|Safarii. Vocalist Sophia is half Japanese, half Ethiopian. Image from their website via this this blog.|
A group of thirteen year old girls are standing in a circle, chatting between classes. Another girl walks over and tries to join them, hovering awkwardly over their shoulders when no one moves aside to include her in the circle. “Hey” she says, lightly touching the arm of the girl in front of her. “Ewww, gross!” The girl who has been touched recoils as though burned. The other girls cover their mouths and giggle in a mixture of shock and hilarity. They disperse back to their desks but continue talking to one another, still excluding the Other girl.
The message is implicit in children’s stories and TV variety shows. This article talks about a Black Japanese child crying in the bath as he tries to scrub his skin “clean” after being bullied at kindergarten. One day when C was in kindergarten the kids were doing a pre-literacy exercise and she made a mistake that many of the other kids also made. The teacher singled her out though, repeatedly asking her “Did your father tell you that? Is that something you learned at home? He’s Black; don’t listen to his Japanese because it’ll definitely be wrong.” From time to time Junior High English textbook feature Black characters (who, as the kids notice, never gets to say anything important). Whenever they see such a character B’s classmates will yell “Look, B is in the text book!” and laugh hysterically. There isn’t much I can do for B, but her situation has made me very aware of the lack of visual representations of Black women (some more detailed discussion can be found here). Advertisements feature Japanese or Korean models, occasionally Chinese, often white and almost never middle-eastern, South Indian, south-Asian or Black models. Sometimes sports magazines or music posters feature Black men, but I don’t recall ever seeing a Black woman prominently depicted anywhere. This is a subjective observation, but judging by the students’ reactions I guess their experiences are similar. So although it isn’t much, every flashcard I make from now until my contract ends is going to feature non-white, non-East Asian faces. They’ll have to get bored of laughing eventually.
*I wonder if the capitalisation is appropriate for non-American people with African heritage? If anyone can advise, please do.