Since moving to the land of the rising sun, I have had so many people ask me the same million dollar question:
"So, how do they treat Black people there?"
You know, I can't speak for any other Black person living here, but I will tell you that my experience has been an uplifting, truly positive one. What gift has Japan given me that America wouldn't? Well...finally, I can say that I know what it feels like to live life and do business on equal footing as White Americans. Imagine that happening...not in the country of my birth, where my great-grandmother broke her back working as a slave in Louisiana...but half-way around the world in a country that many Americans view as overtly racist.
When witnessing the image of our country through the eyes of people abroad, we don't appear to be 'united' at all. For the most part, America is the land of 'White privilege,' a privilege that comes at the expense of what the American majority sees as its 'minorities.' Oh, now don't get me wrong, I'm not here to stir up controversy. I'm just here to share my feelings as they already exist, minus the sugar-coating. Those of you who have a problem with sensitive issues involving race may wish to stop reading here. Now, for those with the thick skin...
It's the ARROGANCE that gets me. I remember when I first applied for a Japanese government-sponsored job teaching English. During my interview at the Japanese Consulate in Chicago, I was asked a question that almost made me roll my eyes in disgust: "So, Ms. Taylor, as a Black woman, you're going to stick out like a sore thumb in Japan. How are you going to deal with that?" I gave the answer I felt they were obviously searching for, i.e., sharing my culture, exposing Japanese kids to a positive experience with foreigners, etc. But I was thinking all the while: "You arrogant, IGNORANT fool!! How dare you even ask me that question? I managed to survive life (and rather successfully at that!) all these years as a Black woman in the South without being 'broken,' so why would Japan be all that different?"
It was never me, the Black woman that they had to worry about. They should have been worrying about the racially 'privileged' applicants who were suddenly going to have to figure out how to live life abroad as a minority. Many White westerners I have known leave here hating my second home. Trust me, it's not Japan...it's the bitter taste of racism and oppression. For me, life tastes far better here than it ever did in the United States. Imagine that.
The arrogance didn't stop there. I've heard it many times since from Whites whenever they hear me speaking Japanese at an airport and automatically assume that I MUST be stationed on one of the military bases in Japan. As if a Black person can't be here on any other kind of business. Mind you, I'm not knocking those in the military, but when White Americans say they live in Japan, the next question usually is: "Oh, so what do you do there?" For us Black folks, it's almost always a military-related assumption. I see very bitter arrogance on some faces when I drive by in my convertible Alfa-Romeo Spider (imported from Italy). The looks often ask the same question: "So how did SHE get THAT?"
Sadly, I can sense the blistering arrogance in some of their hearts every single time I return to shop in the States. If, at first, I'm not followed around in the stores, then I'm totally ignored as a Black female shopper in favor of my Japanese friends (whom they automatically assume to be filthy rich!). I called one lady on it after she ignored me while I was looking around in her section. My friend came over and that witch almost broke her neck jumping over the counter to help her. After she figured out that my friend wasn't going to buy anything, she turned to me with a nasty little smile and offered to be of assistance. I smiled back; calmly informed her that I make 4 to 5 times what my friend does and that I'd be paying for all of the things that I had found in her section at another register. I ended that fading smirk on her face with one last comment: "I just LOVE commission, don't you!?" Then I exited majestically...better than any 'pretty woman' ever could. You could say I had the walk of a queen going on. You know, my 15 years here have definitely shown me that I'm a confident, determined, capable, passionate, intelligent Black woman. I won't lie down to be trampled on by anyone.
Now, to end this heavy topic on a lighter note that will leave you smiling: when I worked in the elementary schools years back, my 1st graders thought I was just another Japanese lady who hung out at the beach to get a tan every day. I LOVED their innocence and the unconditional way in which they cared for me. It's that kind of love that we adults can learn from.