Race and Reflexivity: The Black Other in Contemporary Japanese Mass Culture

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Essay Excerpt

Indeed, the evidence suggests that in ascribing certain of these characteristics to blacks the Japanese have been heavily influenced by Western values and racial paradigms, imported along with Dutch learning and Western science in their rush to catch up with the West. In a word, Japanese views of blacks have taken as their model distorted images derived from Western ethnocentrism and cultural hegemony. That the Japanese had, as Dower (1986) points out, their own indigenous racial paradigm based on Tokugawa Confucian notions of "proper place" is not denied; what is suggested, however, and conveniently overlooked by many Western commentators on Japanese antiblack racism, is that the position blacks have come to occupy in the Japanese hierarchy of races not only echoes Western racist paradigms but borrows from them. In the postwar period in particular, with the rise of American hegemony, these perduring stereotypes of the black Other have been in large part reinforced by the centrality of American discourse on the nonwhite Other in Japan which, with the cultural authority and the distributive currency of American mass media and popular culture, has resulted in Japan's uncritical acceptance and indigenization of the racial hierarchies they project. One sees in these representations of black Otherness are petition of the discursive strategies (e.g., the domestication of the exotic, familiarization, stereotyped conceits) employed by the West in its construction of the Orient. In both cases "'something foreign and distant acquires ... a status more rather than less familiar ... [and is seen] as a version of things previous known" (Said 1978:55). (Russell, 5)

About the Author

John G. Russell is a Professor of Anthropology at Gifu University. His main research deals with Cultural Anthropology, specifically, racial representation, alterity, social constructionism, popular culture and race concepts.

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