BT Webmaster and Maiko

Well it seems like the foreign press picked up on my Obama is a Monkey in Japan? story. Addressing the E-Mobile CM is important to me because America, considered the richest and most powerful nation in the free world, is on the path of putting a Black male in the White House. Some folks are eager to point out that Obama is not really “Black” but biracial or multicultural. Some tried to give him the Tiger Woods moniker of self-identity. Some have felt that the one-drop rule can go by the wayside, while others equate the “other” side as being the “reason” for Obama’s successes. One minute Obama is Black, another he is not Black enough.

Now, if you throw a monkey into the mix, whether it was due to racist intent or just plain stupidity on the part of a manufacturer, advertiser, or E-Mobile, then it sort of keeps the kokujin (Black person) marginalized at the highest level. The funny (not really) part is that I have received emails telling me that Obama will have a tougher time dealing with the Republican party in his quest for the White House and that the E-Mobile CM is not a cause for me to get my Afro out of shape. I protested when a Japanese singing group wore blackface (to show their soul) and I got in the mix when the “new” release of Little Black Sambo hit Japan. Color me crazy I guess!

I have talked and blogged myself crazy on issues regarding Blacks in Japan. Blacks share many notable experiences and achievements in Japan but there is still work to be done in improving our image in Japanese society. The Black experience and the use of the Black Other in Japan as a tool, scapegoat, or invisible entity in Japanese media, political circles, businesses, and in other circles is something that must be examined and corrected. 

There are already known voices, Debito and The Community for example, when it comes to addressing the issues of NJs in Japan. Sometimes lost in that voice is a smaller and often times marginalized group of expats that have decided to call Japan home: the African, African-American, Black or Afro-Japanese/Korean/Other.  Caucasians for the most part enjoy a positive image in Japan. This is shown in most  forms of media, business (look at the language schools), government, and in other areas that impact or bring interaction with the Japanese.

Ever since the use of gunboat diplomacy to open Japan to the West and Japan’s desire to learn all they could from Western nations (e.g., Dutch learning, modern “Western” warfare), Blacks have had to combat negative images and perceptions in Japan. People tend to forget that slavery was not some foregone conclusion when Perry arrived in Japan. Most seem to have no knowledge of the Black-Japanese interactions before, during, and after Japan’s war with Russia when the Black Press in America reported on a “Colored” nation beating a White nation in battle. That event got more than a few people nervous around the world. Many have no knowledge of the Japan – Africa relation before the turn of the century. Many have no knowledge of the “bad habits” and the search for “true” self-identity that Japan has had to deal with before and after World War II.

Some posters on other Japan related websites have accused me of having “emotional” baggage or the baggage of American racism and therefore being unable to look at the E-Mobile CM from an artistic, comedic, or “cute” point of view (POV). Others have basically said that E-Mobile should get a pass for being uninformed on issues that are not related to Japan. I respect everyone’s POV but I challenge those posters to dig deeper to learn more about my POV and their “host” country. Now, do I really think that is going to happen? I mean, all they had to do was look at E-Mobile’s corporate profile to get a picture of the number of non-Japanese corporate executives and “outside” advisors that run the company or sit on the board. One should look deeper not to find fault with the host nation but to better understand the host nation and engage in dialogue that will help improve the relationship between all of us that live in and out of Japan. 

At any rate, I appreciate all of the feedback and dialogue that the “Obama is a Monkey in Japan?” post has created. I think we all know of the prejudices within the “gaijin”/expat community and the lack of discourse in alleviating real or perceived issues. If E-Mobile does not learn from this now, maybe other corporations and advertising agencies will take a closer look at future advertisements. I mean DoCoMo, Kirin, Mazda, and a few other companies had a nice run showing we “Black” folk as human. If people believe that this is just a Black/African-American issue, maybe the foreign press and foreign feedback will not only help corporate Japan and more importantly the media, but also those in Japan that suffer from “it-does-not-concern-me-itis.” The last group may find that when the double standard hits them in the face, it may be hard to get that monkey off their back. 

Here are the links from the foreign news sources that picked up my story: 

France:  http://observers.france24.com/en/content/20080620-racist-barack-obama-monkey-japan-commercial

United Kingdom: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/uselection2008/barackobama/2179484/Barack-Obama-‘monkey’-phone-advert-row.html

As always, I welcome your feedback.