The recent animated video released by NHK on its official Twitter account on June 7 as an attempt to explain Black Lives Matter protests in the US was a compilation of negative stereotypes conferred to Black people. The video can be found here.
Following the murder of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer kneeling on his neck, a wave of protests took over the US. The broadcasting channel created an animated explainer of the demonstrations led by Black Lives Matter with the intention to inform the Japanese public, especially the younger ones, of the current situation in the US.
The video featured an excessively muscular black man speaking with the same voice used for ruffians in Japanese animation, as well as black men and women depicted as scary and radiating anger. The way the video was delivered, with no reference to police brutality or the death of George Floyd, was offensive and could undoubtedly be perceived as racist.
Why did a public broadcasting channel, funded by the citizens’ money under The Broadcast Law of Japan, behave as such while the whole world is raging against racism? Was this lack of consideration by NHK a display of ignorance on the historical situation of Blacks in the United States or was it designed to generate animosity towards Blacks from the local audience?
I was puzzled by these questions and I decided to educate myself on the issue of race in Japan. As in the biblical verse from the book of Matthew says: “… he who seeks finds…”. I found an interesting research paper written by Kristin Roebuck, Assistant Professor, and Howard Milstein Faculty Fellow, who enlightened me on my quest for answers. The author presents details regarding a crisis known as the “Konketsuji crisis” that occurred in 1952 after Japan emerged from Allied occupation. Now, buckle up and follow the lines with me.
It appears that after World War 2, fueled by nationalists’ views, many people in Japan embraced the ideology that they were members of a “pure” bloodline. Engineered or not, “pure-blood” would become the political mantra of the nationalists who were vehement critics of the Liberal Party and its predisposition for American policies.
Progressives and leftists, outnumbered in electoral politics, were the majority in the intellectual and publishing arenas. They formed the intelligentsia against “blood-mixing”, and in their diverse platforms, ranging from magazine publishers to research scientists, they attracted an audience with similar ideas. So, in postwar Japan, the dominant vision was to unify the nation via the “blood” and its purity.
The conflictual force to this “sociopolitical cosmogony”, as the author metaphorically puts, was the “mixed-blood children”, known as konketsuji in Japanese. They were children born to Japanese mothers and foreign soldiers and officials posted in Japan with the Allied forces during the occupation. Not considered as Japanese, they were labeled either white or black depending on the racial identity of their fathers, and in April 1952, they became a matter of national debate.
Racial nationalists saw konketsuji as harmful to their national identity and reminding proof that Japan had become an American colony. Their argument, backed by prominent scientists, was that “blood-mixing” was a potential “weapon” that could destroy the Japanese race. During this crisis, the emphasis was drawn on black konketsuji and their fathers, seen as the least wanted aspect of “blood-mixing”. In other words, the anti-black rhetoric was the pillar of the konketsuji crisis. The biases towards “dark-skinned” inherited prior to the war were revived and dark skin became a synonym of savagery. So, black konketsuji became the most threatening of all the konketsuji.
Nationalists, with “pure-blood” as their political weapon, opted for expulsion and reproductive control as a means of “ethnic cleansing” without shedding blood. The author introduces one of the most prominent activists who showed a virulent disdain for black konketsuji and their fathers, the chief of the Department of Labor’s Section for Women and Juveniles, Takasaki Setsuko. In 1952, Takasaki published a well-sold book titled “Konketsuji”. In her book, we could read statements such as “Rape seldom occurs among white soldiers, but black soldiers are wild”. She alarmed the public against black people with statements such as:
“ ..the black soldiers would go mad with dance and show the beast-like terror of the wildness of their blood.”
“..because they’re victors and they’re men and they’re black… they thought it was fun to capture a girl in broad daylight and violate her in front of her mother and father.”
“It is doubtful that black GIs, with their wild blood and sense of inferiority, use legal and consensual methods.”
Takasaki cherished the theme of “wild blood” when addressing black people. In her book, she also appealed for the expulsion of soldiers, along with their children, whom she pejoratively called “uninvited guests”.
Now, let us see the numbers. Black konketsuji represented around 15% of the “mixed-blood children” number presented before the Upper House in February 1953, almost one year after the konketsuji crisis sparked. Here, for simplicity, we can assume that during the crisis the number of black konketsuji was about the same. So, black konketsuji had become the center of this national crisis based on racial prejudice. In this lens, Kristin Roebuck argues that “anti-black racism helps explain both the discursive prominence and why black children were disproportionately subject to institutionalization”.
From the political arena, the author introduces Koya Yoshio, director of Japan’s National Institute of Public Health. In his worries about konketsuji, Koya drew a parallel between the Haitian Revolution which he saw as “a slaughter of French people”, and what might happen to pure-blooded Japanese if “mixed-blood cast” grew in sufficient numbers. The author points out that Koya in his discussion never mentioned that the Haitian Revolution was about slaves fighting for freedom.
Isn’t it strategically selecting what suits one’s agenda? On this, we can see similarities with the video made by NHK to “educate” the public about the current mass demonstration in the United States. Deliberately omitting the key information that can help people to have an objective understanding of why people fight for their rights or why people demonstrate, is as equal to alienating those who we wish to educate. After reading Kristin Roebuck’s work, I could see as if the “wild-blood” and “savagery” were subliminally painted in this video to be engraved in the public’s minds to define black people as such.
Most black people interviewed on various social media platforms, said they are pleased with their experience living in Japan. With that in mind, this paper has taught me how much Japan has made tremendous efforts against racial discrimination to the point that black people, especially Afro-Americans, feel safer in the Archipelago. As you might agree with me, it would be heartbreakingly unfortunate to see those efforts being washed away by a miserably created insensitive and offensive video, right?