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The Racism Card

Updated on March 18, 2015
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Jamal is a graduate from Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

Japanese actor Koichi Yamadera doing Lois Armstrong on a game show

The other day I came across an article online, Japan’s Blackface Problem: the Country’s Bizarre, troubled Relationship with Race that was speaking on racism in Japan. The author explains that it is rooted in its two hundred years of isolation during the Tokugawa Shogunate, leading to a general false sense that the nation is ethnically homogeneous, with little or not very much diversity. General ignorance among the younger generation is also credited for the phenomenon such as Japanese performers doing the infamous ‘black-face’, they say to show appreciation for the original performers.

Racism has certainly come to dominate much of the headlines for the past year, especially since the Ferguson shooting of a Black man, followed by a series of riots, and the recent killings of two of their own police officers. There was also the issue of lack of diversity in Hollywood as no Black actors or movies were nominated this year, and there was indeed a protest outside the Oscars over this neglect.

As a Black man you would think I would be particularly sensitive and aware of these issues. However the fact is that while I heard about them, it didn’t really register with me, at least not in the broader sense. Anyone of any particular minority in America has had to deal with prejudice in one form or another. And sometimes, it just gets to the point where unfortunately you become somewhat numb to it, as it has the same themes repeating themselves over and over again. Even with people losing their lives.

Zwarte Pete or Black peter is part of the Dutch tradition on December 5th where the character gives entertains children according to story, Sinnterklass
Zwarte Pete or Black peter is part of the Dutch tradition on December 5th where the character gives entertains children according to story, Sinnterklass

Blind side

What caught my attention about it this time though was the direction of where racism was coming from. The default mindset one has for the word racist is always in the negative context, where an individual or group comes against another with deliberate malicious intent. To hear it though addressed as a form of ‘appreciation’ though, blew my mind. And this wasn’t the first time I had heard of this either.

In the Netherlands, there is a popular cultural figure that appears right before Christmas called Zwarte Piet- or translated, ‘Black Pete’. According to tradition, before December 5th, many Dutch people dress up in black face, along with colonial wigs to celebrate a Dutch story called Sinterklaas. Piets were tricksters who arrived on ships in the country who entertained kids, like clowns or court jesters. Many both outside of the Netherlands and within it consider this to be insulting and racist, but many Dutch do not share that view, thinking of it much the same way we would Halloween.

This view, that something considered insulting and degrading, can be regarded differently without the context degrading other people and still practiced is intriguing. Racism is certainly real, historically and currently, as is the pain it has caused. Yet at the same time it also seems thrown around too casually.

What do you think is racist?

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Stop Crying Wolf

You see? It becomes ridiculous. No two people are going to share the same views on everything. And while the modern world is struggling to come to terms with its history of prejudice against many different peoples, there’s a line between expressing one’s dislike and forcing conformity onto someone else. In fact, more often than not, conformity via coercion often breeds more prejudice than kills it.

I say this as a Black man, a former racist, and more so as a human being, that I hope the day comes where racism is nothing more than a very bad memory. That said, that day will not come by me throwing the racist card around every time I see something offensive. I hope the day comes when we judge each other based on intent rather than appearance, even if it offends.


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