In recent weeks, there have been some YouTube channels espousing blatantly racist content that more than likely violates hate speech legislation here in Japan. Some of these videos, made by Japanese, even target blacks living in Japan, proposing we are a danger to this country.
I won’t waste my column space addressing piecemeal their wildly skewed assertions, and I refuse to give these channels even a smidgen of traffic. Nor will I provide links to the Breitbart/Fox News/Stormfront white supremacist sites from where a lot of their fake news and biased research is derived.
One thing these videos have in common is that they pander to people who live in a reality where race or skin color is a shortcut to determining a person’s character and predicting their behavior. This is an exceedingly popular propensity the world over, and one that has caused a great deal of harm over the course of human history.
The danger blacks pose to Japan, some of these videos suggest, is that if we come here in our current psychologically damaged state of delusional oppression — minds in which the fictional concepts of white privilege, white supremacy and institutional racism are real and insidious — we’re sure to contaminate Japanese hearts and/or brainwash Japanese minds unfamiliar with the nature and potency of black kvetching.
One video even goes as far as to cite the shooting of police officers by a black man in the U.S. as the inevitable consequence of black Americans demanding that their lives matter. It then posits that blacks may be trafficking into this country not guns or drugs or other illicit materials, but delusions of oppression, a natural surplus of testosterone and scarcity of IQ points — and a victim mentality to boot — and that this essence of American blackness will lead us to eventually commit acts of violence.
I’d love to say these YouTubers are completely off their rockers with this diatribe, but the truth is, their concerns are not entirely unfounded. You see, I know for a fact, I am definitely a danger to Japan!
The way I see it, the only way Japan could have avoided the danger that myself and like-minded people represent — the perils that invariably accompany transition — is if they had kept this island nation isolated. Maybe pull a Trump card and build a wall. But that would not have been in the country’s best interest. Nor is behaving as if the nation is in fact isolated, homogenous, or even capable of stemming the tide of foreign influence on the culture and customs here.
Those days are over. The people here, both Japanese and foreign, who embrace this truth will position themselves to succeed in the years to come. Those that don’t, well, they will likely erect or support the erection of obstacles to progress, or spew hate on video, as backward thinkers everywhere tend to do.
Meanwhile, the world is going to keep coming here, some with embossed invitations due to Japanese necessity, some with adventurous sensibilities and disposable cash, some seeking opportunities to prosper, and some running for their lives from desperate situations seeking refuge.
Those of us who stay for the long haul are a mixed bag, as humanity invariably is. Some make every effort to assimilate, some even over-assimilate, while some make half-assed efforts, and others wouldn’t “do as the Romans do” if their lives depended on it. Some master the language, some settle for just getting by, and some simply can’t be bothered. Some of us are raising families, some are raising the bar on what it means to be a stellar global citizen, some are raising issues that shouldn’t be ignored and some are just raising Cain.
We spend all day instructing Japan’s future generations in classrooms, or doing IT work, or sweating in its factories, or consulting with and advising Japanese companies, and even running our own businesses that serve communities urban and rural. And at night we’re sipping Japanese swill and eating its vittles, and consuming its media, and dating, loving, marrying (and possibly divorcing) Japanese men and women.
We’re raising Japanese kids that don’t look like “Japanese” kids and won’t think, behave or, unfortunately, be treated quite like “fully Japanese” kids either. We’re contributing to society, each in his or her own way, playing our roles, plying our trades and paying our taxes. But we’re not automatons. Some will do all the above in docile bliss; others amongst us simply can’t and won’t go along to get along.
We can’t, in good conscience, turn a blind eye to injustice, inequality, discrimination, criminalization, otherization, gender bias or any other ill that gets tolerated here — not if addressing the issue would improve conditions for non-Japanese as well as prove beneficial for our beloved Japanese families and friends. We just can’t.
And that’s the danger these YouTubers dance around but clearly misunderstand. Their harangues are fueled by fear of the change in Japan that blacks represent — a change that is well underway. Change ain’t always pretty. In fact, it’s often pretty messy. But it’s as unavoidable a fact of life as this: Japan is now a multicultural, multiracial country, and will become increasingly so in the years to come. Diversity, dreaded as it may be, has descended. And I and people like me are dangerous because we are the agents of this change. God help us!
This conflict won’t be resolved overnight. The changes in progress will be met with resistance of the worst order, but also supported by an alliance of some of the best and brightest Japan has to offer.
In the meantime, efforts to weed out the “bad non-Japanese” will likely continue. Police and government and private agencies will make life uncomfortable for those deemed “undesirable.” The usual suspects will be rounded up and subjected to unlawful stops and searches and such. There will continue to be efforts to control the influx of immigrants, to cherry-pick or flat-out refuse refugees from “s—-hole countries.” In the media, the ridicule of foreigners, our cultures, features — even our races commodified into fodder for entertainment — will continue. Non-Japanese will continue to have their diverse humanity reduced to cute little packages labeled gaijin, kokujin, hakujin or hāfu (“foreigner,” “black,” white” or “half”), oversimplifying our complexities. We will continue to be criminalized and otherized by incessant comparisons and contrasts everywhere we go. We can only pray there won’t be any escalations.
But, as they say, resistance is futile. The things that unite us are far more powerful than the things that divide us.
I am more hopeful and resolute than ever before because there’s something happening in Japan. If that blackface nonsense in January, the recent Tokyo screening I hosted for “I Am not Your Negro” and the many requests I’m getting to speak to the nation on TV and the net, to write for Japanese publications on critical issues, to teach media companies how to manage diversity issues, to give keynote speeches before Japanese audiences, etc., are any indication, Japanese want to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. They too can see that we are not as divided as the agents of stagnancy, beneficiaries of the gaijin/Nihonjin binary, would have us all believe — that we have much more in common than is commonly taught, and that together we will write the next chapter of Japan’s story.
The artist’s task is to tell stories that engender truths, to share and challenge ideas, to convey a vision untethered to divisive ideologies — the kind of worldly visions that have brought about change in the past by tearing down the walls erected to divide the people most in need of visionaries.
This is dangerous work, particularly for those whose creativity has fashioned them a megaphone and influence. Even more so in times of change. People with a unique ability to reach across the aisle, so to speak, and build alliances are always at risk.
But that’s exactly what many of us have done. With love, we’ve allied ourselves with a whole legion of Japanese people — people who share our vision of a true global community here with equal opportunities for all, unfettered by racialized foolishness like these videos display.
The danger I represent — and by “I,” I mean any artist, creative thinker or progressive-minded person, regardless of race, gender or nationality, who recognizes that their pen, guitar, paintbrush, camera or even their voice is a weapon — to the backward-thinking race-baiters on YouTube is this: I am committed to helping Japan become a nation fully cognizant of its diversity of people and ideas and better prepared to handle the challenges that reaching that mindset presents.
Japan has given me much love and I’m going to give it right back, in spades. And any troll, group or agency that decides to target people of African descent for foul play will itself become a target at which I’ll bring the full resources at my disposal to bear. And I’m far from alone!
Like Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barack Obama once said, “Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change.”
Baye McNeil is the author of two books on life in Japan. See www.bayemcneil.com.
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