Sunday, January 3, 2010

You know, there probably was some better picture you could've picked?

Quite some time back, I lightly touched upon the topic of usage of old fashioned racist imagery against black people that is encountered from time to time here in Japan. Since I'm not black, I guess I'm not the person who would be most offended by it, but I can't really muster up any big feelings of indignity because of this most of the time. The main reason is that it's almost never meant to be malicious, it's just misguided and some Japanese people have no idea that anyone would get offended by usage of such imagery and would surely apologize if actually made to realize that usage of such images can be hurtful.

The picture below was the actual motif of a new year's card I received from one of my Japanese relatives, a very very sweet person who wouldn't hurt a fly and thinks the best of everyone. However, living a bit in the countryside of Japan and not really exposed to the "modern world" as younger urban people.
Some quick research also revealed that the image is a picture very similar to the Japanese version of the story "Little black sambo" which apparently got pulled of the shelves in Japan in 1988 due to the racist imagery (hey, read the link, I just learnt about this).

Well, I believe that Japan still has some growing up to do in issues such as this, but at least it's not used with a malicious intent if that counts for anything...


JK said...

Oh man, yesterday when I was in a bookstore by the Shimokitazawa station I saw a few children's books with that little guy + tigers and more. They had like 5 different books.

Yeah, your wikipedia link says there are new versions out and all.. but they looked like picture you attached. :D Not sure they'd be sold at home.

TED said...

This is a very powerful image and I agree with JK, they wouldn't be sold at home. ITs a difficult call, its like you say, if its not malicious then theres no harm, right? Not so these days I feel, most views are now taken from the individuals perspective, so if it offends 1, it is not acceptable regardless of the originators thoughts and intent.

Interesting world sometimes. My Grandparents have hundreds of Golly-Wogs which the collected as children. They love the imagery and art and get quite upset that it is associated with racism. Modern life presents some interesting challenges.

If we look at classic art, there are numerous repesentations of oppresion and prejudice, yet they are accepted as potraying the moment in time. Maybe we should view the images with a greater distance, I think the 20th century made us relaise how wronf we are culturally sometimes, this is why its difficult to have perspective.

Anyway, great blog as always, I just wanted to say Happy New Year from us all at The Expat Directory. Have a Happy and prosperous 2010

Martin said...

I´m sure that everything offends someone at some point. So the argument above about what is acceptable is a bit wierd to me (although very safe and politically correct ).

I figure that the intention should be the key argument. It´s the thought that counts, isnt it?

I actually get a little offended by reasoning like Ted´s (Although he probably is a very nice guy). But who is right and who is wrong and does it really matter?

Note: Arguing on the internet is like competing at the special Olympics. Even if you win, your still a retard. ;-)

Mr. Salaryman said...

JK - Yeah, but I just remembered this one: ... didn't this just recently change?

TED&Martin - First, TED, thank you very much for the greeting, best of luck to you too!

I usually try to avoid to serious discussions on hot topics here in this little blog since I believe there are better and more serious venues out there to discuss such thing. But I tend to agree with Martin here, what offends someone is so individual that trying to eliminate everything that could possible offend someone somewhere would lead to an incredibly bland society (and kill this blog)...

I believe that intent counts for a lot; if the image in the post would've been sent from a racist person/organization instead of a slightly naive Japanese person in the countryside I would have thought it much more offensive since the purpose of using the image would be much more malignant.

I'm not black, but I do have the asian genes and I have a hard time getting offended by stereotypical asian charicatures, assuming that the usage comes from ignorance and not from an intent to hurt people.

Anyway, thanks for the input and I think we basically agree on the important stuff.

Francesc said...

Can somebody tell me how 4 tigers around a person holding an umbrella in a snowy day has racist implications? Has the world gone mad. The problem is in the person who got the card not the one who sent it. I live in USA and I am from Barcelona and I can tell some americans are over sensitive over this kind of issues. In my opinion if you see a problem in this Xmas card then you are the one that have a problem.

Mr. Salaryman said...

Francesc - Nice! You, I like!

jlpt2kyu said...

I bought a second hand copy of that book in the UK a few years ago. It is now my sons favourite book.

I do not see really how it is a racist book. I have it on my shelf and await the day someone calls me out on it.

Martin J Frid said...

I loved that book as a child. The story is crazy and set in an exotic place. And what a fun image for a New Years Card for 2010 (the year of the tiger). I wish I had thought of it!

And a (belated) gott nytt år to the internet's best foreign salaryman in Tokyo!

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