beside you and sits elsewhere on the subway or bus, you must train yourself to sell yourself on the notion that the person could just as well have needed to stretch their legs, or wanted to, umm, give you some extra room. Or perhaps they had been harassed the previous week by a guy who looked just like you, or have had random foreigners just turn and embarrassingly spit English at them. Make it feasible now, cuz you’re the one who’s gotta sell it and buy it!

And if you find yourself, as some of my fellow expats have, being stopped by cops an inordinate amount of times on your bike, or just walking down the street? Before you sprint to the default reason of supposed oversensitive Americans, take a deep breath, man up and tell yourself, sell to yourself, that it’s just as likely — hell, more likely — that the cops are being extra-vigilant because there have been a string of bike robberies by illegal aliens, and, like it or not, you kinda sorta fit that description. (Of course, you fit the description of a legal alien too, but that’s beside the point. Sell it. Buy it.)

And when a former adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe goes on record extolling the system of apartheid, whereby blacks, whites and Asians are forced to live separately, instead of calling her a racist, you can appreciate her words for their honesty and forthrightness. You can even admire her a bit for having the audacity to say what you’re pretty sure many of the people you encounter here would endorse if they had half her courage.

And when you turn on the television one night soon and see a J-pop group called Rats & Star — who’ve clearly raided Little Richard’s (or maybe Flavor Flav’s) wardrobe — singing doo-wop songs in shoddy English with their faces painted black as tar, just do yourself a favor and stop! Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t drop any R-bombs!

Just consider the possibilities first: Like maybe, just maybe, these guys really, really love black people so much that they are prepared to forsake their own race in favor of blackness — at least during performances, anyway. (I’m pretty sure they don’t wanna be black full-time. Even these guys know there’s a lot more to being black in this world than doo-wopping and shoe polish.)

Or, like my Japanese then-girlfriend back in 2009 told me after I referred to Gosperats, another homegrown blackface group, as “ignorant bastards”: I ought to stop to consider that these guys have been around, like, forever and have nothing but respect and adoration for black people and music, and that this minstrel show of theirs is their way — the Japanese way — of paying homage to black music history. (Need I explain why I dumped her?)

“You’re way too sensitive about race,” she’d snapped over my shoulder as I blogged about these guys. “Everything is race, race, race, race, race with you. Are all black people like that?”

And she had a good point. Perhaps it is my tender sensibilities that are at fault sometimes. But in this case, I seriously doubt it.


The other day, I showed a video of these Rats & Star guys to a Japanese co-worker of mine and, without giving him any clue why I had made him watch it, asked what he thought of it.

“They want to be like black people,” he said, grinning. “They love black people.”

“What’s with the black make-up, though?” I asked. “I love Japanese people but you don’t see me putting cake batter on my face.”

He laughed and shrugged. Then he got curious. Maybe my facial expression betrayed me.

“Why do you ask? Is it bad?”

I sucked air, Japanese style.

“Gotta tell ya,” I said. “I’m not a big fan of it.”

“I see,” he said. “Why?”

“You see, back in the days . . .”

And since he was a pretty cool guy, I proceeded to give him a little black history — nothing too overwhelming, just an overview of the decades-long struggle against this kind of nonsense. I pulled up a couple of pics of famous white actors from the golden age of Hollywood wearing black face, and a bit of a Spike Lee montage from his film “Bamboozled” to illustrate my history lesson.

“Oh,” he said, but I could tell by his face that he wasn’t really processing all the ramifications.

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Do they know?” he asked, meaning were these Rats aware of the irony — that the manner in which they sing the praises of black people is so offensive that the homage they are paying is being drowned out in the noise of their repugnant presentation? That they’re actually making many non-Japanese people — blacks, whites and Asians alike — uncomfortable at best and at worst offending the hell outta them?

“I really don’t know,” I confessed. And it’s true — I don’t know what they know.

But I know this: They’re going to be on TV next month showing their love for black people in a way that if my mother — who adored doo-wop — saw it, would cause her to shake her head and say, “Apartheid and blackface? Take me now, Jesus, take me now.”


I wasn’t going to write about this, you know. I tackled this years ago on my blog, Loco in Yokohama, back when this kind of stuff — this low-hanging fruit — used to get me all worked up. But some white guys figured that a black guy ought to be the guy writing about these Japanese guys, and I’m that black guy.

I had been planning to publish a column this month about how black history can be constructive or detrimental to your health, and included in it some thoughts on how Japanese people might benefit from a bit of black history. I sh-t you not.

All of which speaks directly to this racist bullsh-t — I mean, this cultural misunderstanding — one that could have been avoided in the 30-some-odd years this band has existed if, while they were researching the music, costumes and other aspects of black music and performance, they had simply taken a second to see if what they wanted to do with blackface had ever been done before. You know, just a little proactive research about the industry they would spend the next three f-cking decades profiting handsomely from.

But alas, when I saw this story on the Net the other day — that they were going to be on Fuji TV alongside popular girl group Momoiro Clover Z, who would be similarly blacked up — all I could say was, “Mata ka yo?” (“Jeezus! Again?”), suck my teeth and click away. To me, it’s not shocking to see blackfaced bands here. With the attitudes and ignorance encountered here regularly, the only shocking thing is that there aren’t more of these groups. A Ku Klux Klan-themed idol group wouldn’t even surprise me here.

I’m still, however, pleasantly surprised when non-Japanese people in Japan get worked up over something important. They’re a beautiful sight to see! Like when Julien Blanc was spreading his misogynistic garbage about Japanese women. Remember how the Japanosphere responded? They damn near shut down the Internet with their furor over his antics. Of course, everything he said could be heard in any gaijin (foreigner) bar in Tokyo or Yokohama on any given day, but it was still great to see people get activated for a good cause. Not to mention that, let’s say, inappropriate ANA advert that got a lot of people upset and resulted in Japan’s biggest airline re-editing a television commercial advertising new flights.

And even Japanese get worked up when they want to. Like back in 2011, when the Japanese Embassy in London sent a letter to the BBC complaining about A-bomb jokes on an episode of a British TV comedy quiz, leading the BBC to apologize for offending Japanese sensibilities. And very recently, conservative Netizens in Japan campaigned to keep Angelina Jolie’s biographical movie about a former American POW from opening in theaters here because of its depictions of Imperial Japanese Army brutality. All beautiful acts of activism, right?

Well, I say, if ANA and the BBC can be made to change their tunes, and if Blanc can be shut down, so can these guys. And if this crap does air, I say shame on you, Fuji TV, for airing a modern-day minstrel show and shining a national spotlight on this extreme ignorance. And shame on you, blackface bands, for not bothering to Google the term or for ignoring what you found when you did. And shame on anyone that suggests these performers deserve the benefit of the doubt!

And notice, I didn’t drop an R-bomb on these guys, not even once.

Black Eye appears in print on the third Thursday of every month. Baye McNeil is the author of two books and writes the Loco in Yokohama blog. See www.bayemcneil.com. Your comments and ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Mr. X

    Beautiful piece here. Said the words I was thinking better than I could. Shut them down.

  • Shawn Harris

    “You see, back in the days . . .”

    So hard trying to explain history to people who are either completely unfamiliar with things like this and to people who don’t really care. I do wonder though, how does Japan respond…

  • Selena

    People are so reluctant to use the R-word even when it’s so blatant, it’s ridiculous. Fine. How about really really bad, questionable, terrible behavior around racial issues? Great column, Baye, and I see exactly what you’re describing all the time around the defensiveness about racism.

  • http://gakuran.com/ Gakuranman

    Great article Loco. You wrote an extremely well-balanced piece, which is a breath of fresh air from all the hot-headed journalists this week merely screaming and decrying the issue as ‘never okay’.

    While I think it’s definitely insensitive and a poor decision from a group that supposedly love the culture, yours is the first article I’ve read that actually dug into why this might have happened and shown an understanding of the other way of looking at the issue.

    A few reporters could learn a thing or two from you.

    • Ben

      how is this piece well balanced? there is no counter point to his claims that japan is an ignorant and racially insensitive country.

      • blondein_tokyo

        The author is not obligated to provide one. In this case, “well balanced” simply means that he did not make any radical claims.

        Saying that Japan is ignorant and racially insensitive is not a radical claim, because pretty much every country is ignorant and racially insensitive. :)

        What Baye is saying is that while many countries are facing up to that fact, Japan is still in the denial phase, and need to snap out of it before they are left behind by the rest of the global economic powers. Japanese companies, for example, will never be able to sucessfully dominate any foreign markets until it learns how to integrate in those cultures – and you can’t integrate until you realize that you are, in fact, ignorant in regards to that culture.

        I could give *multiple* examples of how the company I currently work for has failed in that regard, but that would be too much typing. :)

  • MoiKnee

    This is extreme ignorance. This is what happens when your country is so far removed from the rest of the world.

  • http://robnugen.com thunderrabbit

    Wow! I had no idea about the minstrel show! Great take on the forbidden R-word in Japan; you handle it with grace and balance, as usual! Keep up the great work!

  • Nandemo Guy

    A very excellent article here. I think Baye puts to words the filter that many people should try to view things through. There are a lot of people who are quick to blurt out the R-word.
    It should be enough that the practice does not enhance the performance, and that the its deemed offensive due to its historical use. I would bet that if you asked the performers themselves what they would like for the audience to remember about them though, none of them would want people to only remember that they had their faces painted black. I would argue that their intent is most likely to achieve as best they can, the sound, style, and look, with look being something that is highly regarded in Japanese hobbies. The Japanese tend to do things with the whole ass as it were, which is something that can be seen across just about any enthusiast hobby over there..

    • http://zi.n.gy/ Kirt Seth Cathey

      Not just hobbies. These people workout at gyms in uniforms!! They climb mountains with clothes they spent hundreds on in one of the outdoor specialty shops. LOL They do go over the edge in everything they do.

  • Firas Kraïem

    Hideaki Anno said it best : Japan is a nation of permanent children.

    • http://zi.n.gy/ Kirt Seth Cathey

      This is so true… just a bunch of mama boys. And the women, while being my favorite in the world, are really, really naive and dense.

      • Gordon Graham

        The old adage “birds of a feather” comes to mind. Stay away from our daughters and find a woman, guy.

    • Gordon Graham

      Really? You think Japan is a nation of permanent children? Perhaps you should venture out of Akihabara once in a while. Come to Kushiro where hard working people are raising families admirably under tough economic conditions.

    • BlackC#Bro

      “Oh my god, Japan is racist! It’s an island of children”

      And yours is an island of irony :^)

  • yas

    I understood by reading this article to avoid suspicious behavor of racism ”in US”.

    But I confused to you criticized Rat’s and star. they respect brack musician at all.

    Behavor of brack face paint linked abuse and contaminated by old US actor. But most japanese don’t know it.

    ”ignorant japanese must stop it!! becauze we contaminated it already.”
    i want it will be follow only by people know the actor.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Japanese people must stop it because it is unkind. And doing unkind things is wrong.

    • R0ninX3ph

      Congratulations on proving the articles point. Just because you don’t know about the history of blackface, does not excuse you from the (Im going to use the R word here even though the author didn’t) racist implications of it.

      All it does? Is show you are ignorant. The entire point of the article is that ignorance does not exempt you from causing people emotional pain.

    • http://zi.n.gy/ Kirt Seth Cathey

      Whaaaaa?

    • Morningstar

      If you respect black people why would you do something that hurts black people?

      • yas

        Most inportant point is that?people who now being abused black people, represents it shoud be avoided.

        At least Rat’s and star, and many japanese haven’t never abused black peaple. (back ground: many japanese have limited to contacted black peaple. and we also not white that can feel sympathy to restrain discrimination)

      • R0ninX3ph

        Not knowing the history of blackface does not mean it is okay to do it.

        They can “respect” black culture without needing to paint their face black.

      • Morningstar

        Blackface is abusive to black people! Rats and Star is abusive and insulting to black people. That’s the point.

      • yas

        I can agree with you.
        But, it is unhappy thing for black people, because they think that, somebody imitate them must be abuse them. even though not minstrel show at all.

        In others situation people might not asociate imitation with contempt, isn’t it? or imitate others must avoid all in US?

      • R0ninX3ph

        Think of it this way yas. If a group of white performers in a western country, painted their skin yellow, pulled their eyes back, and sang traditional Japanese songs, would that be okay? As long as they say they respect Japan?

        Edit: I am not saying Asian people are “yellow”, but Black Americans are also not actually “black” but blackface is often almost shoe polish black.

      • yas

        I tried to imagine it.

        firstly I attempt to determine the perform is for what. of course if it for dispain, I must complain.

        white performer imitate other race without exception to abuse? really?

      • shanchan

        The point is that the art they are using was created with the intention of hurting black people. Just because the Japanese have never engaged in “aggressive” racist actions against blacks does not make it ok to use this art.

        By using this art they are hurting black people. If you do something wrong and you don’t know it’s wrong, that can be forgiven ONCE. However, if you continue to do it after being informed of how hurtful it is, it WILL be interpreted as you intending to do harm.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        Baye’s is an insecure black man wishing to project ‘home’ and the ghetto on the Japanese. Let him return if he doesn’t like it.

      • Morningstar

        Only racist white people say things like this. Most Japanese are perfectly fine addressing and learning about racism. You are just trying to project your racist views onto Japanese because you can’t get away with them at ‘home.’

        I am a black man in Japan and I still see more racism when dealing with white people here than I do Japanese people, even Japanese people who have NEVER seen a black person before. You’re the one with the problem, not Baye.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        Oh my, did you throw your teddy bear across the room along with the ghetto anger associated with your race? Listen you sot, I am from Queens NYC, and a son of African parents so that makes me more of an African American than you will ever be. Secondly, as a typical uneducated American, you judged the particular as the general, I am not using my real name and because you Americans tend to take at face value what you read, DO think before you talk, will you?

        Lastly, I have been living in this country (Japan) for 20 years and have a Japanese wife, fluent in Japanese and my wife (who like me despises ‘chip on the shoulder’ slave mentality blacks like you who always want either an emotional handout or a monetary one) cool your jets, will you? One can take the black negro out of the ghetto but you can’t
        take the ghetto out of the black man. Good day to you.

  • orchid64

    I think addressing a topic such as this without coming across as a polemic or using it as a forum for emotional release is extremely difficult, and you’ve done very well. People who actually read what you write will see that you display far more insight and subtlety to your arguments than most people (especially in America today, where anything you do can be dismissed as an exercise in privilege – even asserting than someone should spell properly or use correct grammar – and no, that is no joke).

    I mentioned this on Facebook, but I’ll say it again here. Japan cannot keep its “we’ll have our cake and eat it too mentality” about how it deals with foreign countries. It cannot continue to reap the benefits of being a part of a global economy while pretending that it’s culture stands alone and excusing themselves by saying that things like this sort of blatantly insensitive and provocative behavior are occurring out of it’s ignorance and isolation. You can play with the big boys, but you have to understand who they are and where they come from. For far too long, because of its powerful economy, charming culture, and overall image as being harmless post-WW II, Japan has been given a free pass. That time should have ended long ago, but I think there are people who see Japan as the last hold-out for racial and cultural purity and they like to think such a place can and does exist. There is a great ugliness behind the way people apologize and excuse this sort of thing because it happens in Japan.

    • blondein_tokyo

      There most definitely are people who view Japan as the last holdout for racial and cultural purity. Pointing out, even in the kindest, gentlest, and most understanding way, that something is racist often gets you immediate accusations of cultural imperialism and/or accusations of reverse racism. Wait and see…the Japanapologists will be out in full force here as soon as they have had their morning coffee. :)

      Japan also may like its view of itself as an unfathomable and mysterious island unto itself, but as you said, they won’t be able to continue pretending if they want to be a real part of the global economy. One of the biggest challenges Japanese companies face, particularly the older, more conservative ones, is how to market their products and services overseas. One of the biggest reasons they are having this problem is a lack of understanding of local culture and business practices and language/communication problems.

      I work for one of the largest conglomerates in Japan, and it has subsidiaries all over the world, but they are struggling mightily as the domestic market shrinks and they are as yet unable to hit the right note with their products abroad.

    • meneldal

      I think what upsets most people is the hypocrisy in Japan. While anything “badmouthing” (ie: just telling historical facts) Japan will be met with a national scandal and make the offending party (even if it is foreign) apologize for it, when they picture foreign countries or ethnicities in a bad way they don’t understand other people are upset.

      I’m sorry Japan but either you want to be global and you accept that other countries can upset you or you stop doing the same to them. I find many Japanese things offending to foreigners but I would be (almost) ready to let it slide if they would let slide what other countries are doing.

      You have to grow up Japan and play by the rules. You can’t get everything like that forever.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Like Baye, I try to be understanding of people’s ignorance of the implications of things like blackface, making racialized over-generalizations, or making assumptions about an individual person based solely on their nationality. I am patient; I am kind; I do not jump to conclusions, and I do not scold people. But at the same time, I can’t help but think, “You guys have had open boarders for 100 years, pretty steady immigration since 1950, and many of you frequently travel abroad or have co-workers and friends from other countries, and you STILL don’t get this?”

    I will continue to be patient, kind, and understanding, and will not condemn or scold; but I will also not stay quiet and will seek to educate. Japan needs to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world. It is rapidly running out of excuses.

    • KenjiAd

      I agree with the point you are trying to make, except this sentence.

      Japan needs to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world.

      I’ve been to several “industrialized world,” namely UK, France, Canada, Australia, and of course US where I lived 26 years.

      If you are implying that Japan is way behind in terms of the awareness of race-related issues, then I wholeheartedly agree with you.

      On the other hand, awareness itself doesn’t seem to eradicate the most vicious form of racist behaviors though. In France and UK, I witnessed the first hand that seemingly educated people openly denigrated Africans and Turkish. Correct me if I’m over-generalizing people’s attitude here.

      In America where I’m most familiar with, I’d say Americans in general are more politically correct and people there generally avoid the speech that could be construed as racist. That’s good.

      On the other hand, residential areas in America are still segregated according to race; you know exactly where Latino, Black people, Asians live. When my wife and I were looking for an apartment in “white” area, we were told repeatedly that we had to wait for a long time for vacancy, which I still do not believe.

      What I’m trying to say is that, as a foreigner living in Japan, you are of course very sensitive to Japanese racism which does exist. On the other hand, I would like to remind you that racism in other “industrialized world” is very real and in some way even more vicious.

      • R0ninX3ph

        So, is your argument that we shouldn’t say anything as long as racist attitudes might persist elsewhere?

        I am not attempting to provoke an argument, I just don’t think foreigners in Japan are making these statements whilst simultaneously thinking that all other countries are perfect, happy little bastions of equality. But surely, people have to work to try to improve where they live currently, as that has the biggest impact on their life?

      • blondein_tokyo

        “people have to work to try to improve where they live currently, as that has the biggest impact on their life”

        Good point, and one I have often made myself when this topic comes up. I’m currently more concerned with the racism here, because it personally effects me. When I go back to the US, I will be less concerned with Japan and focus on the US.

        And after all, we only have so much time in one day! It’s not as though we can spare time to be active against racism in every country it exists in…we’d not even have time to eat. :)

      • Ron NJ

        The phrase you’re looking for is “tu quo que”, a form of logical fallacy wherein one attempts to discredit the opposition’s position by pointing out their hypocrisy rather than any weakness in their position. You are completely correct in that just because racist attitudes may persist elsewhere doesn’t mean that they should be tolerated anywhere.

      • Internet Terracotta Tiger

        Surprised you haven’t gotten more upvotes for something 100% correct. Actually, no I’m not, thanks to this brilliant website which completely explains this entire comment thread!

        http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/full-list-of-stuff-white-people-like/

        First, see #101.
        (Hope I don’t get killed over doing this)

      • blondein_tokyo

        That list is just kind of …. nonsensical. Those are things that people of all “colors” like. I mean, I have an Arab friend from Israel who loves Beavis and Butthead. :) I don’t think you can predict what people might like from the color of their skin, nationality, race, religion, or much else. It’s highly subjective to the individual.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Kenji-san, you don’t need to remind me that racism exists in other industrialized countries. :) I think you are falling into the same false dichotomy trap that I have seen others fall into, namely, that a person can’t be critical of their own country whist simultaneously criticizing their adopted country. But I CAN do both, you know? :)

        I didn’t make any comments regarding racism where I am from because the topic of this article is Japan – so really, it’s just not prudent to the conversation. You shouldn’t take that lack of mention to mean that I’m unaware of, or uninterested in, or uncritical of, my own country.

        Actually, experiencing racism in Japan first hand made me even more sensitive to and aware of racism in my own country. For example, I completely believe you when you say that you were discriminated against when looking for an apartment, because the same thing has happened to me here. I think that before I came to Japan, I would have thought, “Nah, he is just being paranoid.” People often have to experience things first hand in order to really understand all the nuances of the situation.

        You should trust that those of us here who critisize Japan are fully aware of, and ashamed of, the mess in our own backyards. Which is why we want so badly to change things here…racism should be deplored and fought against anywhere and everywhere it is found, yes? There is no need then, to speak of differences in severity as no amount of racism should be acceptable.

      • KenjiAd

        Well, first of all, thank you for your response. And I apologise for being late in response. I’m in China now and we’ve been celebrating new year.

        I think I get your point, but I disagree with your last sentence.

        There is no need then, to speak of differences in severity as no amount of racism should be acceptable.

        The relative severity of racism is something I strongly feel needed to be pointed out particularly to you. That’s because, in one of your posts, you used a term “Japanapologist” to describe those of us who may not exactly share your view on the issue. That kind of characterization was uncalled for in my book.

        First, I understand what this author is complaining about. I agree that the artificially blackened faces should not be part of the entertainment.

        With that clearly stated, I think that, like many have already said, the “racist” show at issue does not involve any hate, contempt, or ridicule on black people. What it indicates is their ignorance or perhaps even insensitivity.

        There is a difference between racist behavior due to ignorance/insensitivity and that due to hate/contempt/ridicule. I hope you are not saying they are both racist behaviors and this should be treated equally.

        Because if you are the kind of person who consider these two behaviors one and the same, I would think you are probably one of lucky group of people who never experieced the truly vicious form of racism.

        Let me just say that I would take the former type of racism (that based on ignorance/insensitivity) anyday if that would spare me from the latter type (hate/contempt/ridicule) once a while.

        So when you wrote “Japan needs to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world,” I felt that you may not realize that what this author is truly writing about, perhaps without realizing it.

        He is an American. This Japanese version of mintrel show pains him deeply, precisely because he is an American. Do you understand that point? Africans may not even get offended by this. So this author is talking partly about American racism.

      • KenjiAd

        As examples of “racist” behavior based on insensitivity/ignorance, I can point out your own greeting.

        You addressed me “-san.” Why? Is that because I’m a Japanese guy? I can tell you that some Japanese expats get offense from being addressed “-san”.

        The reason is this. Some real racists in America do use “-san” instead of “Mr” or “Mrs” to address us.

        Now should I condemn you just because you used “san” to me?

        Of course not. You are not racist. Why should you treated as such, merely because you didn’t know the use of “san” might be offensive to Japanese Americans or Japanese expats in America.

        Basically that’s what you are doing to this clueless entertainer.

      • blondein_tokyo

        That’s not a very good analogy. In Japan, the common language is Japanese; it is natural to use Japanese with Japanese people in Japan. If a Japanese person got angry at me for using Japanese with them in Japan, that would be a very unreasonable response on their part.

        In the US, however, I would not make any assumptions about an Asian person’s ethic background or their language ability, because I am quite well aware that not all Asians in the US are Japanese; and even if they are of Japanese descent, that doesn’t mean they speak Japanese. In that case, it would be rude to make assumptions.

        The point is, a person who makes unfounded assumptions about someone based only on their appearance is engaging in racial stereotyping. At the very least, the person is ignorant. It’s forgivable, because everyone is ignorant in some fashion, and everyone slips up and makes mistakes. The most important thing is how they handle themselves when they are corrected. Apologizing, for example; learning from their mistake; not making the same mistake again- those things are all admirable, and show good moral character.

      • bv

        You’re speaking English to Kenji not Japanese. That’s his point.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I think you misunderstood what I mean when I used the term “Japanapologist”. Actually, I totally made up that word, so I can understand why you might not know what I meant by it. :) I’m talking about people who say things like, “Japan has the right to discriminate to keep its culture pure” or “I don’t believe there is any racism in Japan, you are making things up to make Japan look bad.” All you have to do to see those kinds of comments is scroll down. Some people seem to think that Japan can do no wrong.

        As for this,

        “There is a difference between racist behavior due to ignorance/insensitivity and that due to hate/contempt/ridicule.”

        What do you think the difference is? And I don’t mean that you need to define what is “hard” or “soft” racism; I mean tell me the difference between the effect that they have on people. Do you think a person who is exposed to “hard” racism has it worse than a person who is only exposed to “soft” racism? Do you think that because it is only “soft” racism, it is therefore less important, and so does not need to be addressed?

        Also, do you think the racism that foreigners experience in Japan is of the “soft” type only, or also the “hard” type? You seem to assume that I have never experienced the “hard” type; are you so sure of that?

        And finally, do you think people of all countries and races should all share the same sensitivities? That is, if something offends an African, do you think African Americans should tell that African that he should calm down, and should not be so sensitive?

    • Tochifu Tadashige

      Please educate the Dutch people as well. Surely you have heard of the Zwarte Piet? I have also learned from you that a condescending attitude and kindness (although self-proclaimed) can go hand in hand. Thank you for the important lesson.

      • blondein_tokyo

        You fault someone for assuming good intentions, and equate it to condescension? What would you have people do instead?

      • Tochifu Tadashige

        I wish more people in this world agreed to disagree, instead of trying to convert everyone else to be just like them. I believe the latter approach creates a lot of unnecessary misunderstanding.

  • Andrew

    I think you nailed it.

  • http://takureinoroom.com/ Rei

    A very well articulated article. I can only hope that you are writing the same piece in Japanese, and submitting it to as many Japanese-language newspapers as possible. They’re the ones that would benefit most from reading this.

  • Internet Terracotta Tiger

    Umm, didn’t this same writer recently feature a “comedian” who referred to his Japanese ex-gfs as “yellow cabs” and made some pretty disparaging remarks about Japanese males? Racism against blacks and whites is unacceptable (ANA ad? Cry me a river!), but against Asians, no problem?

    • blondein_tokyo

      In his book he relates a story of having had such a friend, and of having a rather sexist attitude towards women himself. But he also acknowledged it as racist, and talks in detail about his own journey towards realising, owning, and finally actively seeking to abolish his own racist attitudes. The title of his book is, “My name is Loco and I am a Racist.” You should read it.

      • Internet Terracotta Tiger

        It sounds like you much appreciated what this author was trying to say. Thank you for your response and your suggestion.

  • Omar Hafez

    The ANA advert is just a bad attempt at being funny. It has taken and emphasized the features of the ‘Caucasian’ that are most noticed by Japanese people – the blonde hair and long nose. This is just a stereotype, and stereotypes exist for a reason – on average the nose shapes are quite different. This is fact. It isn’t negative in any way.

    It is very easy to be too sensitive to race and jump on someone the moment they mention a politically incorrect keyword… however, you have to ask yourself if the racism in question is being derogatory or not, and if it is coming out of ignorance or a simple innocence? You can’t expect them to know everything about every race after all.

    As a non-white foreigner in Tokyo, I too have experienced a fair share of direct and passive racism, and I think your article raises many good points. However, I think when it comes to humor the rules can be a little bit bent no? After all – “One loses many laughs by not laughing at oneself”

    • R0ninX3ph

      I understand the point you are making, but I think the general test that anything has to go through is the mirror test. If you mirrored the content is it racist then? Yes? Then it is racist in the first situation too.

      If a Western Airline when announcing new flights to Asia, had created an advertisement exactly the same as the ANA one only with someone wearing a straw hat, pulled back eyes and a “Fu manchu” moustache, it would be lambasted as racist. It is (as others have pointed out in other comments here) a symptom of Japans hypocrisy towards certain issues. Japan is allowed to do it, but nobody can do it to them.

      • Omar Hafez

        Wait – so your argument is the Western way is the correct way? Who’s being racist now?

        Perhaps the Western world is too sensitive – you can’t compliment a women on her looks because its sexual harassment, and you can’t comment on someone’s tan in case they find it racist? It all seems a bit blown out of proportion to me and we need to dial it back.

        At the end of the day, Japan is way less racist than America, Australia or anywhere in the UK outside of London. Most derogatory racism you see in Japan is directed towards neighboring Asian nations unfortunately due to history.

      • R0ninX3ph

        Did I say that the Western way is the correct way?

        My point was, if you are making some form of advertising, and you would be offended if someone did the same thing but instead made fun of you, then likely the reverse is true.

  • Brendan

    This article highlights for me two problems I notice on a regular basis, especially coming from the US and UK (not limited to those places but most noticeably):
    – Failure to distinguish racist from offensive
    – Individuals from the above 2 countries thinking their sensibilities should apply globally.

    First, racism: if an action is not in any way related to intolerance of a race, then it’s not racist. The ANA commercial? Not racist. This group doing blackface? Not racist. Offensive to some? Yes, on both counts. The former advisor to Abe editorial? As racist as hell.

    Second, the cultural norms, and more importantly here, the history, dictate what is and isn’t offensive. You are offended because you have learned it is offensive. That took you being brought up in a different country with a different history to understand. It does not transfer readily. You have two options – address it, or ignore it.

    If you want to tell people you’re offended and why, don’t drag it out, keep it short and to the point if you want them retaining what you said. The way you say it should leave the most important information. And don’t assume that the norms of your country should apply elsewhere.

    • Internet Terracotta Tiger

      Brilliantly articulated, great read. Especially agree with the last paragraph about keeping legitimate concerns short and to the point.

      One thing on which I respectfully disagree: although the group doing Blackface here probably did not mean any harm, it is reminiscent of a very painful part of US history. The original minstrel tradition was making light of slave life on the plantations, so I think it’s legitimate for those of us who wish for a post-racial age to feel uncomfortable about it anywhere.

      But apart from that, all I have to say about everything you wrote is Amen.

      • Brendan

        Thanks for your constructive input!

        Regarding the point you disagree with, I’m not sure we actually disagree*. It’s a painful part of (I guess mostly American? maybe South African as well?) history and that is why some are sure to be offended. So if the author can’t ignore it, he can try to address it. (I also recommend he doesn’t get his hopes too high, sadly…)

        This situation is like the reverse of the way the word “man”, which basically just meant “human”, now means “male” and nowadays many feel the term “mankind” sexist. Arguing against that feeling is hard, when you would have to explain the history first; it’s an uphill struggle. If this issue in Japan is one you (and the author) feel worth fighting for, then I wish you both the best of luck! I just ask to keep the couple of points I made in mind.

        *Disagreeing about disagreeing, it’s a first on the internet for me.

      • Internet Terracotta Tiger

        Well, it seems like we’re really on the same page with this issue, so unfortunately that brings a much appreciated exchange to a close. Great to hear from you, Cheers!

      • bv

        Waaahhhh get over it.

    • Barry Rosenfeld

      Thank God.

    • a567and8

      Yes, yes. I completely agree. I said to those students what I would have said to students in the US doing the same thing. Actually their portrayals were so far out and so imaginative that they could be taken as abstract art. Observe and then exaggerate or make some segment of the image unrealistic but interesting.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Seriously? Your argument against blackface is “cultural relativism”?

      Also, you are using the word “offended” wrongly. I’m not “offended” when someone racially stereotypes me. I’m hurt, and I’m angry – and any person who thinks it’s okay to purposely continue doing things that damage the self-esteem and well being of their fellow man is immoral.

      • Brendan

        Hi blondein_tokyo,

        I can’t say much about your opening line, except that whatever it’s in reference to “yes, I’m serious”. You’ll have to be more specific as to where I’ve argued against blackface through “cultural relativism” and why this is bad.

        As for your second paragraph, this I can address:

        – “Hurt and angry” is a pretty good working definition of “offended” in my book and some dictionaries too, I note. Try the Merriam Webster site.

        – “…any person who thinks it’s okay to purposely continue doing things that damage the self-esteem and well being of their fellow man is immoral.” This is an example of begging the question. The argument itself is entirely circular; “doing bad things is bad” would have communicated the same message. We both undoubtedly agree that is true, but the built in assumption in your version (that someone is purposely trying to hurt another) is one of the points of this discussion.

      • blondein_tokyo

        1) “Second, the cultural norms, and more importantly here, the history, dictate what is and isn’t offensive. You are offended because you have
        learned it is offensive. That took you being brought up in a different country with a different history to understand. It does not transfer readily. You have two options – address it, or ignore it.”

        This is cultural relativism. By this argument, you could justify pretty much anything by claiming that “in this culture, it’s okay; therefore, there can not possibly be any arguments against it that are valid.” FGM, anyone? It’s culture! Can’t argue with it!

        In reality? There ARE moral standards that are applicable to every culture, and I really find it hard to believe that you aren’t aware of that.

        2) Offended
        : to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done
        : to be unpleasant to (someone or something)
        : to do wrong : to be against what people believe is acceptable or proper.

        I disputed the way you used “offended” because you used it to mean something akin to being judgmental without reason or logic, i.e., an appeal to emotion. But there is actually a quite valid reason for the black community to feel both hurt and angered by blackface: the racism that is responsible for its invention. People *should* be offended, hurt, angry, about racism. Racism IS offensive. The use of the word here is to say, “racism is not acceptable”.

        3) No. The argument is, “Doing bad things to people on purpose is immoral.” It is not a circular argument. Lacking empathy is not a good character trait. It’s the sign of a sociopath. Or an a$$hole.

      • Brendan

        Hi again and thanks for your reply.

        I think we’re going to drift further and further from the argument so I’m going to be as short as possible, apologies if anything seems curt.

        1) I see, thank you. Interesting. I disagree. Physical acts of brutality and acts of brutality against emotions (verbal/”artistic” acts) belong in separate categories. But running with the physical: Male Genital Mutilation is a common practice in the US and for that reason it is acceptable in the US. I think almost half the world finds this habit “normal”. To me and many others it’s disturbing, a disgusting violation of human rights*. You won’t find the death penalty in Europe either. Where are those “moral standards that are applicable to every culture” in these cases?

        2) You misinterpreted the way I used “offended”. It’s the first definition (the one you gave previously) in Baye’s case and valid reasons didn’t come into what I said. You either have a reason for being offended that others can accept or you don’t. For me Baye does, but the way he argues only holds weight in the US. He could have said “I am offended. I think most Black Americans would be offended. This is why (history lesson). Please stop.” and then we would have a lot more people going “Yep, very good, let’s hope the Japanese take note”. Instead we have a meandering piece that shows an arrogance that I would accuse you of too, based on the “moral standards” line above.

        3) I think you are right, it’s probably not circular; apologies. However, I believe still you were implying that it was on purpose and in effect begging the question. And I think with your final words you are implying either I or the “artists” in question are not of good character (or an “a$$hole”). You do all this un-ironically, without any empathy of the Japanese (non-American) position.

        *(For the record I do find FGM even more disgusting because it’s clearly more brutal.)

      • blondein_tokyo

        1) You are STILL arguing for cultural relativism. When applied to human rights, cultural relativism poses an extremely dangerous threat to human rights everywhere. It allows for everything from slavery to FGM to racial and sexual discrimination. I would argue that human rights are universal: every person in every country around the world deserves to be treated with respect, dignity, and be given equal rights. Allowing for discriminatory acts under certain circumstances undermines the very idea of equality. And make no doubt about it- here in this thread what you are arguing for is cultural relativism in regards to acts of racial discrimination.

        2) “He could have said “I
        am offended. I think most Black Americans would be offended. This is
        why (history lesson). Please stop.”

        This IS what he said. He made a very good argument against blackface, one you even admitted you found compelling. If the only thing you are complaining about his tone, then what you are doing is called “tone-trolling”. Rather than focusing on HOW he made his argument, you need to focus on the CONTENT.

        3) “you were implying that it was on purpose”

        No, you are mixing up the talking points here. I said, “any person who thinks it’s okay to purposely continue doing things that
        damage the self-esteem and well being of their fellow man is immoral.” By “any person” I was not referring to the band; I was referring to you, in regards to your argument for cultural relativism.

        You seem to think it’s acceptable for this band to continue doing blackface; and I am arguing that it is not, because it is hurtful to the black community.

      • Brendan

        Hi, again gonna be short as possible.

        1) You didn’t answer my question. You are also referring to this as an act of racial discrimination as if it’s a forgone conclusion – I completely disagree (and so, it seems, do a majority of readers).

        2) Not just a simple matter of tone. A number of issues are raised in a way that simply makes no sense in the context of Japan. Not all American problems are world problems. That arrogance annoys people. And if you want to communicate a message it’s better to not annoy your audience. That’s what I said (and again, most people seem to agree).

        3) Ah, I see. You think I’m immoral, that I support this and that it’s racist. Interesting, but wrong on all 3 counts. There are at least two black commenters in the comments section here who are not offended (one vehemently so). I suspect most Africans wouldn’t care about this. Do you think it’s a priority for your average Zimbabwean? Do we need to give priority to Americans if their feelings are hurt?

      • blondein_tokyo

        1) You are STILL arguing for cultural relativism. 2) a. You are STILL arguing for cultural relativism. b. that’s tone trolling. 3) a. Yes. b. Since blackface has nothing to do with Zimbabwe, I wouldn’t expect them to be very concerned with it. c. You are STILL arguing for cultural relativism. (see 3a).

        I don’t feel like this is going anywhere, and frankly, I have no interest in further discussion. (see 3a).

      • Brendan

        1) My question remains unanswered. Disagreeing with your definition of racism is cultural relativism?
        2) a. Nope. I can’t put it many other ways. American privilege? The idea that your country’s very loose definition of “racism” and other ideals work everywhere? b. Doesn’t invalidate my critique of his arguing skills, regardless of whether you slap a negative name on it or not.
        3) Covered already.

        That’s fair enough. Best of luck to you!

      • bv

        Get over it and put on a Japanese yellow man show yourself. Or go back to your country and cry.

  • Ryo

    I am Japanese, I admit that Japanese people are ignorance of minstrel show. but I assert that they never mean they discriminate against black people. It is the their way to show respect and thank for black musicians. Rats&Star released a lot of hit Doo Wop songs because they really loved Soul and Doo-Wop songs which African-American played and African-American culture.

    • R0ninX3ph

      But they can do that, without resorting to painting their faces darker… To claim because they don’t mean it, it isn’t offensive, is ridiculous.

    • Barry Rosenfeld

      I agree with you and I am a man of colour. Baye was just over reacting and bringing his narrow outlook with him. Just ignore him.

    • Ryo

      Some Japanese artists make their hair afro because they love and play soul music, some of them have dreadlocks because they play reggae music and respect for rastafari movement. These are same things Rats and star did. Just Japanese and American don’t share same back ground, culture and history, so we have different points of view. Japanese people should understand how American people feel about it, also I hope American people understand and be tolerant of their performance.

      • R0ninX3ph

        I’m not even American, so it isn’t part of my cultural heritage, however, the main issue is this: African-Americans have in the past, had racism filled “entertainment” of white people (the ones with power over them through privilege) painting their faces black and making fun of them. You claim that they love “Black American Culture”, thats great, but if they love that specific culture they should be taking it on themselves to find out what would offend that specific culture.

        It literally doesn’t matter if blackface never occurred in Japan, the fact that is happened against the people who you claim these performers love and want to emulate, should be enough for you to realise that doing that (which was used by the white people in power above them to make fun) will be seen as offensive by people.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        Yes, that makes both of us, but why attempt to understand Baye’s arrogant attempt to project the anger that he felt in his country to the Japanese? Are the Japanese, nay, should they be compelled to ‘understand Black American feelings when they have not undergone their past? It’s not for them to care nor to pay mind for its their country. Too bad. Sorry, but your argument does not wash.

      • R0ninX3ph

        You missed my point I think. The claims have been made that these performers love Black American culture. Fine, thats great for them. Then these specific performers, should know, that blackface (especially when used in entertainment) is actually a very painful reminder of a time when Black Americans suffered significant and institutionalised racism.

        If they love Black American culture as much as claimed, then they should be understanding in ALL aspects of said culture, and not just dismiss certain parts of it because “they never experienced it”. I agree that Japan in general doesn’t need to focus on all the itty-bitty pieces of every ethnicities cultural past, but if people claim they “love that ethnic culture” they should probably be aware of the bad things, as much as the good,

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        I am American born but not of slave stock like Baye is. My parents are African so our ‘colonial; histories are different. But having been born in in NYC, I think that foreigners need to see what American blacks here have gone through, are going through and what their collective experience is in this country (USA) Africans either living in America or having been born here despise them for their slave mentality and forever harping about the past whereas us Africans under either the British or French had it worse historically but we won our independence ourselves instead of having it given to us. And even today though a lot of Black Americans have access to universal education and health benefits, how is it that they as a group we within one generation have been able to achieve greater heights than Black Americans? You tell me. But you can’t for you have never grown up here and seen what I have seen.

      • R0ninX3ph

        Then I humbly apologise. I misunderstood one of your previous replies to someone else.

        I guess we probably have to agree to disagree about portions of the issue then, I personally feel as I said in another comment here, that if you flip around the situation and instead it was Japanese people being “parodied” (for lack of a better term) then claiming that it is only to show respect, the reactions about being offended (not using the R word) would be very similar.

        I think that as others have said, they probably aren’t being intentionally racist. They aren’t applying the thought processes that they are doing it to ridicule people, but I still think that if you are going to claim you respect a certain group of people, and you go to the point of emulating their musical styles, then perhaps you might also want to research their entire culture and not just cherry-pick little bits you like and claim ignorance of the rest.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        Actually, I fully agree with you what you have said till now as a matter of fact; I only take issue with Baye’s views that he supposes that the Japanese people should be much more aware of what they do as they attempt to replicate (albeit in an honest way) something which offends him like this blackface controversy. Indeed, if done in Japan by an American I too, would take great umbrage at it as that person is doing it on purpose. However, as Baye and I have been in Japan for quite a while, and I would assume after this length of time knows Japanese sufficiently well, he would do well, instead of attempting to elicit publicly this conundrum, to write this troupe and in the best possible and politest way attempt to educate them on this issue. This is the proper way I feel instead of naming and shaming them. This, I fear, will only make them lose face and make this an impossible situation. He’s got to learn, whether he likes it or not, that he must abide by cultural norms here, not act like a bull at the gate which I fear he is doing.

      • Toolonggone

        Afro-hair is fine, but face painting does not bring same type of rapport from audience. What these people do have nothing to do with respect for historical motif or African-American cultural heritage whatsoever. Sure some people can argue that it’s not fair to slam them for being racist–but there’s little I can see any positivity understandable to people–especially non-Japanese. Even some Japanese people will have a hard time understanding what these artists(I don’t even know Momoiro Clover Z) are doing. All I can see in their performance is spectacle and no substance. Their cultural ignorance only makes me shake my head.

      • BlackC#Bro

        アメリカ人から俺の日本語が下手だけど頑張るw

        アメリ人はこんな事のついてダメだ。

        偽善者ばかだ。俺は黒人だがそんなことがいいと思う。人種差別じゃない。日本は黒人へ特に人種差別歴史がない。アメリカにはブラクファイスが全然違う。だが、アメリカじんそのことを見られない。だから、この事を見る時に「くそ日本人!それは人種差別だ!死ね!」という。それはバカバカしいだろう?日本人も人間だ。そんな感じも人種差別だ。だが俺の国にそんなことが理解できないひとが多いから仕方がない。ごめんなさい。

        下手日本語だからごめんなさい。勉強しなきゃ(笑)

    • Morningstar

      Why would they show respect to black musicians by using makeup and gloves that were originally designed to mock blacks and black musicians from that era?

      It’s like paying tribute to Jewish comedians by dressing up like Nazi propaganda. You are taking something designed to hurt and mock black people, throwing it in our face, and saying you do it because you love us?

      That’s crap.

    • Perogyo

      So you wouldn’t find it offensive if I did a tv show paying tribute to, say, Pink Lady, by painting my skin yellow and taping my eyes into a stereotypical almond shape?

      And of course Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yuinoshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is just a way to show respect and thank Japanese people, right?

      No one needed to protest the Spanish basketball team in 2008 make “slit-eyed” gestures, right?

      Or is it only a one-way street?

  • Barry Rosenfeld

    I am sorry Baye, but I don’t think that you could preach to the Japanese, like to the Americans for a legacy and history that they have never experienced. You are the foreigner in their country, and if you don’t like it, tough. You committed the cardinal sin of bringing your Malcolm X baggage which you never grew up and am attempting to disrupt the Japanese with it. Now my dear chap, I am a man of colour like you, a man of Africa who has lived in Japan for 15 years, has a Japanese wife, works in Japanese industry, went to Kyoto University and doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder. You know why? Because it ain’t America and if I didn’t like I should have left long ago. There is good and bad everywhere I go, and I’ll be perfectly honest with you; I much prefer Africans over Black Americans because they are not agressive, angry, violent and like you forever have a chip on their shoulder. Next time listen to your GF will you? And sorry to enlighten you, but back home in NYC (Queens) a lot of Africans don’t like to be associated with your sort. Be nice will you?

    • Shawn Shawn

      From an African-American, your words are divisive among black people, either because your a white man or just an uneducated fool. Black Americans have a long history in Japan, my grandfather fought there in WWII. Where were African soilders in WWII? I guess your reaping the benefits that African-Americans fought for in Japan. Not one African shed a drop of blood in the shores of Japan to make it an open country it is today where you reside and enjoy. My beautiful African-American brothers died everywhere by Japanese warriors, so you Africans can complain and talk bad about African-Americans today. But we love you and identify with you, so stop your ignorance and don’t be mislead into disunity with your people.

  • Mark Makino

    A common reaction to Japanese blackface is that because Japan lacks the US’s history of minstrel shows, a negative reaction to blackface is a parochial US perspective with global pretensions. It is probably true that blackface performers in Japan don’t mean to evoke minstrelsy or denigrate black people. This is not belligerently racist in the same way as original minstrel shows were racist. However, it is racist in the sense that blackface performers in Japan still seem to believe one’s race determines one’s thoughts and inclinations, which is a much more common form of racism, and also a necessary precursor for more openly supremacist kind. They may not associate blackness with inferiority, but they definitely associate it with certain types of musical skill, and probably whiteness with worldly sophistication (as the ANA ad would indicate), and Japaneseness with thoughtfulness and group-orientedness. Race being a shorthand for a variety of other personality traits and skills is clearly better than race being a criteria for open exclusion, but the former is ultimately a wrong and premodern tendency as well.

  • Brian Southwick

    Fuji TV, part of the Fuji-Sankei conglomerate. The Sankei Shimbun publishes columns by one Ayako Sono, an enlightened soul who recently argued in the pages of that paper for “apartheid-style” housing for foreigners in Japan.

  • Elaine Czech

    I just want to say thank you for this article. I love everything I have read by you. I feel you promote growth and education. I am a flawed person. I want to be inclusive, but I need reminders. I admit to be from a life of privilege, so I can’t say I will ever understand but I want to learn.

  • LangFocus

    To a certain extent I do think Japan deserves the benefit of the doubt because they have never been responsible as a nation for harming black people, whereas America and a lot of Western nations absolutely have. So in general they`re not familiar with the sensitivities of black people.

    But my problem with these black face performances is that the creators ARE familiar with black people, at least enough to borrow their music and pop culture. If you know and love black music, then I find it hard to believe that you wouldn`t have heard about how insulting performing in black face is. If you`re borrowing from and benefiting from the culture, then I think you have a responsibility to be respectful.

    • Ron NJ

      People are people everywhere you go, and we all have the same feelings. I don’t think the Japanese would react well to me pulling my eyelids to the sides to make them more slanted, so I don’t see why we should just sit back and let the Japanese do ridiculous caricatures of black people with impunity (especially considering that they learn about slavery in America and the American civil rights movement in primary school here – it’s not like they’re operating in a void here).

    • Barry Rosenfeld

      You are bang on and thank you for your sensible analysis.

  • larsuck

    This article has clearly shown a country that, despite years of experience with foreign people, still doesn’t quite get them. Also, it has clearly show a person that, despite years of living in Japan, still doesn’t quite get it. I am sad for all parties. :-(

    • Barry Rosenfeld

      Its not for the Japanese to get the Blacks, its for Baye to get the Japanese. Period.

      And I’m Black btw…….

  • Winter 冬

    You said it perfectly.

  • http://www.davecollyjap.blogspot.com davebizz

    This is ugly as it is distasteful. I cannot believe that a 1st world country still has such a backward way of thinking. Seriously Japan?!?!?

  • tornadoes28

    Excellent article.

  • Raansu

    Sounds to me like the Japanese have the right idea. Stop being butthurt about everything.

    • Ben

      i have to agree. if no offense was clearly intended, none should be taken. having to know in advance what might offend anyone and refrain from anything that might lean even slightly in that direction will render us a world of humorless mutes.
      i once asked a random internet stranger from new zealand if there were any racist slurs against australians, he obligingly called me a roo-rooter. funniest thing i had heard in long time! even remembering it makes me laugh, not leap to defensive butthurt anger.

  • Ben

    are you the new face of japan bashing for this newspaper since debudo is busy with other things? yes, there is racism in japan. yes, the same xenophia can be found in every country in the world. so what’s your point? this “unmasking” of the real japanese has been done ad infinitum here and elsewhere.
    secondly, you seem to try to mix in the anti-foreigner sentiment with the anti-black sentiment to gain more support for your argument. which is it? do you blame the racism on the color of your skin or the fact that you are a foreigner? it’s good that you want to educate japanese people about how offensive black face is, but how are you doing that by ranting in an english newspaper? i hope that you are helping to educate them in some way, and not only to the “cool” japanese guy that gets it. more needs to be done, and you should be leading the way. but bashing them won’t win over too many hearts.

    • etchasketch

      Race-bait, click-bait, whatever sells.

      It’s just another case of self-righteous ethnocentrism. I’m really glad not all ex-pats are like that. Unfortunately the disgruntled ones only have gaijin pot and here to let off steam.

      • Internet Terracotta Tiger

        Well, it’s hard to generate a lively, blood-circulating discussion out of “Imagica, Cool Japan Fund in venture to buy translation company SDI Media”

  • Guest

    I’ve noticed scrolling down the comments that people with East Asian or Middle Eastern screen names seem to get noticeably fewer upvotes or positive responses, even though what they have to say is often perfectly sensible and respectfully articulated.
    Could it be that it when comes to lectures abour racism, the rules are: Whites talk, others listen?

    • Gordon Graham

      What would account for all the hear hear towards Baye’s article?

    • R0ninX3ph

      Might it be that people aren’t looking at the names, and are instead looking at the content of the message? While someone might think someone else’s argument is “sensible” or “articulate” it most definitely doesn’t mean they have to agree with it.

      I find your post to be sensibly written, and “respectfully articulate”, I just happen to think you are wrong. I don’t care what someones name is, it doesn’t change the content of what they are saying.

  • A.J. Sutter

    A couple of point seem worth mentioning. One is that apparently on Japanese-language sites, there are plenty of commenters who think this show is a stupid and offensive idea. So the argument in this thread is a bit off the mark: aside from the elites in the TV industry, many Japanese do understand what’s wrong about this. The commenters here who contrive defences for the practice — which all seem along the lines of it’s OK to be ignorant and patronising if you don’t specifically intend to be nasty — are actually far more reactionary than many Japanese.

    Secondly, for those would-be defenders of Japanese good intentions who insist blackface is a sign of respect: wouldn’t it be more respectful to feature some black performers onto the show and for Japanese performers to collaborate with them (sans face paint, of course), instead of excluding them as the producers have done?

  • Bell

    Even if Fuji or Rats and Stars thinks they are somehow honoring black American culture by dressing up in black-face, it doesn’t matter. They will be doing a great deal of harm to Japan’s image in the US, where anyone who isn’t a drunken embarrassing relative sees black-face as a grave insult to black Americans. Even if they can’t understand why it is insulting, they need to accept that it is insulting, and that insisting on their right to do something that is a known insult puts them in very bad company. Just because they’ve done it before is no justification to continue to do it. (Of course, if they don’t care how they appear oveseas, then it doesn’t matter what anyone says.)

  • tomaso81

    very strange way to approach this issue. you claim to be very ofended by this performance and throw shame on the performers and anybody who is willing to give them the benefit of a doubt. you also call it an “extreme ignorance”! yet the people you choose to share your anger with is a 99% foreign community of the japan times readers and just one”cool” japanese guy at your office. why??? what is stopping you from having a calm, adult conversation with other japanese members at your office.

  • a567and8

    I judged a dramatic competition one time and one group portrayed a black person with weird hair and some face color. I gently, quietly explained that while I knew that they were not saying bad things about black people but were, actually loving the idea of looking “black” because they were portraying black music in a very interesting way. They were very surprised, saddened, apologetic, etc. I felt terrible.
    “They meant no harm.” I experienced enough racism there to know the difference between this and the real thing. The real thing is, “This apartment is not available to black people.”, said as if it was just one more disappointment for someone seeking a certain dwelling place. They wouldn’t rent to single women either, it turned out. Japan, she is a funny place. I enjoyed living there, nonetheless.

  • Jirro707 .

    As a Black American that has lived in Japan for 23 years I don’t find this to be racist or offensive as the intent is not malicious in nature; emphasizing the word “Intent”. Japanese do not share American History on Racism so why should they make an American Issue their Issue? This is more Cultural Diffusion than anything else. Furthermore, there are numerous inconsistencies within America itself to what Black Americans accepts or rejects as racially motivated or offensive. Hypocritical? I’m also seeing a Reactive Bandwagon versus a Proactive one.

    • Barry Rosenfeld

      You have echoed my sentiments exactly like my comment above.

    • bv

      You jerks are permanently offended. That’s all you can do besides dunking basketballs and annoying humans.

  • At Times Mistaken

    This is a stirring and insightful piece of writing and while the author says he didn’t drop the “r-bomb,” the editors sure did let an unusual amount of semi-censored s-and f-bombs slip through. If you take out the profanity, McNeil’s phrases still pack a punch. It’s that kind of powerful writing that is moving so many people to sign on to his related petition at Change dot org. I hope to see more of it on these pages.

    • Jirro707 .

      I picked up on that too, also the r-bomb was implied.

  • blondein_tokyo

    ^^ Japanapologist. :)

    • Brendan

      Name-calling? Something “directed solely at the author” is against posting rules, as far as I’m aware.

      And that’s before touching on how you attempt to de-base my argument by suggesting I’m some sort of fake expert on Japan, when most of my comments are, let’s say, anti-Anglo-Saxon-centric…

  • Mark Makino

    You’re probably right; they have some of the accessories down a little too precisely for it to be coincidence. In any case though, my point was that even without overt malice, mimicking another group’s phenotypical characteristics to symbolize a set of traits stereotypically associated with that group is still wrong.

  • Jirro707 .

    Since Baye McNeil first came to Japan 6 years ago, it seems his whole marketing campaign has always been about Racism. So I wonder if his intentions were some sort of predetermined business strategy. Which then makes me wonder, if his true intentions is really just about business, but of course who would truly admit that right? I wonder what the demographic of his audience is.

  • Jirro707

    Inconsistencies contained within Baye McNeil’s article are:

    I. Author mentions that he wasn’t going to write about this article but then says that a white person suggested that he should. Did that same white person suggest that you start a petition?

    II. How can this be compared to Blanc when Blanc’s intentions were maliciousby sexually harassing, demeaning, and assaulting women? The movement against Blanc started in the United States where he was shut down in several countries, not just Japan. Blanc moral intentions malicious versus Rats & Star non-malicious intentions. The correlations does not compute.

    III. A more fair comparison to Angelina Jolie biographical movie not being showed in Japan would have been the recent Sony movie “The Interview” not being showed in the United States. An even better comparison are both of those movies together versus the uproar about the movie DJANGO. Guess which movie still got played which is one of multiple movies where the black voice was dismissed.

    IV. The ANA response is not a new concept, it is often said in America and it happens throughout America. Consider the various ethnic groups and how for the most part they live within their own communities. Formal or Informal, isn’t this segregation? Look at the American Military with Officers versus Enlisted, another form of segregation which comes with the label of fraternization

  • MiltsSon

    Thanks for creating a forum for interesting and important debate. Keep up the good work!

  • mosquitoguy

    wow.. black inferiority complex has now reached japan. too bad. japan should really kick these people out of the country who makes so much trouble for them. they don’t need to deal with people’s insecurities.

  • bv

    This idiot is the Al Sharpton of print, it seems that’s all he knows. Here’s the catch though, the Japanese aren’t guilt ridden creatures who fall for this schtick.

    Baye McNeil get a real life ….loser

  • Shawn Shawn

    I’m African-American and use to live in Japan for seven years, I never experienced racism from Japanese. The only reason I came back to America was to live under the first black President Obama. I would have stayed in Japan if I knew Obama would get so much opposition from Whites. Japanese thinking toward blacks are totally different then White Americans. Japanese can dress up in black face all they want, I was loved in Japan by them. Japanese and other Asians are a people of color, they are the diasporia of Africa. The only bad issues is the ideology of White racism that was taught to them and to worship the White man. My Japanese and Chinese brothers and sisters, wake up and realize we are one family under the African diasporia, stop worshiping the false God the White man and learn your family history. I miss you guys everyday and love you, wish I can go back home to Japan. My life in America has been totally miserable living with White people and I need peace. America is in serious denial of its long vile history of continued racism. Japan does not have a history of slavery of blacks and lynching black people for dating there woman, I was always welcomed in there families. Japanese are just ignorant of all the false propaganda and gangster movies produced by the White man in America to scare people all over the world, best thing to do is to get as far away from the White man that you can. Not all White people are bad, just %90 of them. Look at the wars all around the world.

  • Shawn Shawn

    There must be some place in the world, where I don’t have to see a cacasian face ever!

  • Shawn Shawn

    Japanese, you can perform black face all you want, it is no offense to me, because your a people of color. Like African-Americans, you are Afro-Asians the diaspora of Africa.

  • Emiliano

    Magnificent article!!!

    Couldn’t stop laughing. It must be horrible to be in Japan experiencing all that black face. Now come back to America and see how the police forces treat you.

    At least with black face you get to go home.

  • Shawn Shawn

    People of color throughtout the world, don’t be scared to make friends or do business with non Whites. All white people want to do is keep us divided and hating on each other so whites can keep the power and control us.

  • Avi

    My 2 cents. Westerners and most importantly Americans, keep your race related sensibilities to yourself when you travel overseas. Don’t over-read into innocent and well meaning mistakes. It is obvious, the music group in question had no intent on hurting anyone’s feelings. In fact their intent is clearly the opposite. So, what is the problem? You don’t want Japanese to appreciate black music or culture in the way they seem appropriate? You want to impose American values on a foreign country?

    A lot of countries consider it offensive for young men and girls to wear clothing like tank tops and short shorts. If they ask us to cover-up because it hurts their sensibilities, should we comply? Don’t come around with the explanation that mine is not a good analogy, because it is.

    Americans are over sensitive about dealing with anything to do with black race or culture whether it is admiring black culture, mimicking, writing about, talking, criticizing bad behavior of young black men or whatever. It is mainly because of the history of slavery and abuse of black people in the past. There is a term for it – White Burden. White folks who have nothing whatsoever to do with slavery, now feel obligated to bend over backwards in defense of anything that ‘MAY’ be perceived as offensive to black people. Like someone pointed out below – A blackened face would not be considered as offensive in Africa. So why the fuss?

    While we are at it may be someone could explain in real practical terms why no person on earth should NEVER EVER paint their face black, for whatever reason, for the rest of the human existence. Isn’t this symbolism ridiculous?

  • Pete Wagner

    So only blacks can be made up to look like blacks? Sounds racist.

  • Brendan

    Wow, thank you for that. It was a fantastic read. The first comparison in particular is excellent for highlighting the denial by the Japanese Government of racism. Other issues like comfort women and war-time activity also infuriate me when I hear ministers and the likes playing them down or outright denying them. The deafening silence from the US government regarding it’s recent warring history has the same effect on me – think Vietnam and WMDs in Iraq.

    I’m not sure you realize this but you also made my point. Those people talking about “the rest of the industrialized world” are simply talking about the US (and maybe the UK). They are over-representing themselves. And as I argued in my very first comment, I don’t believe this particular action is racist. That is not a denial of racism in Japan, either. I simply define racism as requiring the active promotion of ideals that suggest other races are inferior, and especially engaging in/encouraging violence towards other races. This group isn’t doing that in Japan. Viewed from the US they might be, but in their home country, viewed by their target audience, no-one is saying “Haha, stupid black people. That’s how they behave.” For that reason I disagree with the author (and commenters) who hold this particular incident is racist. On the grounds of its terrible origins and the feelings of Americans who find it objectionable I am happy to say that their follow-up performance was cancelled.

    Also, the general lack of violent racist/homophobic incidents in Japan slows down such discussion because it’s harder to identify a problem. It’s far easier when black people are being shot by cops or people are going around beating up Middle-Eastern looking people. I think this is important to bear in mind to help promote the ideals in Japan.

  • Brendan

    I have never argued that racism is 100% subjective. I have argued this isn’t for a few reasons, all of which I won’t re-iterate. The idea a Japanese person (or any person) simply putting on a black face or a white face like the ANA commercial as automatically racist, as specifically stated in the article, is what I took issue with.

    You can criticize away. Context, not national borders, can change something from being racist to being not racist (or homophobic). Think of how black Americans and/or the gay community often refer to each other to find examples of this.

    “If an African-American musical group used racist imagery from Japan’s past, would it be incorrect to refer to that as racist?” – as per the definition I gave below and above, this would depend. If the original meaning had melted away, for example, then yes, it would be.

    Yes, Minstrel shows are specific things with great prominence in the US. I assure you people outside the US have gone their entire lives without ever hearing about it and even nowadays can go without hearing about it. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to think that they might be unaware, I observe people mindlessly copying each other all the time.

    I didn’t complain about the author’s confrontational attitude (though there is plenty of that worked in there indirectly, see the ex-girlfriend story), I argued against his definition of racism (see above, ANA commercial, etc.) and the subsequently poor way he argued his point and made suggestions to improve the argument. All in my opinion, of course. As for the tone of arrogance that I’m not allowed to call out: the idea that this (and other parts) of US history should be know by all and sundry is what bleeds through yours, the authors and blondeintokyo’s words. It shouldn’t; it doesn’t and it doesn’t need to be. That is cultural imperialism. I suggest being less arrogant when confronted with ignorance of your culture.

    • ClementC

      It seems we fundamentally disagree on the question of what racism is. To me, unironic, non-educational use of racial stereotypes is racist, even if unintentional. I believe that unconscious, unintentional and even accidental racism exist, and are properly classified as such. It can be less problematic than intentional racism, but less problematic is still more problematic than not at all problematic. Expressing unintentional racism does not make one “a racist”.

      I do not equate ironic use of racist terms or imagery by the targeted group with unironic use of those same terms or that same imagery by others. Context is indeed important.

      I’m not saying it should be known by all and sundry. I’m saying if you put on a minstrel show then it is absolutely your responsibility to know what a minstrel show is. I’m also saying that the effort required to find out is trivial.

      Accusations of cultural imperialism over media criticism are pointless and silly. When Japanese people (immigrants are Japanese whether nativists like it or not) are negatively stereotyped in the Japanese media, whether or not the stereotype is intended to be negative, they are right to be offended and to criticize that portrayal. I find your dismissal of their legitimate concerns patronizing and, once again, tone policing.

      I’m not telling you you’re not allowed to call out arrogance where it exists, I’m telling you your perception of arrogance is in the eye of the beholder. I again invite you to consider the position that giving Japanese entertainers a pass for employing blatantly racist imagery because they’re just ignorant foreigners is disrespectful to Japanese entertainers.

      I just discovered that this discussion is moot since Fuji TV edited the segment after the public criticism spearheaded by the author of this very piece. Hopefully, regardless of past ignorance, there will be no more such unfortunate incidents in the future.

      • Brendan

        You make for very good reading, honestly. I won’t re-hash what we know we disagree on but I will add this clarification: I never dismissed the argument. I labeled it as weak for a couple of reasons. I felt he should have shifted his talking points a bit to improve their relevance. I think you’re reading the straw man that was made of what I wrote as my argument (“Your argument against blackface is “cultural relativism”?”, “By this argument, you could justify pretty much anything”, “You seem to think it’s acceptable for this band to continue doing blackface”). I never dismissed, justified or claimed anything of the sort.

        I think that is evident enough on its own but my response to “Internet Terracotta Tiger” (3rd comment) makes my position clear.

      • dan

        omg find a hobby lol

  • jelost

    This is the most racist article i have ever read. In the U.S. we also have white actors play Japanese roles. Also, cartoons that some people may find offensive Some Japaneese people find it offensive, BUT it’s really a celebration of Japanese culture. Why be so sensitive? Although we don’t show most of these out of respect, i think it is a part of history that should be told! Who cares how other people feel, lighten up.

  • BlackC#Bro

    It’s really annoying how people get offended. You just have to look at everything around you and feel oppressed by it. It’s annoying. There is no systematic racism when it comes to something like this. Nobody would complain if it wasn’t for the whole sambo thing in the past.

    That happened in America. In a country that has no history of oppression against any people of any African decent why the hell does this bother you? There is no racism behind it. Everybody you talked to literally said they were honoring somebody. In some cases it is quite literally the thought that counts. Of course, you want to be offended, so words like this fall on deaf ears. I don’t understand why you don’t just go live in an insular black community. It annoys me dealing with people like you all the time, especially in my family telling me how different parts of the world are going to oppress me because of my skin color, when in reality I do fine for myself because, surprise, not everybody has some black people hating mechanism deeply wired in their brain that makes them do the most “offensive” things.

    Public policy that allows police officers to search any black person they see on grounds of “suspicion,” trampling on constitutional rights, is racism. Some people who like a band wearing some face paint to look more like them then performing isn’t.