Documentary to Examine Racism Against Blacks

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

Japanese racial prejudice toward black people and how that racism is being addressed are the subject of a documentary now being filmed in Japan.

Heading the project is
Michael H. Washington, associate professor of history and director of Afro-American Studies at Northern Kentucky University. The university is financially backing the project.

Professor Washington bills the documentary an “exposé of efforts to create better friendship relations” between the Japanese and African-American communities.

The planned two-hour documentary to be released next year will focus on the efforts of a Sakai City, Osaka-based group called the Association to Stop Racism Against Blacks.

ASRAB, started in 1988 by a Japanese family — Hajime Arita and his parents Kimiko and Toshiji — has been protesting the use of what are viewed as derogatory stereotypes and caricatures of blacks by Japanese corporations and publishers.

The discontinued publication of the children’s book “Chibikuro Sambo” (Little Black Sambo) is just one of many successful battles the 100-member multiracial group has waged in its four-year campaign.

The group has recently been stirring up controversy in both Japan and the U.S. by attacking black stereotypes in
manga, or comics, drawn by the late Osamu Tezuka, renowned in Japan as the “God of Manga.”

ASRAB’s efforts in Japan have been praised and supported by many in the U.S. black community, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other African-American leaders in various fields.

Not least in the field of education: Washington and colleagues have started a U.S. branch of ASRAB to strengthen and publicize the Osaka group’s activities. The documentary, with filming to continue in Japan through July 30, is part of that contribution.

“Everything takes time, and these efforts that we’re doing now are making small, incremental steps toward increasing sensitivity to racial matters” in Japan, said Washington.

He hopes to market the video to
Black Entertainment Television and other educational and cable TV media in the U.S. and Japan by the summer of 1993.

The video crew is shooting primarily in Osaka and Tokyo, interviewing various African-American and Japanese residents involved in human rights activities pertaining to racial discrimination.

In the long run, Washington hopes that the documentary will help forge stronger cultural links between the black community and the Japanese public — including minorities in Japan such as Koreans and residents of
buraku [caste] areas.

Joining Washington in U.S. ASRAB activities and the documentary production effort is Yasue Kuwahara, a Japanese communications professor from Tokyo who is now teaching at Northern Kentucky University.

Kuwahara maintains that Japanese people must confront in themselves the racial prejudice toward blacks that they have accepted as part of white culture from America and Europe.

“Most Japanese are not aware that they are racist or of the existence of racism in Japan,” she said. “So, we have to correct that situation.”