Friday 8 June 2012


“Black people! Very cool!”

How do you respond to that? Specifically, how do you respond to the genki 15-year-old Japanese schoolgirl who approaches you after your first lesson and blurts that out, apropos of nothing? And then, crucially, waits for a response.

Clearly the technically correct and honest answer is: “Yes. Many are. But many are also twats, just like everyone.” But that’s kind of going to pop her bubble, y’know?

This happened a few years back, and I’m still not sure how I’d respond if it happened again. I’m asking now because it seems apposite, what with everything, but also because I think I might have finally built enough of a readership to generate a decent number of interesting responses.

Of course, I may be getting too excited too soon, and releasing the tension in an embarrassingly premature fashion. If that proves to be the case, please be assured that this kind of thing doesn’t normally happen to me, honestly. I’ve been under a lot of pressure recently…


  1. Everyone's racist. There was some study in the States measuring stress response that found even black people showed more stress when a black man was on the screen. And sure, certain populations have higher crime rates, due more to economic factors than any other, but the majority of all populations are not a threat to any given person. That's the meta-cognition any decent person trains themselves to keep in their head: media's shown me lots of bad images about this person's archetype, but the odds are far against it coming true - give the guy a chance.

    The meta-cognition doesn't work all that well for those of us with the frequent opportunity to test it. No wonder the Japanese do poorly. On the other hand, why are they so wrapped up in stereotypes about 'Gaijin', when they so rarely have to deal with them?

    Years ago we had a black-American woman join us as an ALT in our town. The fact that she was a decent enough person isn't relevant, because the kids didn't initially think of her as an individual. I had plenty of JHS kids come up to me asking what she was like, with some anxiety on their faces. I decided I wouldn't help them by buying into it: telling them that she was fine 'even though' she was black. I played dumb to the race angle, and simply told them her good qualities as I knew them.

    Who knows if it did any good?

    1. Yeah, I think playing dumb to the implicit assumptions is usually the best way. Kind of how like how I deal with the occasional 'Are you gay' questions the 'bad' boys sometimes pluck up the courage to ask because it's still oh-so transgressive. Deal with it like they've asked me what me favourite food is. Which is basically what they've done, after all.

      Nothing implicit about this though...

  2. I'd just say 'Thank you' and stare at her smiling like an idiot. Well, that was my usual thing to do whenever engaged by Japanese students in the past. It always worked well before, so...

    1. That'd probably work better if I was actually black..

    2. Hell no... it would be so much better if you weren't. You'd really get her thinking. Who knows, maybe she'd eventually realize that in each and every one of us, there's a black man (or woman) fighting to get out...

    3. Right, so on top of everything we're now taking credit for black people's inherent coolness and/or cannibalizing them. Will the oppressions of the white man never cease?

  3. Could she have possibly been insinuating something?

    Okay, seriously though. I would have given her a test to see if she was high or something. I would have held up two boxes of cereal, one box in the left hand and one box in the right. If she chose the hand holding the box of Michael Jordan Wheaties, I'd say she's more than okay.

    If she chose the other hand, the one with the Urkel-os, I'd say the girl needs the kind of help a stroll young lad like yourself could definitely provide. (Nudge, wink... wink-wink, nudge)


    If, in a similar teaching role like Ant described, if anyone was shy and asked me about another person, I'd give them two choices. 1) You go meet that person yourself or 2) I'll introduce you to that person.

    But the dear little student would have to give me my Michael Jordan Wheaties box back first or... or... I'd... I'd...

    Thinking a little more about Ant's scenario, just because I can, I'd do with number 2. Especially if she was hot. That would give me another excuse to call her up late at night and talk about how heartbroken I feel. At least, that's the angle I'd use to get the foot in the door. Unless, or course, she was like any of the women I used to hang out with in high school... then I'd get slapped.

    Pressure... huh? Yeah. Been that way here too. Sure has.

    1. If it was a specific other person, that'd be fine. No problems praising or ragging on individuals as appropriate. But just in general?

      You get that I was her teacher, right? I know the standards on that kind of thing are relatively lax in this part of the world, but still.

    2. Yes. I understand that you were her teacher. You asked for a serious answer from your readership and got an attempt at humor that failed miserably. My bad.

      Attitudes of people in general... I have nothing to offer in terms of ideas for reality checks. Unless you've got some kind of prepackaged back-handed compliment that would make someone like your student 'think'...

      Don't know if this will help, but here goes. Upon Obama's election, a local DJ (here in Japan) mentioned how he'd been to the US in the 80's (apparently where he got his 'mojo' from) and how he was discriminated against. On his show, after the election, he was going on and on about how this means the US really has changed. I thought, "No, I don't think it has. A significant number of 'those' people that DJ Too-short had branded as 'racists' were apparently capable of something that was beyond the DJ's shallow imagination."

      What I'm trying to say is that there are plenty of people who have the power to influence and sway population here. A significant number of folks in power have what I understand as a warped view of reality (not like that doesn't apply to me either... hang on, I will soon put my foot in my mouth).

      Ironically, I understand there is an element on the far-left in Japan that is just about as accommodating of foreigners as the more vocal on the far-right. Only, the far-right is more tolerant of lighter skin while the far-left is more tolerant of darker skin. Which may not be saying much.

      Of course, that's a general statement.

      Your "Black people! Very cool!”experience reminds me of the times I've been matter-of-factly called 'racist' with the assumption that I wouldn't even care. Yes, I've had a few of those moments.

      Wait... it gets better.

      Then I read the comments a certain element seems to insist on leaving on Loco's blog and my head explodes.

      If I ever come up with what seems like a pretty solid back-handed compliment to serve up to folks in situations such as yours, I'll definitely post it.


    3. Why did you choose the second picture?

      You didn't ever see this, did you?
      'Tokyo Ghetto Pussy - Energie Aktivator'
      (something comes up at 49 seconds)

      Or, is this just a coincidence?

      Now, I am tripping.

    4. Sorry, slight sense of humour failure there. Not helped by the fact that the girl in question did actually develop an initially cute but ultimately irritating crush on me.

      Why didn't 15-year-old girls develop crushes on me when I was actually 15 myself?

      We live in a godless and unjust universe, that's why. Often the only appropriate reaction is to sit on the edge of your bed with your head in your hands...

    5. 15-year-old girls probably don't develop crushes on 15-year-old boys because of thirty-something teachers?

  4. That kind of stupidity is ignored and I take comfort that they will not go far and thus not do as much damage as a clever racist. She's probably not heading to Todai.....maybe not even the local college. Hopefully I'll be outta here before she's on welfare sucking the tax dollars.

    That kinda dumb is deep and pointless to address. IMO

    1. It's fair to say she wasn't the sharpest tool in the box. There was absolutely no malice to it, though, just a frankly startling level of enthusiasm.

      Just writing it off is kind of missing the point of education and teaching, no? More specifically the kind of teaching I'm supposed to be engaged in. A large part of my job is to give the students more flattering and more accurate ideas about the world outside Japan. But normally they're the same thing, so when they're not it leaves me kind of stumped.

  5. If you teach her 1 on 1 I think you could get through with some common sense but if your at a bigger public school the amount of time it takes to politely "learn her" might be unreasonable to impossible given time constraints. You might be able to talk with her as long as you like and never get through to her...then she falls in love with you,stalks you and destroys your life.....or not? ;)

    1. Gotta love those time constraints. Hate them actually, but you know what I mean.

      The killer part of this is that I know for certain that if I didn't say something to her about it, then there was no way in hell anyone else was going to.

      See my reply to Will above for the 'falling in love' thing. Fortunately it never got beyond breaking into ridiculous fits of giggles every time she saw me. Small mercies, eh?

  6. when ever I get this kind of ignorant comment. I always say you watch too many movies, laugh and move on. Usually in my case it is " why did you marry a japanese ? Western men are soo gentlemen" BAhHH hahaaa. Little do they know men are men where ever you go. The good the bad and the ugly. ( Thelentilweaver)

    1. Shhh, don't let the big secret out. Somewhere in Japan, right now, there's a Charisma Man crying lonely, bitter tears into his pillow and cursing your name. I hope you're happy now.

      Oh, and thanks for dropping by ;)