There was an incident at a Starbucks last week in which a black man was filmed being irate with a member of staff after apparently being told that the music he was playing was disturbing other customers. A non-Japanese customer recorded the outburst, and the man’s interaction with the police soon after, and posted it on Twitter.
It was an ugly scene, no question. The man’s language was vulgar — lots of “N,” “B” and “F” bombs — and his posture was aggravated, even hostile. People flip out for all kinds of reasons and any criticism on how badly this guy behaved is par for the course. (I’d like to add, though, that the comments below the tweet were even uglier, which may be why the person who posted the altercation deleted the tweet.)
Case closed? Not likely. As in any country that’s home to a majority group, I’ve found that the Japanese have a habit of likening the behavior of one member of a minority to that of the entire group. So, in the long run, my quality of life is liable to be affected by this guy’s outburst.
If this tendency to judge a group based on the acts of one individual was expanded to include good behavior, I’d still find it problematic. When that behavior is bad, though, it can reinforce racist notions about (in this case) black people in general and that way of thinking is most often uglier than the initial act itself.
Some people wave off this kind of generalizing as unavoidable because it’s just “human nature,” a well-worn shortcut straight out of the “Humanity for Dummies” handbook. But hell, I’m human and I don’t consider this tendency to be unavoidable in the slightest. I’ve even done it myself, but I’ve learned to rein that proclivity in and to recognize where the impetus to do it in the first place stems from. As a result, I do it less and less.
I won’t speak directly to the incident because any black person who lives here knows that such an outburst is not a common occurrence. Why not? Because most of us know we are being scrutinized at all times, and that this inclination to judge us as a group is the status quo in these parts. The more conscientious among us also know we carry the unfair and illogical burden of the entire race into every interaction, whether that be in the workplace, in the streets or in places like Starbucks. And we, most often, want no part in contributing to stereotypes and thus behave accordingly.
For black Americans, particularly men, one of the more detrimental of these stereotypes is that each one of us has this primitive anger lying dormant within, an unintelligible violence that can be triggered at any time for any reason at anyone. The Starbucks video appears to capture this race-exclusive rage in all its fury and, when I saw it, in my mind I could hear a chorus of Japanese people, upon seeing this video, proclaiming, “Yappari” (“Just as I thought”).
I spent many of my years here in Japan actively trying to avoid any “yappari moments” with my Japanese co-workers and acquaintances, because every time I heard that word, without fail, it would be an instance of my fulfilling their race- or nationality-based presumptions about my character — and, moreover, how it differs from their own. So much of what I’ve done over the years was influenced by my desire to be anti-yappari. Of course, this is my line of thinking as one individual and it represents “black” thought as much as the guy in the Starbucks video represents “black” behavior.
I feel kind of silly saying this to sane people who are of the same species, but it clearly still needs to be said: Black people are not a monolith, and are no more prone to bad behavior than the Japanese or any other people.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5