When is it not racism and just plain ol' ignorance?

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You know, People do not realize how colonized their minds are by stereotypes! This morning during breakfast I had time to read the numerous comments on my post, “Obama’s a Monkey in Japan?” Some of the comments were outright nasty and hateful; others were worthy of a reply. After breakfast, I decided to drive to the Apple Store in order to pick up a new Mac Book and other goodies to help me in my mission to finish my book. During my drive, I could not stop thinking about the replies I received. Even after my first attempt to further address the issue of using a monkey to parody Senator Obama, it seemed that I must continue to inform, educate, present, or piss off (please choose the appropriate word or add your own) those that read the Black Tokyo Blog. 

My journey to Japan began with James Clavell’s movie Shogun. The reality of Japan hit me square in the head in 1981 when I touched down in the Land of the Rising Sun. Hopefully, I can help readers understand why “I” and others that have been a part of the BT Community for the past nine (9), yes nine, years discuss things in or about Japan from an Afro perspective. Our reality is not the same as “Gaijin-san.” Does this mean Japan is not welcoming for we Afro-types? Not by a long shot, I enjoy living here. We know where we stand (I couldn’t rightfully use kneel) as “non-Japanese” in a slow but evolving society that seeks international recognition on a broader scale.

Trying to get people to understand things from an Afro perspective is something that young Tolu Olorunda, an 18-year-old local activist/writer, and a Nigerian immigrant tried to do in her piece on the video game Resident Evil 5 created by the Japanese game guru Jun Takeuchi. Olorunda’s writes:

“A 2005 survey suggests that Blacks constitute 2% of the demographic makeup of Game Developers, with Latinos making 2.5%. How ironic is it, that this reality does very little to punctuate the disproportionate consumption of video game products by Black and Brown teenagers.

The early release of the Resident Evil 5 trailer provoked certain journalists to voice their outrage over the transparently racist façade. Newsweek’s gaming journalist, N’Gai Croal, was one of a few of those who rose to occasion. In an interview, he eloquently stated, “I looked at the Resident Evil 5 trailer and I was like, ‘Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game’… The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it.

To say the least, Resident Evil 5 producer, Jun Takeuchi, appears to be a card-carrying member of that classic club which pride themselves in being comfortably uninformed of the racial realities that engulf the societies in which they exist. He claimed to be bitterly misinformed of the racial conundrum he had created. 

In an interview with Japan’s “Famitsu magazine,” he spoke unabashedly about the decision to use Africa as the setting for this installment of the video-game phenomena, saying: “We really wanted to show the origins of the virus, so for the setting we thought, how about using the place where humankind was born… We thought we would use Africa, which is now called the birthplace of humanity.”” (Click here for video interview) You can read the rest of Olorunda’s story here!

Another poster commented that the recent CAPTIVATE 08 trailer displayed a more ethnic diversity among RE5’s enemies, as well as introducing a young African woman, who serves as a partner character to game’s main protagonist, Chris Redfield. 

In response to those who labeled his “art-work” as racially charged when asked by Kotaku whether or not these changes were applied with criticism in mind, Takeuchi replied, “No, not really,” stating such complaints “didn’t have any effect on the game design. “ We wanted Chris to have a partner who was familiar with the environment. She’s been in there since pretty much the beginning,” Takeuchi said of the female mercenary.” 

Takeuchi further states, “In terms of the reaction, we’re in the business of entertainment.” “We didn’t set out to make a racist game or a political statement. We did feel there was a misunderstanding about the initial trailer,” he said. Olorunda concludes, “This act of staged-ignorance is the birth child of a “neo-liberalized” atmosphere that champions Political Correctness as a substantive means of resolving America’s race problem.”

Understanding that among highly developed countries, Japan has always ranked near the bottom in the percentage of foreign-born residents. In the US, about 12 percent are foreign-born; in Japan, just 1.6 percent. Most immigrants here are from Asia (mostly from China and Korea) or South America (mainly Brazil). The Brazilians are mostly of mixed Japanese descent. Now out of 1.6 percent of the foreign-born population, how many do you think are of Afro-Japanese heritage? Excluding the foreign-born population, how many people of African/Afro/Black descent are there in Japan? Since you can already figure out that there cannot be that many, is this the reason why people like Takeuchi, the creator of the Mandom CM, or E-Mobile CM just don’t get it? Alternatively, in simpler terms, do they care? At least the folks at Mandom and E-Mobile apologized and pulled their advertisements.

Judging by the comments on the Obama is a Monkey in Japan? article, it seems that feigned ignorance a.k.a. “it does not concern me” types could really work wonders if they made an attempt to stop with their ASSumptions and accusations about Black Tokyo. I understand that many people are very uncomfortable and misinformed when it comes to discussing the issue of race. Since this site focuses on things Japanese from an Afro perspective, it is within our purview to establish discourse.

This is not the first time (and I am sure not the last) that Blacks have been “dehumanized” in advertisements and the media. Sony Play Station used these:

Universal Studios used this:

But perhaps with my American “conditioning” and “mindset” prevents me from enjoying the “artistic” beauty of the advertisements. Am I reading too much into this? Did I and a million other consumers miss the big picture? I know, the advertisers should have used a monkey!

Maybe someday in the future race will not matter. Nevertheless, those that see no issue in using a monkey in E-mobile’s CM and trying to spin the CM as just a parody of Barack Obama’s campaign and call for CHANGE are battling with cognitive dissonance. As for me, I will continue to enjoy the history and culture of Japan. I will further enjoy engaging in additional research on Japan, Korea, China, Africa and America. With that in mind, I will do my best to help correct any perceived wrongs. Oh! For the person that questioned my “loyalty,” ask Smokey how I feel!

As always, I welcome your reply!

2 Comments

  1. This is wrong time for Japanese to get an attitude with Black people in Japan, In America we have a Black President that is helping to stop the suffering among the Japanese people.

    The existence of Japan culture is at stake due to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. I would think they have better things to do than hating on Blacks.

    I do not personally live in Japan and never will come to Japan but I do care about the treatment of my fellow Black American living in Japan. Being Black American is beneficial since they can always come back to America and not live in the nightmare that now encompasses Japan. Maybe they (Blacks) care enough about Japanese that they want too help you rebuild your country.

    [Edited by Zurui, BT Webmaster]

    • Very true. Those images of Sony and Universal aren’t representative of what Japanese may think about blacks. Don’t confuse the propaganda with those who receive it.

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