Japan: Obama is the Guy with the Black Face, so Blackface

雑記帳 長崎・小浜温泉では「OBAMA感謝祭」

I have only one problem with Japanese people in blackface: it’s totally inexcusably awful. I hate to be shrill about this, and outrage in this case feels like almost like a cliche, but how many more of these are we going to have to see?

Let’s assume for a minute that this sudden rash of Japanese blackface in the wake of Obama’s presidency is well-intentioned. Comedians and yuksters want to look like Obama, so they darken their faces. Does no one know that this is not okay outside of Japan? And more to the point, do people understand that putting these images on the internet means that non-Japanese will view them and say, wow, this Japanese man in blackface in imitation of Obama is a total bummer and a blight on the Japanese nation?

Obama will be president for at least four years, if not more. Someone needs to drop the hint now — in some kind of well-orchestrated national campaign — that Japanese comedians and actors can’t do their Obama imitations in blackface (or even worse, crappy blackface) for the entire span of the Obama administration. Otherwise, this problem is only going to get worse.

Spike Lee’s Bamboolzed is not his greatest work, but it definitively tackles the core issues at the heart of the blackface debate. (Wait, is this even a “debate”? You just are not supposed to do blackface in contemporary global society. Case closed.) Can we send a boatload of Region 2 DVDs of this film over here and pass them out?

I leave you with hopefully one of the last examples of Japan’s Blackface Era: a truly terrible Obama in blackface and fuzzy black wig in the world of Super Mario.

W. David MARX
January 21, 2009

64 Responses

  1. Miranda V Says:

    i think that you have a point. what else do you think

  2. Adamu Says:

    One of the blogs linking to that Mario video said something like “thankfully, there is no end to the Japanese capacity to produce craziness” — that I think is the typical reaction to this nonsense. It’s viewed like a richer, gadget-heavy, more adorable North Korea, in other words a backward, isolated, vaguely authoritarian state. The blackfacers only reinforce this perception, even though this is a misguided attempt at lighthearted topical humor (and in the case of the matsuri guy, a clueless attempt at celebration).

    Just a year ago, Saturday Night Live got in trouble for a blackface sketch:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/28/AR2008022803988.html?nav=hcmodule

    And the rest of the quick google search reveals several more Obama blackface incidents, all in the US.

    I think the problem here is just a complete failure to recognize a problem.

    Also I took a quick look at “Gosperats” and “sabetsu” on the Google showed had a lot of trouble even finding any discussion of how blackface might be offensive (one question on Yahoo Q&A: “I want to perform Gosperats at my friend’s wedding, but what’s the best way to paint my face like that?” and another for someone who wants to imitate Billy’s Boot Camp). I am not saying no one is aware of this issue, but it is very clearly very far from being part of the received wisdom.

    Not sure if this posting is true, but either way the reactions are hilarious:
    http://ayacnews.blog57.fc2.com/blog-entry-4787.html

    I haven’t seen that movie, but I think this is just a case where the Japanese just didn’t get the memo. In America it is still OK for White People to be entertained by black culture while simultaneously looking down on it (“I like old-school/indie rap but the gangster rap is shit”). It’s just that as a compromise move we have certain rules of political correctness when going about it. In Japan, people love black culture but just haven’t been properly taught not to call R&B “black music” and that blackface is a big no-no. I am sure that things like Obama’s first visit will prove a big national learning experience in this regard. Or maybe Jero could say something in protest (don’t count on it).

  3. M-Bone Says:

    “I think the problem here is just a complete failure to recognize a problem.”

    Yeah, they didn’t get the memo. But how to send a memo?

  4. Gael Says:

    Are you sure that “this is not okay outside of Japan?” Growing in Switzerland I had never heard of Minstrel shows until recently. Painting oneself in black would probably not by itself be offensive and I am pretty sure some people do on carnival.

    And have you ever heard of the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet? When on St-Nicolas day hundreds of children get a blackface to look like St-Nicolas helpers? To be fair there are debate every year on that one. They made trial with other colour but it didn’t catch on with people.

    Actually I would like to know for who this is a total taboo apart from North American?

  5. justin Says:

    “Does no one know that this is not okay outside of Japan?”

    Yeah thank god there is one shining beacon of a non-PC nation left in this world — I mean, a country not filled with a bunch of crybaby sissies who see something that “hurts their poor little feelings” and has to go make a fiasco of how a joke that doesn’t tickle their funny bone relates back to and resuscitates all prejudice and evil heinous acts committed since the beginning of time, god forbid …

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    You’re not making a case for blackface. You’re just making a case against PC.

    a country not filled with a bunch of crybaby sissies who see something that “hurts their poor little feelings”

    Also, blackface doesn’t necessarily hurt my feelings. What you are saying is that African-Americans’ grievances against blackface are not legitimate.

  7. Patomaru Says:

    Did anyone get the memo, besides self-righteous foreigners in Japan?

    I kid, I kid.

    But I don’t really see how this can become real hobby horse while people still do it in America where it is supposed to be so taboo.

    As a disclaimer to completely invalidate anything I say and speaking to my general ignorance: I never even heard the term, “blackface” until I came to Japan.

  8. M-Bone Says:

    Why don’t we make up a reasoned, bilingual form letter to TV stations and get something viral going across the J-blogs?

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    “self-righteous foreigners in Japan”

    I get why it’s so fun to make this post about me, but don’t waste your time shooting the messenger.

    Even if you are pro-Japanese blackface, you have to admit that these Japanese blackface images are being seen by lots of Americans other than me, who may be offended, for good reason. And no, the Japanese in question are not doing it out of some kind of “cultural right” nor an anti-PC position. They are doing it most likely because they think it is funny and not offensive.

  10. Patomaru Says:

    I’m sorry. I don’t really consider you a “self-righteous foreigner.” I just felt my comment wouldn’t be a proper internet forum comment with out a snarky comment to set everyone on edge.

    I don’t think I would call myself pro-Japanese blackface per say. I mean being a self-righteous foreigner in Japan myself, I get mildly annoyed at the rampant stereotyping and change the channel everytime that stupid synchronized-swimming-food-eating-guessing show is on TV.

    The problem I have is I am not really sure blackface is the taboo that some people think it is. Let me rephrase that. Doing blackface minstrel that explicitely plays off of people’s racist stereotypes of black people might very well be taboo, but if enough people at SNL thought it was okay for a white-asian man to darken his skin and impersonate Obama in America how taboo can it be even in America? I just don’t think many people equate impersonating Barack Obama to a blackface minstrel. I am sure there are people who do make that connection, and maybe that is reason enough to stop, but I don’t know how you can call it a taboo when Barack Obama himself said the SNL impersonation of himself was funny.

  11. Patomaru Says:

    re-reading my last comment I don’t think I was very clear.

    Since as you said the Japanese aren’t doing it for racist reasons, then the only reason to argue against the practice is by saying it some cross-cultural taboo, but I think there is enough evidence of people without a visceral reaction to it to a priori call it a taboo. (Again, irrespective of whether they should do it or not)

  12. Mulboyne Says:

    The Klan:

    http://www.city.obama.fukui.jp/maturi/omizu.htm

  13. justin Says:

    “Also, blackface doesn’t necessarily hurt my feelings. What you are saying is that African-Americans’ grievances against blackface are not legitimate.”

    Okay, okay. How about this. You have your face paint tradition which you assign a certain name to, Blackface. It’s a tradition which may or may not be offensive and wrong (not debating that here). Then you go and reverse the formula and say facemakeup automatically equals Blackface, so suddenly you are sweeping another bunch of people who may have no connection whatsoever with a possibly racist tradition into the category without respect for the demands of objectivity that there be some damn good reason to connect them to something as terrible as racism.

    So yeah, I don’t believe any of these claims based on something as simple as makeup are legitimate. I’ve heard complaints on stereotyped accents like in a Taco Bell commercial, and I am offended that Taco Bell is being thrown into a “racist” category just because someone at some point may have used a stereotyped accent to attack an entire people. It’s a hard fact that some 5 to 95% (who knows) of native speakers of one language speaking another will have an accent. To take that hard fact and say that imitating the accent automatically has deeper implications than a person having fun just imitating and enjoying the interplay of the sounds of two languages is really offensive.

    Basically to me all of this is equivalent to thinking “hey I want my cause to be really huge, so I will throw certain behaviors categorically into my list of halt demands, and then just to not get themselves labeled racist, innocents doing those things will have to appease me by stopping or altering what they were doing.” It’s like blackmailing people to support your cause.

  14. Don Says:

    I hope that sometime soon, some hapless comedian actually has the balls to go blackface in the presence of a real live (famous) black person, and ends up causing an international situation. It’s the only way that people are going to “get the memo”.

    What I’d pay to see the Gosperats perform at the Apollo Theater…

  15. GAPS Says:

    Something interesting I noticed yesterday, is that while the English Wikipedia page for ‘Blackface’ has a reasonable amount of text on it’s appearance in Japan, there is no actual Japanese language version of the article (yet).

    I know the issue regarding the exact extent to which Japanese monoglots use wikipedia has been discussed a few times, but perhaps it’d still be an interesting place to ‘send the memo.’

  16. GAPS Says:

    As to the actual issue itself, the thing I find most odd is that Japan is home to a lot of personality traits that deal with caring what others think of you, social harmony, and doing the right thing without questioning too much. Which makes these things so flagrant. I know that a great deal of people wouldn’t actually care whether they did or didn’t, but the very possibility of causing distress is usually enough to stop people.

  17. James Says:

    GAPS, I think you may have missed the blackface article because it is under the title ミンストレル・ショー :

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%9F%E3%83%B3%E3%82%B9%E3%83%88%E3%83%AC%E3%83%AB%E3%83%BB%E3%82%B7%E3%83%A7%E3%83%BC

  18. Aceface Says:

    Just asking this from curiosity,but how many of you guys are Africans in origin?

  19. Kentaro Says:

    黒塗りは国によっては差別と捉えられかねないという認識はだいぶ一般化してきたと思うけど、基本的に田舎の観光協会は地元旅館の「アホぼん」ばかりだから。

    ただ、何が差別と捉えられるかの基準はその社会の歴史と密接に関係するわけで、黒人を「モノ」として扱った歴史のある欧米社会の基準を直接日本に当てはめる姿勢にも問題があるかと。

    だいたい日本人にとって黒人とは圧倒的にアフリカ系「アメリカ人」なわけで、日本人が一方的に差別してきたとはいえないでしょ。(むしろ逆の場合も多い。)

    日本で差別に関して注意されるのは、まず第一は同和問題、次に韓国・朝鮮系、少し間があって中国人というところで、これらに関する表現には大変気が遣われている。
    日本の基準に従えば、欧米の多くは後進的で野蛮な人権後進国ということになる。
    「犬を食べている」と韓国を批判したり揶揄することなどはまさに「考えられない」。

    どうもMARX氏はこの辺の認識に問題があり、自分がいかにアメリカ中心的傲慢さに染まっているかを自覚できていない。
    一見全く正当な主張をしているにもかかわらず、ここでしょっちゅう批判の的になっている最大の理由はそのあたりにあるのではないかな?あなたの本性を見抜いている人は結構いる。

    そこらへんを克服できないと「リベラル」にはほど遠いよ。

  20. M-Bone Says:

    Well, I am white but…

    Its not like we are arguing that Japanese blackface acts are racist to the core or anything. I see them as being a product of a “perception gap”. Many Japanese have an ahistorical view of blackface that is easy enough to understand – it is not their history.

    I see it like this, however – if you know somebody with really bad BO (body odor), is it right to point it out? I’d say yes in many circumstances, it is. They may not realize how bad it is and how offputting it is to other people. Well, blackface stinks too and I feel that if Japanese TV people knew a bit more about it, they wouldn’t let it on the air.

  21. xee Says:

    Just asking this from curiosity,but how many of you guys are Africans in origin?

    I’m not sure this question is relevant, though? discrimination, offensive behaviour, etc, doesn’t only affect the people it’s ostensibly directed at. (but maybe i would say that as i’m white and i find the whole j-blackface thing really head to deal with)

    there was a special of some teen drama recently, where a guy was supposed to play football against another school’s team, a team that was really good and even had like three black people in it (i guess that’s the ‘black people, good at sport’ stereotype there); but then that team couldn’t play against them and so his friends dressed up as the other team! complete with three in blackface! how heartwarming! and it made me sick to my stomach, however well-meaning it was supposed to be.

    the problem with the ‘oh but just cos it’s offensive in western/US tradition, that’s got nothing to do with japan, japan has no history of minstrel shows etc’ argument is that Japan has, over the last hundred and fifty-odd years, absorbed a lot of ideas about things like race from the west, for right or wrong. Japanese thinkers have in the past taken up western ideas in fits and spurts, without much historical background, and often drawn unexpected conclusions from them (e.g. the japanese authorities during the thirties setting up a jewish ghetto in kobe, partly out of a belief that jewish people had a preternatural ability to make money, drawn from antisemitic propaganda). I just don’t feel that ‘not having a history of [whatever]‘ is a suitable… excuse? you wouldn’t say ‘japan doesn’t have a long history of parliamentary democracy so it shouldn’t have universal suffrage’, do you?

    Japan is home to a lot of personality traits that deal with caring what others think of you, social harmony, and doing the right thing without questioning too much

    i have not found this to be particularly true of japan: not that these mores are particularly absent, but– ‘social harmony’ can mean ‘not making a fuss about someone else’s offensive behaviour’ as much as it can mean ‘not being offensive’.

  22. W. David MARX Says:

    Matt Alt translates Kentaro’s comment for us:

    I think the knowledge that blackface may be perceived as racist by certain countries is fairly widely known, but those countryside tourist associations are filled with total idiots from local ryokan. But that said, the standard of what is perceived as racism is related to a society’s specific history, and connecting the standards of a country like America that has a history of treating dark-skinned people as “things” to that of Japan is wrong. For the vast majority of Japanese, people of African descent are treated as “Americans” and there is no attempt to discriminate against them. (And I think the reverse is true as well). With regards to racism in Japan, the highest priority is being paid to addressing the Burakumin problem, then to those of Korean and North Korean descent, and then Chinese people. If the exact standards of Japan were applied abroad, many Westerners would think of Japan as backwards and barbaric with regards to human rights. This is why we wouldn’t dream of ridiculing Koreans by saying they eat dog. Mr Marx, I can’t help thinking the issue is that you don’t perceive how contaminated your views have become by America-centrism. Isn’t this the reason you are a constant target of criticism here, even when your opinions are superficially valid? Many people see through to your true character. Until you address that you aren’t really a “liberal.”

    Translation correction (thanks to Matt T.):

    If the exact standards of Japan were applied abroad, many Westerners would think of Japan as backwards and barbaric with regards to human rights. This is why we wouldn’t dream of ridiculing Koreans by saying they eat dog.

    should be:

    If Japan’s standards were applied abroad, most of the West would be considered backwards and barbaric with regard to human rights. To ridicule Koreans by saying that they eat dog would be truly unthinkable here.

  23. W. David MARX Says:

    Here’s the deal though:

    Mr Marx, I can’t help thinking the issue is that you don’t perceive how contaminated your views have become by America-centrism. Isn’t this the reason you are a constant target of criticism here, even when your opinions are superficially valid?

    Again, the issue on the table is not my personal opinions, nor whether all Japanese blackface comes from a “racist will.” I am saying, these blackface images do spread around the internet quite quickly, and most of those “self-righteous” “not truly liberal”, “overly-PC” Americans will interpret these in a negative light. This is not good for Japan’s international image, and if you believe that “soft power” exists and is important, the net effect is negative.

    The other thing is, the charge of “America-centricism” is ridiculous in this particular case because we are talking about imitations of Barack Obama — the President of the United States. I think it’s pretty obvious that I would take into account the American response to instances of Japanese blackface in imitation of him.

    those countryside tourist associations are filled with total idiots from local ryokan.

    Most cases that are on YouTube are from national television. You can’t blame this all on “yokels.”

    ith regards to racism in Japan, the highest priority is being paid to addressing the Burakumin problem, then to those of Korean and North Korean descent, and then Chinese people.

    Also, do we really need a hierarchy of racism? Are there not universal lessons to learn that can be applied to all races? If you are making an effort not to make rude gestures about Burakumin, you probably should also not do blackface.

  24. Adamu Says:

    “I see it like this, however – if you know somebody with really bad BO (body odor), is it right to point it out? I’d say yes in many circumstances, it is. They may not realize how bad it is and how offputting it is to other people.”

    I hope you will find a receptive audience in all those stank oyaji on the train.

    So Marxy, in your last comment you clarify that you feel that more important than the specific issues of right and wrong about blackface, now that the US president is black it’s in Japan’s national interests for society to respond strongly against incidents of blackface.

    I basically agree, but how healthy would it be for Japan as a society to simply say “stop, Obama might be watching” ? While I agree that this sort of thing should stop right away (and support Japan Probe’s efforts to start a pressure campaign), I think this is the perfect time for a debate on Japan’s cultural biases and stereotypes of people of color. I think that debate would result in much less clueless insensitivity, but I don’t think you’re right to simply say there is no room for discussion, since there is clearly a big gap in perceptions. Shaming people into submission isn’t likely to generate a lot of good will.

  25. James Says:

    While I’m glad there are people willing to send out e-mails to Obama Onsen, I really doubt it will make much of an impact against the current nationwide increase in blackface impersonations of Obama.

    It will take something bigger, perhaps a “shame on you” report from CNN or Reuters, or maybe even a comment from somebody in the Obama administration, to kill off blackface Obama impressions in Japan. There is some strength to the “stop, Obama might be watching” or “stop, Obama saw you on CNN and is not pleased.”

  26. Adamu Says:

    Earlier I mentioned Jero maybe saying something. Hope he does!

  27. Aceface Says:

    “There is some strength to the “stop, Obama might be watching” or “stop, Obama saw you on CNN and is not pleased.”

    Good riddance.I’m already missing Dubya….

  28. Mulboyne Says:

    I don’t think it’s an accusation of an “America-centric” worldview to point out that blackface is a much bigger taboo in the US than anywhere else in the world. As David says, the Obama onsen people are sending a message of congratulation to the new president so it is worth pointing out to them that his country generally finds blackface portayals offensive.

    However, it is another matter to say that that Japanese should realize blackface is completely unacceptable everywhere else in the world because I don’t think that recognizes the different contexts in which it is seen. After all, Robert Downey Jr has just been nominated for an Oscar for his blackface potrayal in “Tropic Thunder”. Now, of course, the joke is on his character in that film so he has drawn more praise than criticism but a quick Google search shows there are people who have taken offence:

    http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/2008/08/25/blackface/

    There’s a danger of appearing to be saying to Japan “The world has already had this argument and here’s the conclusion”. Certainly, if you want to know how to avoid causing offence in many parts of the world then that conclusion is a pretty handy one to have but it doesn’t really recognize that the argument is ongoing and has different resonances in different parts of the world which is why Downey Jr’s portrayal provokes a mixed reaction even in America.

    Britain arguably ranks second behind the US in finding blackface a taboo. However, it took longer for the penny to drop because “The Black and White Minstrel Show” was broadcast by the BBC until the late seventies and remained a popular stage show until the late eighties. The Obama blackface portrayals and bands like the Gosperats would be wholly unacceptable today in the UK but we still get confused by comedians like Sacha Baron Cohen: when his Ali G character first appeared, a number of people thought it was essentially a blackface performance. One problem was that no-one could be certain whether he was a white actor playing a white man pretending to be black or just a white man pretending to be black or else a white man pretending to be a British Asian pretending to be black etc.

    Step into Europe and the taboo has a looser hold still. Here’s an ad which was part of a campaign run in Germany for UNICEF only a year and a half ago:

    http://www.blacklooks.org/wp-content/uploads/unicef_black_face.jpg

    Here’s a question then: should Japanese performers and broadcasters refrain from blackface portayals because they should understand that Americans, along with many others in the west, find it offensive or should they refrain because they ought to conclude themselves that such portrayals are offensive?

  29. TheStrawMan Says:

    I think the issue is more complex than just saying blackface is unacceptable, so the Japanese should stop doing it. As many people have pointed out, variations of it still go on in many countries, including the US.

    For me, I guess the issue is really one of taste. Arguably, Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal, the SNL sketch, and the Japanese comedian who impersonates Obama on TV (he was on a few nights ago hitch-hiking to Obama city in Fukui, I can’t tell if he darkens his skin, or just has a natural tan) are done in far better taste than a guy with messy grease-paint on his face and an afro wig.

    That said, I personally get offended whenever I see SMAP or whomever wearing blond wigs and three-inch long fake noses, caricaturing Americans on TV, so I can see how someone could be offended by any type of blackface, no matter how “tastefully” done.

    I personally wish the Japanese would grow out of this sort of behavior, partly for their own sakes. Every time a comedian paints their face or dons a fake nose, many people watching think “ah yes, all blacks have dark skin, all whites have long noses, and we Japanese have light skin and small noses”
    By doing so, they ignore the myriad of physical types which exist both overseas, and within Japan as well.

    This reinforces the shallow, appearance-obsessed aspects of the culture, and encourages the myths that all Japanese are the same, and different from foreigners in the same way.

  30. Quentin Says:

    http://www.japanprobe.com/?p=8337

    For what it’s worth, people are attempting to send a memo (see link).

    I agree that it doesn’t help Japan’s image at all, regardless of how it’s meant. I know this, because I’ve heard enough people mutter about it disgustedly.

  31. Quentin Says:

    I imagine someone’s already put up that link and I missed it.

    I don’t think it’s an accusation of an “America-centric” worldview to point out that blackface is a much bigger taboo in the US than anywhere else in the world. As David says, the Obama onsen people are sending a message of congratulation to the new president so it is worth pointing out to them that his country generally finds blackface portayals offensive.

    This, at least, seems sure.

  32. Kentaro Says:

    Again, the issue on the table is not my personal opinions, nor whether all Japanese blackface comes from a “racist will.” I am saying, these blackface images do spread around the internet quite quickly, and most of those “self-righteous” “not truly liberal”, “overly-PC” Americans will interpret these in a negative light. This is not good for Japan’s international image, and if you believe that “soft power” exists and is important, the net effect is negative.

    事実認識としては正しいと思う。

    ところで列挙された点は、あなたから見て実際にアメリカ社会の特性だと思う?
    もしそうならば、むしろその点こそがはるかに重大な問題だと思うんだけど。
    アメリカの軍国主義、単独行動主義を生み出す土壌になっているんじゃないかな。あなたもその一粒。

    The other thing is, the charge of “America-centricism” is ridiculous in this particular case because we are talking about imitations of Barack Obama ?

    「America-centricism」というのは一般論としていったまでで、この件では観光協会がバカ。
    騒ぎに便乗して国内の観光客誘致を狙ったまでで、オバマ大統領に対する祝福の気持ちもないんだろうけど、本当は。

    Also, do we really need a hierarchy of racism? Are there not universal lessons to learn that can be applied to all races? If you are making an effort not to make rude gestures about Burakumin, you probably should also not do blackface.

    アメリカにおいて、日本人がユダヤ人、アフリカ系や先住民と同等の保護や配慮を受けられるようになると思う?「ジャパンバッシング」で責任を問われたメディア関係者はいた?
    日本はアメリカよりも優れた社会なので、より高きを求めるということなのかな?

    究極的にあるべき姿とは、問題がもはや差別としては捉えられないような公平・公正な間柄だと思うんだけど。

  33. W. David MARX Says:

    The same sentiment that makes people (okay, militaristic Americans) uncomfortable with blackface also makes them uncomfortable with Mickey Rooney playing Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Is a Japanese person being unreasonable or absorbing “militaristic and unilateral” thinking by also being offended by the Yunioshi role or any other kind of bad portrayal of Japanese in the American media?

  34. Kentaro Says:

    The same sentiment that makes people (okay, militaristic Americans) uncomfortable with blackface also makes them uncomfortable with Mickey Rooney playing Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
    Is a Japanese person being unreasonable or absorbing “militaristic and unilateral” thinking by also being offended by the Yunioshi role or any other kind of bad portrayal of Japanese in the American media?

    つまり、日本人はアフリカ系と同等の配慮を受けていると?
    日本社会に対する批判精神の十分の一でも発揮されれば、それとは違った結論になると思うんだけど。
    ただ、アメリカには日系人強制収容の歴史もあるから一定の配慮はされているのかも。

    話がずれてきちゃったけど、問いたかったのは、どっちがひどいとかいう話ではなく、「ある行為が差別的であるか否かをはかる普遍的な基準があるのか?」ということ。あなたの中に「America-centricism」はない?

  35. filosofem Says:

    Can people stop throwing accusations of whatever-centrisms around? I mean, they are so abused that they hardly carry any weight anymore.

  36. Ametaro Says:

    I supect this is a fool’s errand, but I’ll give it a try anyway. If I’m reading the original post correctly, it is merely opining that many people, particularly in America, find blackface offensive. This is pretty much a proven fact, as can be seen by the many, many newspaper and magazine articles that document the outcry whenever someone in America does it. How on earth does this have anything to do with forced relocation camps, Japan bashing, ethno-centrism, or militarism?

  37. 4ht tg Says:

    You need a new hobby I think. What counts here is not the act itself, but the history associated with the act. Since Japan lacks the history that would make blackface a racist act, then Japanese blackface is basically meaningless.

    What if a Japanese person did “white face”? Would you be as upset? Probably not because there’s no negative history associated with it. The same goes for black face in Japan. Why should a people have to constantly worry about what the standards in every other country are?

  38. M-Bone Says:

    “then Japanese blackface is basically meaningless.”

    If it is basically meaningless, why not just get rid of it (or wish that it is gotten rid of)?

    This is not an example of meaningful Japanese Tradition X being condemned by the white imperialists – this is an example of (largely) American tradition X being used out of context in Japan. Some of the Japanese blackfacers are actually trying to show their enthusiasm for Obama’s presidency. It is a great irony that they are doing it in a way that he would likely find stomach turning. There are far better ways and I don’t see the harm in raising that point.

  39. Patomaru Says:

    M-Bone, but how can you say Obama would find it stomach turning when he called the blackface SNL impersonation of him funny? Is it more stomach turning when Japanese do it?

  40. jg Says:

    The question is, is there a way to imitate a black person in a comedic context without it being “blackface” as Americans (and those aware of American history) know it?

    If African Americans saw the clip and were offended (which surely many would understandbly be), does that trump all other opinions globally?

    What if the imitation was of a black person who wasn’t American?

    Are non-American blacks offended by blackface any more or less than imitations of other races?

    Are people in other countries who’ve never heard of blackface just ignorant?

    If an African American watched the clip and got angry because a bunch of “Chinese guys” were putting on black makeup, would they be just as ignorant?

    Is imitating black people the “worst” imitation because blackface ruined it?

  41. M-Bone Says:

    “M-Bone, but how can you say Obama would find it stomach turning when he called the blackface SNL impersonation of him funny”

    Easy – I’m not sure the SNL thing really was blackface. I also don’t have a major problem with the slightly darker makeup of that faux Dreamgirls band (those “Characters” are supposed to be half Japanese anyway). Different than the Jim Crow blackface.

  42. Aceface Says:

    “If African Americans saw the clip and were offended (which surely many would understandbly be), does that trump all other opinions globally?”

    That’s exactly the types of people we are waiting for,but so far we haven’t got many,have we.
    Anyway,the whole argument will be completely different once we have protest from someone with African origin.

    But I’m very skeptic about English speaking white people’s attempt of forcing their codes of politica correctness to the Japanese society.

    There are no African underclass in Japan.Japan had never imported slaves from Africa,nor possessed any colony in the continent.If majority of population don’t have spinal reflex kind of disgust to blackface,I wouldn’t surprise.

    Besides,many Japanese loved Al Johnson.

    There’s nothing new under the sun.We had couple angry white correspondents making issues over “Dakko-Chan”dolls and “Little Black Sambo” and “Calpis Logo marks”trying their best to portray the country as “pre-civil-rights”nation about twenty years ago.
    Can’t say they made things any better for the society,but all I can say is it had created very bad reputation of the country aborad and from that on,anyword “racist” regarding Japan has always portrayed Japanese as the “victimizer”,in contrast to the past when Japanese were always the “victim”.

    I don’t doubt the good intention of these westerns and they probably are not the type of accusing Taleban for forcing women to wear burkas and justify bombing Afghanistan,I find same kind of mindset lying beneath.

  43. M-Bone Says:

    Ah ha, I don’t need to be black to be concerned about this – I have the plainly selfish motive of not wanting “why are Japanese so racist? they do blackface!” questions in class year after year.

    Some of us just want to see an end to blackface on Japanese TV so as to avoid giving the Japan human rights crusader crew anything else to blow out of proportion (or another excuse to make self-serving Martin Luther King comparisons).

    The “Little Black Sambo” thing was really hypocritical – one of the ubiquitous “Babar” books available in the USA is WAY worse (the elephants actually slaughter a tribe of “savages”). But Sambo is arguably an important cultural artifact (as is Babar) while blackface on Japanese TV is…. valuable how?

    I think that Japan should make a stand on whaling or any number of other issues, but why a fleeting schlocky TV gag that has not roots in Japan or real value in the first place? (and this is from the guy who argued in favor of Mein Kampf)

  44. W. David MARX Says:

    I think this also may be an issue of “taste” rather than just racial politics. I have almost never seen blackface in Japan associated with anything other than hacky bad lowbrow stuff. I don’t expect Aceface to show up in blackface at a party anytime soon even if he is against the blackface backlash.

  45. Kentaro Says:

    I have almost never seen blackface in Japan associated with anything other than hacky bad lowbrow stuff.

    私を含めそう思う日本人も少なくと思う。
    ただ、「下らない、趣味が悪い」といった評価と人種差別であるか否かの基準は一致するものだろうか?あるいは一致させるべきなのだろうか?

    Don Imus氏を人気司会者へと押し上げたアメリカのメディア風土をあなたはどう評価する?
    今回のケースに限り、氏は「地雷を踏んでしまった」ということだそうだが、日本人一般のtasteからすれば「以前から地雷踏みまくりだったじゃないか」ということになると思う。
    何が許され何がタブーとされるかは、やはりその社会の歴史や文化に基づくもので普遍的ではない。
    あなたはアメリカが日本の基準で判断されることを望む?

  46. mozu Says:

    I remember a blackface incident in Tohoku in 1980′s.

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%B2%A9%E6%89%8B%E7%9C%8C%E7%AB%8B%E7%9B%9B%E5%B2%A1%E7%AC%AC%E4%B8%80%E9%AB%98%E7%AD%89%E5%AD%A6%E6%A0%A1
    同校の行事「運動会」では、1年生の男子によって「猛者踊り」と呼ばれる仮装ダンスが行われている。この踊りは、土着民族のたくましさを表現したもので、頭髪を奇抜なデザインに刈り(通称:猛者刈り)、全身に塗料を塗るなどして奇声をあげながら踊る。このダンスは、かつて「土人踊り」と呼ばれていたが、1988年に生徒から人種差別との批判が起こった。これは、服装が「腰みの」「わらじ」「竹の棒」で、塗料も黒であるなど、特定の民族を想起させるものであったためで、黒人人権擁護団体からも苦情が寄せられた。だが、伝統行事であったために、直ちに廃止・改称などは行わず、継続的な議論が行われることとなった。その模様は地方紙岩手日報を始めAERAやNHKニュースなどで頻繁に取り上げられた。最終的には1993年その名を猛者踊りと改称し、塗料は茶・緑・赤・青のみを使用する事で存続を果たした。

    Wikipedia say some students started to question this tradition, but as long as I remember, it’s this 黒人人権擁護団体. I think the human right crusaders were the same family who attacked “Dakko-chan” and “Little Black Sambo”. I wonder what this family is doing now.

  47. mozu Says:

    This may be called black paint incident…

    I believe this family is motivated by good intention, but it seems to me a kind of over-adjustment syndrome. Their standard is always outside(American) and their activity depends on not real but imaginary victims. It’s a kind of mirror image of some foreign crusaders of Enlightment War in Asia.

  48. W. David MARX Says:

    Our Japanese commenters are masters of irony. The same crowd who complain about Western media descriptions of “Japan returning to its Imperialist past” are saying that complaints against Japanese blackface is basically one goose-step away from American imperialist global takeover.

    あなたはアメリカが日本の基準で判断されることを望む?

    This is a fair question, but I would not be so eager to think that only Americans are uncomfortable with blackface.

    Japanese will thankfully be able to do as much blackface as they want under the next four years, seeing that Americans do not control their media nor have the ability to curb freedom of speech. That being said, there may be some people overseas who are not so sympathetic to the inaliable Japanese right to do blackface.

  49. Aceface Says:

    “The same crowd who complain about Western media descriptions of “Japan returning to its Imperialist past” are saying that complaints against Japanese blackface is basically one goose-step away from American imperialist global takeover.”

    I don’t see any paradox in this.
    We just don’t like this whole idea that western media can just cherry pick certain element in the society and build up a grand theory on Japan while the rest of us just sit on our hands and watch.

    Come to think of it.We are living in the world where country A has millions of black population living in the slams with no job,no higher education and no national health care program.
    On the other hands,country B has no such population facing misery but certain people in the fringe of entertainment industry practice blackface as a way to show respect to black culture in Al Jolsonesque way.
    And it’s always country A brand country B as “racist” and spread this to the rest of the world sounds kafkaesque to me.

    ” That being said, there may be some people overseas who are not so sympathetic to the inaliable Japanese right to do blackface.”

    Yeah,I’d imagine right at this moment,Norimitsu Onishi is probably working on a piece like “Japan embrace Obama election,With blackface”.
    That’ll probably teach some lessons to the whole nation.

  50. W. David MARX Says:

    I think you lumping all Americans together is what is confusing the issue. Obviously the people who are against blackface tend to be the ones who think the justice system should be rehauled to stop disproportionally penalizing African-Americans, inner cities should be fixed up, and lingering institutional racism should be eradicated.

    This is why it is somewhat unfair to say that PC-sentiments caused the Iraq War. Most hardcore liberals were against the Iraq War from the start and want American to be less imperialist.

  51. M-Bone Says:

    “Obviously the people who are against blackface tend to be the ones who….”

    Yes! I’ve probably dumped on America (and Onishi, for that matter) as much as anyone in these comments and I still don’t like blackface.

  52. mozu Says:

    I don’t mean to defend Japanese tasteless blackfaces and I’ve sent some alarming notes. My concern is totally the same as M-Bone.

  53. mozu Says:

    totally→probablly

    To avoid misunderstandings, I add that I think I understand your intention in this post and I don’t consider you as a ignorant crusader. I dislike bombing the wrong target and I believe I can distinguish between militants and innocent civilians. And, of course, I dislike this absurd situation Aceface depicts well and those who try to project their guilty conscious into the other people who don’t share the historical and social context.

    I just hope that the history of the relation between Far-East islanders and people with African origin develop positively without interruption by ignorant crusaders.

  54. Aceface Says:

    “I think you lumping all Americans together is what is confusing the issue..”

    No.Not really.Here’s some examples I have in mind.

    There was a confidential report called “JAPAN 2000″published by Rochester Institute of Technology that made huge fuss back in 1991,because it was revealed to be sponsored by Central Intelligence Agency.The report was describing Japan as
    the land of racist and has hidden agenda to dominate the world.
    Who was the main panelist in this report?
    Chalmers Johnson.

    Also at the same time,there was an influential American journalist spending a year in Japan and penned series of articles on The Atlantic Monthly.
    Including “Containing Japan”.He also became avid advocate of introducing numerical target to lessen the trade imbalance between Japan and the U.S.the policy adopted by Clinton White House and brought extreme tention in bilateral ties.
    His name is James Fallows.

    Now we all know that they had overly emphasized Japanese economic might and totally mislead the American public,just like the neocons in the Bush White House.

    The fact that Johnson become harsh critic of American imperialism and Fallows authored “Blind into Baghdad”won’t change my argument.
    Johnson had played similar role as Bernerd Lewis had played in post911 America,giving academic and theoretical backups to the hardliners.
    And Fallows,identical to his Atlantic colleague Robert Kaplan who advocates fighting the terrorists with “Pagan ethos”,wrote/lectured/aired numerous occasion to alarm the American public that since the adversary won’t play by the same book,different rules shall be applied.

    I see more similarities in their mindset than the difference in the partisan politic.

  55. W. David MARX Says:

    We read “Japan 2000″ in my Junior Year tutorial as an example of bad scholarship on Japan. It’s infamous. Even the writers disavowed it immediately.

  56. Kentaro Says:

    あなたは自国の世論を信頼しているようだけど、アメリカは唯一の超大国でその影響力も桁違いなだけに、もう少し懐疑的になってもらいたいんだよね。イラク戦争一つ見てもどうしてそんなに自信があるんだか理解できない。

    ボクが注目している一つの指標は捕鯨問題に対する欧米世論。リベラル本流がこれでは不信感はぬぐえないんだよね。
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/01/opinion/01sun2.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=japan%20whale&st=Search

  57. Roy Berman Says:

    I just stumbled across this 1988 article from the NY Times on more or less this topic.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEEDE1338F932A05754C0A96E948260

    You can’t say that there’s NEVER external criticism, or that these sorts of gaffs or defenses are new.

  58. Mulboyne Says:

    If we’re going back over the past then it is probably relevant to dredge up this one once again:

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20030516b5.html

  59. Roy Berman Says:

    So Abe is at able to notice racism in entertainment when it’s aimed AT Japan. Good to know.

  60. Aceface Says:

    Notice “Abe” here is not the former prime minister of Japan,but merely a diplomat posted to the embassy in Budapest.

    And why can’t we fight for ourselves when blatant racism is aimed at Japan when we are hyper-sensitive in our home front?

  61. Roy Berman Says:

    Oh, wrong Abe. Sorry about that little joke then.

  62. Channing Says:

    Link at the top is dead. Can someone re-find it?

  63. Roy Berman Says:

    Yahoo Japan, like most Japanese news sites, doesn’t keep article online very long. It’s a sad, and very very frustrating, state of affairs.

  64. Chuckles Says:

    Okay, so why do I detect smug western paternalism in this post? Its not as if orientalism has completely receded from public spaces in the Anglosphere: Are blacks so delicate that there sensibilities cannot be offended – or is a liberal American trying to project the West’s complicated history with Africans – and the attendant morality play unto a global stage? I am not justifying blackface – I fact, we have had this debate before, re: the Bubble Sisters in Korea