Monday, December 29, 2008

Racism in Japan

Unconscious racial arrogance and disdain for ethnic minorities are pronounced throughout the world. It is more evident in countries where different races live together, but I believe racism is a worldwide attitude and is perhaps strongest in areas where, because of little contact with other races, it has neither been brought to the surface nor challenged.
In Japan, the part of the world where I have been active as a human rights activist for almost a decade now, racist attitudes run strong — in my judgment far stronger than in Western countries. Japanese children who are not ethnic Japanese experience racism from a very young age and can even be subject to cruel treatment by their peers and adults. Many of them are bullied at school.
Seven years ago, a Japanese-born daughter of a Peruvian acquaintance was bullied by her classmates soon after she began attending a public elementary school in Gunma. She had been taunted and ridiculed because of her different looks. Some senior students called her "strange foreigner" and raked their shoes against her heels in the schoolyard. The girl told her homeroom teacher, but no serious action was taken against the bullies.
A Japanese grade-school boy who had an American ancestor was abused by his teacher in Fukuoka about five years ago. The teacher pulled the pupil's nose until it bled. He also told him to jump off a high-rise condominium and die because he wasn't a pure-blooded Japanese. The confused child was quoted as asking his parents if he was "dirty'' because he had foreign blood. Initially the school refused to confront the issue until the boy's parents became vocal.
The issue of racism, although serious, is not openly discussed in Japanese-language media. Worse, the media often exaggerate crimes committed by foreigners and portray them as troublemakers. Also, it is not uncommon to hear some TV personalities and politicians making racist comments in public. Once I was watching a popular talk show on television, and I was astonished to hear a Japanese celebrity saying something like, "Japan used to be a pure-blooded nation, but unfortunately foreigners of all kinds are now mixing it with dirty blood.
In Japan, there is a myth that says Japan is inhabited by a single race, the Japanese. But now this myth must be challenged, because the nation is increasingly becoming multiracial.
A nation in which people are discriminated against by ethnicity, which infringes on basic human rights, can never be considered a true member of the global community. The failure of politicians, educators and parents to solve the problem of racism is debasing human dignity. This issue casts the question of whether Japan is capable of being a society of coexistence.
By Joel Assogba [Shukan ST: Feb. 22, 2008 (Published in Japan Times ST)]

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