Black Tokyo (BT) was created in 1999 to provide a voice and a network for Blacks living in Japan.
The BT website (www.blacktokyo.com) provides news and commentary on Japan and commonly addresses inaccurate information, stereotypes and other issues concerning Blacks in Japan.
This goal of the Black Tokyo Afromentary series is to provide the viewer or listener with information on life in Japan from an afro perspective and to encourage discussion.
The Black Tokyo afromentary chronicles experiences in Japan from 1981 to present. Zurui shares his various points of view having served as a former US Marine based in Japan, an educator, japanese company employee, business owner and as an actor on primetime Japanese television.
Be sure to follow blacktokyo on twitter for additional updates!
Shanghai Express is an American film which came to the public in 1932, starring Marlena Dietrich. I remember myself, watching this movie which was replayed on televisions in the US over and over again , as I grew up in the 1960s in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Halawa, Hawaii after having moved from Japan in 1962.
I thank Kartina Richardson (her blog: http://www.mirrorfilm.org/) for this commentary on being mixed race and the ‘Eurasian’ (in this case White American/Chinese) character ‘Chang’ played by Orientalized Swedish actor Warner Oland. In the movie, the Eurasian character Chang was mysterious, trecherous, untrustable because he was not purely one nationality/race or the other. I remember those same accusations of me while I was a child in both Japan and in the United States. In this movie, Chang is presumed/assumed to be a traitor to American-ness and Chinese-ness and plays a shady revolutionary. I remember my friends asking all the time: ‘what are you??” I never thought that their curiosity was curiosity. I felt that behind the question, there was always a question of control and ‘goodness.’ In the beginning of this video clip below, there is one who characterizes the rotten-ness of both a white (European/American) soul and a yellow (pan-east Asian) soul as rotten in the case of two of the characters he refers to. His listener then questions the ‘locating of a soul’ and then supposing that this so-called ‘soul’ can be defined with a moral character.
Thus, the issue of assumptions of both an essential soul, un-changing ‘self’ within a body (a ‘soul’) or the absence of one, cover the fact of the dominance of others defining how an ‘other’ is live-able. Whether one attributes static and ‘original’ and essential markings of a person or people with or without the using of the soul, have both submerged and sought control over the bodies (including bodies of ideas) of difference. We create identities (of ourselves and others) through the identities that our cultural/institutional surroundings and education and families give us in order to show up as somehow having an unchanging essence and that others have these unchanging essences. Then we are able to control what happens in relation to this.
In the case of my statement on the maintenance of control and goodness–let us ask first: What do I mean by ‘goodness?’ Well, I think that there is the question of controlling the ‘other’–which in this case was me–the multiracial person or in the movie–Chang; and there was the control of the ‘self’ in order to be good. To be good, one must exercise control over one’s behavior for the kingdom of heaven or God. So saying something ‘wrong’ or ‘hurtful’ was not something a person ‘should’ do, so one carefully choreographs one’s behavior to ‘not hurt’ and ‘not say something stupid.’ Even saying something ‘uneducated’ or ignorant, could be ‘planned’ in the subconscious, in order to stack up the excuses one has learned in order to prove one’s non-intention to harm, even if in some ways, we wanted to maintain our superiority or privilege as far as the configuration of racial identity and color, nationality and domination/subordination positions. Being good also controls how one is responded to. We don’t want to deal with our own histories and views and impulses and shadows because we don’t want the responsibility of being attacked or accused or understanding that identities have been constructed an in fact, are not eternal and fixed. After all, we aren’t born with these things. We learn how to be ‘good.’ As much as we learn how to control the other through our knowledge of ‘their’ culture or nation. Controlling, then, our own knowledge in order to appear and present ourselves as ‘good’ and ‘knowledgeable’ is an important aspect of why racism persists. Racism is never dealt with, worked on, transformed, disfigured, and seen for what it is–a construction of the imperial/colonial enterprise of expansionism which excuses itself in the name of what it constructs for itself. So Christian ‘goodness’ and ‘progress’ conveniently covers over the racism of the past and brought into the acceptance category. However, it still hides in the subconscious. Ignored. Or for many people, un-healed. It is maintained as dormant but always alive and ready. It also corrodes in perhaps passive-aggressive ways. Many think that by ignoring it, it will go away or does not exist. It matches the nation-state’s forms of domination and control, and is criminalized for its rebelliousness whenever it is provoked and abused and begins to respond in ways that the dominant does not like. It is called ‘rebel’ and criminalized and pacified. Our ‘self’ does much of the same.
In the un-healed and the unexamined, it is either repressed and expressed later at times when the subconscious is pressured in some way (psychological-political), or it maintains an individualism (an ideology opposed to individuality) that keeps us from being able to understand and therefore be an ally to our friends and relations that are of ‘the other’ race/nationality, culture or color etc that undergo structural oppressions. It also leaves us blank in working with our own circumstances of oppression. It also forces a muteness, being silent/dead in situations that may want us not to be. In other words, the denial and submersion helps to maintain individualism (which serves capitalism and control) and also includes the repression of creativity that exists that allow for alliance-building with others–because it is never acknowledged. If we were to discuss individuality, instead of maintaining individualism, we would have to unpack our assimilation into becoming the morons the capitalist-elitist system wants us to be.
Being mixed-race has always been an affront to easy understanding. We are one thing or another, not two, three, seven, ten. How can that possibly be? In today’s overwhelm-society, with the culture-technologies of the digital age, complexity is still unaccepting. Perhaps it is even intensified. A single nano-part of a mechanism functions in one or two certain ways. That is that part’s distinctive form of being. Another part acts as another single or set of single actions. To make a whole, the parts come together. Each part can be defined in a bounded and specific way. Otherwise, it’s crazy!! How can that be? We have to get to the bottom of anything that is not acting the way it must or how we have created it? As there are hundreds or thousands or millions of parts, we can take things apart to form something. It is a very un-organic way of organizing thought and things. We have inherited this way of seeing and investigating, to look at people and cultures. Mixed-race-ness is seen in a similar way. We borrow from a self-understanding of a single race, or a single people or a single nation. We forget that these ways of seeing reality have been constructed in order to do violence, no matter how benevolent, to what is in the world in sacrifice and transform it into what is promised in a future not-yet-here. Progress and modernization have also re-inforced pre-colonial ways of looking at difference.
Mixed-race and multi-racial are much needed categories. How we use these categories and what is exactly changing or being prioritized and submerged is also an interesting question. I am one for not-forgetting. Forgetting the construction of our national and exploitative world in order for most of us to wind up with crumbs, is something I refuse. I am more than one culture and legacy. I sometimes will say ‘yes, I’m multiracial’ or ‘multi-national’ but do not define myself as such. They are constructs that restrict the reality of who we are. And on the other scale, if we are a conglomeration of multiple parts, then we’re all the same. We are *not* all the same. Nothing even within our own mind-hearts, if I can use this term like the Japanese ‘kokoro,’ is the ‘same.’ The efforts to reconcile and flatten worlds into something that doesn’t churn, contradict, challenge, shift, grow, change, transform–a one-ness, a singular object, is something I will die opposing. Nations, racial categories, cultures, are certain ways of seeing the world because this is what we have been taught. When someone takes these categories away, we become either anxious or more commonly, humanists who destroy diversity in the name of some ‘universal’ and/or ‘single’ humanity that erases differences and subsumes it under a human-ness that usually replicates white-dominance, or another national dominance that seeks to resist white-dominance.
So the mixed race person, a form of exotic beauty that is envied–begets violent resentments and self-hatreds. The mixed-race person, a form of something that contaminates simple, pure single cultures and nations and histories–begets violent resentments that seek assimilation and sameness. The mixed-race person, a form of something complicated–begets people simplifying worlds into questions learned and assumed from one’s own education or worldview (do you eat rice everyday? you must be confused! oh you’re so much more beautiful than most people, etc.). Do people know their own histories? Mixing is too fetishized? Yet I see that in our world of singularities and mainstream dominance, that it will have its advantages as well. I will use them to topple all the self-hatreds that visit selves that eventually want revenge and violence, dominance and submission. To drop the prioritizing of ‘goodness’ and to drop the prioritizing of ‘badness’ and to drop the fear of those ideas to be differently performed by different persons because of different cultural heritages and legacies, is to at-once begin the journey to alliance-building and creative new cultural formations and homes. As of now, we repeat over and over because we refuse the multiplicity and changing our priorities. Fearing a different good and bad, fearing the work of non-maintenance of those histories, leads the way to a forgone conclusion to be confirmed. And this confirmation, for many, is their self-congratulatory moment. For the rest of us, we wish that this confirmation were to be destroyed in the favor of new communities of justice which have existed and are fighting for survival. Fighting for survival because that reality is being repeated and managed by many of us and through our leaders. It is neither universal or natural.
The survival of the fittest has gone too far as a perpetuating series of actions, institutions, education and worldviews in the march of history. Perhaps this is where mixed-race people can truly work on our own forms of assimilating to easy cultural definitions or being happy being exotic–to truly really strongly resist the squeezing of definitions of any difference into dominant categories of perpetual war. Decolonize our self-rendering and the rendering of others. It isn’t enough to talk about identity and whether they should/could be ‘accepted’ or not. It is not about this incessant need to be accepted into the dominant which ‘allows’ acceptance–either psycho-culturally or nationally. It is important as a way to survive, yes. But this is also about legacies of perpetuation. Legacies of categories and worldviews that have long proven to be inadequate and failures. The legacies in this 1932 film are alive today, walking around, masquerading as enlightened selves and selves that know truths and ‘good’ people who are themselves but do not know how or even desiring alliance-building across identities. This bridge can and must be crossed.
Fear has many colors and ways of being in the world. It does not just show up as cowering in a corner of the room in hiding, or shivers, or wide-eyes.
Fear also shows up in refusal, anger, resentment, maintenance and often in superiority. Especially when we look at the issues of democracy in so-called ‘democratic’ societies, we must understand that the elites who first founded the United States, were only speaking about democratic relations AMONG THEMSELVES. They owned slaves, they excluded women, and we know that all were Christian of certain denominations. All men were created equal except………… and women are in the home. Sexual orientation as an identity was non-existent as a political category, but we know that many of them had rich sex lives and only the heterosexual versions are told. To protect THE MAINTENANCE of the controls over what is exploited, and its link with survival (maintaining privileges within a vast social structure), the fear of losing this would create manifestations other than that of a one-dimensional mode of being scared.
However, this does not take away from the IDEALS and hopes of a democratizing society, which would always never be completely arrived at in any location, but perhaps increasingly practiced as a process as we make democracy LIVE EVERYDAY with commitment and struggle, instead of merely a dream or practiced only by government laws. Many philosophers and political scientists consider ‘democracy’ to be a social experiment and not a given. However, we must understand that throughout history, many of the societies that were systematically destroyed by the European expansion and US empire-building, had egalitarian societies. There are arguments that surround the US Constitution, as it is eerily similar to the Cherokee codes of community which pre-dates the US Constitution, of course. As we know, the histories and realities and many of our ‘Truths’ are not what we think they are simply because the empire-builders, the dominant class, and those who govern, largely create our realities for us by the control of education and the institutions, including what is ‘true’ or not.
In the building of the colonial nations and their colonies, the United States, much of Europe, Africa and Australia/New Zealand were created by vast movements of people and goods starting from the 18th century. This was primarily done through the invention of the steam engine. Steam ships and the railroads became powerful forces in the rapid industrializing of nations and in expansion as a category of ‘freedom.’ In this freedom, others under the military and economic violence of this system of superiority, were systematically assimilated or killed, in general.
When George Pullman invented the Pullman car, which essentially made the wealthy class able to travel in luxury and isolation from the other people of lower classes, the building of magnificent hotels, tourist industries, iron and steel and coal empires, land transportation connecting hotels to residential and business areas, and all forms of paper-making and other industries flourished in order to support these mechanisms that spread wealth and forms of power throughout most areas of the globe. Along with this, of course, was the strengthening of military flexibility and ways of warfare. The Pullman cars, with their luxurious interiors and beautiful craftsmanship, were one of the most important aspects of maintaining elite self-identification, expanding tourism and travel to the middle and lower classes of society, and the ability to move the elite around to areas of the continents in which they could do business.
After the freedom of the African slaves was passed into law in the United States, many of the free slaves were hired by George Pullman and the pullman company, to serve as high-class servants on these hotels on wheels, capitalizing on the maintenance of their skills as slaves. According to famous railroad writers, including the great Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg (a well-known gay couple and famous elite writers in their day), many of the elites rode on certain trains because certain railroad porters were kind, generous, entertaining, and spotless in their service. Some of these trains were, among the elites, called by the Porters’ names! The railroad porters were not just servants, but were an important aspect in raising the prestige of each of the railroads competing for their share of the wealth. The New York Central Railroad, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Union Pacific, the Santa Fe, the Southern Pacific, and others, glorified their high-speed passenger trains and built magnificent train terminals and hotels next them, rivaling and sometimes surpassing the size and grandeur of state offices. Movie stars and song stars, sports stars and the high officials of the corporations that ran the world from the 1900s to the 1950s, all traveled mainly by rail, and the railroad companies had to stay in top shape. The Pullman porters were the personal connection between the train and the passengers.
The railroad companies were among the largest employers of blacks in the United States in the middle of the twentieth century. The offered a way for blacks to travel, to meet with and be among the elite of elites, and offered a source of pride and steady income for the families of the porters and the dining car waiters. Baggage handlers and railyard workers and other manual labor positions in the railroad also employed blacks. However, the porter position was regarded highly because of its ‘classy’ image. Along with the strong way for black families to join the middle class, by saving their dollar or two dollar-a-day salary, this offered the beginnings for public awareness regarding the status of blacks in post-slave periods into the twentieth century.
As one could guess, most of the Black porters were treated as third class and inhuman by most passengers much of the time. The racism was mainstream, legitimate in this way. Passengers would be the first ones to get anything they wanted while the porters were to be quiet and not cause trouble, even in the face of overt hostility and condescending attitudes. If they were to resist or even speak back in any fashion, they would be fired. However, most of the time, most of the porters were there to serve and most passengers would take advantage of their kindly and professional porters for their needs on the train or at the stations where the trains departed and arrived. The porters were not allowed to speak back to any customers. If they did, they were fired. At the famous Penn Central station in New York, for instance, as many as six hundred passengers trains departed per day. It was a phenomenal time for this new and beautiful way of traveling. On these travels, the porters endured and served. The black porters repeatedly asked management for changes in their status in the business, and were continually rebuffed. They began their meetings to unionize at this point.
The black pullman workers, were subordinate to the white conductors who kept things smoothly running between their association with the engineer who ran the train, and the passengers and mechanics on board. The black pullmans worked longer hours, were paid about half of the wages of the conductors, and often had to endure things that conductor would not. At this time, politically, there were no rights that they could exercise as workers.
Forming unions were a huge movement around the world and for much of the United States during these times. Of course, George Pullman and the administration, refused to grant the black workers their rights, using many violent tactics from stalling to sending ‘thugs’ to their homes to threaten and cajole, and refusal to speak with them. The workers held firm and continued to attempt a path for their rights as workers in the US.
A. Phillip Randolph (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Philip_Randolph) , a union organizer whose first love was acting, became an intellectual and activist in the Socialist Party and helped the Pullman porters gain their rights in 1925 when they won their right to become a union and also gained the rights they fought for. In 1919, the US Attorney General called him: ‘The Most Dangerous Negro in America.” How can a person fighting for equal rights be dangerous in a democratic country? Because the United States was founded on equality for the leaders, no the masses. Equality is a term for a hope, but even among the elite, this is a problem term and very difficult. However, against the Black Americans, this divide and subordination is even more intense, continuing today.
Fighting with the Commitment for rights is the only way. But this commitment is not merely a move upward in a ladder to equality, it is more about survival. Especially if those struggling for rights are ‘the other,’ such as those of Black African ancestry in US mainstream society, who are not acknowledged along peaceful grounds by the dominant group. The way these workers, and millions of others today, are working, is not sustainable. We can see the slow decay that is happening presently around the world, due to the impact of exploitation in its many forms.
For wikipedia’s decent information on the history of this recording, please visit the following link. As always, especially with Wikipedia, please be careful when reading, being aware of how things are placed in wikipedia’s information. For instance, the way the the Roma word is insinuated (whether on purpose or not) ‘from’ Turkish in the Roma language. This may mistakenly be interpreted as the Roma ‘taking’ the word from that language, or that ‘Turkish’ came first. This is ‘Not’ the case. Throughout the hundreds of years of our history, people shared and made their own languages through sharings. The words are ‘related’ but to bring origins into it would be problematic. Thus is the problematic today with the ‘minoritization‘ – the ‘making of minorities’ through majority-rule formulations (majoritarianism) of history, logic, interpretation and subsequently–the positions that information take in the people’s minds, then used politically for certain advantages and disadvantages.
Kabuki 歌舞伎 is a traditional Japanese dance/theater performance art, enjoyed as an avante-garde (even as it was developed) form which developed gradually over various political scenarios into its present form.
Originally performed by both women and men, it soon began to be primarily performed by young men with physical beauty as well as women. In the middle 1600s, the shogun of Japan banned Kabuki because of riots due to the audience members fighting over beautiful men and women (there was no strong heterosexist exclusionary division of imagination at this time in history, much like the ancient Greek and much of the old Ottoman, Roman and Hasburg civilizations, as an example).
Soon women were banned from performing and cross-dressing male actors, raised from a very young age, became the primary performers of Kabuki. The style is highly stylized, bizarre, and nuanced. Many of the story-lines came from Noh theatre, Puppet-performance called Noh, as well as traditional kabuki-intended storylines. Famous poems of their times, song styles from popular and elite forms, and the various instruments from the different art-dance genres, sometimes began to crossover, depending on what the Kabuki performers and productionists wanted to project to the audience.
Kabuki art forms are meant to evoke from the audience, an emotional participation. Some call-outs by audience members during performances are common at certain quieter performances. Kabuki actors want concentration on the forms, gestures and every nuance of movement, and also be transported to another world, as opposed to remaining ‘audience’ members. In this way, much of Japanese kabuki performance, similar to Noh theater, is not a mere ‘watching’ but a participation through sensitivity to movement as much as the story-lines.
Kabuki performance was briefly banned by the US and Allied Occupying forces after WWII, but it was reinstated in 1947. This, coupled with the devastation of Japan after the war and its concentration on re-building, as well as many Japanese institutions and people rejecting many of their old ways, intensified the downslide of kabuki popularity. However, helped by booming interest in kabuki by European, Australian/NewZealand, and American fans, kabuki did not completely die out and has remained an important cultural genre. The best performers are revered and maintained as cultural icons, even if only a handful.
I have inserted two videos out of the complete 3 in the series to one of the handful of great living modern performers of Kabuki- Tamasaburō Bandō 坂東 玉三郎. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandō_Tamasaburō_V – followed by a short clip from an interview with him.
The videos are narrated quite wonderfully by Peter Griffith and are from an excellent series of DVDs of Tamasaburo’s performances. On the DVDs, the narration can be turned off if you want to just become engrossed in the performance. For understanding what is happening in the pieces, the narration is quite helpful. These other traditional Japanese arts DVDs and other materials can be found at:
After watching, we could, then, discuss what Judith Butler has talked about in relation to coercive gender, sexual orientation, performance, and their relationship with ‘reality’ as far as freedom, art, expression, cultural difference, pleasure and life.
Kurdish cinema has been exploding since the 1990s onto the world stage. The first famous ‘Kurdish’ film in Europe and the US is “A Time for Drunken Horses‘ –which won a Cannes Film Festival award. Film has always been a medium, as with other arts, to communicate something. In the case of peoples who have been in the world under oppressive conditions, film has been one of the most powerful art forms. In places such as Turkey, the legal and cultural policies which forbid Kurdish cultural expression, has placed filmmakers under tremendous pressure to create their art, some indeed dying by the hands of the state through imprisonment, torture, and disappearance. For some, they manage, through surviving harsh oppressive conditions, to create their art forms. Warfare and the creation of the states which divided the Kurdish people created ways for Kurds in Europe, for instance, freedoms which would help move their art out into the world.
Since the 1960s, Yilmaz Güney of Turkey (1 April 1937 – 9 September 1984), has been considered the most famous and important Kurdish cinema director in what many Kurds call ‘Northern Kurdistan.’ Yilmaz Güney wrote his films in the Turkish language because the Kurdish language had been forbidden more vehemently then, than it is today. His themes were decidedly Kurdish, although the word ‘Kurd’ or ‘Kurdish’ never appears in his film. The authorities knew, however, and he was imprisoned and tortured since 1961.
During the tumultuous 1960s in Turkey, many young Kurds and Turks wanted democratic reforms and were dissatisfied with authoritarian capitalist regimes and many were associated with leftists movements during this time. Güney was accused of harboring leftist film students and was jailed one other time in 1972 and in 1974, upon his release, he shot a judge whom he felt was unjust and he was subsequently arrested again. He escaped prison in 1981 and fled to France. During his time in prison, he created some of his best films, dictating to Turkish filmmaker Zeki Ökten (August 4, 1941 – December 19, 2009), scene by scene, to make the films and release them. He died in France in 1984. Among his films that are the most intensely remembered and praised include: Suru, Duval, Umut, and Yol (1982)–which is the most widely loved movie among many Kurds and won the coveted Palm d’or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982. Güney’s films tell unflinchingly dark, harsh realities of Kurdish life in what is now called Turkey, as well as in the borderlands within and between the four nation-states that rule much of where the Kurds have been for hundreds of years–Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. All of these states continue to oppress Kurdish expressions and freedoms in their own ways. Kurdish cinema is one strong way for the Kurdish people and those who sympathize with their plight, to tell their stories.
There have been many filmmakers such as Nezamettin Aric and from the Mesopotamia Arts Collective where filmmakers such as Kazim Öz and Hüseyin Karabey have been making headways in Kurdish cinema since the 1990s.
The most famous and prolific of Kurdish filmmakers today is Bahman Ghobadi. His ‘Time For Drunken Horses’ (2000) received critical acclaim worldwide and he has produced several films that have captured the attention of western cinema producers and administrators, which, after all, is the only way to be widely distributed and known. My personal favorite of his movies is “Turtles Can Fly” released in 2004.”
The first ever Kurdish film festival in the world, was held in London in 2001. It proved to be quite a success and Paris, Montreal, Melbourne and Hamburg followed suit a few years later. In 2009, New York held its first ever Kurdish film festival while in Turkey, the first ever Kurdish film festival was held in Diyarbekir–considered one of the most heavily populated Kurdish cities in Turkey, in December 2009.
As Kurdish Cinema matures, it has begun to tackle more of the complexities of oppression, and how within Kurdish cultures’ own histories of certain oppressions such as sexism, is a mix of what has been traditional and is intensified with the displacements, divisions, and the various states’ and globalization policies, including their versions of sexism, that affect Kurdish communal relations. Ultimately the film-makers can point to the intense continuations that construct various forms of death–cultural, biological and gendered. Kurdish cinema is said to be one strong avenue where the resistance of this is done by telling the stories and to hopefully invite reflection for alliances and change.