Saturday Tangent: DNA checks of “hakujin” at my university (?!?)


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Hi Blog.  As a Saturday Tangent, let me relate something rather funny that happened to me two days ago at my workplace, a university (i.e., Hokkaido Information University, Ebetsu, Hokkaido):

It’s currently exam time (I did more than 110 individual 20-minute oral interviews over the past two weeks, which may explain my recent short-temperedness over things like overseas racist publishers).  And right in the middle of them we have this singular event.

One of my co-workers is this medical researcher who fancies himself internationalized, cos he says “hello” to me as we pass in the corridors (I answer back こんにちは, of course).   Well, yesterday, right in between two interviews, he pops in my office with a student saying he has a favor to ask (and sidles up to me as if it’s a given that I will oblige — his students had several vials in his hand all ready for my obliging).

Sez he (in Japanese): “We need a strand of your hair please. We’re conducting experiments.”

When I backed off a bit with amusement and asked what for, he said, “We will keep the results private, but we need to do some DNA tests.”

When I asked whatever for, and why me, he said, “We’re testing for a special “wild gene” (yes, he said that, in English) that white people (hakujin) have.”

I said, sorry, find yourself another hakujin. They slunk out.

You’d think they’d know by now not to bother a person like me with stuff like that. But no.  (And I just checked with one other “hakujin” in my school — he didn’t get asked.  So double points for effrontery.)

Anyway, the use of the “hakujin” here is what set me off. But then again, so would “gaikokujin” (especially since it would have been incorrect; they knew that much). In fact, any word would have set me off. The request to be guinea-pigged thusly for whatever reason was something I found quite offensive.

What a funny situation! No doubt my friend Olaf will say (as he should), “Why does this stuff keep happening to Debito?!”  Guess it’s my fate here in Japan.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

15 comments on “Saturday Tangent: DNA checks of “hakujin” at my university (?!?)

  • Interesting. I can see why you get creeped out, or offended, but at the same time this reminds me of the role of DNA research which enabled Skip Gates to trace his ancestry back to 50% Europe and remaining 50% to various parts of Africa and also some Native America (my memory is blurry on this one but this was from one of his documentaries. He traced back for also the other black celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Woopi Goldberg and Chris Tucker’s etc. ) I don’t know what these Japanese profs were up to, and it’s certainly suspicious, but it may be, just that, a little interesting to find out what they mean by “wild genes (of hakujin.)” (or did they really mean Debito’s activist gene?)

    Sore ni shitemo, for being a “research,” what a small sample size..? (just you?)

    — Looks like it. I was the hakujin of convenience. So I made myself less so. Anyway, if he was looking for an activist gene, now, that might have been interesting…!

  • Any serious academic research would not involve researchers wandering around their lab with test tubes looking for whitey. He may have just been trying to demonstrate techniques to the students.

    Given the creepy behaviour already exhibited, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak into your office and take something anyway.

    — I’ll empty out my combs.

  • That is odd and it’s surprising they wouldn’t be more forthcoming with what they were doing/wanted to do. They probably decided that since you seemed offended maybe they had done something taboo and didn’t bother asking the another whitie.

    Guess you are forever cursed to be the big white guy in Japan.

  • “Which enabled Skip Gates to trace his ancestry back to 50% Europe and remaining 50% to various parts of Africa…”

    Everyone who has ever lived can trace their roots back to “Mitochondrial Eve,” who lived in Africa about 150,000 years ago. This includes the “purest” Japanese and me, a toe-headed caucasian. When the opportunity arises, I enjoy answering the question “Where are you from?” with, “I’m originally from Africa.” And I produce my DNA map to prove it (courtesy of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project). Then I inform my incredulous inquirer that, by the way, we are distant cousins.

  • I probably would have gone along with it until the mention of the hunt for a “wild gene”.
    Legitimate genetics studies would probably do better with a wide sampling of different races, which is harder to get in a fairly homogeneous country (though Japanese people are anything but genetically “pure” Japanese, but I digress) So, I’d be willing to widen the genetic base.

    I might not even be offended as being “hakujin” though would probably tell off Mr. “I’m international” that it’s better to use the terms he (hopefully) uses in English language abstracts, such as Caucasian, etc.

    But is the basis of the study that hakujin supposed to be genetically determined as “wild” savages? Are you frikkin kidding me?! What’s the prof’s name, Dr. Mengele? Head of the Department of Nihonjinron?

    Really recommend following up with this prof (or just searching his papers online for his work) and finding out if he’s just making a stupid mistake of English, maybe using the term “rare” or “rogue” gene would have been better.
    If they’re actually trying to prove hakujin are genetically-determined to be wild monsters, this really deserves a LOT more attention. I assume (hopefully) this is not the case.

    Anyway, if so, the convenience is reversed. Convenient for YOU.

  • See if your university has a research ethics protocol. Any decent university that has people doing research on human subjects ought to have a set of ethics rules that have to be followed. Probably they require a slightly more thorough procedure than popping in on someone while they are working and “oh by the way can we have a biological sample?”

  • As to the Professor knowing better:
    He still speaks to you in English after all this time…what does that tell you about this guy’s ability to understand your not-so-subtle responses?
    I have found that many Japanese people absolutely believe that foreigners do not have feelings, so you can ask them (for) anything because they are, well, not “Japanese”. We all know only Japan has 4 seasons (as taught in J schools), and only J can appreciate umami… yeah…

    Have you thought to ask for his DNA and fingerprints? (just to see his reaction) Maybe you could look for a “lolicon” gene, that J have… lol.

    Keep up the good work.

  • That’s so bizarre in so many ways…I’m very curious as to what gene in particular they were looking for that all white people supposedly have. Joe (#6) is right that “wild” is a technical term that has nothing to do behavior or savageness, but gene frequency in a population is more complicated than just skin color so it seems pretty unprofessional that he assumed that you have what he’s looking for. For example, the gene associated with sickle cell anemia is more common in people from certain parts of Africa and the Mediterranean, but it would be silly to assume that everybody from southern Italy has it, or that someone from northern Europe couldn’t. The idea that all white people have a certain gene or allele is scientifically naive.

    — Not to mention interpersonally offensive.

  • “Hmm….I need a sample for my studies. I’VE GOT IT! Let’s find the nearest foreigner! He’ll do it for me!”

    I’m not quite sure if he was being sincerely racist or anything, but he was being offensive nonetheless.

    — And IMO unprofessional.

  • In this case, I wonder if he was not just doing it to wind you up. Either that, or he really is thick.

    — He brought a student with him, remember. It wasn’t a jape.

  • I wonder if “dr. mengele” would have ask the same thing, the same way to a japanese fellow. Why do some people still think that they can have whatever granted automatically from foreigners and bypass elementary politeness in the process?
    Way to go Debito, just say no! if the code of manners is not standard japanese protocol, and I mean starting with a 90 degrees bow at least, nothing less.

  • I don’t see why you’d be against this Debito, for all you know they could be trying to clone you and I know you would LOVE having other yous around to help fight the good fight, lol. You could make a back up baseball team called the “北海道差別反対ハム-ファイ-タース” :D

  • Perhaps he wanted to see if your genes underwent any change as you changed citizenship. I have noticed you face getting redder after a few beers.

    Maybe he thought you’ve been here long enough that you have mercury poisoning from tuna, salmon and dolphin binges and was concerned about your well being.

    Ah,now I get it. He just wanted to see you conform with short hair again and was planning on a Delilah cut.


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