Originally posted June 2004
Bill Parcells, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, recently used the racial slur “Jap” in an interview with reporters. As described in this article, Parcells tried to preface his comments by saying, “Mike wants the defense to do well, and Sean, he’s going to have a few … no disrespect for the Orientals, but what we call Jap plays. OK, surprise things.” To his credit Parcells and the Cowboys organization quickly issued an apology over the remarks.
It’s clear that Parcells’ comments were insensitive and inappropriate and I give him credit for owning up to his mistake. I certainly hope it was sincere and that he’s learned that it’s never appropriate to dehumanize people in that way. At the same time, what struck me most was reading this excerpt in a related article:
Akira Kuboshima, the editor of Japan’s American Football Magazine who was in the room, said he wasn’t offended but believed some people would be. He also said he was surprised more by the reaction of other reporters than the comment. “There is a lot of chance for someone to feel offended,” Kuboshima said. “To me, it was no big deal.”
Excuse me? No big deal? At first, I was shocked to read that this Japanese reporter who heard Parcells’ comments firsthand was not offended. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that unfortunately, it’s not that surprising after all. That is, this Japanese reporter’s reaction (or lack thereof) is a perfect example of how Asians are not the same as Asian Americans. He probably has little understanding of Japanese American history, their imprisonment during World War II, and the context of these racial slurs that are still being used against Japanese Americans.
Also, this reporter lives in a country that has a well-remembered history of brutally oppressing its Asian neighbors during World War II — remembered by everyone except the Japanese themselves, of course, who continue to treat their actions during World War II as basically “no big deal” — there’s that term again. Japan also has a well-documented history of past and continuing discrimination against its citizens of Korean ancestry and of its Ainu and Okinawan ethnic minority groups.
I’m not saying that all Japanese are insensitive to these prejudices and discrimination in their own backyard. However, in many ways, much of Japanese society can learn a thing or two about owning up to their misdeeds and recognizing that their actions can be seen as insensitive and discriminatory by racial/ethnic minorities. Maybe this is the story that the Japanese reporter should write about.