by Edie Baldeh
It will soon be four years since I first arrived in this wonderful country called Japan, known to the Japanese people as Nihon. Japan is unique in many ways. The culture, the people, the food, and work ethic to name a few. Did I mentioned their cherished norms and values that they expect you to know and practice as accurately as a Nihonjin (Japanese native)?
It wasn’t until after two weeks when I settled-down into my final and current destination, that the reality of being a minority hit me. For all my life, people in my vicinity looked like me. We spoke the same languages, with similar thinking, and the same culture. However the moment you step on a plane heading East, everything else is different. It dawned on me that I was in a new frontier. Asia is unlike other parts of the world. Outside the perimeter of my university here in Japan, it is almost impossible to see a black person. I made it an obligation to wave my hand or greet any black person I saw around. However, as time passed, I started to see more black people moving to Japan to either pursue education or careers in various fields. Asia is the new Mecca for black people. As the world is becoming more connected, people’s movements from one part of the world to another is inevitable. Black people are one of the most nomadic peoples on earth. It is well documented that they reached the Americas before Columbus. We have been on the move since time immemorial.
As a new wave of black people call Asia home, we should therefore ensure that we serve as good ambassadors of our respective communities. The truth, is black people are always treated with suspicion, belittled or ignored by outsiders in all parts of the world— an established fact. Even though I have yet to experience stark discrimination here, I have seen how strangers try to avoid me as if I were scary. Some people will suddenly grab their kids when I walk near them. I felt bad after my first experience, however, I have learned to grow tough skin. Now I do not care if someone trusts me or feels intimidated by my presence. I also realized that many people judge others with their impression of people like you. Therefore one needs to make sure that you are always on your best behavior. As black people continue to be a force in the expatriate communities in Asian countries, by all indications, our footprints will remain here forever. Thus, it is important to build a strong, solid and positive image for our community. The negative media image of black people has always been a stumbling block for our success. I believe it is incumbent on everyone to change the narrative and build a better, safer, and happier future for upcoming generations.
Even though, they are less credited for their inventions and revolutionary ideas, black people have always influenced cultures and societies. Today one of the most imitated persons on the face of the earth is the American black man. While the list maybe endless, their music is one of the biggest influences of American culture around the world. They symbolize American culture. They are probably also one of biggest indirect contributors to American tourism after Hollywood.
Today countries like Japan have already started reaping the benefits of black residents. Perhaps it will take a book to discuss the contributions black people are making in every industry in Japan (and Asia in general). Though it seems stereotypical to some people, the great athleticism of black people is universally accepted. There is nothing wrong with black people venturing into sports. One just has to strive for excellence. Today Japan has numerous black athletes in almost all sports, winning trophies and medals for the country. While black soccer players have become the face of many (non-African) countries soccer team. Asian sports will likely see a revolution in the near future. This, I believe, will help cement black people’s presence in the region. Black people will succeed anywhere, like any other people, if obstacles are not placed our way. We have to accept that we have challenges in our communities including deficient education. Therefore, black people need to ensure that they become the most educated race in order to take the lead in the world. As in the teachings of Marcus Garvey, we should “grow our own food”. We must invest in our community. And invest in foreign communities, too.
Over a year ago, an Asian Youtuber made a scathing video attacking black people. He opined that black people are a “bad influence” in Japan hence they should be banned from the country. He based his arguments on news reports from the US, UK and Australia. I felt insulted. His words were so demeaning. I got angry. Suddenly my vision became blurred. There was drumming in my ear. However, I learned to accept that it was just an opinion not a fact. And I know the majority of his compatriots do not agree with him but it hurts when someone bases their judgement of people on hearsay. I am glad we are so far proving him wrong. I cannot wait for him to swallow his words. Unfortunately, like water, you cannot recollect words after you pour them.