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Loco in Yokohama: Are You African?


Two very interesting posts from Loco in Yokohama that deal with stereotypes and very common perceptions about race and ethnicity in Japan. Feel free to comment on both Black Tokyo and Loco in Yokohama.

In Part 1 of the Loco in Yokohama, “Are You African? post:

The other day in class, the Japanese English teacher asked me what languages could I speak. The simplest answer would have been English only. I mean, as far as fluency is concerned it is the only language I know. However, from grades 1 through 8, I was heavily exposed to Swahili (an African language spoken in Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries) and between HS and University another 8 years were spent gnawing and yawning at the French language. So, in the spirit of teaching the students that there are more than two languages in the world, I answered, “Of course, English, but also a little Swahili, French and Japanese .

The students were of course familiar with English, and with French as well. But the Japanese teacher had to explain Swahili a little.

“Are you African?” one student asked, innocently.

“Uh…no,” I said, after a brief hesitation during which 500 feelings flash-flooded my heart.

“Did you live in Africa before?” Another student asked.

“No…not really.” Another flash flood…

The reason the students had asked was simple deductive reasoning: If you speak an African language you must be African. They didn’t ask me if I were French or British, though I speak languages originating from those areas as well.”

In Part 2 of the Loco in Yokohama,”Are You African?” post:

“Are you African?” I asked.  In Japan, I’ve learned that black is black. I’ve yet to meet a Japanese person who could distinguish between African-American and African. Though there are many variations of African and of African-American rarely have I been unable to ascertain with a glance whether a person was from my quadrant of the globe or from The Motherland. I might mistake a Caribbean person, especially Haitian or Cuban, for African, but rarely an American. There are distinct physical differences usually.  Skin tone is usually not the cue though people from certain African countries have a certain density of blackness uncommon in the States. Facial structure is usually how I can distinguish between us and them and Terrence’s screamed African, though clearly diluted by Asian, probably Japanese.

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  1. sara sara

    “density of blackness uncommon in the States” not so sure about this statement cause you people like wesley snipes who is really dark. Vanessa L williams who can easily pass for african etc..

  2. Hey sara, “uncommon” means there are exceptions, not an absolute…look it up (-: And Wesley Snipes qualifies as an exception for sure. Vanessa Williams? I don’t think so. Pretty typical. Maybe you’re confusing her with another woman, Iman or Naomi Campbell, but I don’t think she’s American, she’s British.

  3. Jiji Jiji

    I don’t think you should really be too offended, personally I get that question a lot from my Asian friends when I finish talking to my Mom on the phone in Tigrinya (“Wait, your AFRICAN-AFRICAN?”). If you have a story, tell it to them and enlighten them. 🙂

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