Letters to the Museum

"Anti-Black Images" in Japanese Animation

Jynx My name is Brian and I just read an article you wrote a few years back titled "New Racist Forms: Jim Crow in the 21st Century" and after giving some thought to what I believed was an overall accurate assessment of the impact and legacy of anti-black iconography I came to conclude that there was just one aspect I disagreed on. The only point of contention I had was the assertion that the characters Mr. Popo of Dragonball Z and Jynx of Pokemon are deliberately anti-black are unlike the racist caricatures aimed at African-Americans in the Jim Crow era. A number of African-American scholars have noted that Japan has no virulent hatred of blacks in their culture. The same goes for the way the characters Mr. Popo and Jynx are depicted. If you have ever had the opportunity to watch Dragonball Z or Pokemon and really examine the way these characters are presented you will know that there is depth and importance to them in their relation to the story and it would be false to conclude that these are simply racist portrayals of blacks because in actuality it is a far cry from the racism inherent in the caricatures of the Jim Crow era.

Mr. Popo Many young people from Asia whom I have spoken with are puzzled when they hear accusations of racism in reference to characters like Mr. Popo or Jynx. To many of them they delight in the aesthetic uniqueness observed in the art work and do not see it as being hostile in any way. Also understand that Asian nations like Japan have very little exposure to African-American peoples and culture other than through the white media. Darky iconography as it is called is seen for what it is in Asia, namely as a unique art form imported from Western nations. The racial sentiment and vilification attached to negative caricatures of blacks here in the U.S was mostly filtered out when absorbed by Asian nations like Japan due to it's historical homogeneity. This makes perfect sense, since the general population could not relate to the racial sentiments white Americans had towards blacks at the time.

Another point I would like to make and in addition have clarified is the reference to a black memorabilia icon called the Jolly Nigger Bank. You mentioned in your article that it was being made in Taiwan for an American audience. From what I know of Taiwanese culture I don't imagine them producing such a racist memento of America's past for their own liking and amusement because a black memorabilia item like the Jolly Nigger Bank is something that has little or no relevance to their culture and understanding of history. Therefore I assume that the Jolly Nigger Bank is being produced by a Western multinational corporation for the sake of labor expense practicalities only to then have it shipped to America for potential consumers. Please clarify this for me if I may be wrong. I would also greatly appreciate any feedback you could provide concerning the subject I've brought to your attention.

Regards,

Brian
-- Dec. 3, 2006


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