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Grits and Sushi: Nappy Routes & Tangled Tales

In keeping with the theme, Blackness in Flux in Okinawa, Mitzi Uehara Carter brings us “Spaces of Blackness in Okinawa, – Nappy Routes & Tangled Tales” You may recall that I previously had the privilege to discuss things Japan from an Afro-perspective with Ms. Carter:

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.

In her latest project, Spaces of Blackness in Okinawa, she presents the following recap of the Golden Week event:


“On Friday, May 4, 2012 during Golden Week, a motley crew of scholars, former military members, artists, business owners came together for a discussion to raise various issues about spaces of blackness in Okinawa. On Sunday, May 6, 2012, we had a smaller group of discussants but more Okinawans in the audience.   Both sessions were different and exciting in their own ways. It was organized by Akiko from Cipher City, Bird from Cafe Barcode, and myself.

Here is a rough summary though of some of the topics that came up:

  • Racism in Okinawa (interesting that it was the first topic that everyone really wanted to discuss, ex. “I feel like I’ve been treated well in Okinawa” to “I’ve been misunderstood here for these reasons….”
  • Black cultural forms–music, food, etc.
  • Black spaces–where one felt the most comfortable, the most “black,” the least comfortable, the most aware of one’s difference  (I have interviewed many of these folks and was hoping some more of this would have been brought up.)
  • Black Okinawans– mixed Okinawans, the rise of black Okinawans after hip hop blew up, child support, absent fathers, transitioning from childhood to adulthood in Okinawa (one black Okinawan woman who grew up here talked about her difficulties in finding work outside of the base areas even though she spoke perfect Japanese.)
  • “I see me here too”– Things that reminded the discussants about black issues in the US, riot tanks in Detroit, military tanks in Okinawa
  • History of solidarity– Koza uprsing, fighting white supremacy on/off base
  • The language of racism vs language of colonialism– different vocabularies to address similar issues, difficulties in coming together because of that
  • Militarization–Pride in uniform, disillusion, security and identity, escaping unsafe neighborhoods at home by enlistment, how racial practices differ in each branch, black nationalism, opportunities for advancement through military enlistment
  • Gender issues– Okinawan women and black men, dating, power relations, Okinawan men and black male friendships
  • Performing blackness– Acting “blacker” in Okinawa, motivations for that, loose boundaries of race, and restricting boundaries–when those shift.

“How this was conceived:  A few of us had come together several times, meeting casually on Monday mornings at Bird’s cafe.  We chatted intensively about about race and space in Okinawa.  Bird, a former Marine in Okinawa said he did not know about events like the Koza Uprising until many years on the island had gone by.  He felt like he had come from a place where these kinds of things mattered.  Why didn’t it seem like anyone cared?  Why was this type of history so silent?  Why had no one talked about previous forms of solidarity between blacks and Okinawans to him before?  Why weren’t people talking about issues of disillusionment or how and in what ways our identities shift once in Okinawa?  Our primary goal:  We wanted to pull various outspoken people together with extensive and moving stories about their “routes” and “tangled tales.”  I was thinking of this all in a very Paul Gilroy/Stuart Hall kind of way.  Others probably took the theme to heart differently. ”

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Please feel free to leave a comment or question! Oh yeah, please pass this information on to others. Reach one, teach one!

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