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  • Psych Today and DailyLife.com on “Microaggression”, an interesting way to look at subtle social “othering”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on March 21st, 2012

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    Hi Blog.  I’ve been studying in recent months the dynamic of “othering” and concomitant practices of racism at the nation-state level.  Lotsa food for thought for me there, of course.

    But this came across my computer screen a few days ago and I think it worth reposting.  Two articles, one journalistic, one from scientists at Psychology Today, on “Microaggression”, and how subtle practices of social “othering” in everyday interactions are difficult to deal with without getting (or sounding) paranoid.  It happens on a daily basis to minorities and people of differences in any culture, to be sure.  But in Japan, methinks, it gets dismissed as merely a Japanese cultural practice (“curiosity”, the product of the ubiquitous “shimaguni konjou“, the way many Japanese reconfirm themselves as “different” and “unique” as defined in contrast to the NJ, etc.).  It’s not necessarily a willful act of racialization (and I would put it down to more of a “dominant group” issue rather than a “White” issue, so the analysis can cross societies), but is is definitely an aggressive act of “othering” (as in, assuming through the line of questioning, and against all evidence to the contrary that comes out in conversation, that someone is “different”) on the micro level.  And when it happens often enough, it become a macro phenomenon.  The advantage is, in English, there is a word for it.  Not in Japanese, which makes it tougher to deal with.  Again, lots of food for thought.  Have a read.  Arudou Debito

    //////////////////////////////////////////////

    ARE YOU A VICTIM OF MICROAGGRESSION?
    March 16, 2012
    Candice Chung, Writer, Daily Life.com, Courtesy Giantpanda
    http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/are-you-a-victim-of-microaggression-20120315-1v68k.html

    Maybe it’s the dim lighting, or maybe it’s the soft 80s rock – but there’s something about catching a taxi alone at night that gives cab drivers the illusion they’re on a speed date with you. At least that’s one way of explaining the huge number of uncomfortably intimate conversations I’ve had with taxi drivers over the years.

    There are the standard ice-breakers – whether I’m single, what I do, where I’d been, and it usually ticks along politely until I get one question wrong.

    Driver: “So, where are you from?”
    Me: “Oh, I grew up here.”
    Driver: “But I mean, where are you from, originally? What are you Thai? Malaysian?”

    And that, I’ve come to recognise, is my cue to provide a solid explanation for being Asian. Of course, I could’ve mentioned I was born in Hong Kong from the start, but what if they decide to compliment me on my English? It’d be rude to take credit for what’s practically the only thing I speak.

    Interestingly, the question of ancestry hardly ever comes up in casual banters for my Anglo Saxon friends (although they too are descended from immigrants). We may laugh at the overwhelming percentage of Republican voters who still believe Barack Obama is Muslim, but even in a truly multicultural society like ours, are certain cultural and religious backgrounds perceived as more ‘authentically Australian’ than others?

    The term ‘microagression’ was first coined by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe the everyday things we say or do which causes someone to feel ‘othered’. Originally a racially-related phenomenon, its definition has since evolved to include any subtle verbal or non-verbal communication that conveys insensitivity towards a person’s sex, social status, physical appearance or sexuality.

    Microaggressive remarks can often come in the form of back-handed compliments. For example, “She’s gorgeous for a big girl” or “I would never be able to tell you’re GAY!” Essentially, they are messages that appear innocent enough on the surface but contain ‘demeaning meta-communications’ to its recipients.

    According to Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue, “Most people… harbour unconscious biases and prejudices that leak out in many interpersonal situations.” Just think of all the talk-back radio rants that begin with “Now, I’m not racist/ sexist/ homophobic, but …” or any number of ‘well-meaning’ comments that finish with: [chuckle] “No offence”. And since most ‘microaggressors’ are genuinely unaware of any wrongdoings, this makes it nearly impossible to confront the situation without evoking paranoia.

    Ironically, Sue’s research also found that most of us are actually better at handling overt acts of discrimination than subtle insults, because at least the former has “no guesswork involved” whereas victims of microaggression are “often left to question what actually happened”.

    The challenge ultimately lies in making the invisible visible – however ‘insignificant’ it may be. And we can do this, writes Cultural Anthropologist Zara Zimbardo, by “returning the gaze”: “In feminist discourse, it’s when “the targeted ‘other’ look[s] back at the non-target “norm”, putting them in the spotlight of scrutiny.” Viral videos like S**t White Girls Say to Black Girls or the Microaggression Project – where contributors are encouraged to submit snippets of microaggressive insults – are great examples of putting the spotlight on the myriad ‘invisible things’ that make up a marginalised experience.

    In the end, this is an awkward subject because it often requires well-meaning people to reflect on their own bias and privilege. Sure, you may object to racism, but do you speak really, reaaally slowly when you order Thai home delivery? Perhaps no one sums up the value of self-awareness better than David Foster Wallace in his famous ‘This is water’ speech:

    “Two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?””

    It’s surprising what goes unnoticed sometimes.
    ENDS
    ////////////////////////////////////////////

    Psychology Today

    Microaggressions in Everyday Life
    A new view on racism, sexism, and heterosexism.
    by Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D., and David Rivera, M.S.
    Is subtle bias harmless?
    Published on October 5, 2010 (excerpt)
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life

    Not too long ago, I (Asian American) boarded a small plane with an African American colleague in the early hours of the morning. As there were few passengers, the flight attendant told us to sit anywhere, so we choose seats near the front of the plane and across the aisle from one another.

    At the last minute, three White men entered the plane and took seats in front of us. Just before takeoff, the flight attendant, who is White, asked if we would mind moving to the back of the aircraft to better balance the plane’s weight. We grudgingly complied but felt singled out as passengers of color in being told to “move to the back of the bus.” When we expressed these feelings to the attendant, she indignantly denied the charge, became defensive, stated that her intent was to ensure the flight’s safety, and wanted to give us some privacy.

    Since we had entered the plane first, I asked why she did not ask the White men to move instead of us. She became indignant, stated that we had misunderstood her intentions, claimed she did not see “color,” suggested that we were being “oversensitive,” and refused to talk about the matter any further.

    Were we being overly sensitive, or was the flight attendant being racist? That is a question that people of color are constantly faced with in their day-to-day interactions with well-intentioned White folks who experience themselves as good, moral and decent human beings.

    The Common Experience of Racial Microaggressions

    Such incidents have become a common-place experience for many people of color because they seem to occur constantly in our daily lives.

    When a White couple (man and women) passes a Black man on the sidewalk, the woman automatically clutches her purse more tightly, while the White man checks for his wallet in the back pocket. (Hidden Message: Blacks are prone to crime and up to no good.)
    A third generation Asian American is complimented by a taxi cab driver for speaking such good English. (Hidden Message: Asian Americans are perceived as perpetual aliens in their own country and not “real Americans.”)

    Police stop a Latino male driver for no apparent reason but to subtly check his driver’s license to determine immigration status. (Hidden message: Latinas/os are illegal aliens.)
    American Indian students at the University of Illinois see Native American symbols and mascots – exemplified by Chief Illiniwek dancing and whooping fiercely during football games. (Hidden Message: American Indians are savages, blood-thirsty and their culture and traditions are demeaned.)

    In our 8-year research at Teachers College, Columbia University, we have found that these racial microaggressions may on the surface, appear like a compliment or seem quite innocent and harmless, but nevertheless, they contain what we call demeaning meta-communications or hidden messages.

    What Are Racial Microaggressions?

    The term racial microaggressions, was first coined by psychiatrist Chester Pierce, MD, in the 1970s. But the concept is also rooted in the work of Jack Dovidio, Ph.D. (Yale University) and Samuel Gaertner, Ph.D. (University of Delaware) in their formulation of aversive racism – many well-intentioned Whites consciously believe in and profess equality, but unconsciously act in a racist manner, particularly in ambiguous situations.

    Racial microaggressions are the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned White people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated. These messages may be sent verbally (“You speak good English.”), nonverbally (clutching one’s purse more tightly) or environmentally (symbols like the confederate flag or using American Indian mascots). Such communications are usually outside the level of conscious awareness of perpetrators. In the case of the flight attendant, I am sure that she believed she was acting with the best of intentions and probably felt aghast that someone would accuse her of such a horrendous act.

    Our research and those of many social psychologists suggest that most people like the flight attendant, harbor unconscious biases and prejudices that leak out in many interpersonal situations and decision points. In other words, the attendant was acting with bias-she just didn’t know it. Getting perpetrators to realize that they are acting in a biased manner is a monumental task because (a) on a conscious level they see themselves as fair minded individuals who would never consciously discriminate, (b) they are genuinely not aware of their biases, and (c) their self image of being “a good moral human being” is assailed if they realize and acknowledge that they possess biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of color.

    To better understand the type and range of these incidents, my research team and other researchers are exploring the manifestation, dynamics and impact of microaggressions. We have begun documenting how African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians and Latina(o) Americans who receive these everyday psychological slings and arrows experience an erosion of their mental health, job performance, classroom learning, the quality of social experience, and ultimately their standard of living.

    Classifying Microaggressions

    In my book, Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation (John Wiley & Sons, 2010), I summarize research conducted at Teachers College, Columbia University which led us to propose a classification of racial microaggressions. Three types of current racial transgressions were described:

    • Microassaults: Conscious and intentional discriminatory actions: using racial epithets, displaying White supremacist symbols – swastikas, or preventing one’s son or daughter from dating outside of their race.

    • Microinsults: Verbal, nonverbal, and environmental communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity that demean a person’s racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a co-worker of color how he/she got his/her job, implying he/she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.

    • Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, White people often ask Latinos where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.

    Our research suggests that microinsults and microinvalidiations are potentially more harmful because of their invisibility, which puts people of color in a psychological bind: While people of color may feel insulted, they are often uncertain why, and perpetrators are unaware that anything has happened and are not aware they have been offensive. For people of color, they are caught in a Catch-22. If they question the perpetrator, as in the case of the flight attendant, denials are likely to follow. Indeed, they may be labeled “oversensitive” or even “paranoid.” If they choose not to confront perpetrators, the turmoil stews and percolates in the psyche of the person taking a huge emotional toll. In other words, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    Note that the denials by perpetrators are usually not conscious attempts to deceive; they honestly believe they have done no wrong. Microaggressions hold their power because they are invisible, and therefore they don’t allow Whites to see that their actions and attitudes may be discriminatory. Therein lays the dilemma. The person of color is left to question what actually happened. The result is confusion, anger and an overall draining of energy.

    Ironically, some research and testimony from people of color indicate they are better able to handle overt, conscious and deliberate acts of racism than the unconscious, subtle and less obvious forms. That is because there is no guesswork involved in overt forms of racism.

    Harmful Impact

    Many racial microaggressions are so subtle that neither target nor perpetrator may entirely understand what is happening. The invisibility of racial microaggressions may be more harmful to people of color than hate crimes or the overt and deliberate acts of White supremacists such as the Klan and Skinheads. Studies support the fact that people of color frequently experience microaggressions, that it is a continuing reality in their day-to-day interactions with friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and employers in academic, social and public settings…

    Rest of the article at
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life
    ENDS

    22 Responses to “Psych Today and DailyLife.com on “Microaggression”, an interesting way to look at subtle social “othering””

    1. Rudy Says:

      Interesting reads, although the Psychology Today article had a very ironic effect on me: it made me feel that I, the reader, was myself being on the receiving end of an act of microaggression, through the casual portrayal of ‘Whites’ as the natural perpetrator of microaggression against victims ‘of color’. Perhaps understandable within an American context and when restricting the discussion to racism, but even then, acts of microaggression do not seem to me to be much less likely to occur between two people that are both ‘of color’ but with different backgrounds, or, in certain social contexts, with a ‘White’ person as the victim. But then again, Debito already pointed out that a generalisation to ‘dominant groups’ seems more appropriate, and I agree.

      Back to Japan, though. That this sort of thing happens regularly, to varying degrees of offensiveness, is of course undeniable, and while I don’t know how often ‘Japanese cultural practice’ is given as an excuse, I’ll guess that happens reasonably often as well. What I wonder about, though, is to what degree easy dismissal using ‘cultural practice’ and similar concepts as excuses is specific to Japan. My feeling is that it is not, but I don’t think I have the necessary experience to make direct comparisons of degree, because I was never part of a minority in my country of birth. It would perhaps be interesting to hear from readers who have experienced life as part of a minority group in two or more different cultures.

    2. giantpanda Says:

      These articles express clearly a lot of the thoughts I’ve had about this over the years. It’s the “continuing reality” of these micro-agressions that wears you down, not necessarily the overt displays of racism, which are not so common that they happen to everyone. I’m now super-conscious in my home country about not asking people where they are from, not complimenting their use of English or making superfluous comments about their culture. 10 years of “ohashi jouzu desune!” does that to a person.

      When I think of my real J-friends in Japan (and they are few) the ones that I instantly clicked with were the ones who did not ask within the first 5 minutes of meeting me what country I came from.

    3. Jim Di Griz Says:

      Excellent post!
      I see racial micro-aggression in Japan everyday (‘Ah, Nihongo pera-pera!’), and the ‘clutching of handbags’ when I am close by. Not to mention crossing the street (in broad daylight) when they see me. The Norwegians used to do this sort of thing to the German occupiers on purpose during the war. It was the only way most of them could show some resistance. It was called (in Norwegian) ‘The Ice Front’.

    4. trustbutverify Says:

      “Our research and those of many social psychologists suggest that most people like the flight attendant, harbor unconscious biases and prejudices that leak out in many interpersonal situations and decision points.”

      I think this is probably true.

      I also think this is probably true of the researchers themselves.

      Additionally, if they had looked further, I suspect they would find it is not limited to attributes of race, but to any difference that can be exploited to assume a position of “superiority”. In conflict, how much more likely is someone to say/think: “fat [expletive]!” “ugly [expletive]!” “four-eyed [expletive]!” “stupid old [expletive]“, “[expletive] liberal [expletive]“, etc?

      It would be interesting to consider this: If a [minority] person consistently takes the view that the motive for a perceived slight is rooted in racism and creates or escalates a conflict on that basis, are they not also guilty of microagression?

    5. Arbitrary Says:

      Having suffered microassault/instult/invalidation, I largely agree with the author(s), but I am not sure I agree with classification of Native American mascots as micro-et al. The specified instance could be an offensive caricature, but could there be more sincere portrayals? I know of a school that was forced to change their mascot from “Indians” due to a (non-Indian) complaint. Their rival team was allowed to remain the “Spartans”. If use of anything/everything is indeed microinsulting, why not defend the “Wildcats”, too?

      Thanks for the interesting articles.

    6. Futureal Says:

      One key difference: I don’t think most Japanese folks would deny having asked you something or having said something a particular way “just because you’re foreign”. Appearing discriminatory isn’t as shameful here as it is in the US, and there isn’t really any reason for people to hedge when you accuse them of singling you out for your other-ness.

    7. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Futureal #6

      ‘One key difference: I don’t think most Japanese folks would deny having asked you something or having said something a particular way “just because you’re foreign”.’

      This is true, people do ask you ‘just because you’re foreign’, but are you seriously suggesting that’s not racism? The reason the can ask ‘because you look foreign’ is because there is no real immigration into Japan. Japan is exclusionary to protect the myth of homogeneity. That’s racism. Ignorance of racism on the part of the speaker is due to the success of racist policies in shaping society.

    8. Becky Says:

      Thanks for posting the link to that fascinating article from Psychology Today.

      “They are often made to feel excluded, untrustworthy, second-class citizens, and abnormal. People of color often describe the terrible feeling of being watched suspiciously in stores, that any slipup they make would negatively impact every person of color, that they felt pressured to represent the group in positive ways, and that they feel trapped in a stereotype. The burden of constant vigilance drains and saps psychological and spiritual energies of targets and contributes to chronic fatigue and a feeling of racial frustration and anger.”

      And that’s just in N. America!

      By the way, this page (thanks again for introducing the site in your post) might be an eye-opener.

      http://microaggressions.tumblr.com/tagged/race

      Racial profiling isn’t unique to Japan after all, it seems.

      – ‘Course not.

    9. Charuzu Says:

      Here is a scholarly paper by a well-regarded researcher examining microaggression.

      http://www.murphyshigematsu.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Microaggresions-by-Supervisors-of-Color.pdf

      I would also commend his books:

      http://www.murphyshigematsu.com/books/

      which deal with this set of issues also dealt with by Debito.

    10. Rudy Says:

      To Jim Di Griz:

      You state: ‘Japan is exclusionary to protect the myth of homogeneity. That’s racism.’ I’ll agree that Japan’s immigration policies can to some extent be described as ‘exclusionary’, but I think I disagree with your statement on two counts.

      First, I’m not convinced that the protection of a myth is in general one of the major goals of the policy makers at the Ministry of Justice. Sure enough, while Japan’s society really is, compared to some other societies, to some extent homogeneous, this is at times exaggerated to mythical proportions. Nevertheless, even if one assumes that Japan’s immigration policies are centered around this idea of homogeneity, I’m not convinced that they must be geared towards shaping the views of the public – towards keeping a myth alive. What are your grounds for assuming that Japan’s immigration policies are not just geared towards keeping Japan’s society homogeneous to the extent it is now – whatever that extent may be? In other words, towards preventing Japan’s society to become tóó heterogeneous, wherever the boundary may lie?

      Perhaps I’m overinterpreting your words; perhaps it is exactly this prevention of Japan’s society to become too heterogeneous for the taste of the policy makers that you find racist. If so, I disagree with that assessment. Many arguments can be given for (and against) the view that Japan should open up more, but I fail to see how it is racist to have a tight border and to be perhaps not so welcoming of significant influence from other cultures. Perhaps it is unwise, depending on one’s view – but how is it racist?

      – I think you’ve got to get beyond seeing racism as just a narrowly-defined biological construct. It is an ideological one, used by nation-states to maintain their integrity (and therein national narratives and myths, such as Japan being “to some extent homogeneous”, which you seem to buy into). If you can’t see how that works in immigration policies (as I discussed in my most recent column — I just didn’t call it “racism”) to ensure that outsiders don’t settle here, and that we don’t get too many foreign-looking people in a room and get nervous J ojisan going, “gaikoku mitai”, “nihon ja nai mitai”, then I don’t think there’s much one can say that’ll convince you.

    11. Charuzu Says:

      Race is not a biological construct for humans.

      Genetic variability is greatest amongst Africans (because we are all ancestrally Africans and it is our true homeland).

      So, when one says racism, one does not truly mean race — we are all one human race.

      Rather, one is referring to non-biological items, like culture, language, ethnicity, etc.

      Japan does have a mythic view about itself and notions (that remind me of pre-War Germans) of “blut und boden”

      But such racialist views are ultimately not biological, even though the racists may believe that there are different biological human races.

    12. Futureal Says:

      “This is true, people do ask you ‘just because you’re foreign’, but are you seriously suggesting that’s not racism? The reason the can ask ‘because you look foreign’ is because there is no real immigration into Japan. Japan is exclusionary to protect the myth of homogeneity. That’s racism. Ignorance of racism on the part of the speaker is due to the success of racist policies in shaping society.”

      Of course it’s racism. I just think it’s salient that most people aren’t even aware that appearing racist is bad.

    13. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Rudy #10
      If you like, I can recommend some books (start with Dower’s excellent ‘War Without Mercy’, and Hasting’s ‘Nemesis’ in tandem) to understand how all the talk of Japan as a ‘pure’ race really appears thanks to the military in the early 40′s (you will never watch elementary school children innocently performing the play of Momotaro with the same eyes ever again). Unfortunately, this is not the place to answer your question in full (my post would be too long, it is better for you to read the two books above). Japanese immigration policy (like so many other aspects of Japanese society) is a continuation of imperialist era ideology. An ideology (largely) disconnected from it’s wartime symbolism, and continuing to live on like a headless chicken. The aborted ideological child of wartime expansionism, given the breath of life by post war economic recovery, and now (rather all too belatedly) facing it’s pointless demise.

    14. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @10 Rudy:
      >> I fail to see how it is racist to have a tight border and to be perhaps not so welcoming of significant influence from other cultures.Perhaps it is unwise, depending on one’s view – but how is it racist?

      That’s because history has proven that race and politics conflate into ideology, which makes us harder–and even harder today, due to the rise of media capitalism– to detect the problem that has been affecting hundreds of millions of people since the 19th century. Look at the fence stretching out from California, and extending to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The technology gives national authorities a hegemonic power to create the mechanism of racial subjugation through border control. If you don’t know what’s going on with INS checkpoints nearby the border, you’ll probably have no idea about how ARCs (New Foreign Resident Cards) affect NJ, exclusively, on a daily basis.

    15. DK Says:

      With apologies for going off on a bit of a tangent here, I find that this topic of microagressions assumes really baffling features in the academic milieu in general and in Japanese academia in particular.

      Granted, academic incivility under the guise of all sorts of camouflaged, daily microaggressions has been on the rise on a global scale in recent years, for reasons which would take far too long to explain here; suffice it to say that academics are especially concerned with maintaining a facade of respectability and benevolence, and thus need to resort to more covert forms of agression to trample upon and “other” their colleagues in the pursuit of their ambitions in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world.

      However, through conversations with various Japanese and non-Japanese colleagues as well as my own experience at several Japanese universities over the years (including at Todai, where I taught full-time for two years), I have realised how a number of prevailing cultural traits in Japan – namely the obsession with decorum and the tight mechanisms of social control developed to suppress criticism and dissent by manipulating and hiding information – make certain forms of uncivil and discriminatory behaviour even more covert and insidious, and thus much more damaging and difficult to fight, because the aggressors can always invoke their outward “correctness” and pretend to be tolerant and thoughtful. I mean, for example, keeping the NJ teachers of a certain department in a separate building, totally insulated from any contact with J academics and with no direct access to crucial information concerning their job, on the grounds that they are actually being given better facilities and “privileged” treatment; or the recurrent rejection of valid, positive ideas and projects from NJ staff, on the grounds that they are too “advanced” and thus untimely, etc., etc.

      A while ago, as I was reading an interesting study on the topic published in 2008, I found this passage very though-provoking because it applies to so many situations that I have witnessed in Japan:

      “To keep cultural acts hidden is a subtle form of incivility; secrecy permits control, and control contributes to a culture of incivility. . . . A façade of social order and control often masks an underlying current of the general rudeness that prevails throughout society in general and the academy in particular.” [Darla Twale and Barbara De Luca, Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008)]

      Also, I take the liberty of quoting the epigraph to the said book, a delightful aphorism by Victor Baldrige which so resonates with my personal and professional experiences in Japan: “Warfare is common and no less deadly because it is polite”…

      I leave it to readers to eventually consider whether this is relevant or not to their own experiences here.

    16. Rudy Says:

      Hopefully I’m not straying too much off topic, but:

      Debito articulates precisely the use of the term ‘racism’ I object to: as based not on a biological construct, but on an ideogical or cultural one. Of course, as Charuzu points out, race as a biological concept is not useful in explaining why different groups of people tend, to some extent, to think and behave differently. It is precisely this uselessness of the concept when applied to humans that makes racist thought – in the narrow sense – not only harmful, but also just plain silly. Nevertheless, there are people who do still think race is a significant factor separating groups of people, and ‘racism’ – in the narrow sense – is still a useful term for describing people with such views.

      I object to the usage of the term ‘racism’ in the broad sense, then, for two reasons. First, I think unnecessary extension of the meaning of terms that are still useful in their original sense – to be absolutely clear, I’m talking about the term ‘racism’, not the term ‘race’ – is in general not a good idea, for the simple reason that it causes misunderstandings in debates like these. Secondly, and more importantly, the harmfulness and silliness of real racist thought has, understandably, made ‘racism’ a very loaded term. Using such a loaded term to also describe the views of people who show a preference for one culture over another clouds the debate. If it is your view that the way Japan formalises such a preference in its polices is unwise, bigoted, harmful, or just plain silly, you will have to defend that view on its own merits. Many here have done so. Extending the meaning of the term ‘racist’ to also cover such policies, however, is, in my mind, an invalid shortcut. It equates a way of thinking that may arguably be harmful and unsound to one that is undeniably so. Not only is it an invalid shortcut, it is also often used to discredit specific individuals, to make them look like people not to be taken seriously; a tactic that I find immoral in itself. Like Charuzu, I’m Dutch; in Dutch politics, this tactic has been used quite a lot, lately, and it has harmed public debate, no matter what side of the issues you stand on. I think this is the main reason I’m so wary of using the term ‘racism’ as loosely as it’s often used.

      Debito, in the column he links to, gives a number of convincing arguments for the view that Japan’s immigration policy is unwise and/or immoral. I’m not sure I agree with everything, but surely, he gives many valid points of criticism. What I value especially, however, is precisely that he doesn’t use loaded terms like ‘racist’ to score easy points.

      As Loverilakkuma points out, yes, racism, also in the narrow sense, can often be present in hard to detect forms, both in individuals – as the articles on microaggression nicely illustrate – and in policy. That it’s hard to detect, however, is no excuse for calling someone or something racist – in the narrow sense – without pointing out exactly how they are in fact racist. I’m not accusing anyone here of doing that, though; I understand people here are using the term more broadly, a practice I object to for the separate reasons given above.

    17. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @#15 DK

      This:
      “To keep cultural acts hidden is a subtle form of incivility; secrecy permits control, and control contributes to a culture of incivility. . . . A façade of social order and control often masks an underlying current of the general rudeness that prevails throughout society in general and the academy in particular.” [Darla Twale and Barbara De Luca, Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008)]

      is a great quote, and is highly applicable to Japan. Example; NJ comes to Japan and studies (anything Japanese; language, martial arts, traditional pastimes such as sado etc), and despite attaining the highest levels of accomplishment, will still be derided by the casual Japanese onlooker on the basis of ‘whilst accomplished in practice, can never understand the heart of (said activity) because they are not Japanese’. This is the J-trump card of secrecy that no NJ can by definition ever overcome, and hides the incivility of racism.

    18. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @16 Rudy

      So, you are pointing your finger of blame to the people getting affected– rather than the system which creates a propaganda machine in a way to deliberately mislead the citizens to xenophobia and isolationism? Or you simply don’t like some people using a different term from the natives who see any racially motivated conducts as conventional norm of practice in general? You sound like people’s perception of ‘racism’ has never changed— or should never change—throughout centuries. If this is exactly the point you are trying to make, then how can you explain the people in the US and South Africa have witnessed a dramatic political transformation of human rights in 20th century? Why do you think there are a large number of activists in the US and around the world today, challenging the system of democracy, political institutions, profit-oriented corporations, and media on global/local scale, days in and days out? Is Japan immune to the crises many democratic nations have in common today? If so, then, your suggestion “to defend one’s view on her/his own merits” won’t go anywhere because powers-that-be in Japan are one of the agents who will least likely be persuaded by an orthodox, critical/rational ‘argumentative’ discourse. Even if they are, they’re not gonna let it pass over their conventional norms.

    19. Anonymous Says:

      Within the Human Species various races exist, identifiable by their DNA Haplogroup.
      Each race has quantifiable physical characteristics found in the majority of the race.

      The majority of the Japanese race (Haplogroup D2) are “short”, relatively, when compared to
      the majority of the Dinka race (Haplogroup A3b2) who are “tall”, relatively. Simple comparison.

      The majority of the Japanese race (Haplogroup D2) have “low testosterone levels”, relative to
      the majority of the Dinka race (Haplogroup A3b2) who have “high testosterone levels”, relatively.

      So, to claim that lower testosterone levels does not have any effect on behavior would be absurd.
      Thus as Eric theorized, Japanese (lower testosterone levels) ARE relatively scared of “taller others”.

      It sounds nice to wish, as Charuzu does, that “there aren’t different biological human races.”
      But the truth is, there ARE genetic markers called Haplogroups that evidence biological races.
      And the truth is, “Genes have a STRONG influence on behavior.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_genetics

      The culture you grow up in ALSO has a strong influence on behavior, but to DENY genetic differences is naive.

      The majority of Japanese are marked by DNA Haplogroup D2 (M55)
      DNA Haplogoup D2 is “particularly distinctive” from other Asians.
      Quote Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_D_%28Y-DNA%29

    20. Charuzu Says:

      #19 Anonymous:

      There are genetic differences amongst humans — that is not support for the biological concept of race.

      For example, there are genetic differences between short people and tall people.

      Yet, there is no biological race of short people.

      See: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-11/cp-iss111811.php

      As another example, all non-Africans are partially Neanderthal, yet that does not mean that there is a non-African biological race.

      http://www.nouvelles.umontreal.ca/udem-news/news/20110718-genetic-research-confirms-that-non-africans-are-part-neanderthal.html

      And, yes, genes can have strong influences on behaviour, and genes are linked to suicide.

      Yet, there is no race of suicidal humans.

      http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/cfaa-csc100711.php

      Genetic differences certainly exist.

      Yet to conclude that because of genetic differences or groups of genetic differences (which overlap in extremely complex ways) that there exist among humans biological races would be reductionism unsupported by evidence.

    21. Piglet Says:

      @Anonymous (post #19)
      DNA haplogroups are one of the multiple characteristics that define a human population. It does not separate “races” as such (there is only one human race).
      Human populations are never homogenous. Depending on which biological characteristic you take into account, you might be able to separate people in a multitude of subgroups, each time with a different makeup.

    22. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @#19 Anonymous,

      Re: Haplogroup.
      Is this like the Hapsburgs, due to all the inbreeding?

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