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Letter critical of Debito

September 5th, 2008 . by Matt

Here is a letter to the Japan Times about Debito’s theory about the word gaijin, via JAPUNDIT.

Regarding the Sept. 2 article “The ‘gaijin’ debate: Arudou responds”: Debito Arudou’s claim that the word “gaijin” is racist not only borders on whining but also smacks of something that could only be brought up by a white person. I’m part Japanese and part black, and I’ll tell you right now that I would rather be called a “gaijin” over “nigger” any day.

Arudou sounds like someone whose whiteness got him special treatment in the United States. He sounds as if he must have been shocked when he went to another country and realized that being white there wasn’t the same as it was in the U.S. All of a sudden, he was in the marginalized category normally reserved for nonwhite minorities.

I have news: “Citizenship” does NOT make one part of the Japanese race, no matter how much one wishes it. In the eyes of the Japanese, Arudou is a gaijin. Japan is not where he is from. Arudou appears to be going through a major identity crisis. To think that one can walk into another country, change citizenship and then expect the whole country to accept one not as a foreigner but as a fellow Japanese is something ripped out of the pages of Western colonialism.

What I cannot understand is that Debito expects people to know that he is Japanese just by looking at him. It might inconvenience him from time to time to be thought to be a foreigner by Japanese people, but he can hardly say that he did not expect that when he became a Japanese citizen.


15 Responses to “Letter critical of Debito”

  1. comment number 1 by: Jerry Billows

    Some friends and I were talking about Debito’s op-eds the other day. These last two have generated an unprecedented number of public rebukes and criticisms against him in the Japan Times, not to mention the blogosphere.

    We counted about 15 public letters-to-the-editor criticizing him and his “gaijin is essentially nigger” op-eds. I suspect that there might be one or two more at some point.

    Meanwhile, only five publicly supported him by name with one being a kid who never went to Japan, another guy who really didn’t like the word but said nothing of Debito’s argument or linkage, one guy who talked about the value of education without endorsing Debito’s view, and one guy who thought the Japanese were all a bunch of racists anyway (that one received a nice public rebuke from Dr. Wetherall — the published human rights specialist on Japan).

    I can’t help but wonder if Debito is under a lot of pressure now to write less controversial op-eds. Then again, the Japan Times editors are probably laughing all the way to the bank. Who knows?

  2. comment number 2 by: Matt

    BTW, Dr. Wetherall has a very interesting website with informed views of Japan. His report about the UNCHR’s mission to Japan (link) is a must read.

  3. comment number 3 by: Jerry Billows

    Interesting comments from Dr. Wetherall regarding Debito:

    “As stated in the preface to this counter report, Japan does need a law that prohibits unacceptable racial discrimination. And I personally feel that the sort of discrimination alleged to have taken place in the Hokkaido bath establishment is unacceptable.

    Certainly a business that opens its doors to the public, and is not a private club, should not be allowed to post any signs that bar, or verbally turn away, anyone because of their putative race.

    However, I also feel that litigation may be an ineffective if not unreasonable means of dealing with such discrimination. Especially in the bath establishment case, the proprietor is due a certain amount of understanding.

    The plaintiff might have been less eager to go to court, and more patient with the process of working with the city, and even with the proprietor, to solve the sorts of problems that appear to have moved the proprietor to bar foreigners, or anyone who on first impression would appear to be a foreigner.

    Diene might also have disclosed that, while in Japan, he fraternized with the plaintiff, Arudou Debito, an activist who wants Japan to pass a strong anti-racial discrimination law. While Diene was in Japan, Arudou used his own website and other means to help publicize Diene’s mission to expose Japan to international criticism.

    Since Japan is a free society, Arudou and Diene are perfectly free to associate with each other. However, Diene should disclose the fact that his “Mission to Japan” has been guided by activists like Arudou and reflects their viewpoints.

    Arudou has made some credible contributions to the elimination of racial discrimination in Japan. However, some perceive his approach as too confrontational and even intimidating in a society that does not wish to become as dependent on litigation to resolve conflict as, say, the United States.”

  4. comment number 4 by: KenYN

    That Debito Responds was even worse than his usual efforts! The stuff about what tribe are a few famous black actors was… I can’t think of suitable words, so I’ll just quote Gary Coleman (who he wondered if he came from an area known for pygmy tribes) “Whatcha talkin bout Debito?”

    Indeed, since Debito wants to be known as an American-Japanese, and since the population of the US is about a third that of Africa, perhaps we should gaze at his face and see what tribe… Sioux? Apache? Cherokee? Err, nope. Pasty-white Euro. Mother was a Chicago Pole, father unknown, so by his reckoning we are depriving him of his diaspora; we would be more correct to refer to him as a Polish-Japanese.

    I find, and I think a lot of my countrymen the other side of the pond think so too, that the US over-obsesses with hyphenated-Americanism. On a daily basis I’ve never heard anyone referred to as a Pakistani-Scot, for instance. There are Afro-Carribeans, though, but certainly no usage of Afro-Carribean-Scots that I have ever heard!

    Oh, and if gaijin reinforces us-versus-them, doesn’t gaikokujin or NJ also do the same thing?

    And finally, life in Japan always reminds me of Monty Python. This one was:

    [clop clop]
    アーサー: Old 外人!
    デビト : 日本人!
    アーサー: Old 日本人, sorry. What knight live in that castle over there?
    デビト : I’m forty-three.
    アーサー: What?
    デビト : I’m forty-three — I’m not old!
    アーサー: Well, I can’t just call you `日本人’.
    デビト : Well, you could say `デビト’.
    アーサー: Well, I didn’t know you were called `デビト.’
    デビト : Well, you didn’t bother to find out, did you?
    アーサー: I did say sorry about the `old 外人,’ but from the behind you looked–
    デビト : What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!

    And so on… If someone is bored at the weekend, rewriting the whole scene might be fun…

  5. comment number 5 by: LB

    @Jerry – “one being a kid who never went to Japan,”

    I think it should be put more plainly: one being a kid with some apparent emotional or insecurity issues who has never been to Japan. I assume you were refering to Bradley from Oklahoma City, who wrote this? “I have lived with Japanese roommates for the past two years, and have thus naturally made a strong circle of Japanese acquaintances. (I can never be sure who is a friend.) … This December I will travel to Japan to scout ahead and decide if I will take an offered position in teaching at an elementary school.”

    Great – one of the “Debito audience” you mentioned before. An apparently socially incompetent individual with an inability to trust others. I expect to see him on Debito’s blog any day now.

    I don’t know about the claim “Arudou has made some credible contributions to the elimination of racial discrimination in Japan.” As far as I have been able to tell, he made exactly one, a long time ago, and has been milking that for more than it was ever worth ever since. On the flip side, the damage he has done with stunts like the Tama-chan debacle, libeling businesses as “racist” , libeling anyone who disagrees with him etc. has come to vastly outweigh any good done by getting one Onsen in the wilds of Hokkaido to take down its “Japanese Only” sign.

  6. comment number 6 by: Jerry Billows

    Incidentally, LB, it looks like my prediction came true already. 2 more critical letters-to-the-editor were published in the Japan Times today. That brings the count up to 17:

    “Strength in cultural differences” by Paul Boshears

    “The utter liberty to say ‘gaijin'” by Neath Oum

  7. comment number 7 by: Matt

    Someone made a point that Debito is able to write “gaijin” out, but for “nigger” writes n***er or calls it the N-word. That is the difference between the two words. There is so much negativity and history behind ni99er (see!) that people don’t even like to write it out in the right way, including debito, but there is no such resistance towards “gaijin”.

  8. comment number 8 by: some guy

    That letter strikes me as a little racist. The guy clearly has issues with white people. He even managed to somehow bring up colonialism.

  9. comment number 9 by: Jerry Billows

    The whole “gaijin” debate is silly, in my opinion and seems to be part of the PC craze slowly taking over the US and Europe.

    There are some people who try to push their own political agendas on the word, trying to make it out to be a longstanding derogatory term where evidence is either scant or non-existent. In all honesty, I remain unconvinced by their arguments.

    The oft-cited Kojien entry was simply the lexicographer’s way of showing that a word — not even remotely linked to the contemporary usage — existed centuries ago. I notice once in a while that some people mistake the ancient usage (where nobody knows — let alone agrees on — how the word was even read!) with the current term. That’s a stretch. Yet, these same people ignore the fact that lexicographers don’t define the term as derogatory. That’s the first contradiction in the argument: why bring up the Kojien’s ancient readings in the Heike Monogatari to show it’s somehow derogatory if one is not interested in what the Kojien says (or does not say) about its putative offensiveness today?

    The second problem I have with the argument is trotting out personal anecdotes, as if they were supposedly representative of something meaningful. Why should anyone care what “John Smith” thinks upon hearing the word? Someone uses it in a seemingly negative fashion and suddenly the word is derogatory across the board? C’mon, folks. In the immortal words of Judge Judy, “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” Had I applied that same logic to a given race or ethnic group being banned from entry into an establishment because of an isolated negative experience with foreign from the same race or ethnic group, I would be accused of “racism,” “bigotry,” “discrimination,” “simple-mindedness,” etc. But because someone shouts “I’m offended because…well, just because!” we should start to scale back the first ammendment and the freedom of speech in Japan? C’mon, folks.

    The third problem I have with this debate is the need to resort to weak comparisons in an attempt to justify being offended. Debito’s whole justification for being offended — “us versus them” in the terminology — seems to ignore the fact that if we take his arguments at face value he should be equally offended with words like NJ or “non-Japanese” or “gaikokujin” or anything else that separates “us” and “them.” But he and others don’t go there. Why? I suspect because they would be laughed out of the room as extremists. A few people tried raising that argument in the blogosphere, they were met with silence. That says a lot, actually. It was so “out there”, it’s not even worth a response! That’s what I interpret the silence to mean.

    But anyway, those are only a few thoughts I wanted to mention about this nonsense.

  10. comment number 10 by: ponta.

    I have a question.
    When Debito says non-Japanese, is he non-Japanese?
    Is he equating Japanese with Japanese citizenship or what?

  11. comment number 11 by: The Overthinker

    Ken: ask, and ye shall receive. Not one, but two versions (as I couldn’t decide which works better: one does in some areas, but the other does in other areas)

    ————————————
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Old gaijin!
    DEBITO: Nihonjin!
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Old Nihonjin, sorry. You speak Japanese very well, ne?
    DEBITO: I’m forty-three.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: What?
    DEBITO: I’m forty-three — I’m not old!
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Well, I can’t just call you `Nihonjin’.
    DEBITO: Well, you could say `Debito’.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Well, I didn’t know you were called `Debito.’
    DEBITO: Well, you didn’t bother to find out, did you?
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: I did say sorry about the `old gaijin,’ but from the behind you looked–
    DEBITO: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Well, I AM a policeman…
    DEBITO: Oh policeman, eh, very nice. An’ how’d you get that, eh? By exploitin’ the gaijin — by ‘angin’ on to outdated racist dogma which perpetuates the economic an’ social differences in our society! If there’s ever going to be any progress–
    WOMAN: Debito, there’s some lovely porn down here. Oh — how d’you do?
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: How do you do, good lady. I am a Japanese Policeman. Whose foreigner rights lobby is that?
    WOMAN: A what policeman?
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Japanese.
    WOMAN: Who are the Japanese?
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Well, we all are. We’re all Japanese and I am a policeman.
    WOMAN: I didn’t know we had police. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
    DEBITO: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the gaijin classes–
    WOMAN: Oh there you go, bringing race into it again.
    DEBITO: That’s what it’s all about, if only people would–
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Please, please good people. I am in haste. Who works in that foreigner rights lobby?
    WOMAN: No one works there.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Then who is your mentor?
    WOMAN: We don’t have a mentor.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: What?
    DEBITO: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Yes.
    DEBITO: But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Yes, I see.
    DEBITO: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Be quiet!
    DEBITO: –but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more–
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
    DEBITO: Order, eh — who does he think he is?
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: I am a policeman!
    DEBITO: Well, I didn’t vote for you.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: You don’t vote for policemen.
    DEBITO: Well, ‘ow did you become a policeman then?
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: The Minister of Police,
    [angels sing]
    his arm clad in the purest shimmering blue cotton, held aloft the Keisatsu Techo from the bosom of the Diet, signifying by Imperial Providence that I, a Japanese Policeman, was to carry the Techo.
    [singing stops]
    That is why I am your king!
    DEBITO: Listen — strange ministers lying in diets distributing techo is no basis for a system of government. Supreme residential power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical parliamentary ceremony.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Be quiet!
    DEBITO: Well you can’t expect to wield supreme judiciary power just ’cause some drunken minister threw a techo at you!
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Shut up!
    DEBITO: I mean, if I went around sayin’ I was a copper just because some moistened bint had lobbed a techo at me they’d put me away!
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Shut up! Will you shut up!
    DEBITO: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Shut up!
    DEBITO: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! HELP! HELP! I’m being repressed!
    JAPANESE POLICEMAN: Bloody gaijin!
    DEBITO: Oh, what a give away. Did you here that, did you here that, eh? That’s what I’m on about — did you see him repressing me, you saw it didn’t you?

    —————————-

    VERSION TWO:

    —————————-

    DEBITO: Old Yank!
    MATT: Aussie!
    DEBITO: Old aussie, sorry. What activist works in that foreigner rights lobby over there?
    MATT: I’m thirty seven.
    DEBITO: What?
    MATT: I’m thirty seven — I’m not old!
    DEBITO: Well, I can’t just call you `Aussie’.
    MATT: Well, you could say `Matt’.
    DEBITO: Well, I didn’t know you were called `Matt.’
    MATT: Well, you didn’t bother to find out, did you?
    DEBITO: I did say sorry about the `old Yank,’ but from the behind you looked–
    MATT: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!
    DEBITO: Well, I AM Japanese…
    MATT: Oh Japanese, eh, very nice. An’ how’d you get that, eh? By exploitin’ the gaijin — by ‘angin’ on to outdated racist dogma which perpetuates the economic an’ social differences in our society! If there’s ever going to be any progress–
    WOMAN: Matt, there’s some lovely porn down here. Oh — how d’you do?
    DEBITO: How do you do, good lady. I am Debito, Japanese citizen. Whose onsen is that?
    WOMAN: Japanese what?
    DEBITO: Citizen.
    WOMAN: What are citizens?
    DEBITO: Well, we all are. We’re all Japanese and I am a citizen.
    WOMAN: I didn’t know we had citizens. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
    MATT: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the gaijin classes–
    WOMAN: Oh there you go, bringing race into it again.
    MATT: That’s what it’s all about if only people would–
    DEBITO: Please, please good people. I am in haste. Who works in that foreigner rights lobby?
    WOMAN: No one works there.
    DEBITO: Then who is your activist?
    WOMAN: We don’t have an activist.
    DEBITO: What?
    MATT: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
    DEBITO: Yes.
    MATT: But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.
    DEBITO: Yes, I see.
    MATT: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–
    DEBITO: Be quiet!
    MATT: –but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more–
    DEBITO: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
    MATT: Order, eh — who does he think he is?
    DEBITO: I am a Japanese!
    MATT: Well, I didn’t vote for you.
    DEBITO: You don’t vote for citizenship.
    WOMAN: Well, ‘ow did you become Japanese then?
    DEBITO: The Minister of Immigration,
    [angels sing]
    his arm clad in the purest shimmering polyester suit, held aloft a Koseki from the bosom of the desk signifying by Imperial Mandate that I, Debito, was to carry this Koseki.
    [singing stops]
    That is why I am a Japanese!
    MATT: Listen — strange ministers lying in offices distributing koseki is no basis for a system of citizenship. Residential rights derive from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical government ceremony.
    DEBITO: Be quiet!
    MATT: Well you can’t expect to be a Japanese just ’cause some drunken minister threw a koseki at you!
    DEBITO: Shut up!
    MATT: I mean, if I went around sayin’ I was a Japanese just because some moistened dude had lobbed a koseki at me they’d put me away!
    DEBITO: Shut up! Will you shut up!
    MATT: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the activist.
    DEBITO: Shut up!
    MATT: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the activist!
    HELP! HELP! I’m being repressed!
    DEBITO: Bloody gaijin!
    MATT: Oh, what a give away. Did you here that, did you here that, eh? That’s what I’m on about — did you see him repressing me, you saw it didn’t you?

  12. comment number 12 by: Gerbilbastard

    Wow, Overthinker, you’ve certainly got some time on your hands. 🙂 Very funny, though.

    On a side note, after reading this, I started wondering where the work Yank came from, and I found this funny quote on wiki:

    A humorous aphorism attributed to E.B. White summarizes these distinctions:

    To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
    To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
    To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
    To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
    To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
    And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

  13. comment number 13 by: The Overthinker

    Interestingly, while my full Monty Python parody dropped in here with barely a ripple, it was picked up by Japan Probe and spurred a massive comment-fest of about 150, including one from the Big D himself (“For what it’s worth, I love the Monty Python parody here. Seriously. Well done.” – My opinion of him just went up a few notches…).

  14. comment number 14 by: john k

    Gerbilbastard

    I found this reference to the orgins of the word “yank/ee”:

    “Yankee \Yan”kee\, n. [Commonly considered to be a corrupt pronunciation of the word English, or of the French word Anglais, by the native Indians of America. According to Thierry, a corruption of Jankin, a diminutive of John, and a nickname given to the English colonists of Connecticut by the Dutch settlers of New York. Dr. W. Gordon (“Hist. of the Amer. War,” ed, 1789, vol. i., pp. 324, 325) says it was a favorite cant word in Cambridge, Mass., as early as 1713, and that it meant excellent; as, a yankee good horse, yankee good cider, etc. Cf. Scot yankie a sharp, clever, and rather bold woman, and Prov. E. bow-yankees a kind of leggins worn by agricultural laborers.]
    A nickname for a native or citizen of New England, especially one descended from old New England stock; by extension, an inhabitant of the Northern States as distinguished from a Southerner; also, applied sometimes by foreigners to any inhabitant of the United States. [1913 Webster]”


  15. […] has been losing support for years with his closed ears to opinions that don’t go his way. Occidentalism also had a run in with Mr. Debito and that fell on deaf ears […]