Saturday, January 30, 2010

On Being A Minority (originally published 3/19/08)

I love Japan, but with eyes wide open, and as much for the tough lessons I have learned there as the good ones. Despite the risk of offending some readers, the recent national conversation on race sparked by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s homilies has reminded me of my own experiences with prejudice in Japan. Indeed, I have often thought that every white male in the USA should live a couple years in a Japanese community (not too near to Tokyo) to get a morsel of what it is like to be in the racial minority and the cloying presuppositions of others attendant thereto.

The least of these is that I have had entire restaurants go silent when I poked my head in the door. The worst of these was when I had a drunken man stand up before me on the last train of the night and sing WWII songs about bayoneting westerners. The region I was in is a hotbed of nationalist activity and he was old enough to have served in the big one. The rest of the car was completely nonplussed until a big fellow both in stature and character stood the guy down.

I realize this does not compare to the experiences common to minorities in the US, but I think it has given me at least a basis upon which to identify. For better or for worse, I went to Japan ignorant and completely and unquestioningly colorblind, but I now catch myself once and a while feeling a little weird when the face doesn’t match the speech – like the scene from Rush Hour, "Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!?" This is but a small personal example of how racism poisons those that don’t yet have the wit not to let resentment get the better of them – me being the witless one in this case.  The other thing is that in less than a generation the tables will be turned.  Better get used to it.

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