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Nike Draws Attention to Racism and Inequality in Japan

amonjakku

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Nike has put out ads condemning bullying and racism (Dec. 2020) and gender inequality (June 2021) in Japan. These articles seem to have hit a nerve. Critics of the articles seem to be protesting that the articles put Japanese society in a negative light; not that bullying, racism and gender equality are negative aspects of their society. The obvious denial (and perhaps deeply felt guilt) has only served to draw attention to just how serious these problems are. Not surprisingly, women and people of colour generally face similar obstacles for inclusion into Japanese society. There have been protests in Tokyo and Osaka in support of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in 2020. Participants are well intentioned, but it is surprising seeing as that the black/brown population of foreigners in Japan is quite small (approximately 0.02 %).

So why the uproar? Why are the natives so restless? Why do the Nike ads incense them so much? Primarily, the ads cause Japan to lose face in the international community. The Japanese generally try to avoid any sort of negativity at all costs. Even when negative circumstance and conditions exist. The basic strategy is to stick one’s head in the sand and hope the problem goes away on its’ own rather than discussing them or addressing them directly. The result is a plethora of mental health problems caused by feelings of isolation and despair, resulting in depression, suicide and violence. Coupled with a powerful stigma against getting help from mental health professionals, i.e., counselors, therapists, etc., results in a recipe for societal disaster.

For non-Japanese, racism/discrimination is aided by the Japanese mentality towards foreign labour. Generally, companies presume you won’t stick around. This mentality logically extends into the social sphere and one’s ability to form relationships. Employers treat you as “full-time, temporary”, interchangeable, replaceable, second class or as “equal, but separate”. Japanese women experience this inequality in limitations to their career and promotion prospects, basically because they are able to give birth. Paradoxically, employers won’t invest in their female employees for fear they will leave for marriage and motherhood and harass women of marriageable/childbearing age when they are not married or expecting.

Japan allegedly supports anti-discrimination legislation, but, in practice, there are no mechanisms in place to prevent discrimination from happening. In short, there is no anti-discrimination enforcement. Thus racism/discrimination is systemic or institutionalized. This situation must obviously change. Based on my 20 plus years of experience in Japan, it would appear that discrimination based on ethnicity, skin colour and gender are essential features of the Japanese cultural identity.

Any foreigner who has been in Japan any length of time understands that there is a strong cultural bias for the “typical” foreigner, who is more often than not, white-skinned, blond haired and blue-eyed (i.e., white privilege). Therefore, institutions cater to the biases of their clients. To that end, they employ “typical foreigners” with the view to increasing profits. Employee selection then becomes a popularity contest and skin colour is more important than experience and ability.

Most Caucasians benefit from and in some cases are complicit in enabling the biases and prejudices of some Japanese against people of color. In other words, they become collaborators in bigotry and racism, often against people (of color) from their own countries. Knowing the biases of some Japanese, Caucasians generally don’t recommend (most frequently used method of teacher recruitment) non-whites as such a recommendation may reflect negatively on them. Enabling “xenophobic” mindsets by shielding students from non-Caucasian English speakers does not improve cultural sensitivity and interethnic interaction with people who aren’t Caucasian.

In my over 20 years of experience in Japan, the only way people of color are successful as English teachers in Japan is if they keep their heads down and demonstrate absolutely no vestiges of personality. In other words, if black/brown people act two-dimensionally or “white”, they are more likely to be successful in Japan. Unfortunately, some coloured employees who do manage to “make it” jealously guard their token status, often viewing other people of colour as threats or competition rather than as allies or confidants. At the end of the day, the employment system in Japan is structured in such a way that it is disadvantageous for people of colour to support each other. Unfortunately, the above dynamic also applies to Japanese women.

Many people of colour and Japanese women have remained silent about racism, bias and inequality in order to keep their positions, now, and in the past. Those who have decent work and/or decent income are “comfortable” and need not complain. They are the exceptions that prove the rule. But, for those of us who are not “comfortable”, remaining silent becomes ultimately self-defeating. It is not uncommon to be dismissed or have contracts discontinued for voicing complaints in Japan. Here “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. Wrongful termination cases can be pursued, but costs, in terms of time and money, are prohibitive.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that BLM protests or the Nike ads will produce increases in employment diversity or gender equality in Japan. It will be business as usual. It may even cause some employers to become even more reluctant to offer employment to those of diverse backgrounds deeming them “too much trouble”. Despite this, it is not wrong to complain when one is treated unfairly or to protest if that unfair treatment persists.
 

Lothor

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Well-written post that I'm in complete agreement with, and I've seen enough of the problems outlined in the second paragraph to last me a lifetime.
 

Uncle Frank

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I see a lot of kickback on Nike for getting involved in politics. There was an article the other day saying their sales and stock are down. May just be from the pandemic.
 

Mansoor

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I think in every society or folk some persons think fanatically and follow racism while these persons pay no attention that they were an infectious and hateful sperm earlier; nothing higher than that!

Fortunately, the number of such persons or groups is in minority and the majority of people think logically and wisely and don't tend to racism and bullying.

So, whether or not, the hateful prejudicial tendency exists in every society, among in Japan, and this type of bad belief is not particular to a specified society, because society is consists of different persons with different tendencies. But as I pointed, the number of these persons is little in comparison with the majority of that society.

Nationality is different from racism. Nationality does mean the race ( without racism thinking), profile, and history of a people who live in a territory.
 

Mansoor

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Nonetheless, this matter in Israel is vice versa!

Not only the majority of Israelis have been trained to follow racism but all of them think so. The heads of Israel induce this belief to Israelis that Palestinians (and even other people) are none- Jewish and are from a low and valueless race. They believe, Jews are sons and daughters of a god and they are deserve govern on every thing! They also believe, due to this advantage shedding the blood of Palestinians is legal and god is happy with this action!!

Of course in these days that people of the world are sensitive to such abnormal beliefs and as they follow humanity and internationalism, the Israelis had to conceal this type of belief under cover a social opinion, but the practical action of Israel in bombarding Palestinians follow the same intense racism.
 

thomas

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Yes, it is quite obvious that Nike's videos have struck a raw nerve. The Japanese comment section on YT most likely represents a vocal minority, but their knee jerk reaction is
  1. to point out that a foreign company should have no right to criticise Japan
  2. to blame Nike for producing in China (re. Uyghur issue; they fail to mention, however, that Japanese companies produce there, too)
  3. to argue that other countries have issues of gender inequality as well.
I showed the video to my wife and her only reaction was a silent: "They [Nike] are right".
 

mdchachi

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Not sure if I dare show it to my wife. She may suddenly feel we have gender inequity in the household that needs to be rectified.
 
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