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Blackness in Flux in Japan

I had the pleasure of co-presenting at the University of California – Berkeley’s Center for Race & Gender with Grits and Sushi blogger and Ph.D candidate, Ms. Mitzi Uehara Carter, and scholar and Water Children blogger, Mr. Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd, M.A. The presentation, “DEPLOYMENT, BASES, AND THE US MILITARY IN MOVEMENT: 
IMAGINING JAPAN AND THE SELF THROUGH RACE & SEX” included three very different looks at being Black in Japan.

The following below is a write-up found on the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Race & Gender website:
Mitzi Uehara Carter, Anthropology
Eric L. Robinson, Black Tokyo
Fredrick Cloyd, California Institute of Integral Studies, Anthropology

“The March 11th forum examined how racial narratives and identities are shaped and transformed as US soldiers and veterans, local citizens, spouses, and tourists intermingle in Japan and Okinawa.

According to Mitzi Uehara Carter, much of the research on contemporary Okinawan identity draws on themes such as structural violence and capitalist-driven globalization. These studies however, overlook the contributions of the U.S. military to the transformation of Okinawan identity politics. For example, she notes how local Okinawan differences from mainland Japan are emphasized and celebrated within military literature and welcome videos/blogs about Okinawa for military newcomers to Okinawa. A similar strategy was also deployed by US military administrators in the aftermath of WWII to quell Okinawan dissent and a movement to repatriate with mainland Japan. However, when military and Okinawan relations are enflamed, the narrative reverts to the US-Japan power bloc configuration of power.

Carter argues argues that U.S. military personnel and their families, currently or formerly based in Okinawa help to (re)create and circulate narratives of Okinawa within military communities both in and outside Okinawa. By paying close ethnographic and archival attention to how narratives of Okinawa circulate within military circles online, in military memoirs, through interviews with soldiers and their families, Carter attempts to make sense of the patterns and ruptures in the narratives about Okinawa as a racialized and gendered space.

The forum concluded with the personal experiences and reflections of Fredrick Cloyd, a scholar at the California Institute of Integral Studies; and Eric L. Robinson, a Marine Corps veteran, businessman, author, and blogger currently residing in Japan.

While researching the life and legacies of his parents for his book, Cloyd, the son of an American serviceman and a multi-racial Japanese mother, discovered an unreported atmosphere of tense and sometimes violent relations between Allied and U.S. servicemen with the residents of Japan and Okinawa, during and following the official occupation. Robinson concluded the talk by sharing colorful annecdotes and life lessons learned over the course of nearly two decades navigating the social and business spheres of Japan as an African American male.”

Here is additional information on Uehara-Carter and Cloyd’s presentations:

We Call It ‘The Rock’: Circulating the Imaginary of Okinawa in the Military Diaspora 
[Mitzi Uehara Carter, Anthropology, UC – Berkeley. Grits & Sushi Blogger]

My paper will explore how U.S. military personnel and their families, currently or formerly based in Okinawa (re)create and circulate narratives of Okinawa within military communities both in and outside Okinawa.  I will focus on how those narratives are shaped against their own identities as US soldiers, veterans, racialized/gendered citizens, spouses, and tourists within Okinawa.  Michael Taussig described the cultural productions of fear and the processes of sustaining Otherness in his work on colonial Colombia as a mix of  “Indian understandings of white understandings of Indians to white understandings of Indian understandings of whites.”  Likewise, I argue that Okinawan militarized and transnational space is a mix of military understandings of Okinawan understandings of US/mainland Japanese understandings to Okinawan understandings of military understandings of Okinawans. Click here to read more.

Being a Black MP in Postwar Japan: Memory and Identity through Resistance and Accommodation as a Subaltern Occupier
[Fredrick Cloyd, California Institute of Integral Studies, Anthropology. Water Children Blogger]

The positioning of the US as a victorious occupier over the subordinate and pliant people of Japan as the defeated was a carefully choreographed affair after WWII with its precursors in imperialism, colonialism, and neo-liberal capitalist expansionisms. In Japan and Okinawa, during and following the official occupation, steady anti-US violence by the Japanese was barred from being reported in the strictly controlled military and civilian media while the different racial groups in the Allied and US military were also living in violent relations with one another on and off bases in Japan, Okinawa and Korea. In this atmosphere of the occupation, my father re-imagined himself from poor African-American man to occupying military police. My mother wanted desperately to escape the ruins of Japan, both imaginatively and literally. In researching for a book on my family’s life and legacies, in thinking/writing nation, culture and race–colliding together through war and re(de)-construction, how has my father viewed himself through the lens of race and nation/husband and father? What becomes prioritized? What becomes linked with frames and thoughts previously unrelated? What becomes new forms of dominance and resistance that continue or resist certain forms of justice and survival? Click here to read more.

Why Japan? Eric L. Robinson, Security Affairs – Far East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific; U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. Creative Director, Black Tokyo.

My presentation took a look at my life in Okinawa and Mainland Japan from 1981 to present. I discussed the realities of living amongst the often marginalized and proud people of Okinawa, life in and out of uniform and the difference in treatment I received, life as a employee at a Japanese trading company, as owner of an import-export company and English as a second/foreign language school, my role as an actor on Japanese television and how I used that vehicle to help change the image of African-Americans. I also discussed my Afromentary movie and book project, Black Tokyo media and why there is a need to provide information of a different hue to those interested in Japan.

Uehara-Carter is currently wrapping up a Golden Week presentation, Nappy Routes and Tangled Tales–a dialog on blackness in Okinawa. I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the panel discussion and look forward to sharing more with you at a later date.

Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd, however, has just completed his first of a series of video projects. He writes:

“This is the first in a series of ongoing video projects based on my personal family history, historical memory, Asia-Pacific postwar ethnography and the historical present.  It is on my channel at YouTube.

This FIRST video is just like a cover of a book.

It invites those interested in a dream of hope, in the facing of oppressions and resistances, to survival and love, remembering and forgetting and dedicated to my mother and those who are not here any longer, who are the ghosts of history that haunt us as humans, creating a Black Pacific.

In the coming weeks and months, each video will give a different flavor, perspective, stories, intellectual and artistic investigations that will slowly unpack and give openings for people to discuss and to understand and to question our historical present through my particular Black Pacific dream videos.

Check out his first video below:

Additionally, we find Cloyd still busy with not only a great project but a living history and herstory of life in Japan from an Afro-perspective.

Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd, M.A. has developed a manuscript and multimedia project, focusing on relations of power in the creation of Asia-Pacific identities in our world. As an African-American/Japanese man raised in postwar Japan, Hawaii, and Albuquerque New Mexico, I provide a particular tapestry of stories — postcolonial and post-structural activist analysis of the present, in relation to the many Amerasians and women alive today. I do it by connecting my very personal story to others–here now or gone by some condition of history that is most certainly ongoing. Nation, Race, Color, Gender & Sexuality, Socio-economic Class and Caste, Space & Time relations, among other forms of organizing boundaries of thriving and/or annihilation, impact relations of power that create the world’s identities, issues, concerns, nations, worldviews, oppressions, joys, selves.

This project focuses particularly on goals to historicize and politicize conditions of alterity and colorism, racisms and sexisms that are trans-pacific and globalizing. Through understanding our pasts, we can understand our present, into the future. It is for social change, not for “feel good” purposes.

I will be sure to keep you up to date with our various projects. By the way, if you have an interesting project or story to share, please contact me via email at podcast[AT] or via @blacktokyo for those on Twitter.


One Comment

  1. […] and scholar and Water Children blogger, Mr. Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd, M.A. The presentation, “DEPLOYMENT, BASES, AND THE US MILITARY IN MOVEMENT: 
IMAGINING JAPAN AND THE SELF THROUGH RACE &a…” included three very different looks at being Black in […]

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