Black Entrepreneur Challenges Japanese Official’s Racist Remark

by Brian Covert — Special to Black Issues

OSAKA, JAPANAlbert L. Nellum, president of the influential Black Business Council, had been planning his most recent Japan trip mainly to support an African American gospel group’s regional tour here.

The Roberts Revival quintet from Nellum’s church, St. Augustine in Washington, DC, was reportedly setting a precedent as the first African American gospel group to perform in Japan.

But since Japanese Justice Minister Seiroku Kajiyama’s derogatory remarks against Blacks surfaced Sept. 22, Nellum has now found himself joining another kind of chorus: that of overseas and domestic officials calling for Kajiyama’s immediate resignation.

“I’m in total agreement with that request,” Nellum said in a recent interview here. “It’s just been one insult too many” by Japanese politicians.

“The people we’re talking about here are all high-placed officials,” he said. “What’s the [Japanese] guy on the street thinking if that’s what is coming from the top?”

Kajiyama’s comments have
rekindled fierce debate in Japan over the apparent racism of some government and business leaders, after former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s offensive remarks in 1986 and those by ruling party elder Michio Watanabe in 1988.

So far, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu has firmly resisted demands — both at home and abroad — for Kajiyama’s dismissal.

During a recent plenary session of Parliament, the prime minister expressed his regret over the “heartache that the comment has given to Americans.” But he steadfastly refused to fire Kajiyama, saying he would instead offer his own apology to the United States.

“African Americans are sick and tired of the nonsense that’s occurring between us,” Nellum said, citing Japan’s “lack of recognition” of the estimated $10 billion in economic power represented in the Black community.

“We have been very supportive and responsive to the Japanese all the way back to and before the war, being one of the major communities to have objected to the [American] encampment of Japanese,” he added. “And whatever we get for that is always the same: insults and ignorance.”

Nellum mentioned the possibility of the Black Business Council, which is closely aligned with the Congressional Black Caucus, backing a boycott of Japanese goods sold in the U.S. as one way of protest. “There clearly exists a majority of members who would want to enforce such a boycott — or be part of it,” said Nellum. “I’d say the chances are very, very good” that a boycott would go into effect if the issue is not satisfactorily resolved.

The Black Business Council joins a host of other prominent African American organizations, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP, that are demanding Kajiyama resign for his public comments likening American Blacks to unwelcome Tokyo prostitutes.

“It’s like in America when neighborhoods become mixed as Blacks move in and whites are forced out,” the justice minister told reporters after inspecting police vice crackdowns in Tokyo. “Prostitutes ruin the atmosphere in the same way.”