A black man reports having had to endure the heart-rending experience of being called an Obama by a class of Japanese schoolchildren.
The account comes by way of a Japanese journalist:
I met a young American Japanophile on a plane recently. His Japanese was surprisingly good [i.e. he could say his name].
He was dispatched to a Japanese elementary school to teach English this last year. He said he loved Japanese children and was clearly enthusiastic about them, but he had a bitter experience at that school. It was from when Obama was still popular and the subject of something of a boom.
The first day he called at an elementary school in the country, the kids he met pointed at him and said “it’s Obama!” The entire classroom soon broke into an Obama call – “Obama, Obama!”
The entire class was chanting “Obama!” over and over, and even the teacher started grinning and joined in the chant.
He reflected on the experience: “Calling me Obama just because I’m black, isn’t it a racial stereotype? Even the teacher joined in!”
I thought about it. Certainly, calling a black man an “Obama” is not something you could get away with in America, whether or not you meant anything by it. I can appreciate his discomfort.
But considering it from the perspective of those Japanese kids, maybe they just wanted to greet their new teacher as enthusiastically as possible and so started calling out “Obama, Obama!” Perhaps they had no idea that might be hurtful to some people. The same goes for the teacher as well.
The moral of the story is probably that Japan is so insular that outside of major cities the arrival of a barbarian interloper is still considered worth making a song and dance of (literally in this case), and most will never know any better – although in retrospect being compared to a latter-day Jimmy Carter will probably seem rather more cruel than it does at present.
2ch weighs in:
“Sorry about those yokels…”
“These kind of black jokes are the worst!”
“If I went to the US and got called a ‘samurai’ I’d probably feel the same way.”
“The teacher was an idiot…”
“Why the hell did he join in?”
“He probably wasn’t as black as Obama…”
“How is being called the name of the President discriminatory?”
“How about we call you Hatoyama from now on?”
“I see what bothered that darkie now.”
“If that happened to me I’d be livid.”
“Japanese just get called Bruce Lee when they go to the states though…”
“What’s the big deal? This is just like calling the name of some famous white person when you see another white.”
“Well, it was the country. Those bumpkins can’t be helped.”
“I can forgive them as we’d just be called Chinese in a foreign country anyway.”
“Children can’t be helped, but that scummy teacher needs to resign.”
“This is certainly a very Japanese incident. They can’t understand about the discomfort they cause the person either.”
“Obama doesn’t even look that black – you can find Japanese who look like that.”
“If you look at that McDonald’s ad you’ll see just what kind of little idiots you’re dealing with here.”
“The people who say he is being overly sensitive are themselves being overly dismissive of racial discrimination.”
“If this guy was a Republican it must have been pretty harsh…”
“Blacks are so tedious.”
“It’s just because it was the first real black person they’d ever seen. You never see black or white people out there.”
“This is more like gaijin-sama arriving at a village of the natives and being given presidential treatment.”
“I’m from Kagoshima [almost foreign parts as far as most Tokyo inhabitants are concerned] and when I came to Tokyo they wouldn’t shut up with the funny names based on my origins. It was damn annoying. In fact, as I recall the teacher joined in too…”
“Well, teachers are basically on the same intellectual level as elementary schoolers.”
“If it were me I’d have responded ‘Yes we can!'”
“Where was the change…”