The NAACP last week quietly ended its “informational picket line” at the Japanese Embassy here after two months of demanding a halt to Japanese slurs against blacks, but the group intends to keep pressuring Japanese government and industry.
The protest followed remarks by Japanese Justice Minister Seiroku Kajiyama comparing blacks to Tokyo prostitutes. Both “ruin the atmosphere (of neighborhoods) in the same way,” he said.
Kajiyama apologized, but the incident reopened old wounds caused by periodic expressions of bigotry by Japanese officials and businessmen.
In addition to protesting such statements from Japan, black leaders also complain that Japanese firms bring their prejudice to the United States, where it shows up in employment bias and other discrimination against blacks.
“We may be replacing white American overseers with Japanese overseers,” complained Walter J. Leonard, a black Philadelphia entrepreneur.
“We are beginning to make progress,” said Benjamin L. Hooks, the NAACP’s executive director, after meeting here last week with Japanese business representatives. But no one believes that reversing ingrained Japanese prejudice toward blacks and other dark-skinned peoples will be quick and easy.
BACKGROUND: Black experts on Japan, such as Harvard-trained attorney Percy R. Luney Jr., say Japanese education and culture creates fertile ground for prejudice by extolling “pure blood” and “racial homogeneity” in the population.
But Luney and anthropologist John G. Russell put most of the blame on American whites for introducing bigotry against blacks to Japan, particularly on U.S. troops who occupied Japan after the war and have been stationed there in considerable numbers ever since.
Japanese cite their country’s centuries of isolation. “Japanese are prejudiced against foreigners, not minorities,” said Hideaki Ueda, counselor at the Japanese Embassy here. “Japanese deal in stereotypes, largely through ignorance. But that is not to say Japanese are racists.”
“Maybe it’s not racism, but whatever the intent, the effect is the same,” replied Eddie N. Williams, head of the black-oriented Center for Political and Economic Studies here. “The Japanese may also be prejudiced against whites, but they don’t express it publicly like they do against blacks.”
Five years ago, for example, then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone drew criticism after saying that “the level of intelligence in the United States is lowered by the large number of blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans who live there.”
Further inflaming black anger here were the early practices of Japanese companies expanding into the United States. Factories were located in areas where few blacks lived. Japanese companies sought to avoid affirmative action laws by claiming they were exempt.
Even today, only half a dozen of all Japanese car dealerships in the United States are black-owned, Williams complained. He said black contractors and black banks do not get their fair share of Japanese funds.
IMPACT: Fierce criticism of the Japanese by black Americans has brought some changes.
Firms such as Toyota now contribute to the United Negro College Fund. Sony has an award for black creative artists. Nissan began advertising in black magazines.
In Japan, Little Black Sambo dolls that Japanese children played with for decades have disappeared. Cartoon caricatures of blacks with thick lips and bones through their noses have also gone after a government campaign pointed out that Japanese abhor being portrayed abroad as with topknots and buck teeth.
But blacks living in Japan say they continue to face problems.
One way to get “a handle on these people,” Williams said, is to threaten economic sanctions against Japanese products by the 30-million-strong U.S. black community, whose buying power totals $250 billion annually.
But that is a last resort, difficult to organize and enforce.
So the NAACP has put forward a modest but practical agenda calling for greater efforts to educate Japanese at home and to encourage Japanese firms to hire, promote and enfranchise blacks in America. It has suspended for now plans for a mass demonstration against Japan but, as Hooks said: “This is far from being a closed issue.”