Strategic solidarity: Japanese imaginings of Blacks and race in popular media
Atsushi TAJIMA and Michael THORNTON
ABSTRACT By the 20th century, Black intellectuals envisioned Japan as a beacon of their own possibilities. Japanese perceptions of this bond are typically implicitly assumed in most research on the subject. In this essay we argue that Japan saw Black America as a symbol of strategic not substantive solidarity. With its entrance onto the international scene in the 19th century, Japan encountered an international racial hierarchy, and struggled in formulating an emergent self-identity that would allow it to rationalize its rightful place along-side white Western powers. On the eve of WWII, Japan’s national/racial identity is a complex set of influences: a merging of its own indigenous perceptions of race, an importation of outside racial ideology, and contextual needs linked to still trying to insert itself as an equal to Western powers.
KEYWORDS: Japan; race relations; African Americans; national identity; racial resistance; mass media
Atsushi Tajima (Ph.D., Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the State University of New York at Geneseo. His research interests include the mass media in various global contexts, race and ethnicity, gender, representations, and cultural studies. Current research projects explore depiction of inter-racial relationships in newspapers, representation of motherhood in popular media, and roles of journalism in disasters.
Michael C. Thornton is a professor of Afro-American Studies, Asian American Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research highlights perceptions and interactions among people of color in the United States. Current research projects examine the influence a belief in a colorblind era in the United States has on how English-language international, African American and Asian American presses depict the parents of multiracial “super stars” such as Tiger Woods and Obama; and African American and Black Caribbean feelings of closeness toward each other and the influence of experiences with discrimination on that relationship.