So, I found an awesome blog yesterday, and I spent some time reading through the recent posts (the blog is called Stuff White People Do, and it’s made of awesome READ NAO. Um. The posts are very insightful and often accompanied by even more insightful quotes. This guy, he’s like a quote-magician *salutes*).
Anyway, what caught my attention was this post about the unfair portrayal of white people by Japanese media.
FRANCA’s reaction was thus:
* 1) The character speaks broken accented Japanese (using the katakana script, one used for foreign loanwords). The impression given is that Caucasians cannot speak Japanese properly, which is simply not true for the vast numbers of non-native (and Japanese-native) foreigners in Japan.
OMG SOMEONE DARED TO PORTRAY WHITE PEOPLE AS BEING LESS THAN PERFECT SEMI-GODS THEY’RE NORMALLY PORTRAYED AS IN JAPANESE MEDIA OPPRESSIOOOOOOON!1!!!
For real, though. Mr. James’ accent is actually quite good, you dunderheads. Also, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with speaking with accent. They’re alienating a whole bunch of foreigners who actually WILL NEVER learn to pronounce Japanese perfectly.
There are people like that.
There are people who don’t have perfect pronunciation in all sorts of foreign languages, for fuck’s sake, and they’re being treated as if they were some sort of inferior immigrant person or what not.
(Seriously, this is biased anecdotal evidence, but: I know a USian guy who’s been living in Japan for 9 years, and was only able to learn really really basic stuff, BUT THERE’S NOTHING INTRINSICALLY WRONG WITH THAT. You can not learn if you don’t want to. You might miss out on a lot of fun that way, but so what, it’s none of my and other people’s business, and it doesn’t make you an inferior person. In the end, this guy’s Japanese wife learned English, and everybody was happy.
In fact, I know a whole bunch of USians who have less than perfect pronunciation, despite having lived in Japan for years. This is because some people just ARE NOT ABLE to learn the perfect pronunciation, and some people don’t care, and finally, because English and Japanese sounds are completely different, native English speakers are at a disadvantage from the very start.
I’m only talking about USians because US is a big country, and there’re a lot of them immigrating to Japan, not because they’re worse or better than other foreigners here, of course.
I’m not saying my pronunciation is perfect either. Of course it’s not. For real, people.
I only know one person whose pronunciation is seriously 100% perfect. She’s awesome, and Thai, and I want to smuggle her to Europe, so, darling, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that we can totally gay- marry in Germany, so you won’t have any problems with your visa or something <3)
* 2) The character is called “Mr. James” (again, in katakana), promoting the stereotype that foreigners must be called by their first names only (standard Japanese etiquette demands that adults be called “last name plus -san”), undoing progress we have made for equal treatment under Japanese societal rules.
Nope, sweetums, not “foreigners”, it’s USians who “have to” be called by their names. At least get your stereotypes right.
However, nobody calls foreigners by their first names just so. In fact, I have to use my first name, because my family name 1) is terribly long, 2) has a lot of consonant clusters, which are difficult to pronounce for the Japanese who end up inserting extra vowels between the consonants, and my family names gets even longer and even more impossible to pronounce. However, everybody just ends up thinking that “Sara” is my family name, and they are usually quite surprised to learn that it’s not. Also, nobody will address you with your name instead of family name without your express permission.
* 3) The image used, of a clumsy sycophantic “nerd” for this Caucasian customer, is embarrassing to Caucasians who will have to live in Japan under this image.
Also, I’m Caucasian and I don’t feel offended at all. I wonder why? Is it the lack of entitlement? Well, relative, anyway.
FRANCA makes accusations of oppression and racism, and in the process manages to make clear that for them 1) speaking with a foreign accent is a bad thing – and let’s face it, most JSL learners, like most foreign language learners, WILL NOT SPEAK WITH PERFECT KYOUTSUUGO/perfect standard accent of their new home country PRONUNCIATION EVER***, also this sort of attitudes only foster a creepy standard language ideology, which, no, thank you, or, in Japanese, 御苦労様でした, 2) being a nerd is a bad thing, thus alienating a large part of their potential membership base, 3) a foreigner = white USian, because, seriously, whenever they say “every foreigner” the statement can only be more or less correct if the foreigner is a) white, b) USian, and possibly c) male.
That is of course not to say that there aren’t problems with the treatment of foreigners and naturalised citizens in Japan. There are. However, precisely because FRANCA chose such a poor example of alleged “oppression”, the future real problems might well be ignored.
Also, where’s FRANCA when Chinese and Korean people are constantly portrayed in negative light, ridiculed and villified? For example, there’s a quite old stereotype about the Chinese not being able to learn the polite forms, so in books and comics (well, rather on the more lowbrow side) their dialogs will often end with aru (plain = not polite form of the verb “to be”), regardless of whether it makes grammatically and/or semantically any sense in the context. This is clearly racist, why isn’t FRANCA protesting that?
Because poor woobie white people aren’t made fun of? Oh, my.
* There are many degrees of politeness, actually. I could go on and on about that, so I’ll just stop now.
** Read the Wikipedia entry. It’s got some seriously bizarre quotes.
*** There’s actually solid, scientific research that proves that. Statistically, language proficiency is correlated with the age at which you started learning. Therefore, most people who haven’t started learning a language before their teens, have small chances of having perfect native-like pronunciation and grammar. This is not to say that people shouldn’t make the effort, or that they can’t learn anyway. This is a statistical thing, and of course, a lot depends on the amount of work you put into learning.
I’d like to say that my English and German are cool anyway, but unfortunately, I started learning when I was about four and five, respectively.
Meanwhile, my French pronunciation laesst zu wunschen uebrig, and lo, I started learning French when I was 16 or so.
I’d write in which book you can read moar about that sort of stuff, but unfortunately, I shipped my books overseas earlier today =_=.
**** There’s one positive thing about Axis Powers Hetalia (and no, it’s not cute Nazis in their cute uniforms *retches*).
Poland is a cross dresser. WIN!