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Little Black Sambo Musical at a Daycare Center

Hello BT’ers! It’s been a while since I posted (due to the birth of my son, Sho (勝),  but I  wanted to share, with the writer’s permission, an email that I received:

Dear Black Tokyo,

I would like to bring the following matter to your attention.

A daycare center named Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園), or Green Daycare Center, in Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture, located just 30 minutes by train from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo, has been teaching hate speech to three-year old children daily, despite the protests of the parents of at least one biracial child in the class.

http://tinyurl.com/yz8ht6m

Although technically a private institution, the parents were originally instructed by the city of Tokorozawa that their child would have attend daycare there.

During the two years that the child has attended the daycare center, the parents had never once voiced a single concern about the operation of the daycare center until much to the their shock, the daycare center based a play / musical to be performed on Saturday, February 27th, 2010, on the book Little Black Sambo:

http://tinyurl.com/2xgvg8

This is the very same book that several Japanese publishing companies had stopped printing due to public outrage in 1988. When the book was reprinted by one rogue publisher in 2005, many residents of Japan–foreign and Japanese–signed a petition encouraging the publishing company to use a different title and illustrations for the book due to their offensive nature:

http://www.debito.org/chibikurosanbo.html

Unfortunately, now that the book Little Black Sambo has been republished and widely distributed in Japan, it is apparent that the book is now being taught at Japanese daycare centers and quite possibly preschools and elementary schools across the country as well. At least two additional volumes of the book have also been printed by the same rogue Japanese publishing company:

http://tinyurl.com/yd7krej

http://tinyurl.com/ybn33sx

In addition, another publishing company has also decided to get in on the action and has also decided to republish another version of Little Black Sambo:

http://tinyurl.com/ykqx3c7

It is important to note that the book Little Black Sambo was written by a white English woman during India’s colonial period, and at a time when slavery was still quite common. Although the use of the word “slavery” was in decline at the time in India, the population was routinely subjected to debt bondage by the British instead.

Here is a quick translation of some of the frightening lyrics from the song the children are being taught to enjoy singing daily at the daycare center in Tokorozawa:

“Little Black Sambo, sambo, sambo
His face and hands are completely black
Even his butt is completely black”

In the original Japanese:

“ちびくろ・さんぼがサンボサンボ
顔もお手ても真っ黒け
ついでにおしりも真っ黒け”

Obviously, that kind of speech should never be taught to children by teachers at a daycare center. Those words are more akin to what might be taught by a white supremacist group.

Apparently, the book they daycare center is using even comes complete with demeaning pickaninny images:

http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/picaninny/

Now every time the 3-year old biracial child sees a black person he starts using the racial slur and mentions their black skin. The parents now fear taking their own child out in public or overseas. As the child is of such a young age, it also is not effective for the parents to tell the child not to use those derogatory words outside of daycare, as the child will only use them more.

In an attempt to be as understanding of cultural differences, as it was possible that perhaps the daycare center teachers were just not aware of the problems with the book, the parents of the biracial child both wrote letters in Japanese explaining the history of the book, why the title was discriminatory, and mentioning that they thought that illustrations showing demeaning racial stereotypes were not appropriate for young children.

The parents even showed the teachers that the term “sambo” was offensive and derogatory, both in English and in Japanese:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sambo

http://eow.alc.co.jp/sambo/UTF-8/?ref=sa

Beside being used as a disparaging reference to black people, the English dictionary above makes it clear that the word is also used to refer to people of “mulatto ancestry,” in other words, the offspring of parents of different racial origin.

After doing a little research, the parents soon found that the term had been in use and deemed derogatory as far back as 1748, 150 years before the book Little Black Sambo was even written. In addition, the derogatory word “sambo” has been prohibited from being broadcasted on TV or radio in Japan (放送禁止用語), which was also explained to the daycare center.

This fact that the book contains offensive slurs shouldn’t even be considered news to anyone in Japan, when when Little Black Sambo was republished in Japan in 2005, the website of the Asahi News reported that the book was said to “discriminate against black people” and the article can still be found online:

http://book.asahi.com/news/TKY200504190160.html

In an attempt to help the daycare center out of a sticky situation, the parents of the biracial child even had the two following books sent by express mail and took them to the daycare center:

The Japanese translation of “Sam and the Tigers”:

http://tinyurl.com/yb4yfav

The Japanese translation of “The Story of Little Babaji”:

http://tinyurl.com/ylybsbw

Both books above are modern, politically-correct retellings of Little Black Sambo that would not cause offense.

However, the daycare center said that they were not only already aware of the politically correct versions of the book, but has also refused to use them.

The daycare center’s excuse is that since all of the children have already learned the title Little Black Sambo, there will be no change in the title whatsoever. The staff have continued to teach the use of the discriminatory word “sambo” and encourage the children to enjoy using it.

In addition, at a meeting with one of the parents of the biracial child, the daycare center said that although they could not make any promises, they would “try” to change the lyrics of the song. However, it seems that additional lyrics were never actually taught and the biracial child and others in the school continue to use the hate speech filled one.

It appears that nothing has been done at all and that the daycare center is just trying to avoid the problem. Despite the parents’ protests, the daycare center still continues to use the racial slur in the presence of their biracial child and encourages the child’s classmates to enjoy singing the song which clearly contains hate speech.

Despite the daycare center’s claims, the fact is that there is no good excuse for racial discrimination.

It is shocking that a daycare center of all places, located just 30 minutes by train from downtown Tokyo, where the population includes a fair number of black people and numerous African Embassies, is teaching hate speech to small children. Tokorozawa’s sister cities include Decatur, Illinois in the United States (which has a 20% African American population), Changzhou in the People’s Republic of China and Anyang, Gyeonggi in South Korea. In addition, Tokorozawa is also the home of Columbia International School (コロンビアインターナショナルスクール) and several international dormitories for the international students of Waseda University:

http://www.columbia-ca.co.jp/

http://tinyurl.com/yfque4b

As can be imagined, this has caused quite a lot of stress for the family with the biracial child. While understanding that this matter needs to be brought to the attention of the public, one of the parents of the biracial child has expressed concern for their family’s safety, and so wishes that the family not be further identified publicly.

Japanese society is based on shame and often slow to change. As a culture is appears that may Japanese people prefer to try to ignore problems and just hope they go away. Only by shaming organizations that discriminate and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of racial discrimination in Japan, will real change eventually come about.

Please take the time to contact the daycare center yourself, either in English or Japanese, and raise your concerns about the daycare center’s teaching of hate speech to young children. It will only take a minute of your time and contact information is provided below.

Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園)

Tel: 04-2948-2613 (Monday to Saturday, 9 AM – 5 PM)
Fax: 04-2947-3924
E-mail: qqew85hd@world.ocn.ne.jp

Address:

Sayamagaoka 1-3003-52
Tokorozawa, Saitama 359-1161

〒359-1161埼玉県所沢市狭山ヶ丘1丁目3003-52

Please also make your voice heard, by sending a carbon copy to Tokorozawa City Hall, Department of Daycare Services, which has been informed of this issue:

EMAIL: a9126@city.tokorozawa.saitama.jp

Thank you very much for your time. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Mark Thompson (MarkThompson1970@gmail.com)

This message can be freely copied, distributed or published online. Please help raise awareness of racial discrimination.

Black Tokyo previously posted an article on racial biases in Japanese Kindergartners and Little Black Sambo. Additionally, here is some infomation from Debito.org.

What is your opinion, is there any harm on having kindergartner’s perform Little Black Sambo at daycare center?



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20 Comments

  1. TwiBlade TwiBlade

    This is ridiculous, what’s being done to eradicate it? Anything at all?

  2. MyuziqMan MyuziqMan

    Completely Horrible! Its stuff like this that makes me truly afraid to come to Japan, I haven’t really been to Japan in my lifetime, but thats besides the point. If this play goes on I fear that something drastic might ensue….well in my own opinion. I’m very ma informed on the subject and can only make round-about opinions….

  3. Shinjukuboy Shinjukuboy

    Japanese are not well informed about the historical background. Maybe they know Lincoln freed the slaves in the US, but that is about as far as it goes. Japanese I talked to simply think that “Little Black Sambo” is “cute” (可愛い), as are many things here, and don’t give it any more thought than that. The Japanese parody themselves unmercilesly in the mass media (TV shows and commercials, etc. – even parody Buddha in a TV commercial), and most likely consider this just a cute parody. To me this is the attack angle for an “educational moment”, not screeming about racism (and I’m not saying there are no racists here because there are): you can make a point about racism without accusing people of “racism”. Most Japanese have never even met a Black person. It is just ignorance that needs to be informed.

    Several years ago on a late night program, a Black university marching band director was being interviewed. The first question was, “So, what kind of jazz do you like?”, as if jazz was the only music Blacks like. The guy was very good, and started out saying, “Well, first let me say that I like all kinds of music: popular, classical, as well as jazz. But since you asked about jazz, I like….” He turned it into an “educational moment” for the interviewer and the audience. He didn’t give a lecture on racist stereotypes(and again, I’m not saying there are no racists here): he was making a comment about racism without saying “racism”.

    Can’t something like this be done with “Little Black Sambo”? Turn it into an “educational moment” without the chest pounding indignation. The Japanese probably won’t understand what the heck all the fuss is all about, but will definitely want to avoid contact with Blacks in the future. If the school officials are do dim-wited, target the parents and be informative. Use a bottom-up approach.

    Last comment: in the quote given, the word “butt” is translated as “お尻” (oshiri), which is considered “cute” in Japan (in the case of a kid anyway – it may not apply to a sumo wrestler). Lots of place names include “shiri”.

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