Weekend Tangent: Historical comparison between contemporary social attitudes justifying racial discrimination in Japan and pre-Civil-War slavery in America


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Happy Weekend, Blog.  Today I’d like to write about something that came to mind when I was listening to National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” podcast of February 21, 2011, which interviewed author and Columbia University professor Eric Foner for his book “The Fiery Trial:  Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery”. (NPR information site on this show, excerpt from the book, and link to audio recording here.)

It was an excellent interview, shedding insights on just how entrenched unequal treatment towards people was in a system that on paper and in its very declaration of independence proclaimed that all men are created equal.  I found similarities in the attitudes that people have towards foreigners in Japan, based not only on recent confessions by a public prosecutor that criminal jurisprudence training seeks to systematically deny human rights to foreigners, but also consequent twitter comments that justified the status quo of unequal treatment for foreigners.  It shows just how far Japan as a society (not to mention the GOJ’s Bureau of Human Rights, which itself misunderstands the very concept of human rights in its surveys and awareness raising efforts; see my Japan Times article, “Human Rights Survey Stinks:  Government effort riddled with bias, bad science”, of October 23, 2007) has to go before it understands that concepts of human rights are universal, not based upon citizenship.

Now for the disclaimers:  I am aware that apparently linking the treatment of NJ in Japan to slaves in America is not an apt comparison (although Japan’s “Trainee/Researcher” system for importing cheap NJ labor has encouraged widespread labor abuses, child labor, and, yes, even slavery).  I am aware that most NJ are in Japan of their own free will (if one ignores the forced labor of many Zainichi ancestors), whereas slaves were brought to the US by force.  Et cetera.  But the two concepts are related if not co-joined, as racial discrimination and justified unequal treatment is common to them both.  What I want you to think about as you read the interview is how the contemporary debate arena and concepts of fundamental equality were blurred in both Pre-Civil-War USA and are still being blurred in contemporary Japan, tying the hands of even someone as able and firm in his convictions as Abraham Lincoln.

Excerpt of the interview follows, transcribed by me.  Errors mine.  Quick comment from me below.  Arudou Debito



TERRY GROSS:  Did Lincoln always believe that slavery was unjust?

ERIC FONER:  […]  The problem arises when you ask the question, “What do you do about slavery, given that it’s unjust?”  Lincoln, like many many other Americans, took a long time to figure out exactly what steps ought to be taken…

GROSS:  I want you to read a statement that he made in Peoria in 1854, and let’s start with the significance of this speech.

FONER:  1854 is when his great rival, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas forced the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress, which [repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and] opened up a good portion of the Midwest to the possible expansion of slavery… He comes out as a leading proponent against the westward expansion of slavery.  He talks about the evil of slavery in and of itself… Lincoln says,

“This declared indifference, but as I must think covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate.  I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.  I hate it because it deprives our republic of its just influence in the world, enables the enemies of free institutions to a plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites, causes the real allies of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the declaration of independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self interest.”

That little paragraph somehow condenses Lincoln’s thinking about slavery.  “Slavery is a monstrous injustice.”  That’s the language of abolitionists, not politicians… But then he goes on to more practical issues:  It makes the United States look ridiculous in the world.  We claim the American Revolution to be the exemplar of freedom and justice in the world.  And yet, we have this giant slave system.  And it enables the enemies of democracy to say, “These Americans are just hypocrites.  They don’t believe in their own founding principles.

GROSS:  So when hearing this you might think that Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery.  But as you pointed out he wasn’t yet an abolitionist.  And in another paragraph in the same speech he says some things that I think will surprise many Americans.

FONER:  Well, he goes on to say that slavery is wrong, but what should we do about it?  Here he candidly admits that he doesn’t know what to do about it… and Lincoln is thinking through his own position on slavery here.  Lincoln:

“If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution.  My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.  But a moment’s reflection would convince me that however high hope there may be in this, in the long run its sudden execution is impossible.  What then?  Free them all and keep them here among us as underlings?  Is this quite certain that this betters their condition?  Free them and make them politically and socially our equals?  My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would we all know that the great mass of White people will not.  Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question if indeed it is any part of it.  A universal feeling, whether well- or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded.  We cannot, then, make them equals.  It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted, but for their tardiness in this I will not undertake to judge our brethrens of the South.”

Again, here are some remarkable comments by Lincoln which epitomize views until well into the Civil War.  Slavery really ought to be abolished but he doesn’t really know how to do it.  He’s not an abolitionist who criticizes Southerners… for not taking action.  His first impulse is to free them and send them back to Liberia.  At this point Lincoln does not see Black people as an intrinsic part of American society.  They are kind of an alien group who have been uprooted from their own society and unjustly brought across the ocean.  Send them back across the ocean.  This was not an unusual position at the time.

GROSS:  …I wonder how Lincoln interpreted the Declaration of Independence when it said, “All men are created equal”?  Did he think it meant all White men?

FONER:  No, Lincoln always insisted that that phrase meant everybody.  The question is, “What does it mean when you say they are created ‘equal?'”  And during the great Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Douglas is constantly badgering Lincoln, saying, “Lincoln is a believer in Negro equality.”  That was like the nuclear weapon of politics back then.  And Lincoln had to deny it.  And he did deny it.  The statements that most disturb Lincoln’s admirers come out of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, where he explicitly denies believing in Blacks having the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to intermarriage with White people.  What then did “equality” mean?  Lincoln is very specific about it:  Equality means the right to improve your condition in life.  As he had, of course, growing up in very modest circumstances.  Black people, he always insisted, should have the rights to the fruits of their own labor, the right to improve their condition in society.  That’s why slavery is wrong, and on that ground he says that they are equal to everybody.  But these other rights — political rights, civil rights, are conventional rights, which the majority of society has the right to regulate.  Women, for example, do not have the right vote, but that does not mean they should be slaves.  Lincoln makes that distinction.   To us, that sounds like an untenable decision.  How can you improve your condition in life if you lack all the legal rights?… And Lincoln had not yet thought that through.  It isn’t until the middle of the Civil War that Lincoln begins thinking seriously about the future role of Black people in American society.  But on this question of Black equality, he’s walking a tightrope — between his belief in a basic equality for all people, and on the other hand the unwillingness to challenge the racist views of his state [Illinois], which was a deeply racist state…


COMMENT:  Let’s consider the similarities.  Here we have the status quo in pre-Civil War USA interfering with both conscience and practice of promoting universal equality.  We have the status quo in Japan today asserting both in practice and in debates interfering with the promotion of universal equality by nationality (and by extension, race).  For example, if any Japanese politician were to say, more so now than ever, that certain NJ should have the right to vote in local elections, they would most likely lose their seat.  If we have people protesting that criminal prosecution treats NJ less fairly, even denies them fundamental human rights, we have people shouting them down online — with no exceptionalists piping up — with assumptions that NJ have criminal association.

The rest of the developed world has mostly moved on to accept universal human rights (as has Japan, both under its constitution and under the international treaties it has signed).  But public awareness of the issue, as Mark in Yayoi said yesterday, is sorely lacking:

“The Twitter comments that follow [yesterday’s article] are dispiriting — nobody seems to notice the fundamental incongruousness of discussing members of a criminal organization and people who happen to have different nationalities in the same breath. And then there are the other commenters who support the idea of certain people not having human rights. Others claim that foreign embassies should be the ones to guarantee the rights of immigrants. They miss the fundamental meaning of ‘human’ rights: rights are inherent aren’t handed down by the government! The government can restrict certain people’s rights, but the default state is not ‘zero rights’.”

In the United States, it took a war to get rid of institutionalized slavery, and more than 100 years to get equal treatment by race before the law.  I am not sure what it will take for Japanese society to realize that fundamentally unequal treatment towards NJ has to stop. Arudou Debito

24 comments on “Weekend Tangent: Historical comparison between contemporary social attitudes justifying racial discrimination in Japan and pre-Civil-War slavery in America

  • I was going to post this in the “Yakuza and foreigners have no rights” thread but then, as if by destiny, Debito posted this new tangent which seemed more apt.

    I ve been thinking in light of recent events that I am thinking thay we re heading for an MLK or Malcolm X like movement, but it could be many years from now for it to reach fruition.
    Probably when the so called “Haafu” population become more visible and more vocal (about being called “half” for a start).

    The earthquake and Fukushima strikes me as similar to world war 2 was for minorities in the States, ie. you re being asked to chose sides to “save” your country, with the difference that this time a large number of people decided they didnt have that much of a stake in a rotten Japanese system or were tired of yet more obligations to the state, so they left.

    The remaining NJs, arguably, are split into apologists and denialists-“house gaijin”- or activists.

    So my optimistic estimate is that, given the time from the end of WW2 and the civil rights movement, its going to be 15-20 years from now that “Japanese of color” (ie. non “typical” looking Japanese citizens such as Debito) reach critical mass in terms of numbers.

    I really hope it isnt at the Civil War stage and is going to take 100 years for real integration to happen.

    Currently there are just too many “Uncle Tojo’s Dojo” apologists remaining in Japan, policing the other gaijin and keeping them in their “place”, and diluting and diverting from the message; that the slightest criticism is not to be taken as an affront to Japanese national pride or “Ojisan Oligarchy Ego” (OOE), but is actually to improve things.

  • These things will only surprise Americans who have never read a contemporary reason for the causes and about the Civil War, the war was much more a war between a european bank sponsored Confederacy and a green-back interest free government printed currency of the Union, it was very much a war to establish the European Banks in America since the Jackson failed to renew the original central bank of America. Although the Bankers came to succeed once again in 1913 with the corrupt Federal Reserve Act and since that time we have seen over 2100% inflation of the currency and wars that would not have been possible if not for it. Americans who don’t know that the civil war was not really to do with slavery and that rather slavery was an issue that rode the tide of the war, only exist as a result of nationalistic education and textbooks that try to portray the justice seeking north fighting the slavers of the south. If the U.S. gave a damn about slavery they would do something about it now, because more slavers are alive now then ever before in history. Public education is nothing more than nationalism school and anyone who sticks their head into a contemporary war history will realize this in an instant.

    — But this blog post is not about the causes of the American Civil War. It’s about how societies tie themselves in knots and how even the best-intentioned of us are stopped from doing the right thing. Back on topic, please.

  • Everyone’s limited by their culture’s frame of reference and Lincoln was no different. That’s why reading straight from the field and not disseminated information from the mass media is important lest we willingly limit our perspective.

  • “For example, if any Japanese politician were to say, more so now than ever, that certain NJ should have the right to vote in local elections, they would most likely lose their seat.”

    Pardon me, but I think you may be mistaken on this point. There is an organized Diet league (renmei) consisting of DPJ members whose main purpose is to enact legislation allowing permanent residents to vote in local elections. Its leader is Okada Katsuya, one of the DPJ’s more prominent politicians and one-time minister of foreign affairs. He has not been asked to resign his seat over this issue. Nor to my knowledge have the 65 DPJ members that at have at one time or another been in the league, including Ozawa Ichiro, Sengoku Yoshito, Maehara Seiji and Hatoyama Yukio, all current members, and all big shots within the party. As for whether they might be voted out, only 9 of the 36 members of the league that were in the upper house lost their seats in the 2010 election. However, if anything we should be surprised that more were not defeated given that the DPJ had a poor showing in that election due to Kan’s tax policies.


    — Thank you very much for the very clear and concise rebuttal. We should have more of this type of collegiality in our Comments section.

  • Unlike what happened in the US back in the 1940’s and 1950’s when the Civil Rights movement began and the NAACP was born, there is no such group with political aspirations here in Japan who speaks for the foreign community. Its a shame we are so weak, and want to leave this issue for our children to fight. Its not the way its done, our children are supposed to inherit the fight if we don’t win the battle.

    I have no doubt that inside this country there are very capable and well-educated foreigners who can build such an organization if they put their minds to it.

    — I for one tried. Who’s up next? I’ll do whatever I can to help.

  • How about Amnesty International japan? or I’m missing something? http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/japan

    — You are. Read up on how Amnesty works. Local branches do not campaign like this within the country they are investigating. It does not organize political campaigns within election systems either.

  • Rock Racing says:

    I’m not sure I understand this argument that Japan is somehow ‘behind the times’ in the issue of voting rights for foreigners. The US, for example:

    “More than 20 states or territories, including colonies before the Declaration of Independence, admitted foreigners’ right to vote for all elections. As of May 2010, however, most of those foreign voting and office holding rights have been repealed and at present no foreigner may vote at the national or state level in the US, and only a handful of local governments allow foreigners to vote.”

    And before someone argues ‘just because it happens elsewhere doesn’t make it right!’, note my point is that perhaps there are reasonable factors behind why many many countries have zero or very limited voting rights for non-citizens, particularly at the national level. I for one would very much like to see voting rights at least at the local level. South Korea’s system (voting rights at the local level for residents still in the country three years after gaining permanent residence) seems like a decent starting point to me.

    — Look, we’ve had this debate about what’s different about the NJ suffrage debate in Japan before on Debito.org. Do a search (I even provided a link above) and read up. Don’t fall into the camp of those who stymie reform and equality.

  • I think the core issue is that people of foreign extraction aren’t seen as part of “Japan”. The idea is that everyone is the same though the reality is not like that (even in smaller cities there is a foreign population). Especially when it comes to zainichi Koreans and others, there is a sense that they are not Japanese despite many of them only knowing Japanese, having grown up in Japan, etc. – and of course the citizenship laws perpetuate this outside status because you can’t become a citizen by birth (really, if you’ve grown up in Japan speaking Japanese as your native language there is something silly about not automatically being a citizen). Naturalization is also problematic, as it seems to come down to the local office and luck, as Debito naturalized fairly easily, while other people have not been able to naturalize who have lived in Japan even longer and not done anything wrong. In this situation the “haafu” at least have the advantage of being citizens.

    I kind of have to agree with Rock Racing that suffrage for non-citizens is not exactly the problem (or at least not exactly an exclusively Japanese problem), but there is a big problem when people say Japan is different from America because everyone is Japanese. Even without suffrage, long term foreign residents should be recognized as part of the country and population. The idea that they are in Japan and have rights is the most important thing that people need to grasp, and the idea that if they take citizenship they are Japanese needs to be grasped.

    Also, I think that the twitter posts actually reveal there is thought going on, that is, opinion seems to be split about the case and the statements rather than being exclusively anti-foreign. There clearly WERE exceptions, with people saying that “this is why Japan is called a country of discrimination” and expressing disgust over the statements. On the other hand, some of the people in the thread clearly didn’t understand the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” or “false confession”.

    — Have I done something wrong yet succeeded in naturalizing? 🙂

    Agreed, “Even without suffrage, long term foreign residents should be recognized as part of the country and population.” That recognition, given the very unusual situation of the Zainichi PR in the world’s example of political rights, includes suffrage IMO, since they don’t have it even after several generations and even military service to the former Japanese empire. But we’re covering old ground. The point is that back in Lincoln’s day, similar arguments were being made about who belongs here, and they even for a time convinced a person like Lincoln.

    How much longer until we can look back on the GOJ and Japanese society’s attitude towards immigrants and gawk at how archaic and exclusionary they were?

  • Rock Racing says:

    Just need to point out that Japan is not the only country to practice jus sanguinis (‘right of blood’) where citizenship is based not on place of birth but on the citizenship of the parent(s). Jus sanguinis is by far the norm in Europe, for example. Children born in the UK are not British citizens unless at the time of birth at least one of parents was a British citizen and/or legally settled in the UK.

    As such: we need to re-think the notion that there is ‘something silly’ or unfair about someone born and raised in Japan and only knowing Japanese not having Japanese citizenship – that is, in fact, how it is done in many places around the world.

    The zainichi problem is not easy (having dated a zainichi many years ago I know far more about it than I would have otherwise) and is complicated by the fact that the various Korean associations working with zainichi don’t always see eye-to-eye with each other, let alone with the Japanese government….

    — Look, I know you’re a student who “needs to point out” something, i.e., has to sound out his ideas somewhere in order to feel them being heard. But as I’ve said, we’re covering old ground. We know all about the jus sanguinis/jus soli stuff here. As well as the disagreements within the NJ communities. Read up on past discussions already and add something new.

  • “The remaining NJs, arguably, are split into apologists and denialists-”house gaijin”- or activists”

    “Arguably” is the key word here. Many of us remain not because we are in denial, nor because we are apologists. We actually like Japan, our jobs, our homes, and our friends (Japanese and foreign alike). But it ain’t perfect. Debito’s blog brings into focus the problems facing NJ’s with materials that may not be immediately on our radar (such as the NPR broadcast in this thread). Neither am I an activist, but I am certainly grateful to those, like Debito, who create a forum for honest and critical discussion of the issues that affect me as a NJ in Japan.

    House gaijin? Nope. Apologist? Nope. Activist? Nope. Just a person who tries to stay aware of the issues, and appreciates those who put themselves at the forefront of some pretty prickly issues and debates.

    (I would normally sign my name, and find it strange not to do so. But, because of recent events over at a very disreputable blog, I’ll just put initials for now).


  • A rally by foreigners in this country would wake the government up. If you had a strike where all foreign workers, students, teachers, and businesses shut down for 1 day and protested in the streets it would stir the government to respect our rights more. From here you can build a political organization that represents the foreign community. Then start a political dialogue about rights with the government as true representatives of the foreign community. First you need a rallying point, then choose leaders and a platform. Of course you need funds, but I wouldn’t worry so much about money, because somehow it will work itself out. The foreign community I speak of has to represent every nationality in this country, all under the Rising Sun. It should be clear to the government that this organization wants political power at all levels of government, local, prefecture, and national.

    If you’re working for the government, then this is a fair enough idea. But I don’t see that it’s a good idea to strike, affecting businesses and schools which lack any political clout and royally pissing off a lot of people in the process.
    About five years back I got held up on the way to Manchester Airport by a bunch of lorry drivers protesting over fuel prices and demanding government action. I missed my flight back to Japan as a result. Did that make me think “Oh yes, these protesters have a good point. I’ll give them my backing.”? No. It made me think “Bunch of selfish wankers.”

    — I’m not sure you understand the principle of going on strike. It’s *precisely* to ensure that business is not as usual.

  • @Debito
    Indeed, that’s exactly what striking is all about. But it seems counter-productive to me to get up the noses of ordinary citizens, who have no influence over government policy, and so lose their potential support. If a strike will affect the government, the people in power, then great. Otherwise it appears that you’re targeting and demanding change from folk who aren’t in any position to offer it.

    — So I guess also you’re not in favor of, say, international economic sanctions, since bystanders within the targeted nation also get adversely affected. That ain’t how the real world works, sadly, IMHO. Anyway, let’s agree to disagree, and get back on topic.

  • @Joe,

    Of course there will be Japanese Citizens who won’t like it, but there will be plenty who are on our side. I think they’ll be saying what took you guys so long. I’d like for you to show me any point in history where the majority has given rights to the minority without the minority demanding those rights. Foreigners in this country won’t get treated fairly by taking a Pacifist approach, thinking that International Organizations and Foreign Embassies can somehow protect our rights better than we can ourselves is wrong. They live in compounds, we live on these streets. They have diplomatic immunity, we get police harassment. They have 9-5 jobs and decent wages, we get on-call jobs and fired when there is no work. Some people will say just leave if you don’t like it, but, we’re here and we’re here to stay so why not demand rights and political power?

  • richardbaroda says:

    A rally by foreigners on the scale mentioned above is unlikely to happen because it seems, according to SM, “Many of us remain not because we are in denial, nor because we are apologists. We actually like Japan, our jobs, our homes, and our friends (Japanese and foreign alike).”

    Great, but is this code for “I dont want to rock the boat, I m alright Jack, I M afriad of losing my job or upsetting my Japanese hosts?”

    Correct me if I m wrong, but I ve seen foreign teacher unions fail because people on one year contracts afraid to lose their jobs.And this was during the bubble when jobs were plentiful!

    But I think its time to choose sides and stop sitting on the fence. One cannot remain neutral as this just sustains the status quo.

  • If we can get over that fear barrier and unite as one. We can negotiate with the government on behalf of the foreign community. The foreign community here is spread out over the country, but our numbers large when united as one, its what they’ll will respect, foreigners in the country making the demands not outsiders.

  • Actually when things were best for me is when I most wanted to help out the foriegn community, I never really felt apart of Japan even when they treat me “good” Its a tough one to take on. Many NJ still feel they are that special gaijin, and that has taken effect on them. If NJ started protesting in masses, well their goes the neighborhood and we must depart if we dont like it here. Ive found most things in life to be like this, a paradox, nothing is easy but that probably comes from being here so damn long. If you stay here long term and dont rock the boat, you go crazy from turning it inwards, if you do rock the boat, you got to deal with making waves and being alienated. Im already a perpetual alien, so Im growing immune to it all.

  • I actually think Debito has taken the best course of action then-he became Japanese but campaigns from within for change.

    As certain people are fond of telling us put up or shut up, (because foreigners “have no rights”) and “If you dont like (any aspect of) Japan, leave!” and as Fuurukawa the racist campaigned, “Japan for the Japanese” well, Debito IS Japanese so I wonder how Furukawa and his ilk like those apples?

    You ll feel a perpetual alien under these rules if you remain a foreigner; becoming Japanese really internalizes the fight and then shows up any ridiculous racist aspects that linger.

    Though of course naturalizing is easier said than done.

  • Citizenship is the key. Becoming a KOKUMIN enables one to vote in all elections, run for office, and be heard. For long-term life in Japan, obtaining citizenship is a logical path. I work with two Japanese citizens who used to hold Korean citizenship. They are quite happy with their choice, and no longer listen to the complaints of those who refuse to naturalize. For them, naturalization was very, very easy. For non-SPRs, the process is a bit more involved but the procedures are outlined at Debito.org. Debito-san has proven that naturalization can be accomplished by following the rules.

  • The demographic future may very well include smaller numbers of Japanese-born people overall. Low birth rates, aging population, all these things can paint a future of either empty infrastructure or non-Japanese people working said infrastructure.

    Although a strike could possibly be effective, it seems that Japanese (in general–stereotype I know) are very mindful of not causing problems or annoyance to other people. In turn, they appear to me to be highly sensitive to being annoyed. It’s sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  • Chilisize says:

    American blacks didn’t fight to be “liked,” they fought for legal equality.

    Yes, I know it’s hard being a gaijin. But real comparisons to Jim Crow and African American slavery in the US have some severe limitations.

  • “Nihonjin wa urusai” stated a tea commercial a few years back. Japanese DO complain. Especially if they are consumers. According to a Japanese sales director of Peugeot “Japanese consumers are the most demanding in the world”. So I m not sure if the cliche that Dr H. mentions-that you should put up and shut up- holds true for all.

    As a gaijin, you can be an urusai gaijin. If you become a nihonjin, you can complain about getting your taxes-or your money`s worth. In fact I ve noticed that customers/consumers/parents of students etc felt they HAD to complain-or were buying the right to complain or put their ten cents in-even if there was really nothing wrong.

    — Anyway, this discussion is bubbling into tangent territory. Let’s bring it back.

  • @Richard: Thanks for that example. I’m definitely not a J-culture expert, just an avid learner/newbie. 😉 Of course the cliche won’t hold true for all. That’s why I sheepishly made the disclaimer of stereotype. Studying/discussing/analyzing human behavior has got to be one of the most complicated undertakings one could ever do. Plants are so much easier. 😉

    Back on topic, this really is kind of a moot point though isn’t it? There aren’t any revolutions going on, and likely won’t be. That kind of drastic grassroots change seems to only happen when people are willing to die for that change. (Egypt and Libya come to mind).

    How effective is it for NJ to write to their government leaders and request support for issues? I write to my state Senators all of the time, and I get generic replies that thank me for my concern and explain to me why he/she will vote this way or that way. Would it do you guys any good to have letter writing campaigns to government officials? Generate awareness and all that?

    — Done it. Have met them too to lobby. They say what you want to hear and then ignore it. Same as any disinclined politician in a democracy, but the difference is that hardly anyone ever holds their feet to the fire, least of all the cartelized media.

  • Very interesting take, although not an ideal comparison especially when talking about tourists or naturalized citizens with legal rights (in any country) versus people who were imported for slavery because of their race without any rights or the means to communicate to any kind of authority for the sake of complaining. Another aspect where there’s no ground for comparison is the number of deaths resulted from the pre-civil war slavery era.
    I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll share a little insight with you as a tourist in Asia and currently in Japan at the moment.

    I read about the refusal of entry to Japanese venues and ensuing lawsuits – and couldn’t help but to think this one thing: the world is a friendly place until you’ve experienced discrimination. Reasoning, or words written as part of a constitution or some local law, doesn’t change what people think – they only change what people want you to think. I’ve spent the last couple of years traveling to many countries in Asia and have realized that Caucasians (in general) have it easy – real easy. My caucasian friends, who seldom experience discriminination (in Asia), tend to look at me with disbelief whenever I tell them about regular encounters. An example: Earlier this year (2011) while in China I got a phone call, it was from the recruiter of a teaching Job which I had applied for (with a picture, as required in Asia) thinking that I was qualified because I had met all the requirements, saying “You’re not a white man. We’re looking for a white man. Sorry, …” I tried explaining to the woman, since they were looking for a native speakers (among other things), that not all native speakers of English are white, and that not all whites can speak English – she would have none of it and ended the conversation abruptly. Would I take them to court if I could? My answer would be a resounding NO. Thankfully, many local ads include “Must be white” as part of the job requirements to save people like me time. In Korea, commuters generally try to avoid sitting next to non-white foreigners on public transportation, my female friends noting that women refusing to use bathroom stalls after them, and the list goes on and on.
    I get a regular dose of this stuff in my home country, even from immigrants. From personal observations, I get the same dosage of it in Asia – it’s just more blatant. It can be compared to the oldest profession in that it won’t go away, it’s here to stay albeit under many disguises regardless legislations etc.

    It’s good to see that someone is trying to fight back and I admire the efforts and dig reading materials. But for those of us who’ve never experienced this stuff before coming to Japan and are relying on the courts to absolve the Japanese (venues) of discriminating against you, I can only say “may the force be with you”/us.


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