"Racism on TV?"

Last night’s Japanese television came as a bit of a shock, leaving me questioning “was it racism or just a lack of political correctness that we’re used to in Western media?”

Bobby Orogon, the boxing comedian, was on a “variety show” and a secret camera had filmed him behind the scenes, talking about stock investments. That was all fine until one of the presenters (also a comedian) said “I just found it funny that you were doing stocks. I thought you only eat bananas and harvest corn.” Everyone laughed and no one seemed to care. Bobby was then compared to Billy Blanks (of Boot Camp fame) as obviously, being the only other black person on Japanese TV, they must be comparable.Bobby OrogonTelevision personality Bobby Orogon

In western media, to say that a black person should only eat bananas and harvest would cause outrage. However, Japan has no history of black slavery and perhaps there just isn’t the need for the level of political correctness that is required in the western world? Either way, it was shocking to see this said on national TV and interesting to note that it was not seen as a racist comment but as a joke. With growing numbers of immigration in Japan, will the media be forced to level up to the political correctness required in the West?

Other posts by Anna:


its not raicist, its true! he only eats bananas! but he doesnt know how to harvest corn.

Orogon is a lot smarter in real life than he appears on TV and his character is something that plays to what is expected from him of the Japanese audience. He merely uses the ignorance of these folk to entertain.
Comedy is comedy because it challenges correctness and dares to break Taboos. Some people enjoy comedy for its subtlities in expressing the taboo where as others see comedy as straight out slap-stick.
In Japan its a rather non sophisticated(?) laugh-and-forget-it kinda humour which thrives on humiliating people. If you compare this to what some ofthe other comedians subject themselves to you can see its actually quite normal in Japanese comedy to tease others if they are Fat, short, or whatever.

Is Racism funny? Hell yeah! is it appropriate?? well you be the judge, you are tuning in to watch it!

Might be interesting to add that Bobby is a naturalized Japanese citizen.

whats my point? my point is that many perceptions are inherently based on culture. And what maybe quickly labelled as racism by PC culture prevalent in the West is not considered such an abhorrence here in Japan.

If you have to stop to explain to a whole nation that an idea is wrong and should not be used in public then that surely tells us we are merely perceiving things from a different standpoint ...and even if you feel you are "right" you are already fighting an upward battle. 1 vs 120mill??

Remarks can be racist by definition so we can say then that racism is highly tolerated in Japan, in fact is part of mainstream media and politics. (just take some of Ishihara Shintaros quotes for a start!)

forgive my lack of directness, but if you are in Japan you better get used to it.

mainstream maybe, but that doesnt make it right, silly. weell, i guess the kind of country in which racist humor is an acceptable part of the mainstream is just the kind of country thats never gonna get that badly wanted un security council seat. no great loss, anyway. by the way, forgive my directness, but i thnk u been in japan too long.

I hope Japan never adopts the political-correctness nonsense that is so prevalent in the US -- where people are more outraged by a joke or offhand comment that even "references" race, than they are about the fact that thousands of black men have been wrongly convicted of crimes and imprisoned based on coerced confessions and eyewitness errors based largely on race!

I remember (one case in a thousand) when the cops "obtained confessions" from four young black men regarding a brutal rape in Central Park, and the media coined the term "wilding," and it was all over the news. And when it later turned out that it was a single white man, there was NO outrage, or even significant questions, about the coerced confessions.

Look, Americans are ONLY offended by race-related jokes. They aren't offended AT ALL by real, brutal racism.

You might want to look into the kotobagari phenomenon and how that's worked into the Japanese language.

Do you have a link to it?

Let us analyse this comedian's statement.

“I just found it funny that you were doing stocks. I thought you only eat bananas and harvest corn.”

The whole statement equates colour of someone's skin, or their origin, with intelligence. The first part implies that a black man has no place in business. A popular opinion held in Japanese business that makes it notoriously difficult for black businessmen dealing with Japan.

The second bit about bananas is likening black people to monkeys. Which in turn is implying that black people are sub-human with sub-human intelligence.

The last part adds insult to injury by stating that black people do not understand the complexity of the stock exchange, only corn farming.

You are insulting someone's intelligence and their complexity due to their origins and/ or their appearance? Then that is prejudice. If it is based on their colour or race, then it is RACISM! It is not political correctness and Japanese history does not affect this matter. Just ask anyone who is affected by racism in Japan.

And the statement by gman just makes my blood boil! Should the black people in USA gotten used to slavery and lynching mobs because it was "part of the mainstream"? Should a black football player get used to the monkey chants in Spanish stadiums because the whole crowd are doing it? Your statements are very dangerous and is the kind that puts Japan far behind other countries in terms of EQUALITY FOR ALL!

Tomo has put it so well. I wish I could articulate my feelings about the comments made as well as he has. I just wanted to say that the Japanese media is either ignorant or arrogant to think that a comment like that would be acceptable. This kind of leniency in the media (is there a watchdog in Japan?) merely perpetuates racist attitudes and ignorant thinking and I for one am glad I live in a country where there is no way a comment like that made on television would be acceptable in any way, shape or form.

Let's stop making excuses for Japan.

Thank you.

Quite frankly, I don't know what to make of this. In the US, you have black comedians calling themselves ni**ers and this and that, no one says anything because they are included in the package. Now if someone who is not black says it, there's an uproar and it's almost as if the earth has spun off its axis. If these comments are made jokingly and in a controlled setting, I think pointing out each other's cultural differences can be funny sometimes. I'm pretty sure Bobby could've replied something like "aren't you supposed to be eating rice" or something like that and it would've been fine. In my opinion, you just have to know when and where to say these things.

These racial issues have gone out of control in certain countries, namely the US, where you can't even say "black man" anymore without offending someone. Some people have taken the "racist" label as a tool to get excuses and reparation money from others. I for one hope Japan avoids this pitfall.

this is nothing more than "compliant" racism. bobby is the butt of the joke (usually is) and all is fine and dandy according to gman. right? WRONG!

i worked in the tv biz in japan for about 5-years. my last gig (since i was blocked by the network to appear on other shows) was spent with bobby. the two of us spent countless hours debating the tv taboos for african/african american men in japan. i present facts, history, information on cross-cultural awareness and yada yada yada. what does it mean to bobby? not a damn thing. he wants to get paid so he will continue to be the clown in order to put yen in the bank. i on the other hand want a positive portrayal for black/africans/african-americans. my premise is that you can be funny but do not sell out! have some frickin' pride and dignity. what would your kids think?

anyway, comedy is comedy until it is used to degrade and continue the racist stereotypes of certain groups of people. people of color/the gai(koku)jin can catch enough crap from the politicians (ishihara, nakasone, mori, other), the media, the MOJ, and other organizations that should have a clue.

i left japan last year in order to finish my masters in national security affairs (far east asia). i speak a few asian languages and have a pretty solid background and wealth of experience in asia via the us military, us government civilian, and japanese private sectors. i for one will be damned if i should let things like this slide. i complain (via email and telephone) to the various outlets in japan. via the assistance of The Community, japanese companies pulled their tv commercials and apologized for racist remarks and images (mandam oil blotting paper for men, tokyo gov earthquake pamphlet, other) put in print and on air. i also complain on the crap i see here in the usa.

racial issues and images have been out of control in japan for a very long time, just ask those complaining about the new immigration procedures. those that do not have to put up with the bs or "burden" of driving/walking/talking/breathing while black my need to step back and understand that it is not about offending but about amending things that are wrong. i equate this to a white male "salaryman" in japan being pulled over by the tokyo metro police during an "routine" id check. most likely the guy will get ticked off for being profiled. if not, wait until it happens a few dozen times or better yet, appears on national television.

@ richard: why throw reparations into this conversation? stay in the closet with the "offensive" and "racist" remarks. since when are bananas for blacks and rice for japanese considered a frickin' cultural difference. change hats, the one you're wearing seems pointy. tomo, angela, and others got it right the first time.

How can Imada Koji get away with this? (was him right?) He would have been arrested in some other countries but not a mention of it in Japanese media (apart from Anna of course)! Japan needs to abide by the same rules as everybody else if they want to be Internationalist. As a Japanese person traveling abroad often, I would hate to get treated in the same way that some foreigners get treated here (and I don't mean by foreigners, white Europeans / Americans so much as Chinese, SE Asians, Africans etc). And it isn't just political correctness to be anti-racist (political correctness has such negative undertones). Racism, however small it may appear, hurts society as a whole. Blatant racism on television will reaffirm prejudiced views of the viewer. Racism is plain wrong (and no amount of N-word arguments is going to change this matter).

Like Angela said, we must stop making excuses for Japan. Japan must escape this spiral of prejudice and to do that, Japanese Media needs to take the lead.

I welcome the comments of Afro Eric, Tomo & Angela et al. However It is important to realise that this incident is just the tip of the iceberg and offers to justify the racist attitutes foreign residents face everyday in Japan. On a personal basis I know from experience that I can sit on a crowded train every morning and nobody will sit next to me, I get paid 1/2 the amount of my Japanese colleagues & I don`t get the bonuses they get. I am constantly overlooked in the line at the bakers, spoken to abruptly by the JR staff, have been sat at the back of a restaurant, have had people sitting near me ask to be moved, my in laws have refused to ever meet me because I am not Japanese and even my stepdaughter has asked me to leave the house when her friends call.
This isn`t paranoia, it is a very real issue to which some people expect us to just laugh it off or accomodate the stupidity behind it.
These things wouldn`t be so serious if there were racism laws in Japan and no neo-nazi demonstrations outside train stations on a daily basis.
The real worrying thing is that the Japanese don`t even have a concept of racism and have little idea that they are being offensive.
Thank you.