Did you know that March 21st is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? With that in mind, I would like to share this with you.
A week before my eldest daughter started elementary school in 2002, I went to her school and talked to the Principal, Vice-Principal and all the teachers about the importance of teaching children to respect individuality and accept others who look different as equals, but they didn’t take me seriously. About two weeks after school started, she came back home from school very sad, telling us that one of her classmates told her to change her natural brown skin into “normal” hadairo (ochre) color. I called the teacher and the Principal right away to urge them to deal honestly and democratically with the matter, calling us for a face-to-face meeting with the child and her parents, but the Principal refused. The parents did not take the matter seriously either; when my wife talked to the child’s mother on the phone, she laughed about the matter as if it wasn’t a serious problem. Finally, I went to talk to the School Board officials to ask them to do something about the problem. Again, I was disappointed. They evidently don’t think racism is a serious problem in Japan and don’t want to act.
My children have darker skin than the other Japanese children, and many people openly make cruel and racist comments about them: “kitanai,” “makkuro,” “baikin,” “unchi,” “kimochiwarui,” “kurokoge,” etc. When I go out with them, many parents also point at us “gaijin.” Those people are wrong because my children are not foreigners in Japan; they are born here and are Japanese citizens just like the other Japanese children. And above all, they love Japan and the traditional Japanese culture.
I think racism is a very serious disease that Japan needs to cure. Racial discrimination in society, in public and private institutions, in senior and junior high schools, in elementary schools, and even in kindergartens, is evidence that much needs to be done before Japan can experience multiethnic harmony. Education will certainly play an important role in curing the disease of racism. Racism here is based on the idea that the Japanese belong to a “unique ethnic group” that is totally different from all the other ethnic groups in the world. The education system must make a considerable effort to denounce this myth. To do this, schools must familiarize students with the reality of the “singleness of the human family,” and explain that all of the people in the world belong to the same human race. Because of the importance of the problem, this view should be introduced into the curriculum from kindergarten through to the 12th grade, and reflected in every course a child takes during the 12 years of schooling. This approach would help to prevent racism. Imagine all the students in Japan learning that Africans, Europeans, Americans, Asians and Australians – all races – are all related. They would be fortified against the poison of prejudice that they are exposed to in their homes and in society.
We must teach our children that all human beings come from the same ancestral stock. Every person on our planet belongs to the same species. This unity, however, does not mean uniformity, but implies a celebration of diversity, because once the reality of unity is understood, diversity becomes an asset rather than an obstacle. Imagine what life would be like if all the people in the world looked alike, thought, spoke, and felt the same way, if all flowers were the same color, if all foods tasted alike. Life would simply be monotonous. We should all understand that “variety is the spice of life” and cherish differences because they are extremely important.
Multiculturalism and ethnic diversity have become important issues in many countries around the world in recent years, and the Japanese government too must consider them seriously and provide helpful programs for developing the skills citizens need if they are to contribute to, and survive in, an ever-changing and diverse society. Diversity will be utilized to reinforce Japan’s stature among the nations of the world. It will teach the Japanese to accept and respect diverse views, welcome debate, listen, discuss, negotiate and compromise for the common good of the world. We all know that recent advances in information technology have made international communications more important than ever. Japanese citizens who can speak many languages and understand many cultures will make it easier for Japan to participate globally in areas of education, trade and diplomacy.
Japan must make it possible for women and men of the world’s many ethnic groups, religions and cultures to live together, to encourage different people to accept and respect one another, and work collaboratively to build an open, resilient, creative and thoughtful society. Dodesho? Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts, opinions and stories.
by Joel Assogba
Canadian, Writer, Illustrator & Civil Activist
Illustrations by Shilrey Waisman