Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
“LIKE” US on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/debitoorg
Hi Blog. A recent article in Reuters portrays Japanese-Haitian-American tennis star Osaka Naomi as “a Jesse Owens of Japan”. Article first, then my comment:
Osaka ‘a Jesse Owens of Japan’ for racial injustice stand
Reuters, September 12, 2020 By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka has been the dominant storyline of the 2020 U.S. Open, both for on-court performances that mean she will be playing in Saturday’s final and for her vocal support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Before each match, Osaka has worn a mask bearing the name of a different Black American in a powerful symbol of her support for the fight against racial injustice in the United States.
Osaka, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father, may represent Japan but she lives in Los Angeles and has joined several BLM protests across the country this year.
Although her focus has been on racial injustice over the last few months, the 23-year-old has long been a symbol for change in Japan.
Osaka is one of the country’s most recognised personalities and has become the face of a changing Japan coming to terms with challenges to its self-image as a racially homogenous society.
Baye McNeil, a prominent Japan-based African-American author and activist, sees Osaka as the next in a line of great Black athlete activists such as boxer Muhammad Ali and sprinter Jesse Owens.
“Muhammad Ali… put his career on the line in order to protest things that he thought were unjust or just wrong. And I think Naomi is on that path,” McNeil told Reuters from Yokohama.
“She is joining a community that has a history, has a legacy, going all the way back beyond Jesse Owens. In fact, what she is doing is very in line with Jesse Owens. Not necessarily for her impact on America but on Japan.
“I kind of think of her as a Jesse Owens of Japan.”
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
McNeil, who moved to Japan 16 years ago, believes Osaka and other biracial athletes like basketball player Rui Hachimura and Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish can be catalysts for change just by competing.
“It doesn’t even require them to say anything, you just look at them and say ‘Oh my God, this is a Black woman representing Japan,’” he said.
“This is something Japan has never faced before and I am not sure how exactly they are going to resolve this, or how they are going to modify the narrative, but some modification is required.”
Jaime Smith, who helped organise June’s BLM protest in Tokyo, thinks many Japanese people do not see Osaka’s activism as relating to their own country.
“They see it from the viewpoint that she is a Black American woman, even though she’s half Japanese, and she is speaking out about an American problem, so I still think there’s some wilful ignorance there,” Smith told Reuters.
“That’s … the kind of mindset we are trying to change.”
Smith, who moved from the U.S. to Japan three years ago, sees Osaka as the perfect person to push through this change.
“She is at a point where she is huge worldwide and people can’t help but listen to her,” she said.
“I think this is the perfect time to do what she is doing.”
Following her 2018 U.S. Open triumph, Osaka attracted a large number of sponsors, many of them big Japanese brands, and became the world’s highest paid female athlete, according to Forbes.
These sponsors have not always been supportive of Osaka’s campaigning against racial injustice, however.
A report in Japanese newspaper Mainichi on Friday [see below] cited unnamed sources at one of her sponsors as criticising her BLM stance, saying they would prefer her to concentrate on tennis.
If some in Japan are struggling to come to terms with Osaka’s activism, this was not apparent at Tokyo’s Godai tennis club on Saturday morning.
“With the face masks, I perceive a kind of determination that she is facing her matches with these thoughts,” said Chika Hyodo.
“I think she is trying to fulfil the role she was given as an athlete and I feel awesome about it. I support her.”
Osaka was a hot topic of conversation at the club as the younger members had their weekly lessons and there was no sign that her activism was having any impact on her popularity.
“She is a Japanese, strong female tennis player,” said 10-year-old Ai Uemura.
“I think it’s great that she entertains people.”
COMMENT FROM DEBITO: What a way to end an article: With an interview with a ten-year-old and some unqualified stranger at some tennis club, as somehow representative of “Japan’s reaction”. That’s some lazy research and poor social science there, Reuters.
Now, as far as Osaka’s activism is concerned, I support the fact that she is bringing to light racial injustice, and is willing to take a stand in public to do so.
However, remember that this is a stand against racial injustice in another country. Not in Japan. This is an easier target because a) Japan has long taught about racism in other countries (particularly America’s) as part of a narrative that racism “happens elsewhere, not here”, so this unfortunately plays into Japan’s grander deflection strategy; and b) this protest doesn’t imperil her sponsorship in Japan, where her money is coming from.
Yet racism, as this blog and my research have covered for more than a quarter century, is alive and “practiced undisturbed” (according to the United Nations) in Japan. That’s worth protesting. So is racism in America, of course. But there are plenty of high-profile voices involved in that already. What is sorely needed is someone standing up for the equal and nondiscriminative treatment of, for example, Japan’s Visible Minorities (a group Osaka herself is a member of).
Others have tried, such as VM Japanese beauty queens Miyamoto Ariana and Yoshikawa Priyanka, and their careers in Japan suffered as a result. Osaka Naomi, as Debito.org has argued before, has a stronger immunity card to criticize Japan (as long as she keeps winning) if she so chooses.
It’s still unclear she will ever choose to. The last big opportunity she had, when her sponsor Nissin “whitewashed” her in one of their ads, she declined to make an issue of. (Imagine the reaction, however, if an American advertiser had done something so stupid.) That’s an enormous disappointment, but indicative of her priorities. And a bit ironic in light of how Japanese society treated her multiethnic family.
Finally, comparisons with Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali? I’ll let others who are more qualified to shape that narrative speak more to that. But just consider Jesse Owens’ history: a person who protested the segregation and lack of sponsorship he received in his home country of America (to the point of repeatedly, and poignantly, pointing out that Hitler acknowledged his achievements more than President Roosevelt did). However, his legacy has been portrayed more in my history books as a counternarrative to White Supremacism in Nazi Germany. That in itself, of course, is very welcome, but it’s not quite the whole story.
As for Muhammad Ali, there’s a lot to unpack there because he did so much, but remember that he was suspended from boxing during the best years of his career for protesting the Vietnam War and refusing to be drafted. Again, protesting racial injustice in his country of sponsorship. That’s real sacrifice and heroism.
My point is that the more one tries to apply their cases to Osaka’s case, the more inapt the comparisons become. Being in a position of “it doesn’t even require them to say anything” is not what happened in either Owens’ or Ali’s case. Especially when you consider that Owens’ and Ali’s protests were more directed towards their country of sponsorship. That’s not what Osaka is doing here.
Again, I praise Osaka Naomi for taking a public stance against racism in the United States. But let’s keep things in perspective, and not let praise become unqualified gush.
And let me suggest she speak out on behalf of her fellow Visible Minorities in Japan too. Not just dismiss racism in Japan as an issue of “a few bad apples” (which can be — and has been — applied to any society as an excuse for racist behavior). Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
The Mainichi article cited by Reuters above:
Japanese sponsors of tennis star Naomi Osaka not 100% on board with anti-racism actions
September 11, 2020 (Mainichi Japan)
TOKYO — The anti-racism stance taken by tennis player Naomi Osaka on the courts of the U.S. Open has drawn widespread attention from the public and elicited differing responses from her sponsors in Japan and elsewhere.
Starting with her first match, Osaka entered the court wearing a black mask with the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed at the hands of police, on it as a call for an end to racial discrimination.
“I don’t think she needed to do that while she’s fighting her way to the top. If possible, we’d like her to attract more attention with her tennis skills,” said a source linked to a Japanese corporate sponsor of Osaka’s. “She’s taken on a leadership role as a Black person, and what she’s doing is great as a human being, but whether that will help raise the value of a corporate brand is another thing. There hasn’t been any impact in particular, but it’s not something we’re openly happy about.”
Another source linked to a different Japanese corporate sponsor said, “I think it’s wrong to bring the issue of racial discrimination and her trade, tennis, together.”
Meanwhile, one of her other sponsors, an American corporation, has reacted very differently. A person involved with the company said that in the U.S., it’s riskier not to say you take a stand against racial discrimination, because if you don’t say anything, you could be seen as being accepting it. They said that there are a lot of companies that uphold diversity and inclusion and also agree to help stop discrimination as part of their corporate principles.
After Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in late August, NBA teams boycotted games in protest of the incident, and MLB games were postponed due to players refusing to play. Naomi Osaka announced she was withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open semifinals — a qualifier for the U.S. Open — in protest. Soon thereafter, the tournament decided to postpone the match by a day in solidarity with the protesters, and Osaka decided she would play the next day, sending a strong message to the world.
In the NBA, where the majority of players are Black, actions taken to demand an end to racial discrimination are not uncommon. An official from a management company that has a contract with a Black NBA player explained that the top athletes have the strongest awareness that they must take the initiative to act as a representative of the Black community. And Black children, they said, dream of getting into the NBA, watching those top-tier athletes.
There are some compromises that Osaka, who was born to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, and grew up in the U.S. since she was three, is not willing to make.
“If I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction,” she wrote in her now-famous tweet.
Osaka arrived at the U.S. Open with seven masks, one for each round of the tournament, and each emblazoned with the name of a Black person who had been a victim of police violence. She’s worn six now.
What drives Osaka is her hope that people will get to know the victims better, and do what she can to prevent younger people from suffering from racial injustice.
(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Asatsuma, Sports News Department)
Full article at https://mainichi.jp/articles/20200910/k00/00m/050/300000c
Do you like what you read on Debito.org? Want to help keep the archive active and support Debito.org’s activities? Please consider donating a little something. More details here. Or if you prefer something less complicated, just click on an advertisement below.