“We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the lack of consideration in posting the video,” went the NHK statement. This was the national broadcaster’s lackluster apology for its tone deaf and racist depictions of black protesters in a video presented on the Sunday news show “Kore de Wakatta! Sekai no Ima” (“Now I Understand What’s Going On in the World”), which targets younger audiences. It was also posted to Twitter and taken down Tuesday after being maligned on social media and in the overseas press.
From its wording, I’m not sure whether NHK disagrees it was racist so refuses to acknowledge it, or remains unaware that it was racist despite responding to complaints of its blatant racism. Seriously. I don’t know which. But, for the record, both rationales are really bad.
What’s worse is that NHK is not the only media conglomerate exhibiting questionable judgement as to its coverage and analysis of Black Lives Matter protests, peaceful and otherwise, and stories emerging from around the globe regarding this uprising. TBS went as far as to actually give a platform to white supremacist — er, “advocate”? — Jared Taylor to talk about Black Lives Matter issues. Is that a powerful statement of its position on the question of whether our thoughts and feelings matter in Japan or what? And a couple of days later they double down by calling on Atsugiri Jason to speak on the topic and for black people. That’s two strikes, TBS! Don’t get me wrong, being a white comedian doesn’t necessarily disqualify Jay from speaking on issues of police brutality. Anyone paying attention to the media knows this movement is far from black and white.
But … come on, TBS! And you too, NHK! Y’all can do better!
You want to know how I know you can do better? Because I’ve seen you both up-close and personal do remarkable things, and not in the distant past but recently. Not two years ago, in lieu of the bad behavior of Nippon-TV (defending blackface and disregarding global criticism) I was invited by TBS to give a presentation to the producers and executives about their role and responsibility especially as it pertains to diversity and representation. And at NHK, just last year, I appeared in and offered up valuable advice on one of its programs that shed light on discrimination faced by Burakumin. The show, “Black in Buraku,” compared and contrasted the plight of Japan’s historically lower caste with that of African Americans both in the U.S. and here in Japan. It was a seminal moment indicative of great days to come.
Yeah, not so much.
It seems, at best, the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing at these rather large corporations. Perhaps it’s a simple case of tatewari, everyone kind of isolated in their own spiritual and mental silos, and the memo that the calendar has rolled two decades into another millennium — one in which black people are not to be viewed as being so “other,” so beyond the pale, as to be inconsequential — has not reached every member of the staff yet. Whatever the reason, the result is that while one hand is ramping up to thrive in a dynamic new paradigm, the other is still stuck in the past, content to reinforce the same old racist stereotypes by marginalizing and misrepresenting blackness. And black people — who are intelligent, vocal and unflinching in our demand to have our humanity acknowledged — continue to be ignored in the worst way. Still.
This is why you are seeing Black Lives Matters marches in Tokyo and Osaka, and there will be more, yes, here in purportedly racism-free Japan. Because Japan, trust us, you got racism coming out your butt! And that half-assed, half-baked apology NHK offered up is reflective of a mindset unwilling to acknowledge this.
Allow me to re-write your apology, NHK (and this can work for you as well TBS, if you ever think it’s appropriate to apologize to us for turning to David Duke for commentary on the actions of clearly non-Aryan people):
We apologize for our recent racist behaviors. Listening to our brothers and sisters of color, we’ve come to realize where our problem resides. We simply never saw black humanity comparable with our own. We relegated you to alien status because of the difference in our appearances (and consequently likened ourselves to white people). And once we alienated you, whatever happened to you physically, mentally or spiritually, never truly hit home with us. It rarely has the impact it would have if you looked like us. We realize if we had humanized you from the start relations would be 100 times better right now. So, we promise, moving forward, to make every effort to refrain from alienating you, and to embrace our common humanity and produce programming that encourages the same, as much as possible. In order to accomplish this we will be hiring and consulting with people of color on all programming that pertains to people of color. We realize that by doing this we all stand to benefit a great deal. Again, we are sorry for our bad behavior. We can do better, and we will!
Now that would be an apology deserving of forgiveness.
And if you need guidance on how to explain black lives matter to your viewers there are actually resources on the net for doing so, many in Japanese. Check out the Instagram user @euro719, a Japanese kid who breaks down what’s going on in the current situation in Japanese so that his followers can explain it to their relatives.
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There’s YouTuber and Instagrammer @cocoalizzy, who was born and raised in Japan and now lives in New York and is speaking out on matters of race.
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There are the organizers of Black Lives Matter Tokyo, whose website provides plenty of information in Japanese. Check out @BLMKansai or @BLMfuk on Twitter. Mainstream Japanese media, I introduce to you your new generation of pundits and commentators.
If all you need is a video, how about this one. Originally produced by The Cut, this version has been given Japanese subtitles so that you can show your friends and loved ones here what is going on. It’s better than giving your kids a clip of caricatures and stereotypes.
In fact there are many clips on YouTube, including Japanese-language ones, in which people have taken the time and effort to explain black lives matters accurately and with the appropriate compassion of the victims of oppression and white supremacy in the United States. And, for you English speakers, there are many books and curated reading lists that can also help you educate yourself. The thing is, that is your responsibility as a human being. There’s no alternative to educating yourself.
Support us, the people who willingly share our energy with the people of Japan, and Japan will see black love and black support of the likes the country has never seen before. We make for powerful allies, and we got mad love for those who got mad love for us.
Say it with me, “No justice, no peace!”