Video Trailer: ”Tokyo Ainu 東京アイヌ”

The Ainu people are a people who have inhabited the northern regions of Japan and what might be called Russia by some, as well as the areas now disputed, between Japan and Russia.  The Ainu are a caucasian group who were, as per the everyday norm of today’s most well-known nations, displaced and killed (physically, or culturally/spiritually) and assimilated (which to me, are all forms of killing in some way), what nations do to those who are different to create a “majority.”

This new documentary focuses on the Ainu people who are living in Japanese cities.  In this documentary, the focus is on those living in Tokyo.

Biracial Japanese group event in Japan: July 2010 主催の花見イベント

Hana mi 花見 is a Japanese tradition of ‘flower viewing.’ It is a celebration of the turning of the seasons and the appreciation of nature and the blooming of flowers in Japan. It is still celebrated.

The Hapa Project is an interesting project in Japan and for myself, I must say it is much needed in Japan, in order to be discussed and acknowledged as a reality (Hapa is an originally Hawaiian Islands term for mixed race persons of Japanese and non-Japanese ancestry). In Japan there are problems of historical invisibility and condescension, brought about through several wars, social upheavals, and US and European colonialisms. It is also about nationalism, as it is everywhere, that a ‘purity’ of a nation is designed by elites in order to ‘unify’ and create nations. Every nation-state, pretty much, has done this. Otherwise, there is no reason for a nation. In Japanese discourse, this unity has included a homogenization and purity which allows for racisms coupled with an intense caste-system that exists, that perpetuates economic, social (gender, for instance), cultural, and ethnic hierarchies. Purity has been one of the cornerstones of the return to certain forms of persecution and exclusion of biracial and multiracial Japanese nationals and non-nationals.

There has also been various shifts in the intensity of exclusion, violence, and persecution–both through social interactions in the everyday and the political policy level concerning rights and exclusions. When I was born, biraciality was a scorn and violence was the norm. Many of my Black-Japanese friends committed suicide because of the pressure. Some actually were killed by their parents before the parents killed themselves. Others quietly lived under tremendous pain in certain areas of towns and cities. Many were given up to orphanages where many of them became destitute and turned to robbery and prostitution to survive, where they were scorned for those things that offered survival. But there was nowhere else to go for those “brothers and sisters” of mine. From Japan when I was 7 years old (year 1962), our family moved to the United States. In the US I was called both nigger or Jap as well as gook and mutt, and experienced physical violence as well. However, American society had already begun to shift and many people–classmates and teachers, also came to my aid and protected me. Some years later when our family moved back to Japan for a few years, I was no longer scorned. I was a middle school student and was sought after for my exoticism and Japanese people were more fascinated with me than abusive. I found it relieving and also interesting. At the same time, I was also quite annoyed and bothered. In either case–abuse or fawned over, I was not me, but some representation of their own relation to this body, this mind, this history. And No, not everyone is like that (in case some of the readers were wondering!)

Today, being biracial and multiracial is more accepted in Japan, as it is also in many western countries. But this acceptance does not mean there is no discrimination and violence. Today, many people in the entertainment industries such as music and modeling in the US and Japan and Europe, are mixed race. The Hapa Project in Japan is trying to bring more awareness and discussion to the Japanese people, as well as providing a place for biracial and multiracial Japanese to be together, to create a space where that multiplicity can be lived, freeing that multiplicity from the compulsory singularity of a single-nation, single-culture identity. In many ways, some of the mono-cultural, single cultural identity circles, are jealous of and envious of multi and biracial people in the US, Europe as well as in Japan.

If we look closely, and listen to this great video, reflecting on what is said and not said, and the differences in history and in time from twenty years ago, forty years ago, and even a few years ago, we can also see that most of the people in the Hapa Project are not speaking about the differences and hierarchies in relation to Black-ness. There are no ‘black-Japanese’ present, with voice, in this particular video. I do know that some are a part of the Hapa Project. But it is no surprise that public reaction and response to Black-Japanese biracials, are different from responses to white-mixed Japanese persons. Blackness, as it is in the US, Europe, Korea–is seen as associated in many ways, to be a less-desired position and identity. We can appreciate the body and face and skin-color of a Blasian or Blackanese person, but there is still less of a preference in regards to their actual presence, intimacy with many people. The black-bodied Japanese and East Asians, are associated with rebelliousness, criminality, and un-wanted Asian-ness, while white-bodied mixed Japanese or Asian, are seen as closer to white, and therefore more acceptable. Blackness, in other words, is still a subaltern terrain governed by white supremacy, even as we may enjoy them on television or desire them (us) as sexual objects. Or hate them for the same. Or hate them because we are jealous. It is not only ‘blackness’ that is somewhat invisible and uncomfortable. For example, what of Ainu, Okinawan or Buraku mixed race people in Japan. They are also severely ostracized and demoted in the imagination and in political oppressions in Japan because of their already-demoted status as Japanese persons in Japan before their mixture with non-Japanese-ness. In effect, there is the exclusion from Japanese national identity, as well as Japanese cultural identity. Sometimes it is only one or the other. For others, it is both and it is shown and performed as exclusion, ostracization, demotion, abuse.

The other problem is that we seem to fetishize ‘identity’ and color and culture, but do not think politically about how it works. We need much more ‘real talk’ on the subject of having mixed race friends, but not wanting anything to do with the troubles experienced. Much like the African-American communities in the US, which have basically been driven through to succeed in sports and entertainment, must sacrifice much of their lives and attitudes in order to enter other careers or to even make their own way without the dominant notions of living and thriving in this world. The spaces become smaller for difference. Whether one is liked or not, or whether we like ourselves or not, are important questions but those questions are vacuous in relation to the structures that create those kinds of questions. In one small segment of the video below, one person describes an experience of a mixed-race person questioning which country they belong to: Japan or the US? What culture they belong to? Why does one need that question asked and answered? Even in Japan there are different ethnic groups that don’t remember their difference or have been forced to forget. Nationality is a political construct which might be important in order to access certain things (such as passports and freedom to travel, etc.) but how does this work culturally and historically? Why can we not appreciate ourselves and others for our legacies while we work to struggle against the abusive and unjust elements of our everyday? Why must one choose? There are many reasons, I am sure. It’s just that for me, I was never concerned about my accepting that I have several cultures moving as I move. My biggest worries were other people and countries and policies. I did not want to be ‘included’ with others, I wanted to be myself and it will be different. People who think that everyone should be alike plays into the homogenization project and are predisposed to not accept difference. I say this is a product more of our education and soci0-cultural assimilation and un-thinking rather than intention. This is why I always stress that there needs to be accountability with our leaders in creating our social realities.

In any case, much work needs to be done in decolonizing our imagination towards justice and peace in as much of our spaces as possible, to challenge the hegemony of white supremacy within ourselves and each other and in our policies and organizational structures.  For instance, how does white-ness, link with Japanese-ness, in the contexts I have mentioned?  What does that link allow and disallow?  Who does it cost spiritually and physically, emotionally and economically?  Who benefits?  How can it not be a constant battle without the topic/reality being swept under the carpet to hide and avoid, festering as a growing pain in society, in all of us?

But as we question, I appreciate the Hapa Project for what it is doing in Japan. I hope that different-bodied–particularly Black, are talked about in relation to the political realities of mixed and non-mixed identity and how subordination and invisibility is not part of any mixed-race project.

Debate regarding the August-September 2010 ROMA evacuations in France

Political bodies arguing. States and nations being more important than people currently, increasingly.

Political bodies arguing that institutions and processes are in place in many European nations regarding ‘how to deal with’ the Roma.

The Roma, having to assimilate into the ‘civilized’ European, North American and Japanese colonial systems… already a violence, an exclusion, a globally-mandated assumption of obedient minorities having to create themselves into something they are not. It is already a set-up. The fascisms are not acceptable now. But there are residues of fascism in every state, in certain attitudes of many individuals, ourselves possibly. When things go underground, they adapt to the current milieu and operate with new tactics. It is easier to follow an ideology or a fundamental structure in our minds, families and neighborhoods. Many of the scientists and thinkers of fascist governments were paid by the so-called democratic states, to survive and thrive and continue to create in the name of the elites. They are everywhere. The residues show up in people’s attitudes. As I write this, some people have wanted me dead. It is not a surprise. Ethics, love, negotiation, difference, intensity, and struggle, are seen as unwanted. It’s so much easier if everyone just obeyed. It takes lots of obedience to be civilized. It takes lots of obedience to be many things. It is a struggle to think creatively about our issues and what it is we want.

There is little talk of getting programs and institutions together, providing counseling and educational change and other activities, to address the prejudice, racism, violence, brutality, impunity, and aggression of the dominant attitudes and behaviors against the Roma and other minorities. It is a set-up. But there are many who are privately setting up creative ways of resisting the dominant flow of treating minorities like something to do surgery on, to assimilate. The issue is dominance and resistance.

Apparently, much like some of the US Americans I know who are anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim (and whose families were probably anti-Japanese-American during WWII etc.), states have a right to keep the ‘other’ out. Who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’?? The lines are often justifications for our psychological/social violences to be played out. It is that division, that demarcation, where we give permissions of violence. Nations and national systems are that place, an extension or perhaps where it begins through histories of developing from tribalism to ethnic/sexual/gender/racial/religious identity and national identity currently.

Now it all plays out in its failures. Violent nationalism internalized into safe havens and names such as ‘our state’ and ‘our city’ and ‘our people’. Tribalism continues as democracy fades. But democracy isn’t fading for many. It is enacted and seen everyday. There are thousands around the world, millions around the world, right next to us, who understand the difficult struggle for democratic ethics in our lives. We cannot confuse permissions without ethics with democracy. We cannot confuse the boundaries of identities as demarcations of democracy.

The Roma, the Kurds, the Jews, the Armenians, the Dahlit, the Ainu, the Mayans, and millions of other bodies are forced into the isolation called ‘minority’ and are treated like chess pieces and diseases in the national systems now global. We must make our way in the violent world structured by the dominant system and we are supposed to listen to these people and bodies that have somehow assumed precedence. Even as those in governments are for justice, the system requires you to be a strong state, complete with strong militaries and economies and secret hiding places and hidden tactics and lots of money to pay the secret operators to make the state into a certain self-image, leaving certain ideas, cultures, ways-of-thinking and acting, out of the equation of this imagined state.  It’s an imaginary of violence, playing out with hollow words such as ‘rights’ and ‘diversity’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in many cases.

There are many people in world government, such as can be seen in this video snapshot of politicians arguing about what to do with the Roma people, who actually care and want peace.  However, justice cannot come in states where peace is about obedience to laws, no matter how lofty.  Laws, in most powerful states, ignore the brutality of how that state came into being in the first place.  Law is not justice.  Neither is law about anarchic violence and tearing down of all.  Justice is more of an attention to history and creative processes of negotiation through differences. But in positions of privilege, where a person or a body of people ‘decide what to do with others’ is precarious when the rules of law are interpreted in different ways. What is worse, as Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) himself, wrote the first writings on the term ‘genocide’ and watched about a third of the laws he proposed be left out when the genocide laws were implemented by the international body–because those laws that were too threatening to the so-called integrity of the state would make all states culpable and make the global national system criminal itself). The human rights system is a necessary group of policies, laws, and research and documentation bodies, do not get me wrong.  But no one can enforce them. There cannot be a human rights police.  So human rights are continually broken in the United States, the European Union, Japan and other nations.  All one can do is watch arguments or invasions.

What’s even more daunting is that the term ‘genocide’ has been coined as an event, a moment in time with a certain look, an obvious massacre and displacement and hatred. The issue is that genocides rarely happen as an event. Culminations in massacres happen, but the processes of cleansing in states and regions happen over long periods of time, due to intensifications of exclusion-wishing and creating our living spaces in certain ways that do not allow certain differences. Displacements may happen continually for centuries, making a certain group poor. Policies to exclude and keep them poor keep being passed, while institutions are set-up to ‘help’ these minorities. The help keeps that group in their particular circumstances and are designed to construct assimilation. Help is usually a form of surveillance and identity-making. It is created through the dominant’s will, not those who are marginalized. Propaganda can be created over decades, where racism and prejudice can strangle the look of a city or a state or a people into a  reality where certain people and communities and areas can only be seen through that lens of the constructed dominant instead of through a different lens. Criminalizating minorities and their actions is a tactic of killing the spirits and locking the men away, leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves. Since laws concern the privileged, what does survival look like for the already-vulnerable?  Genocide is not an event. The killing of spirits and ideas and lives happen over prolonged periods in all of the ways Raphael Lemkin has stated (in the complete version, not only in the edited version the international body has made public). So genocide may not look like genocide. For change in our world, we must intervene into these smaller structures of cultural killings before an event.  In fact, some philosophers have actually spoken to the everydayness of genocide. Our ignoring and going about our lives is an aspect of the killing of another community. Buying or not buying certain things can also play into killing ‘the other.’  We cannot wait for the ‘event’ that we recognize. By then it is usually too late.

These politicians can argue, but whoever has the biggest weapons currently controls whatever happens, regardless of human rights. States have more power than groups of persecuted peoples. States have become more important to maintain, rather than communities. Self-hatred begins to creep in as we think of ways to empower and resist. Making ourselves into ethnic groups, then wanting a state, seems to be a logical conclusion of ways to live, as the stronger states treat those within its boundaries that are not the dominant group, as well as weaker states and non-dominant peoples globally, as things to extract work from (exploit) and displace and make into problems at will. It is ugly. There is no secret. We all know individual people like this in our lives. But when it is larger, we may think they are nice people, but the structures will a certain pattern, a certain way for things to turn out. More and more people are no longer willing to take it, however.

Issues of dominance and dominant attitudes control the so-called ‘Roma issue’ and other minority peoples’ and stateless peoples’ living circumstances, continuing to be ‘cases,’ as can be seen in this video, in the early 21st century.  It brings up memories of World War II, fascism, and the current crisis of human, social, ecological systems at crossroads. They don’t fit it.  ‘They’ are nomadic, ‘they’ are communal and not individualistic, ‘they’ have ties to life-ways that are contradictory to the dominant globalizing state system. Where does difference come into play? What can be done? Must we/they obey to survive? Where is our creativity?

The Ainu

22-minutes program on the struggle for cultural survival by the indigenous people of Japan- the Ainu.

Have we ever questioned ‘Why’ the indigenous people of the world struggle?  Is it because they’re indigenous?  Of course not.  The problem of struggle seems to be left to the indigenous people themselves, even as they face erosion.  If we are to believe in evolution and progress, then it’s all said and done and nothing can be done.  That is precisely why I think the idea of progress and evolution are political and it is particularly colonial (the rise of science) and it got it’s power largely from Christian metaphysics to begin, then left God behind and replaced science and man with the Christian God.  But what of the other religions and spiritual practices of the indigenous?  We are largely practicing for ourselves and not those that we have stolen from.

The African saying that we are standing on the backs of others if we are succeeding, is too true.  Painfully true.  But it doesn’t have to be all pain.  The Ainu, and other indigenous people need our capacities to be allies.  What does it take to be an ally?  What does it take to begin to care to be an ally?  The indigenous people don’t need people’s ‘help.’  They need allies.  Advocates.  We all need them, and most likely have them as a matter of course in our lives.  But what of others whose lives are not propped up by our own un-thinking and already-assimilated desires and impulses that could be more readily fulfilled by our socieities while indigenous peoples ‘ values do not mesh with most of our modern concerns.  But you probably know, that more and more people in the so-called modern world, are waking up to the fact that modernity does not offer what it promises.  Happiness is always a million miles away and only momentary.