Lawmaker draws rebuke, silence after describing Obama as ‘slave descendant’


Staff Writer

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.

  • jam awns

    Mr. Maruyama should resign because of his stupidity and immaturity rather than his misleading words. I am afraid of such a person who joins in LDP to discuss domestic and international policy and JPN constitution revision.
    I know he had no intention of any discrimination. However, he is seriously lazy learner and immature stupid politician. He still did not know the world common sense that Mr. Obama is not slave offspring. Moreover, 51st state joke was told over a decade ago and any president shouldn’t be existed, who brings national interests to his/her own hometown. Moreover, he has never understand ‘National Polity’, which is equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the U.S. as the Imperial Household for Japan.

  • Iris

    Okay, what he said about Obama shows his ignorance, but i don’t quite see how it’s racist. Many black people in the US are in fact descended in whole or in part from slaves. He’s obviously no history expert, but it seems the point of his message was precisely to show the dynamism of the US in a positive way, and in just the same way many of us Americans (I’m one of them) who voted for Obama felt when he was elected almost 8 years ago – “Wow, we’ve finally been able to elect a black President! Maybe after all our terrible history of black slavery and all the struggles of people of color in this country, we’ve finally been able to look past race somewhat, maybe move the dialogue forward, maybe?” Maybe. But anyway I confess it felt great, it felt special, to be an American that day. And you can’t deny that there were people around the world who also felt that maybe the US did have a special “dynamism” to be able to have done that. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t technically a descendant of slaves brought to the Americas from the African continent. He represented something bigger at that moment, which is what this Maruyama seems to be alluding to.

    There’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about *if* one was the descendant of slaves, and much to be proud of. It only shows how amazingly strong and resilient one’s roots are. Though I’m not black, I’m a person of color, and I owe so much of the good quality of life I and my family have lead in the US, to the struggles and triumphs (in the civil rights movement, but also before and ongoing) of those very descendants of black slaves.

    So I see how this Japanese politician was ignorant in history, but i don’t see the racism.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Factually incorrect remark yes. But racist??? Exactly how is it racist? Screaming racism every time someone mentions race simply undermines and dilutes the arguments of people who campaign against real racism – not media “rent-an-offense”.

  • Dave Barton

    Whether you want to consider his remarks as racist is problematic. However, if a government official is going to stand up in the Diet and make ignorant statements about something he obviously knows little about, he deserves to be ridiculed. He might consider that maybe it’s time to retire or at least think twice about opening his mouth and inserting foot.

  • Ron Lane

    “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 [Robinson] said.”

    Unless I’m mistaken, Robinson’s remark is even more asinine.

  • A.J. Sutter

    I think Eric Robinson, quoted in the article, makes a reasonable point when he says that the assumption black American = former slave is based in racism. It shows an inability to conceive that a black American might have some other social status or origins.

    As for his comment about laws, he is correct that Japan doesn’t have any civil rights laws, and needs them. But it’s not only foreigners in Japan who suffer from that — it’s all Japanese. Under both the Japan and US constitutions, citizens’ rights like freedom of speech are protected only from government intrusion (I use the word “protected” somewhat ironically in the case of Japan, especially). Your employer, for example, can restrict your “rights” all it wants, in the absence of civil rights laws or other laws with similar effect. In Japan labor laws provide some protections of rights mentioned in the constitution or human rights treaties Japan has signed, but they aren’t comprehensive enough to cover everything, esp. freedom of speech.

    Those points aside, it seems to me very foolish for the opposition parties to be demanding that he resign, when Amari is still in the Diet. Dishonesty should trump stupidity. Moreover, this sort of reflexive response just makes the opposition look like shrill complainers — if they want traction in the next couple of elections they need to start thinking about affirmative programs. At the moment they’re acting like a bunch of skittish Yorkies, barking every time they hear the toilet flush or the refrigerator switch on.

  • Jim

    Maruyama is correct. Obama is a descendent of John Punch, a slave, on his maternal side.

  • Jim

    Maruyama is correct. Obama is a descendent of John Punch, a slave, on his maternal side.