It’s rather unfortunate that Chavez’s message has been rather misinterpreted by some readers. The message is not “Westerners are discriminated against in Japan just like African-Americans and Muslims in the U.S.” That would be a daft thing to say.

Instead, the author is clearly asking people to use their experience of being a minority in Japan to reflect on prejudice back home and gain a little bit more empathy and awareness about prejudice everywhere.

Perhaps a more threatening, but more relevant, question to think about is not whether Westerners in Japan can have special access to the feelings and experiences of ethnic minorities in their own country, but whether back home they, or their friends or family, have displayed or expressed the kind of prejudiced behavior there that they dislike here?

Ever made a comment about Mexicans or Hispanic immigrants? Ever joked about Irish being drunks? Said something about how “blacks need to sort themselves out” over crime? About Asian-American parenting? About Poles in the United Kingdom or Lebanese in Australia? About white people’s coldness or innate racism? Ever made a joke about what Chinese eat?

Have any of your relatives disapproved of the partner of another relative who’s from the “wrong” ethnic group? Have you or friends made fun of or expressed frustration with someone’s inability to speak good English in America/Australia/U.K., etc.

Have you or anyone you know ever decided to avoid going through a certain area of town because the ethnic makeup makes you nervous? Ever slagged off the French? Joked about Jews controlling Hollywood? Ever wondered out loud “what is wrong with these Muslims?”

Have you done any of these things yet … feel like saying it’s different when the Japanese do it? In fact, have you ever sat around and just b—ched about “The Japanese”?

The point here is not to make light of racism in Japan, but to raise awareness of how it exists everywhere and, particularly for those of us who grew up as the majority ethnic group in our countries of origin (including Japanese in Japan), raise awareness of the contrast between how we too often don’t notice it, or give it a free pass, or downplay its significance when our group is doing it.

sam gilman
from the japan times online

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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