I have been holding this post back for some time now. Partly out of laziness because I knew that the post would be really long; and partly because I didn't want to further promote such despicable images. However, I've concluded that there is a difference between promoting and bringing awareness. Thus, I am finally posting on Bob Sapp and Bobby Ologun, two black men who have reached star status in Japan while often promoting horrible stereotypes.
During my sophomore year at UAB, I took an insightful course on historical images of race in the United States. It was during this class that I was introduced to the actual history behind the stereotypes that I constantly see perpetuated in not only Japanese culture, but everywhere in American culture. (And I am sure they are prevalent in other areas, however, I have only lived in Japan and America.) One of the books used in this class was Kenneth W. Going's Mammy and Uncle Mose. I remember looking at the images of the characters Jim Crow, Rastus, Zip Coon, Aunt Jemima, etc., and feeling offended (for lack of a better term.) It wasn't only the pictures that made me feel this way, it was the motivations, anecdotes, and jokes behind the images that really put me over the edge. You see, it's one thing to view an image and to think "Oh, now that's just foolish." And it's completely different to view these same images, with an understanding of the history behind them. I feel this is one of the reasons certain groups are often labeled as "too sensitive" and "too serious." Gaining a deeper understanding of things causes you to view them differently, well at least for me it does. Anyway, bottom line is that these images often pissed me off throughout the course of the class. And it wasn't just the images, it was the ignorance behind it.
So why does this even matter? Because, no one wants to be represented or associated with such degrading nonsense and foolishness... Right?
When I first came to Tokyo in 2003, I often saw advertisements featuring Bob Sapp, an American university football player, turned K-1 fighter, turned pro-wrestler in Japan. He's good. And during fall of 2003, he was a STAR in Japan. He was on everything. However, while I acknowledged and celebrated his success, I could not celebrate the images that he often projected in the name of entertainment. Seeing his TV appearances and is advertisements often reminded me of the feelings I felt during Sophomore year. (The same feeling that makes mothers pull their children off of the stage and smack them across the head a few times when they are just acting CRAZY!) Now, I know that one person doesn't represent an entire group. However, in Japan at times it seems that you do. I have often had conversations with Japanese individuals who have had friends from a certain nationality and they often used the actions of that one person to determine their thoughts about people of similar backgrounds. So, while I understand that Mr. Sapp is not representing all Africans, African-Americans, AfroPeans, etc... To some Japanese, he does... Below is a video featuring Bob Sapp-- and his outrageous promotion of stereotypes. (Watch Below or Click here for a Larger View.)
Now, all of us are not going to agree on what this video represents, and that's okay. But, I will say this--The zoo, bananas, gorillas, and monkeys are not promoting the images of Blackness that I would like to see. And, to get into the history of it, the intellect and physical attributes of Black people have historically been associated with those of monkeys and gorillas... So, why? Why would you go to Japan and make this video?
In addition to Bob Sapp, we have Bobby Ologun. The latest "star" of Japan. Mr. Ologun, whose official blog can be found here Bobby's House, also developed his fame from being a fighter in K-1 competitions. Born in Nigeria, Mr. Ologun came to Japan to assist his father in a trading company (according to Wikipedia). Now, if you think Bob Sapp's video was mildly offensive... Then you may think a little more vividly about his video...
(Watch below or Click Here for a Larger Image)
And, no- he doesn't really sound like that. He intentionally speaks incorrect "dumb" Japanese, frequently mixes up the wrong words, and sounds ignorant just for laughs. And if you take a look at his blog, the caricatures he uses to represent himself aren't flattering. Not only is he promoting the "body/brawn and no brain"-stereotype, he takes it two giant steps further.
Now, some of you may be thinking-- "Hey It's Japan. Lighten up! If you don't like the images don't live there!"-- And to you I say, "Hey, it's my blog... If you don't like what I say, then don't read it." And, as for those who say--"Japan consists of mainly Japanese people. Therefore, you can't be the average foreign athlete and make a name for yourself. You have to have a gimmick. You have to have something that sells to people. And maybe the Japanese people like those images. I don't see them complaining about the "horrible" images they are watching. Obviously, they like the images or the guys wouldn't be so popular." To you I say--"Yeah... Everyone loves a clown. Whether they're in blackface, whiteface, clown-makeup... doesn't matter. In this case, they like to laugh at the big, black, dumb "all brawn-no brains," images on the screen.
In contrast, the Japanese audience also demonstrates their willingness to like foreigners who are not clowning and cooning for yen. Apparently they like smart and articulate foreigners too. Like Allessadros Santos, a Brazilian soccer player who began playing soccer in Japan as a teenager. He's successful, speaks great Japanese, he became a citizen of Japan in 2001; AND he doesn't go around acting CRAZY eating bananas at the zoo, or sounding like Scooby do' on talk shows for attention and money either. So you see, promoting horrible stereotypes and acting a fool for money is not the only way to become popular in Japan, or anywhere else for that matter.
I would like to point out that Allessandros Santos, Bob Sapp, and Bobby Ologun have each reached a great level of success in Japan. They are talented, different, and have in some way marketed their differences for success. There is nothing wrong with finding your niche and going for it... That's what entrepreneurs do. However, I despise both of those videos and the images and stereotypes that both Bob Sapp and Bobby Ologun have promoted.
BOTTOM LINE: There has to be a line drawn between making money and selling yourself. Whether you are in Tokyo, Paris, London, Atlanta, Dubai, Shanghai... Where ever you are... Be mindful of this.
(And for those of you just itching to send me racist and/or japanophile mail-- I say keep it to yourself and get a life, because I don't want to hear it... or read it.)