Racism and linguistic apartheid

Honorary whites, gaijin, and internationalization

By William Wetherall

A version of this article appeared as
"Honorary whites, gaijin, and internationalization"
in two parts as follows:

Part 1: In the name of anti-racism
Asahi Evening News, 28 September 1988, page 9

Part 2: Linguistic apartheid in Japan
Asahi Evening News, 29 September 1988, page 9

Blue phrases were cut from the AEN version.
Other phrasing may also differ from the AEN version.

Honorary whites, gaijin, and internationalization
Part 1: Racialism in the name of anti-racism
By William Wetherall

Labels like "honorary white" and "gaijin" are getting a lot of attention in Japan these days. The papers are full of commentaries questioning the appropriateness of such expressions in the age of "internationalization" -- a controversial buzzword that distracts our attention from the fact that Japan's foreign and domestic racial problems are both essentially intranational.

More Japanese -- not just the commercial intellectuals who trade on the trends in magazines and books, but the people on the street whose consciences are moved by films like Gandhi and Cry Freedom -- are aware of apartheid, and why racial discrimination is as much a problem for them as it is for South Africans of all races. This largely imported "boom" of concern has been nurtured by visits to Japan of a number of black and white Africans against apartheid.

The most fashionable reaction to apartheid, though, is a visceral sense of insult from the "honorary white" treatment that South Africa accords some Japanese.

The Asahi Shimbun's evening edition has featured two articles on the "honorary white" problem: Fujita Midori's "Kimyo-na Nihonjin no hakujin ganso" (Curious Japanese white fantasies) on 7 April, and Horie Koichiro's "Henkan shitai 'meiyo hakujin' shogo" (The "honorary white" title I'd like to return) on 5 July. An English version of Fujita's piece appeared in Asahi Evening News on 4 May as "Apartheid and Japanese: Being Called 'Honorary White' an Insult".

Both Fujita and Horie employed the familiar racialist idiom to relieve their discomfort with racism: both used "Japanese" in contrast with racial terms like "black" and "white" -- implying that "Japanese" constitute an ethnic group or race; and neither seemed aware of the irony that, by thus using "Japanese" racially to argue that Japanese who court or accept treatment as "honorary whites" are accessories to racial discrimination in South Africa, they nurture the racialism (and even racism) in Japan which makes "internationalization" ideologies and "gaijin" debates inevitable.

Fujita, an Aoyama Women's Junior College lecturer on comparative culture specializing in the history of Japan-Africa relations, wrote of "an American white" (Amerika hakujin). But she never referred to "Japanese" by color, except to quote "a South African black liberationist" (Minami-A no kokujin kaihoundoka) as having told "Japanese" when he was in Japan in February this year: "As an ethnic group of the same colored people [onaji yushokujin minzoku to shite], how do you grapple with the inhumane act called apartheid?"

Horie, an associate professor of international relations at Yachiyo International University, relied on visual traits to identify his version of the Japanese race when he wrote that "Japanese cannot be seen [hojin no sugata wa, mazu mirarenai] at . . . places where blacks and whites mix."

Horie then recommended that, "While being of the colored race, Japanese who indulge in the gray accommodation called 'honorary white', should move to the 'gray' districts of the white residential areas where whites and blacks are mixed, and to the Indian residential areas, and support from the flanks the migration of blacks of the same colored race into the 'gray' districts."

Nothing risky

While thus going out of his way to identify "Japanese" as members of the same "colored race" (yushoku jinshu) as "blacks", Horie did not call for anything so risky as "Japanese" moving into "black" areas. His "accommodation" is similar to other "internationalization" schemes in that it mollifies ethnocentric safety concerns by insuring that the "Japanese" cake beneath the frosting of "internationalization" retains its familiar racial flavor.

Horie similarly stressed what he called a "realistic perspective" in his conclusion: "The Japanese community [hojin shakai] in South Africa has been blessed with a favorable opportunity to use the dishonorable 'honorary white' label as a tool for seriously seizing apartheid as its own problem."

Fujita and Horie are undoubtedly sincere in their opposition to apartheid. They simply ignore the fact that the "honorary white" label is possible because most Japanese are also racialists who believe that "Japanese" constitutes a race, and some Japanese have insisted that this politically invented "Japanese race" receive special treatment.

Nor are Fujita and Horie alone in their racial use of national labels. Most writers use "Japanese" to designate an ethnic group or race that excludes whites and blacks.

The September issue of the monthly magazine Sekai devoted about half of its 400 pages to a handbook on apartheid and Japan. In the lead article, Yoshida Ruiko, who once lived in Harlem and participated in the civil rights movement in the United States, contrasted "Japanese" with "whites" in one breath, and "Japanese with "English" and "Jews" and "blacks" in another.

In the same article, Kusuhara Akira, a specialist in education at Kokugakuin University, a student of South African problems, and a member of the Japan Anti-Apartheid Committee, examined compositions by students attending the Japanese school in Johannesburg, the oldest such school in Africa; and he found that the students did not use the word "African" as a proper noun, but instead used words like "caddy" and "driver" and "maid" -- and frequently even "gaijin" (which further supports Alex Shishin's arguments in this paper).

Yamato race ideology

In another insightful Sekai article, Tokai University lecturer Morikawa Jun, who has lived in Africa and specializes in its problems, questions the conventional view that South Africa officially conferred "honorary white" on Japanese in 1961 (the date which Fujita gives). Morikawa traces the official exception of "Japanese" from laws prohibiting the immigration of "colored people" [yushokujin, meaning non-whites, not the racially "mixed"] to 1930, during the depression, when economic reasons were cited for allowing Japanese merchants into the country and formally treating them like Euro-Americans [Obeijin].

Japan has officially opposed racial discrimination against its yellow overseas citizens since the turn of the century, when anti-Oriental laws began to be passed in countries like the United States. Indeed, no Asian country has done as much as Japan in promoting the ideal that Orientals should be treated like Occidentals in "Western" countries (which did not mean that Occidentals were to be treated the same as Yamato people in Japan or abroad).

At the same time, the Yamato race ideology that culminated in the Greater East Asia War (Fifteen Year War) of 1931-1945, and the common identification of "Japanese" with race and ethnicity that prevailed in the rest of the world, has made objective use of descriptive language all but impossible. Nationality terms have remained racial labels, hence "Americans" are white and "Japanese" are yellow. Geographical terms have also been widely used to connote race, hence "Europe" has meant white, "Africa" black, and "Asia" yellow.

"Japanese" came to be treated as "honorary whites" in South Africa not only because the South African government regards "Japanese" as a race, but also because the Japanese government considers "Japanese" a race, and has sought to have its overseas yellow subjects treated the same as whites. And many yellow Japanese have been willing to accept equal treatment even when it has not been accorded other non-whites.

It is fine for yellow Japanese to jump on the anti-Apartheid bandwagon. But when they object to being treated as "honorary whites" in South Africa, they should also recognize that Japan, too, is a multiracial society in which their own racial use of "Japanese" is the linguistic pillar of apartheid in Japan.

The anti-apartheid movement in Japan cannot be taken seriously until it deracializes its own "Japanese" idiom, and insists that Japanese of all races be treated equally in Japan as well as in South Africa.

This means that the "internationalization" of Japan must become a process of "intranationalization" -- a process which entails a positive recognition of Japan's multiraciality, a process that penetrates the "international" frosting and deracializes the "Japanese" cake.

The goal of such deracialization is an end to apartheid in Japan, as epitomized by the "gaijin" syndrome -- the subject of part two.

Honorary whites, gaijin, and internationalization
Part 2: Linguistic apartheid in Japan
By William Wetherall

Mass media and academia throughout the world use "Japanese" as an ethnic or racial label. Even people who know that the word legally refers only to citizenship without regard to race or ethnicity, still use it with ethnic or racial meanings, some because they believe that racialism is a part of life, others because they feel that any effort to change attitudes through insistence on non-discriminatory language is futile.

Yet the widespread use of "Japanese" to refer to an ethnic or racial group, or to a member of such a group, is the key to the abuse of the word "gaijin" by Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

Using "gaijin" as a short form of "gaikokujin" to refer to a person who is not Japanese, when necessary to make legal distinctions, is neither ethnocentric nor racist, since neither ethnicity nor race is a factor in whether or not one is Japanese, that is, a citizen of Japan. But the elicitation of "gaijin" by visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, or oral traits not associated with the "Japanese race" (Nippon minzoku), turns the word into a racial label that has nothing to do with nationality, or citizenship.

The word "gaijin" becomes racialistic at which point it is brought to the tip of one's tongue by racial criteria, as when it is used toward a Japanese who does not "look" Japanese, or as when it is not used toward a non-Japanese who "looks" Japanese.

Is "gaijin" racialistic when the person who is called "gaijin" is in fact, or happens to be, non-Japanese? Yes, if the word is elicited by subjective racial perceptions (like physical appearance), rather than by objective evidence of nationality (like a passport).

Racial elicitation of a word makes the word racialistic or racist, simply because the thoughts behind its use are racial. Such a word would be racialistic even if correlation between race and nationality were high, even if race were a good predictor of nationality.

Since racial use of the word "gaijin" is prima facie evidence of racialism or racism, anyone who dislikes racial discrimination will be offended by the word because it is used racially. To object to the word "gaijin" is a criticism of racial discrimination; to to ask that "gaijin" not be used as a racial label is a request to stop treating people on the basis of their race, not an invitation to start using another word with the same discriminatory implications.

Legally, being Japanese has nothing to do with either race or ethnicity. Racially, Japanese come in all colors, thus it is wrong to say "Japanese and blacks". Ethnically, Japanese come in different ancestries, hence it is incorrect to write "Japanese and Ainu".

Reality and legality

Both the reality and the legality of the existence of non-Yamato citizens in the Japanese population should give all language users pause to reflect upon how racial and ethnic restrictions of the word "Japanese" makes a mockery of the Japanese constitution and its egalitarian principles. The way out of the problem is to prefix "Japanese" with "Yamato" when referring to the ethnic majority in Japan, and with "yellow" when referring to the racial majority.

The Japanese government must take the initiative in constantly reminding the public that being Japanese cannot, under the law, be a matter of race or ethnicity, that citizenship is the only criterion, and that the Japanese population is neither racially nor ethnically homogeneous. Whether Japan can grow from an ethnocentric Yamatoist nation into a country that recognizes the ethnic dignity of all its citizens regardless of their relative numbers in the population, will depend on whether the ethnic majority that dominates government can learn to view Japan as a multiethnic state.

The Prime Minister himself must declare before Japan and the rest of the world that the ideology of racial or ethnic homogeneity is both false and inhumane. He must also tell the Ministry of Education (for a starter) that its view of Japanese as an "almost homogeneous race" [hobo tan'itsu minzoku] is equally offensive to Japanese minorities.

And all government leaders must publicly deny monoracialism until it is taken for granted that being Japanese is a matter of nationality and not race; because the Constitution provides for a Nationality Law which confers citizenship on anyone who qualifies regardless of race or ethnicity; and because racial and ethnic minorities exist.

One way to bring this inevitable day closer would be for all major media to stop using "Japanese" as a racial label. Stylebooks should be published which advise writers and editors that "Japanese" cannot be used as a racial or ethnic term, and warn them against the use of "see" in the context of nationality -- Japanese or foreign.

A recent installment of the Tensei Jingo column in Asahi Shimbun's morning edition reported that participants at a meeting of offspring of international marriages did not like being called "gaijin" or otherwise treated like aliens.

"What is internationalization?" was one of themes at the meeting, and one participant answered: "When Japanese see a foreigner, and don't think 'Ah, a foreigner'" (19 August 1988). The Vox Populi, Vox Dei column in the following day's Asahi Evening News loosely rendered this: "Japan's internationalization would not be complete until the sight of a foreigner ceased to produce special reaction in the minds of Japanese."

My answer would be: "When people stop believing that they can 'see' nationality" -- and view Japan as simply another country in which people can, and do, come in all colors, visible and invisible.

Until the day that a person can walk the streets of Japan (or any other country) and be regarded as simply another human being, and not be prejudged or labeled on the basis of superficial traits like race, then there will be cause for people who dislike racialism to object to racist treatment, whether in the form of words like "gaijin" or closed doors, or even open doors with unwelcome mats.

But what can one individual do about a problem as big as racism? The answer is simple: do not tolerate racism.

Deserving what we tolerate

The world citizen's first responsibility is to criticize behavior that deprives anyone of their dignity, of their right to live without discrimination on the basis of their race or ethnicity. There can be no consideration of "cultural" boundaries, particularly in the case of Japan where it is so apparent that the culture of discrimination is a product of racialistic ideology -- a product of politically created and manipulated culture.

Moreover, the duty to criticize discrimination is incumbent upon every citizen of the world, no matter where one lives, no matter what one's nationality. There can be neither hosts nor guests, but only people, in a Japan -- or world -- that is free of racialism and racism.

The moment that people suspend their critical judgment in the name of cultural relativism, the moment that they deny the universality of the natural human drive to be free of oppressive social controls, is the moment that the potential for human freedom is lost, the moment that apartheid and other forms of dehumanization are made possible.

The choice one makes when deciding whether to accept or reject the word "gaijin" and its conventional meanings, is a choice of whether to accept or reject racial discrimination.

It is that simple.

If may seem like a bother to remind other people that you object to the racialism implicit in their use of the word "gaijin" (among many other words that racially used). But this is precisely the hard work that humanization by any name will take.

Hard because the first step will be to hold a mirror to your own face, and to continually question your own discriminatory habits.

But the choice is yours, mine, ours.

The world we deserve is the world we tolerate. So if we tolerate racial discrimination, then we deserve its consequences.