Jay Jackson can hear the streets calling, even from Japan.
The Chiba Lotte Marines reliever has watched from this faraway vantage point as the pain of a wound allowed to fester for too long and the resilience of people fighting against years of injustice finally spilled into the streets, first in the United States and then around the world.
Jackson has followed everything that’s unfolded since the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May. As a Black American, he’s also been filled with the need to do something.
“It’s tough,” Jackson told The Japan Times via Zoom from Zozo Marine Stadium. “I feel like I’m not helping enough. I want to be there.” He was happy to see the movement against racial injustice spread to Japan when Black Lives Matter Kansai organized a peaceful march in Osaka last month. If not for the Marines having a game the same day in Chiba, Jackson had planned to attend with Orix Buffaloes outfielder Adam Jones.
“Jonesy got a chance to go march with them,” Jackson said. “Every time there’s been a march, I’ve either had a game or was pitching that day.” In the meantime, Jackson has done what he can and also used his platform to help spread awareness.
Police brutality against the Black community isn’t a new issue. As is the case for many Black Americans, the push for equality is both familiar and personal for Jackson, a 32-year-old South Carolina native.
“There’s a lot of good (police) out there,” he said. “But the way they’re treating minorities and people of color right now, especially with it being brought to such a big spotlight and it’s still happening and you see there’s not true remorse for it, there’s a pain.” Being so far from home has sometimes left Jackson feeling as if he hasn’t done enough and he continues to search for ways to contribute.
The Marines pitcher doesn’t just want to see change in his home country, however. He’s also aware of the discrimination some non-Japanese have faced in Japan.
“I have friends who are biracial, and they get treated a little differently,” he said. “So it’s not just Black people but foreigners in general.” Jackson personally loves being in Japan. He’s currently in his fourth NPB season, having helped the Hiroshima Carp win three straight Central League pennants from 2016 to 2018. After pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers last year, he returned to Japan with Lotte, in part to be closer to his son.
His experiences as Black American in Japan, he says, have mostly been positive.
“There’s not a ton of Black people in Japan to begin with,” he said. “So we kind of stick out a little bit. But I’ve been lucky because I’ve had fans and I’ve had people who recognized me in a lot of places that look out for me.
“So I kind of don’t get those looks and treatment like maybe some other Black people in Japan do. Which, it’s good, but it’s bad at the same time, because I feel for those people. I don’t want people to be treated any differently anywhere.” He acknowledges his experience is impacted by his occupation.
“You kind of get sheltered being a baseball player and being an athlete to a certain extent,” he said. “Because you have the organization behind you, you have your teammates behind you, you have people looking out for you.” Jackson’s main worry, though, is for his son, who was born to a Japanese mother and will turn 2 in December.
Last month, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles outfielder Louis Okoye, whose mother is Japanese and father is Nigerian, opened up about the discrimination he faced as a biracial child in Japan.
For Jackson, Okoye’s words hit home.
“How am I supposed to get him (his son) to understand this as he gets older, especially if he lives in Japan?” Jackson said. “Okoye made it blatantly clear how he was treated.
“I don’t think that’s gonna change. Japan is kind of behind the times when it comes to certain things like that. So I feel for him, and I don’t want him to go through that.” The peaceful marches that took place in Japan last month, however, give him some hope.
“I’m behind these guys,” he said of the Black Lives Matter chapters in Japan. “Black Lives Matter. Yeah, all lives matter, but you’ve seen the devastation that started from someone not caring enough about a Black life.
“The power that we’ve been seeing and the unity that we’ve been seeing, just continue to do it, stay unified, stay pushing this agenda forward.
“That’s all I can ask them to do. If they need me for anything, I’m here. I’m behind them. I know Jonesy would say the same thing, we’re behind them.”