Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Behind Every Apologist

Lately, there's been a bit of a flap amongst those who are paying attention about an article in the Japan Times (an English language newspaper here) from an 72-year-old teacher who asserts that discrimination is "right" for Japanese people. I'm not going to talk about the article as it speaks for itself, albeit rather inaccurately at times as some of the "examples" that are cited are factually incorrect.

Recently, my attention was brought to a response to this article by a particular blogger who I used to follow. This blogger was someone who I tried to be supportive of and assist during some difficulties during her early time in Japan, but she had some emotional problems and I decided it was best to separate myself from her and stop following her writing. I was directed to a post by her today, however, that supported the article.

At first, I was really angry. Somehow, reading this made me feel as if my energy and good intentions were wasted on someone who clearly did not deserve them. After all, if you advocate the random suffering of others based on prejudice (which is itself based on superficial and arbitrary factors), then you're sowing a bit of karma for your own random suffering. I wanted to write a response making my feelings clear, but I didn't have the guts to do it and was apprehensive about spreading negativity to no useful end.

After stewing and ruminating on this a bit, I reached some realizations about apologists in Japan. While I already knew that Japan very much does not have the market cornered on prejudice and discriminatory behavior, I do believe that it is somewhat rare among developed countries in that there is little or no societal imperative to censor one's bigotry or prejudicial responses to those who are different from oneself. This last thought propelled me along a line of thinking which has been most enlightening and educating. It made me feel that all of the emotional turmoil I experienced over this situation was worthwhile, as something meaningful was gained.

There are a lot of foreigners who are apologists for bad behavior in Japan. I always felt that this was a form of self-loathing, the manifestation of immense insecurity, or intellectual bending over backwards in order to assimilate with the culture (if only in their own minds) because of weak ego integrity or self-identity. The realization I reached was that the desire to rationalize and justify discrimination against one's own ethnic group is something else entirely, at least in some cases.

Those of us who grow up white in countries that are predominately Caucasian grow up with guilt over any feelings of prejudice that we experience. We may find ourselves growing up next to neighbors of a particular ethnic group and be rubbed the wrong way by them until we form a prejudicial stereotype of that ethnic group. Essentially, we experience the concept of familiarity breeding contempt. This prejudice cannot be acted upon because our culture instills in us a strong sense that such feelings are wrong and should not be acted upon, particularly if those feelings are possessed by someone who is from the majority holding most of the power in the culture (in many cases, the Caucasians). That doesn't stop people from having those feelings. It mainly stops them from expressing them or acting on them. I'd be surprised if there were any people in multi-ethnic democratic countries who didn't repress feelings of bigotry at some point in their lives.

Imagine those people coming to Japan where they are now the minority that is the target of unfair prejudging. For some people, this is a situation which they feel is unfair and they rage against it. They apply the empathy that they felt for minorities back home to themselves now. They develop a better understanding of what it is like for an entire group of people to be punished for the behavior of a random few. For others, the response is different. For them, this situation is an opportunity to express their repressed prejudice without appearing outwardly to be bigots. If you advocate discrimination against a group other than your own which is treated unfairly, you're a bigot. If you advocate discrimination against your own group, you get the intellectual satisfaction of flexing all your justifications for being a bigot without appearing to be one. After all, saying your own group should be treated with prejudice doesn't make you a bigot.

I realized that behind every apologist is a repressed bigot. Being a minority which is discriminated against in Japan allows you to advocate discrimination freely and provides a visceral satisfaction for the inner racist to trot out all the arguments she'd like to make for her prejudices without having to deal with any of the guilt or accusations she'd experience if she made those arguments against minorities back home. In the end, I realized that anyone who advocates discrimination against foreign people in Japan isn't acting on any beliefs in regards to prejudice that they didn't already have before coming here.

(If you want to know more about the article and read an intelligent response, you can check out Black Tokyo's reply.) Google Reader recommended this blog to me about 3 weeks ago and it's a real winner.


Shawn said...

I must admit, I don't really have much insight to add to this. I just wanted to let you know I found it interesting as well :)

Sherry said...

What you have written is something that I have always felt but was never able to put into words as clearly as you have done.

Girl Japan said...

ah.. Clark is at it again..

But here is where I agree with him: “The anti-discrimination people point to Japan's acceptance of a U.N. edict banning discrimination on the basis of race. But that edict is broken every time any U.S. organization obeys the affirmative action law demanding preference for blacks and other minorities. Without it, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama would probably not be where he is today.” I get the whole this should be in order to preserve solidarity or prevent injustices but a lot has justly slipped through the proverbial cracks.

and well while I don't think banning foreigners to the bath houses in Hokaido is UM.. the right thing to do, barring all drunken idiots should be one (oh.. and this goes for any pub, restaurant, any social hang out.. if you are drunk and unruly.. you are OUTTA here) so the sarcastic remark by Clark “take a drunken test”, yeah but can't any lame PERSON tell drunken stupidity than that of a person who just wants to chill and soak it out at a bath house no less.

Discrimination is one aspect of ignorance but to actually discriminate against yourself- talk about separating sheep from the goats or wheat from the chaff! If this isn't overt racism and Japan Times does not see this as being obvious, they have seriously lowered the standards in Journalism.

I would expect to see this article in a blog or in his personal journal not published by Japan Times? Right? Ah huh!

Orchid64 said...

You can agree with him, but his facts are incorrect. Obama cannot be viewed as a recipient of affirmative action. His ascent to power, his entrance to Harvard, etc. were the result of his intellect. To suggest that Obama got where he is because of affirmative action rather than on merit is, in itself, a racist assertion as it looks at his skin and reaches a conclusion rather than his actual record. Note that in applying to Harvard Law, Obama did not check the box on his application describing his as a minority. Obama graduated from Harvard Law Magna Cum Laude. His record shows he was certainly capable based on his merits and did not require any special treatment. We can no more say that Obama rose to power via affirmative action than a white man did so because of pro-white bias, particularly if the men showed their capability through their records.

The gist of what he is suggesting is that any successful African American could only get where he or she is today through forced advantage. This is a disgustingly racist conclusion to reach and reveals a lot of Clark's thought processes (as well as his ignorance). Also, let's not forget that affirmative action encourages people to hire minorities when the candidates are equally qualified, not when one is less qualified than the other. Since ethnic minorities were not hired even with superior capabilities in the past, it is an attempt to restore balance.

That being said, I don't know to what extent affirmative action is even practiced anymore in the U.S. The very concept feels outdated at this stage. I haven't heard affirmative action being discussed as anything but a footnote to the most racist of times since the 70's. The fact that he compares affirmative action to denying service to people based on ethnic background sheds light on his inability to distinguish between a policy which is meant to compensate for generations of overt bigotry from one that is meant to cater to bigotry.

This was just many of his incorrect assertions in that piece. Another had to do with hiring professors who are not fluent in the native language of the culture to teach at universities. He asserts that that does not happen in other countries when it most certainly does. In America, a lot of professors in the math, science, and language fields are not fluent in English. Japan isn't the only country to allow people who don't speak the native tongue to work in their universities.

Beyond that, he also got the facts of the lawsuit he mentions wrong (it was a class action suit for one, and he got names wrong for another).

The bottom line is that standards for exclusion have to be applied unilaterally, not based on ethnicity. As you say, all drunken louts should be excluded, not just the non-Japanese ones.

Girl Japan said...

Opps.. I should have taken out the quote on Obama which I did not agree with... I meant in work places, corporate America sometimes exercises Affirmative action for one minority based on a quota they have to meet. (I say this only because I experienced it) where someone one was bumped to Director based on the Quota and not the merit of the person this is where I feel that Affirmative action is another form of discrimination. This is where I meant some cases slipped through the cracks, or it being exercised in University acceptance. I understand the attempt to restore some balance.. but at UC Berkley I remember Bill Clinton giving that speech.. about affirmative action and then myself being bumped over Directors chair because of a quota they had to meet, and the same happened to my father, when he was bluntly told by his director, "sorry we have to bump up to this "race" by law even if that person did not earn it on merit.

If I had to explain it, I feel that AA can act as a double edge sword but since living in Japan I was out of the H&R dept so I don't know how much that is practiced now but I am 60% against it and 40% for it...

... his article irritated me on so many levels, he reminds me of of having a "this is my Japan" complex.


Emsk said...

Silly old Clark - and I think he might be a Brit.

Fantastic post with plenty of food for thought. We call Affirmative Action Positive Discrimination in the UK. I think it's fine so long as the people interviewed are of the same level, but I've never gotten the impression that someone would be hired simply because of their skin colour/gender etc - you'd have to have done the leg-work as well.

I really think it's fair enough and that these things are enshrined in law - after all maybe not so long ago a man (and it usually was a man) could phone about a job, go to the interview and not get hired because he was black.

As for President Obama, I think we've got a pretty smart guy, both academically and in the clued-up sense. I don't think ayone's given him a helping hand race-wise, but if he were from a working-class background his story would've been very different, unless he'd had access to all the relevant tests which would take him to Harvard, etc.

On the other hand there's a possibility maybe your 43rd president got there through Affirmative Action!

Emsk said...

Additionally - and I wanted to put this in a separate reply - it was very interesting being a minority and the recipient of racism while I was in Japan. While I wouldn't say I welcomed or accepted it, I am glad it might have given me an insight into what black and Asian people have gone through when they've been in minority situations.

Many, many things must've happened in which I was labelled a 'dirty gaijin' or whatever. I wouldn't want to dwell on them and my Japanese friends are certainly not prejudiced, but here are a few things which wouldn't cross my mind to do here in the UK - even the most vocal bigot would probably realise that these are things to mouth off about behind closed doors.

- When in a restaurant, I would never dream of leaning over and makng loud comments to someone from Africa, India etc about their amazing ability in using a knife and fork.

- If a Chinese person asked me for the ninth floor in the lift, I can't imagine I'd congratulate them on their fantastic English (unles they were my student and it was their first in-the-filed exercise).

- Far from it for me to scowl at a black woman spotted engaging in an animated, perhaps flirtatious, conversation with a good-looking white guy. Although I might scowl if she left without his number!

- It's unlikely if, when something goes wrong at work, I'd jump to the conclusion that it was down to the Pakistani guy. Although when I say Pakistani, what I really mean is the fella whose grandparents came over in the 50s, stayed and had children,then went on to marry other people like them and have families of their own.

- Free seat on the tube? Oh well, I won't sit there - there's an African woman sitting there. Yes, I know she's wearing a business suit, but you can't be too careful, eh?

All things that happened to me, or I witnessed while in Japan. As you say, while western countries can't always be said to be inter-racial utopias (last week Prince Harry was in the news after being filmed referring to his Pakistani-origin friend as a P---), it's shouted down damned quickly and that's been the case for a long time.

The anti-gaijin gaijin interests me, so I've posted about 'him' myself. Hope you don't mind!