Is Japan Racist? An Answer to Gaijin Goombah

QuestionSo, I’ve made it no secret that I watch a lot of YouTube channels like Extra Credits (I even helped pay for Alison’s surgery when they asked for help a while back), Game Theory, Culture Shock, and so on. Recently, I was watching a video over on Gaijin Goombah’s channel where he was talking about the recent outrage over Overwatch’s skins, with them being accused of being a form of cultural appropriation. While he made some good points in that video that I agree with, I’ve also disagreed with him on many issues in the past. Linked in that video was one from back in June where he tried to tackle the question of if anime (and by extension, Japan) is racist. He makes a lot of good points, and I’ll link the video below, but this is an example of one of those times when I disagree with him.

For those not wanting to sit through an eight minute video, his point basically boils down to saying that the Japanese are only exposed to cultural messages from the media, and thus don’t know any better, but that they are more like children than bigots. That in and of itself is a form of racism (his looking at them like children), and is one of the ways that slave owners used to view those they enslaved, even using it as justification for slavery, as a means of “teaching them better.” Now, I’ve said it before (though I can’t remember which post it was off the top of my head, and the search feature on WordPress isn’t very good), but I will admit to being racist, because I live in a racist society, and I’ve been taught racist things as I grew up. It is in trying to do better, to create future generations where race is less of an issue in the hopes of generations from now ending racism, that is what makes me a good person.

So if one were to ask me if the Japanese are racist, I would very clearly say yes. It’s not just because of their lack of cultural understanding for other races, nationalities, etc. either, though that is certainly a contributing factor. It’s also a historical and cultural aspect of their own culture, one which they too have been trying to slowly do away with. Japan has historically been an isolationist nation, seeing themselves as better than others. In fact, the term kamikaze, which is often associated with suicide fighter pilots during World War II has a much older, more interesting history. The name wasn’t chosen as a whim for those pilots either, as it means “divine wind.” You see, in Japan’s history, prior to things like the industrial revolution and the advent of more modern technologies, there were two times when other nations tried invading Japan, sending fleets of ships to do so, and the fleets were destroyed by hurricanes. The term kamikaze came about as a way of speaking about these “divine winds” that had protected them from harm.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry of America forced his way into Japan and demanded they open trade, that Japan truly began moving away from such an isolationist stance. Seems like a long, long time ago, but honestly, it wasn’t that far at all. We still had slavery in the states, as this was a few years before our own Civil War broke out. Look how racist America still is today, and we’re one of the most culturally diverse nations on the planet, all because of the old dream of the melting pot. Without that kind of intermixing of cultures, without the kinds of liberal activists that we see from the feminist, womanist, black rights. etc. movements, it’s amazing that Japan has come as far as they have in such a short period of time.

So no, they’re not outright bigots, at least not most of them, but they are racist, sexist, and so on, just as anyone else in this world is. We all live in a world with such narratives that we must choose to accept or reject. Japan is in the middle of a sort of cultural revolution right now, contributing to things like their lack of desire for marriage, sex, children, etc. as well as to things like the NEET movement. This isn’t just young Japanese people rebelling against the intense work culture they have to live in, but also a way of standing up to one aspect of the sexism inherent in that culture as well. That said, they still have a long way to go, and for that to change, they need to start opening the door to others who aren’t Japanese. We can help them, just as we must help ourselves as well. Let’s just not repeat the mistakes of our past and do so by force, alright?

I’ll catch you all next week, and definitely feel free to start asking questions via the Ask Caitlin link above.

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