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.