Some racists wear kimonos

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

September 25, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

High-ranking government officials in Japan keep making ignorant, racist remarks about black Americans, and I'm sick of it.

The latest outrage occurred Friday.

Japan's justice minister, Seiroku Kajiyama, had just watched police execute a night-time raid in one of the most notorious red light districts in Tokyo.

As officers rounded up prostitutes and loaded them into police vans, Kajiyama held a news conference to explain why such raids were important.

"It's like in America when neighborhoods become mixed because blacks move in and whites are forced out," Kajiyama explained. Prostitutes, he continued, "ruin the atmosphere" of neighborhoods in the same way.

A few years ago, Michio Watanabe, a leader of Japan's Liberal Democrat Party, decided to comment on the spending habits of Americans in general and blacks in particular.

Americans, he said, "use credit cards a lot. They have no savings, so they go bankrupt . . . there are so many blacks and so on, who would think nonchalantly, 'We're bankrupt, but from tomorrow on we don't have to pay anything back.' "

And, before that, Yasuhiro Nakasone, who was then prime minister of Japan, voiced his view that the level of intelligence in the United States is lowered by the large numbers of blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans who live here.

Public comments such as these from Japan's power elite leads one to wonder what Japanese say about black Americans and other groups behind closed doors.

Do they warn their children to go to school and study hard so that they won't grow up to be big and stupid like black Americans?

Do teachers quiet a classroom by shouting, "You're as loud and rowdy as a bunch of black Americans!"

And, when an elderly spinster spots a pair of lovers smooching in the park, does she huff, "Look at them! Why they're as disgusting as a pair of black Americans!"

You might recall the Great Sambo Controversy.

Little Black Sambo fashions and toys became one of the hottest-selling fads in Japan a few years ago, until American protests caused it to be brought to a halt.

Sambo -- jet black with saucer eyes and liver-lips and a ring through his nose -- was featured on beach towels and T-shirts.

"When I'm hungry there's no stoppin' me," said Sambo on one popular beach towel. "I'll be up a palm pickin' coconuts before you can count to three. (An' I can count way past three, too!)."

You might wonder why I, or anyone else, should care what the Japanese think, other than the obvious reason that these stereotypes are demonstrably false.

Two reasons.

First, I have a strong suspicion that these stereotypes are imported from America. Our society radiates racism -- on television and in movies, in literature, and in everyday conversation.

Note that none of the above negative statements about blacks reflects the personal experience of the speaker. When has Kajiyama ever lived next door to a black family? What can Watanabe know about black spending habits?

And note, too, how casually these slurs are uttered.

I would not want to think that Japanese leaders are merely parroting cocktail party conversation they pick up from visiting American bigwigs. But, if that is the case, America's business and diplomatic communities need to clean house. We don't need to send any bigots abroad.

Secondly, Japanese will almost certainly find themselves increasingly forced to deal with black Americans as equals and they're starting off on the wrong foot. Every future projection indicates that the scientific, economic and political hegemony of white males over world affairs will decline, and that the influence of blacks, women, Asians, Hispanics and others will climb.

Some day, well into the 21st century, my two little boys will be grown men and I'll be stooped and gray-haired.

Some day, my son the nuclear physicist and my other son the international financier will sit at my feet and ask my advice about an upcoming multimillion-dollar deal with their opposites in Japan.

And on that day, I'd hate to answer, "Forget the Japanese, boys, they're a bunch of stupid, arrogant, narrow, ugly-minded, ignorant, galloping bigots. They're the Ku Klux Klan in kimonos. Spend your money elsewhere."

I'd hate to have to say such things, but I will -- if these incidents continue.

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