Mainichi: Japan, US academics demand NHK explain offensive BLM anime. And how about all the others (including NHK) in the past?

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Hi Blog.  Japanese TV has once again put their foot in it for racist stereotyping.  We’ve already covered here on Debito.org:

Now we see NHK (“the BBC of Japan“) commenting on Black Lives Matter in perhaps the most insensitive way possible. Submitter JK comments, then I comment:

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

JK:  Hi Debito.  Looks like NHK is actually getting heat for their understanding (or lack thereof) of the world now:

Japan, US academics demand NHK explain editorial choices behind offensive BLM anime
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200613/p2a/00m/0na/011000c

June 13, 2020 (Mainichi Japan) Japanese version follows.

PHOTO CAPTION: An NHK animated explainer on Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. which was widely condemned as racist and subsequently removed by the broadcaster, is seen in this screen capture. (Mainichi)

With translation:

TOKYO — Academics in Japan and the United States submitted a letter to NHK on June 12 demanding the Japanese public broadcaster clarify why it broadcast an anime explainer of Black Lives Matter protests that was subsequently condemned as racist, and that it also outline its views on the matter and possible preventive measures.

【Related】Japan’s NHK apologizes for clip on US BLM protests after racism accusations
【Related】Black Lives Matter goes mainstream after Floyd’s death
【Related】Tennis star Naomi Osaka all-in on Black Lives Matter movement: Reuters

In their five-page letter to the NHK, the experts in U.S. studies describe the video as “including content that cannot be overlooked.” Among its 13 signatories are professor Fumiko Sakashita of Ritsumeikan University in Tokyo and professor Yasumasa Fujinaga of Japan Women’s University, also in the capital. The letter is addressed to the NHK president, as well as the heads of the international news division and the News Department. The writers say they will recruit supporters in both the U.S. and Japan.

The around 1-minute-20-second animated video that the letter discusses was originally shown on NHK news program “Kore de Wakatta! Sekai no Ima” (Now I Understand! The World Now) and shared on the broadcaster’s official Twitter account on June 7. It was intended as an explanation for the demonstrations that began in the U.S. after George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer kneeling on his neck. It features a muscular, vested black man shouting about economic inequality in the U.S., and makes no reference to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

The letter to NHK described the depiction of the man as stereotypical, saying, “He is given an excessively muscular appearance, and speaks in an emphatically coarse and violent way.” It added that in the U.S., “This stereotype has a history of being used to legitimize lynching of black people and the loss of their lives from police brutality.”

It also criticized the program itself for suggesting that one cause of violence by police toward black people is “a fear of black people,” and for offering a “completely insufficient” explanation of issues around “the historic background of police brutality, from slavery to the modern prison industrial complex.”

It then mentioned that by the time the NHK show was aired on June 7, rioting and looting had already waned, and that the mostly peaceful protests were also being joined by many white people. Referring to this, the writers said the content of both the program and the animated explainer were “not an accurate reflection of the current state of protests.”

The letter also says the program didn’t give enough consideration to anger toward systemic racism as one of the causes of the protests. It also puts forward questions as to why the content wasn’t checked internally and corrected.

On June 9, NHK apologized for the video, saying, “There was not enough consideration made at broadcast, and we apologize to those who have been offended by it.” The program was removed from its online streaming services, and the tweet sharing the video also deleted.

Regarding its response, the letter says NHK has not clearly elucidated what was problematic about the program, and criticized the broadcaster strongly for “trivializing the matter as a case of viewer interpretation.” It went on to ask that NHK clarify both its understanding on the issue and the events that led to the problematic content being broadcast and tweeted.

(Japanese original by Sumire Kunieda, Integrated Digital News Center)

黒人差別の解説動画「看過できない内容」 NHKに米国研究の学者らが検証求め る要望書
https://mainichi.jp/articles/20200612/k00/00m/040/247000c

黒人差別の解説動画「看過できない内容」 NHKに米国研究の学者らが検証求める要望書

NHKがニュース番組「これでわかった!世界のいま」などで発信した米国の抗議デモに関する解説について、日米の米国研究者が12日、「看過できない内容が含まれている」として、問題認識や経緯、再発防止策を明らかにするよう求める要望書をNHKに送付した。【國枝すみれ/統合デジタル取材センター】

要望書は全5ページ。坂下史子・立命館大教授や藤永康政・日本女子大教授ら日米の大学に所属する研究者13人が呼びかけ人となり、NHKの会長、国際部部長、報道局長宛てに送付した。今後、日米で賛同者を募るという。

要望書が問題としたのは、白人警官による黒人男性暴行死事件への米国の抗議デモについてNHKが解説した6月7日の放送内容と、公式ツイッターの発信内容。番組は、デモの背景を解説するアニメ動画を放映し、ツイッターにも同じ動画を投稿していた。

要望書はこの動画について、黒人が「過度に筋肉質な外見で、乱暴で粗野な言葉づかいが強調された男性」というステレオタイプで描かれているとし、米国では「これ…

(rest behind paywall).

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

NHK responded (full text available here in Japanese and here in Tokyo Weekender translation):

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

“We at NHK would like to sincerely apologize for a computer animation clip posted on our Twitter account. The clip was part of a segment in the program “Kore-de-wakatta Sekai-no-ima” broadcast on Sunday, June 7th. The 26-minute segment reported that the protests in the US were triggered by the death of George Floyd after he was pinned to the ground by a white police officer. It also reported the background on how many people are angered by the case, handling of the matter by the Trump administration and criticism against it, as well as division in American society. The one-minute-21-second clip aimed to show the hardships, such as economic disparity, that many African Americans in the US suffer. However, we have decided to take the clip offline after receiving criticism from viewers that it did not correctly express the realities of the problem. We regret lacking proper consideration in carrying the clip, and apologize to everyone who was offended.” 

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

DEBITO COMMENTS:  Apology not accepted.  As I said, this is well within history and character for Japanese media, and the fact that it appeared on NHK (on a children’s program, no less) makes it all the more mainstream.  It’s not even Embedded Racism.

I will note that the people that produced this anime are the same ones (in terms of inflammatory style, caricature, and even voice talent) that produced the racialized imagery used in landmark TV show “Koko Ga Hen Da Yo Nihonjin” some decades ago (which we also appeared in during the Otaru Onsens Case).  Witness this segment from February 28, 2001.

So in my view, for all NHK’s claims that it “lacked proper consideration”, I call BS.  They knew full well what these subcontracted segments are like.  That’s what that subcontractor has done for years.  They just expected that this would be for “domestic consumption only” and the Gaijin wouldn’t see it (because after all, “foreigners” don’t watch Japanese TV because Japanese is too hard a language for them to understand).  That’s also BS.  NHK (not to mention most of Japan’s other media) still hasn’t learned their lesson after all these decades.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
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8 comments on “Mainichi: Japan, US academics demand NHK explain offensive BLM anime. And how about all the others (including NHK) in the past?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    It looks like NHK’s ‘Sekaiha ima'(The World Now) was making a 4-minute apology bash last night. They finally admitted their gross ignorance and flaws in depicting the race issue. Still, I remain skeptical of their ethics and integrity in reporting race-related issue to international audience, especially when they are dealing with people of color.

    In recent article(published in Toyokeizai Online), Baye McNeil calls out the mainstream Japanese media for their sloppy reporting by approaching tokenized gaijin commentators like Jared Taylor(aka a supremacist wolf in-sheep’s-clothing), Jason Danielson(厚切りジェイソン), or Patrick Harlan(maybe a bit more sympathetic than the two, but still far from an expert) to discuss the issue disproportionately affecting blacks. He eviscerates their tendency to turn to white commentators as qualified “gaijin’ without even bother considering their expertise on the issue, rather than approaching scholars/researchers (like John G Russell, Ben Karp, or Avril Haye Matsui, or BLM activists(such as a co-founder Alicia Garza, Linda Sarsour, or Tamika Mallory).

    Baye is exactly right. Those who seek a consumptive gliberal(global +liberal) donut out of pretense in understanding the lives of blacks and people of color(NHK has a history of semi-global/progressive pretense) shouldn’t bother making any report on BLM and racism in Japan.

    • Anonymous2 says:

      厚切りジェイソン (Atsugiri Jason, “thick-cut Jason”, Jason Danielson) has become a “commentator” now? I guess he has moved up in the world from playing the stereotypical “gaijin” who doesn’t understand Japanese culture to commenting on affairs involving the very “gaijin” he used to portray in an unflattering light.

      I remember him as the guy who was almost kicked out of the “Japanese-only” toilet at the Tsukiji fish market, but was then “allowed” to use the toilet because he’s “famous.” He then took it upon himself to publicly apologize for the incident on Twitter. (After all, how were the discriminators to know that he, Atsugiri Jason, who plays stereotypical “gaijin” on TV, is one of the “good guys”?)

      See here for a full description and analysis of the incident.

  • Dr. Arudō, I had no idea this had happened. Of course they present the face-saving lie the onsen made up to try to justify their racist behavior, as if it deserves to be heard. I didn’t really find any racialized caricatures in the clip, though. (The bit with the “Russian” was so poorly done I laughed.)

    As for the racist cartoon from NHK, I don’t feel like I can really be surprised anymore. Almost everything on Japanese TV is already so painfully stupid anyway, it’s completely in character for them.

    — The style is still sensationalized and done in a way that depicts the “foreigner” as doing something problematic. And if I can get my friend’s commentary on a quick segment by them called 「人害」(“gaijin” reversed and made into much worse characters), you’ll see more of what I mean. The point is, that’s what these producers have done for entertainment value for years. NHK hired them precisely because that’s their specialty. And surely NHK previewed it before they ran it!

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      HJ, I get where you’re coming from- Japanese TV resets the bar for ‘low brow’; it’s a constant stream of drivel including sounds affects, shouting presenters and jingles, that seeks to make everything a 3 second ‘joke’. I actually find it painful to watch, like when your 5 year old insists on watching the same Disney DVD on a loop, all day. You can *feel* yourself getting dumber.
      I was reading something about psychological torture at Guantanamo Bay (Jon Ronson- Funny Torture), and I cant help but think that’s what is happening with Japanese TV; it’s being explicitly used to disrupt (beta?) patterns in the brain to induce docility and compliance. I’m pretty sure it’d be illegal to do it in many countries.
      And then there’s the racism.
      The fact that this crap happens over and over again, despite all the apologies each time, means that no one is sorry, no one reflects on their actions, and no one understands why they shouldn’t do it the next time. It’s just a kind of ‘Yeah, yeah, I said I’m sorry, now STFU’ response. Kind of like how the Korean sex slaves of the imperial japanese army are treated- ‘We gave you money, now shut up’. Their not actually sorry.

  • This is great and all, but who‘s going to bet that they will air similar racist crap in the future? I‘m just tired of hearing this some old story every year. Like Debito‘s pointing out here, this isn‘t just some gaffe, this has been happening for years now. Japanese TV just loves racial stereotyping. This time it backfired though. Due to what happend with George Floyd, the international press and everybody else is watching out for racism all over the world now. Therefore this time, Japan can‘t hide behind the „Foreigners are just misunderstanding our culture, we‘re not really racist“ bullshit. I just hope that people keep looking over at Japan and keep calling out all the racism they see. I also hope that the protests being held will continue as well as they have until now. Today there were over 3000 people demonstrating against racism in Tokyo according to the organizers of the protest. It would be great if they could keep this up for some time, becsuse it‘s time that Japan gets to be held to the same standard as other first world nations when it comes to racisl discrimination. And programs like these definitely don‘t belong to a nation that claims to be developed.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Just wondering how NHK would feel if they were told to STFU and sit down and not bother even trying in future since (SOTOF) they’re not Americans so they lack innate unspoken intuitive understanding of American culture that all Americans share, no matter how long they’ve lived there nor how much English they speak…?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Hold the horses! JT has found an apologist to both acknowledge that there is racism in Japan, whilst at the same time telling ‘white’ NJ to shut up because they’re not being ‘oppressed’, therefore, Japanese racism is somehow not real racism.

    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2020/06/29/voices/othered-japan-racism/

    It’s a straw man argument. No one is claiming that they are being brutally physically ‘oppressed’ by othering and micro aggression, but make no mistake; othering is psychological oppression in that it denies other people their identity.
    Yet another fool with a platform who needs more education on the matter before spewing his semi-informed opinions as facts.

    And in the final analysis, the facts speak for themselves;
    What is Japan’s immigration policy?
    Why is Japan seen as the least attractive Asian destination for NJ talent?
    Why has Japan failed to meet its own immigration targets for temporary visa applicants?
    Why is the state broadcaster in such an echo chamber that it is oblivious to the fact it produces vile racist stereotypes itself?

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