by Robert Moorehead
After protests by local non-Japanese residents, the Genky store in Minokamo, Gifu prefecture, has taken down the signs that warned foreign customers that they were being watched as potential criminals.
My Portuguese skills are limited, so hopefully a reader can help translate the video. I am encouraged by the response of the local non-Japanese community in standing up for their rights, and by the fact that the store management responded to those concerns.
Stereotypes are harder to maintain when the person the stereotypes supposedly describe is standing right in front of you. In that case, we sometimes fall victim to what Tim Wise has called “enlightened exceptionalism.” That is, have prejudiced views about a group but making an exception for individual members of that group. This approach lets prejudiced whites vote for Barack Obama, while still holding racist views of African Americans. In this case, clerks at the Genky store might have said to the protestors, “Of course the sign doesn’t describe you. It refers to other foreigners.”
The protestors used the uncomfortable tension the staff likely felt when confronted with protests to their advantage, in demanding that the signs be taken down and in rewarding the removal of the signs with applause. In so doing, they hopefully have taken a step toward turning a foe into an ally. But whether the staff at Genky will still watch non-Japanese customers with suspicion or not, at least that suspicion is no longer publicly posted for all the world to see. The public posting of the signs reproduced and reinforced negative stereotypes of foreigners in Japan.
A Portuguese page on Facebook contains links and discussion about this issue: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Preconceito-eou-Discriminação-no-Japão/551075024924887.