In Japan, people have a lot of different images of black people. Many people, especially the older generation, have the images of them as the slave, the savage, the buffoon, and the GI as John Russell claims in his book “日本人の黒人観(Japanese People’s Images of Black People)”. And some people in the younger generation think black people are cool. They listen to Hip-hop, R&B, and Reggae, and watch many black celebrities and athletes on TV.
I went to New York during the winter vacation, and that was the very first time for me to get to know black people personally. Although I went to high school in the US as an exchange student, I had never had any black friends because where I was living was a pretty much white community and I went to a private Catholic high school in which I don’t think there were any black students. Before going to New York, I had the both images of black people as scary and cool. I don’t remember why, but my friends and I decided to stay at a hostel in Brooklyn. On the first day, we got scared as hell because more than 80% of people we saw there were black. But as time went by, we realized black people were nice. Whenever we asked them for help, they helped us. And the guy who was staying at the same hostel with us was super nice. So now my negative images of black people are totally gone.
But how can we, Japanese people, get rid of negative stereotypes against black people? To me, it was to have a talk with them and get to know them personally. I was lucky to have the opportunity to go to New York, and to be able to speak English. However, not so many people have that opportunity and not all Japanese people speak English. Furthermore, there are not that many black people in Japan, so people don’t have many opportunities to get to know them here either. Japanese people tend to create negative images against things they don’t know very much. I think “ちびくろサンボ(The Story of Little Black Sambo)” is a good way to introduce black people to the Japanese society. When we watched a video of Little Black Sambo in class, I didn’t feel it was offensive or gives children negative images of black people. What you see when you are a child has huge impact on your life. Although I have heard that even a three-year-old child notices differences of skin tones, I don’t think children will have prejudice or feel barriers against people of different skin tones if they grow up having positive images of them. When it comes to racism, people usually don’t really know about people who they hate. Getting to know people of different races will increase understanding among races. And I think The Story of Little Black Sambo is a good beginning of knowing black people.
by Haruka Kono