Related update: summer 2014: Foreign residents can’t claim welfare benefits: Supreme Court
Note: this post has been updated a couple times, and while I don’t agree with all the points in arguments I’ve seen regarding xenophobia vs. racism, some have a lot of merit, and I do appreciate constructive criticism. The major updates I’ve made are marked as addenda/editorial notes throughout.
Some things to consider for those writing about the ANA commercial:
I get that if you’re looking at the commercial from the perspective of a person who lives in a country with a white majority that the commercial may appear to be turning the tables on white racism, and that white Americans certainly have a long, embarrassing history of racism, including yellow-face, black-face, and red-face. In fact, How I Met Your Mother just had a similar issue with some “kung-fu slap” “homage” to martial arts movies, and Katy Perry’s problematic AMA performance in November got a lot of well deserved condemnation.
My main beef is that the people claiming that the commercial isn’t racist is that, in Japan, a combo racism* and xenophobia against white people, Black people, non-Japanese Asian people, and multiracial people, and well, literally anyone who doesn’t appear “Japanese” enough,” is a real, institutionalized and socialized thing that actually affects people, particularly long-term workers, permanent residents, and their families, especially their children (see: Half/ハーフ: Mixed Race in Japan and “White Japanese People”).
*Addendum: I would say that, upon closer scrutiny, white “gaijin” costumes and using white people as props in commercials is a large part of the xenophobia problem because it establishes “white” as “this is what a ‘foreigner’ looks like,” which also erases the experiences of non-white-appearing non-Japanese in Japan. However, I would draw a distinction between the xenophobia that scholars, travelers, short-term workers (like JETs), and immigrants coming from a more privileged position (in terms of race, appearance, and often finances) in their home country experience and the racism experienced by people who become permanent residents, stay long-term, raise children (multiracial or otherwise), or grow up in Japan as “non-Japanese” because of legal (non-citizens and especially non-permanent residents) reasons or appearance. I would also posit that the xenophobia directed that the former impacts the racism directed at the latter more, as it feeds the ideas of what “foreign” looks like vs. who is “really” Japanese.
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