The Japanese public broadcaster NHK is in well-deserved turmoil after airing an offensive video clip aimed at explaining the background behind U.S. protests for police reform to Japanese children. While the program may have had good intentions, the cartoon completely misrepresents the Black Lives Matter movement and features tired racist stereotypes.
We expected better from a broadcaster funded through fees we’re technically all required to pay under The Broadcast Law of Japan.
What the heck were they thinking?!
Short answer, they weren’t.
The short animated video was broadcasted in the weekly Sunday evening segment Kore de Wakatta! Sekai no Ima (Now I Understand! The World Now), a 30-minute show to explain current international news in an easy way for a young audience to understand.
Very typical of Japanese media caught red-handed, they ‘apologized to those who were made to feel uncomfortable.’ Uncomfortable. Thank you, NHK, for the understatement of the year.
First, for some obscure reason, the cartoon didn’t make a single reference to police brutality and the event that sparked the world’s outrage—the death of George Floyd, an African American, at the hands of the police on May 25th in Minnesota. Instead, the animators chose to focus on economic grievances, while the world grieved for yet another terrible tragedy.
To make things even worse, the video (remember this is supposed to educate children) lines up some of the worst racist stereotypes on African-Americans you can think of. It is so offensive and repulsive, we have decided not to post the full video here out of respect for our readers.
— 鈴木 長月 (@chogetsu_suzuki) June 9, 2020
“Here’s the NHK example. I’m shocked, not only the video but also the series of explanations are horrible. I think the person in charge should come out on this matter.”
The animators thought no better than to feature a tough-talking muscular Black narrator in a white tank top, holding an empty purse and yelling about the wealth disparity between Black and White Americans and the economic impact from the coronavirus. In the background, Black protestors are stamping their feet and destroying property. We can spot a man with an afro and mutton chop sideburns carrying electrical appliances as if he had been looting. As if the narrator wasn’t visually already exaggerated, his voice, loud and rough, makes him sound violent.
Shame on you NHK
The clip, shared on NHK’s Twitter account, sparked an instantaneous wave of outrage and criticism from Japan and abroad, with people pointing out how outright racist the video is. Some Japanese folks went as far as saying they’re ashamed and embarrassed by NHK.
— 茂木健一郎 (@kenichiromogi) June 9, 2020
“NHK, very much like commercial broadcasting, produces a lot of variety with celebrity guests’ reaction clips. The news program is terrible, there are no journalists and it does not play a role as a public broadcast at all. I’ve been tolerating it for a long time, but the ridiculousness of ‘Now in the World’ has exceeded the limit.”
While we understand @NHK's intent to address complex racial issues in the United States, it's unfortunate that more thought and care didn't go into this video. The caricatures used are offensive and insensitive.
— ジョセフ・M・ヤング 駐日米国臨時代理大使 (@USAmbJapan) June 9, 2020
The clip even prompted beloved tennis star Naomi Osaka to express her bewilderment in a GIF.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) June 8, 2020
Is that even an apology?
The uproar finally forced NHK to remove the video from Twitter, but their apologies are far from sounding sincere. In a subtle twist, very typical of Japanese media caught red-handed, they blamed a “lack of consideration” and “apologized to those who were made to feel uncomfortable.”
Thank you, NHK, for the understatement of the year. Now, let’s talk about the real issue here: how on earth a Japanese broadcaster felt perfectly ok spreading racist stereotypes in a show educating children on the Black Lives Matter movement.
NHK took down that awful video, but disappointing boilerplate apology. They say they received from listeners "criticism that the animation did not accurately represent the reality of the situation, etc." That "etc." is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting.https://t.co/FVq7ZHtwuJ
— Rochelle Kopp (@JapanIntercult) June 9, 2020
— SHIMIZU Akiko（清水晶子） (@akishmz) June 9, 2020
“The example of NHK’s video was deleted with apologies because it was ‘unpleasant,’ but the problem isn’t so much the discomfort, but the inaccurate and discriminatory explanation of the protest against historical structural discrimination. I checked and found this tweet left as is. With such a lack of fundamental understanding, the program ‘Now in the World’ is impossible and should stop.”
(The quoted tweet, from the program’s Twitter account and in relation to the ongoing BLM protests, says “how the division between two ways of thinking is getting deeper and deeper in the U.S.”)
The NHK man ringing our bell while we’re hiding to avoid signing up for the subscription fee used to be a common running joke among foreigners living in Japan. But now more than ever, NHK representatives are not welcomed to knock on our doors, as we may have a thing or two to tell them about racism.
How to talk about Black Lives Matter in Japanese
Black Lives Matter is global and in Japan too, people mobilize to protest police brutality and racism for a better, safer world.
In Japanese, BLM is read ブラック・ライブズ・マター, with the adjunction of 運動 for the word “movement.” Whether you are joining in a protest or having difficult conversations about racism with your Japanese friends, here are some words and phrases you can use.
- 人種差別は許さない : We do not forgive racism
- 黒人の命は守るべきだ: Another way to say “Black lives matter” (literally, “we have a duty to protect Black people”)
- 黒人の命は大切だ: Black lives are precious
- 息ができない: I can’t breathe
- 黒人を愛してあなたが黒人文化を愛するのと同じように: Love Black people like you love Black culture
- 私たちは忘れない: We will not forget. (This expression can also be used to remind us of Black victims’ names. For example, “George Floyd を忘れない“)
- 人種差別は日本でも起きっている: Racial discrimination happens in Japan too
- 平和的なデモ行進: peaceful protest (or march)
- 抗議する: to protest, do a demonstration
- 人種差別: racism
- 制度的人種差別: systemic (or institutional) racism
- 警察の残酷な行為: police brutality
- 片膝をつく: take a knee
Racial discrimination is a problem that is prevalent in all societies and now is the time for all of us to unite, stand up, and use our voice to speak out against injustice.
|Black person, people
|feeling no difference (with something)
|small video clip visible focusing on guests’ reactions during a TV show
|nyuusu no hensei
|koukyouhousou to shite
|as a public broadcaster
|not at all
|kagen ha issen o koeru
|cross a line
|rekishiteki kouwouteki sabetsu
|historical structural discrimination
|bangumi o yameru beki
|The show must stop (be stopped)
|be surprised, shocked