Opposition lawmakers and the nation’s black community were quick to criticize Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Kazuya Maruyama on Thursday after he called U.S. President Barack Obama a “descendant of black slaves,” a remark they said bordered on racism and at the very least displayed his ignorance of U.S. history.
“His remark can be regarded as an affront to the U.S. president, and could develop into a serious problem that may affect Japan’s diplomatic relationship with America,” Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yosuke Kamiyama told the Lower House budget committee, a venue often used to attack the government.
On Thursday, opposition parties including the DPJ, Social Democratic Party and Seikatsu no To (the People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends) submitted a resolution to the Upper House calling for Maruyama, 69, to resign.
The former celebrity lawyer made the comment during a session of the Upper House Commission on the Constitution on Wednesday. He was trying to explain how dynamically America has evolved to become the superpower it is today.
“In the United States, a black man has become its president. I mean, he is in a bloodline of black people who were slaves,” he said. “People in the country’s founding era would have never thought that a black slave would become president. That’s how dynamically America has evolved.”
Maruyama later apologized for what he termed “misleading” remarks and said he would ask that they be revised or deleted from the official transcript.
Eric L. Robinson, creative director of the Black Tokyo website, said Maruyama’s comment proves he is uninformed when it comes to U.S. history.
“It was another ignorant politician speaking about a topic they are not very familiar with,” he said.
Had Maruyama done his research, he would have known that Obama’s father, who the Barack H. Obama Foundation says was a senior Kenyan government economist, was “not an African that was in slavery in America,” Robinson said.
Maruyama’s apparent assumption that all African-Americans were once slaves is “ignorant” and “racist in thought,” he said.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was saying little about the matter on Thursday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told the budget committee the government will refrain from commenting directly on the remarks, but added: “Politicians should take responsibility for what they say. (Maruyama) should fulfill his responsibility to explain himself, not to undermine public trust.”
Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki, whose ministry is spearheading a campaign to protect human rights and eradicate hate speech, declined to comment as well.
The remark came hot on the heels of another clanger Wednesday. At the Constitution commission meeting, Maruyama mused on the idea of Japan being absorbed by the United States.
“What kind of problems with the Constitution could arise if, for instance, Japan becomes the United States’ 51st state?” he asked rhetorically.
“As the allocation of House of Representatives seats to each state depends on its population in the United States, ‘Japan State’ would probably hold the largest share in the House,” Maruyama said.
“If so, someone from ‘Japan State’ might become U.S. president.”
It was then that he blundered into the remarks about Obama.
Japan becoming the 51st state was “an asinine comment to make,” Robinson said.
With the large amount of discrimination directed at non-Japanese in today’s Japan and yet no legislative framework in place to counter racism, “how could Japan deal with that if it becomes the 51st state of the U.S because you would have to change the laws?” he said.
“As a lawyer, that’s the first thing he should’ve thought about” before making such a comment.
Maruyama’s faux pas is the latest in a litany of scandals and gaffes tarring the LDP.
Last month, Akira Amari, a close Abe ally, resigned as economy minister over a graft scandal embroiling both himself and his secretaries.
Environment minister Tamayo Marukawa made remarks that appeared to mock the radiation fears of residents in Fukushima Prefecture earlier this month, only to apologize for and retract them last week.
And LDP lawmaker Kensuke Miyazaki quit his seat last week over an extramarital relationship with a bikini model while his wife was pregnant, after making waves in the party by championing the cause of paternity leave.