Had an interesting convo with my colleagues the other day that made me think about the importance of having minority groups represented in institutions and organisations, especially those tasked with addressing issues pertinent to minority groups.
The conversation was about the protest raised over a McDonalds commerical being run in Japan. The commercial uses a goofy, bespectacled white fellow called Mr. James as a mascot for a promotional campaign. The imagery is problematic because it plays into all sorts of stereotypes about Japanophile white men, and non-Japanese residents in general. Dovetailing with historical presentations of non-Japanese as weird, perpetual outsiders, with broken Japanese.
You can read an article by the leader of the protest, Arudou Debito HERE
Personally, I think that it's a little more complex than Prof. Arudou makes out. I agree with the professor that the use of broken Japanese (which has since been remedied, kinda), and the representation of this character serve to perpetuate offensive stereotypes and behaviour towards non-Japanese. Where I kinda part ways with his argument is where he asks whether the stereotyped have a chance to reply and balance views. Debito argues no, and I would agree with him in the general sense. In general non-Japanese are not given a voice in the media, and are not presented in a balanced, humanising way. However I have to say that there is a lot more balance when it comes to caucasians. I would argue that most images of whites in Japan, are presentations of a people and culture that it is desirable to emulate. Anyone exposed to the Japanese media, will see representations of white politicians, scientists, sportsmen, musicians, models. The same can't really be said of non-whites. Then again it could be argued that the positive imagery only applies to caucasians who are not known to be living in Japan. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to tackle this with Prof. Arudou soon.
One of my colleagues' response was to say that they just couldn't understand what the problem was about. "It was just like that time when the `Little Black Sambo` book came out, black people said it was racist, how was it racist? Little Black Sambo is cute."
My response to my colleague was that Little Black Sambo means something completely different to black people. The images in that book have been used to denigrate and dehumanise black people, and are part of a history of oppression. That the key is to hear out the people who are upset or offended, let them know that their voice is valued, and try to learn about their history and their views of history. Ultimately it makes your society stronger.