A glance of distrust on the sidewalk. A seemingly harmless question. An empty seat on an otherwise packed train.
To blogger and author Baye McNeil, these are the moves of a dance — one that he came to know all too well, but one that nobody else seemed to be noticing. It revolves around how Japanese people view and react to non-Japanese people. McNeil, writing as “Loco,” dissects every move of the dance in his blog and in the book “Hi! My Name is Loco and I’m a Racist.”
The book, which performed well in several categories on Amazon, grew out of his blog, Loco in Yokohama (www.locoinyokohama.com). The blog was where he first developed his literary alter ego and started chronicling what he was experiencing. Turns out, a lot of other people have been quietly noticing the complicated interactions, too, and are tuning in to see how Loco makes sense of — and makes peace with — the dance of interracial relations in Japan.
What brought you to Japan?
Adventure and escape. This was after 9/11 and maybe I was suffering from a little post-traumatic stress. I came here to get away for a while because I’m from New York, not far from ground zero. There were soldiers in the streets and the subways. It was a little too much.
I came here for three weeks to stay with my friend and had a wonderful time. I said, “This would be a nice place to hide out for a while,” and it turned into eight years.
Your blog stands out in Japan because it deals with controversial issues. Why do you think issues like race aren’t covered as often on other blogs?
One of the main reasons is that you’ll find yourself being a minority of a minority if you do that. I think that the majority of people living in Japan find life in Japan very appealing. They are aware of the challenges here but think that they are similar to challenges you’ll face in any country so why complain or why even talk about it? Either accept it as it is or get out.
I think people accept that as a legitimate response to whatever complaints they might have, but I don’t. You will be a target in Japan of lots of people who will defend Japan by any means necessary. Most people don’t want to be at the business end of those attacks so they don’t deal with these issues.
I deal with issues on a personal level so it is a little bit more difficult to attack me, because I’m dealing with personal stories and not generic stuff. The only way you can attack me is by calling me a liar.
Why is it important for you to deal with this stuff? Wouldn’t it be easier to take on less contentious topics?
I think that (not talking about race) is in itself a type of racism. Some of these people have accepted that in Japan the rules are different. The Japanese, for what ever reason, are entitled to park in the “handicapped zone” of humanitarian reciprocity and I don’t feel that way.
I don’t feel that is an excuse for a blank check to act any way you want. I refuse to accept that. I think that most of the people I’ve met here really want to live in a world where (racism) doesn’t exist. I think I’m doing them a favor by bringing it to their attention that it does exist and that it is widespread.
You had a lot to say about the recent debate in the Japan blogosphere about microaggressions (see www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120501ad.html) What is your take on the blogging community debating issues like this?
I know (microaggression) is here, but it’s difficult for me to try and sway people, and I don’t think that I should have to. The people on the other side of the debate are aware that it’s here, they just don’t let it bother them.
Some people prefer to look at it as an icebreaker. You can call it an icebreaker if you want to, but I think its a far stretch from “What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
I want to make a list of all the things that could fall under the umbrella term of microaggression, because that’s all you’re going to get in Japan. You aren’t going to get full-out aggression. Very rarely. Nobody is going to throw a rope around your neck. Nobody is going to call you n—-er. I mean, I’ve been called gorilla and stuff like that, but it’s different.
Of course there is housing discrimination and job discrimination and these kind of things. That’s not even an issue to me; microaggression is the only issue.
It is the most difficult issue because we’re dealing with people who are unaware of what they’re doing and they’re really good people. People on the other side of this argument have just accepted that because their intentions are good they are good and leave it at that. It’s not enough.
You need to be aware of what you’re doing. They’re asserting an idea. The idea is that “we do things this way and we know you don’t.” It’s kind of aggressive. It’s asserting a pre-deposition. Its asserting a presumption. You sit there and you smile and go “OK” but you’re at the butt end of this on a daily basis. Like Debito (Arudou) said (in his original microaggressions article), “It wears on you.”
What prompted your move from blogger to author?
I always wanted to write a book, and I came here with the intentions of writing a book. The original idea was a comparison between the culture of New York and the culture of Tokyo and Yokohama. After I realized that would be a hell of an undertaking, it changed.
It was at about that time that I did the series on my blog called “Hi! My Name is Loco and I’m a Racist.” The response to that series was tremendous and many of the readers were, like, “You need to write a book about this.” This is the book.
At first I didn’t think I was qualified to write a book about racism, but I reconsidered. I do have experiences with this, just like a lot of people in the world do. I wouldn’t say I’m clinically qualified or academically qualified, but experience-wise? I am qualified. So I did it.
You are incredibly honest in your book. Was it difficult for you to put that much of yourself into the book? Do you think it’s because of your honesty that you are able to communicate your thoughts on race?
The blog was training for that. I blogged for three years before I wrote that book, so little by little I got more comfortable with telling the truth.
I had problems with putting myself in a book, on a page, in writing for people to read and record. After you do it a few times though, you see that the benefits outweigh those fears.
My blog stands out because it’s real, as opposed to hiding behind a wall. I still put up a thin wall with the Loco persona, but those experiences come from the heart, and the experiences Loco has are mine. But I do feel that Loco is a slight buffer.
How was self-publishing your book? What were the biggest challenges you faced in doing so?
What were? You mean what are. It is a continuing challenge. Trying to get reviewed, for example. Newspapers are not keen on reviewing books that didn’t come from a mainstream publisher. Self-publishing still isn’t respected by critics, mainstream publications, even readers in some instances.
It’s growing slowly. I think books like mine, god-willing, are making readers go “Really? Wow! This was self-published?” And then they’ll give other self-published books a chance.
Any tips for others wanting to make the transition from blogging to writing books, or on self-publication in particular?
First thing I would say is take your blogging seriously. You’re going to have to do it for the book, so get started now. Blog from the heart. Don’t think of it as just throw-away material. What you’re doing with your blog is building a reputation, building a readership so people know what to expect from your book.
Also, when you publish that book, just definitely make it as great as you possibly can. Of course the production might not be as great because you’re working out of your own pocket, but don’t skimp on the writing. People will forgive you on the production; they will not forgive you on poor writing.
Baye McNeil’s book can be found on Amazon.com at www.amazon.com/Hi-My-Name-Loco-Racist/dp/061558778X/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org