Tonight I went out with J. to one of my favorite restaurants where I usually have no problem being served. In fact, this restaurant has gone out of its way to make certain I am comfortable in the past. But I've never gone there with a Japanese man before. I have only gone with female friends and co-workers of mine. I say this because the waitress at first refused to serve me, though she didn't do this directly. I wouldn't have thought twice about it to be honest (because I've had problems in the past regarding food issues). The way she went about saying that there was no way to serve any food to me because everything had wheat or soy sauce in it is quite possible in most Japanese restaurants, but since I've eaten there four times before and they've confirmed that the food is safe I thought that was sort of weird. J. immediately felt something was odd about this exchange and when she walked away he said, "I think she's refusing to serve us because we're together here on a date". He has never ever said anything like this before and he's not quick to jump on discrimination charges against his fellow Okinawans/Japanese. He doesn't usually sense this kind of thing, but he felt something in the way she was acting and he said to me, "I think she's jealous of you" and "I think she doesn't like us being together".
Afterwards she was really quite cool/cold to both of us, even after I thanked her for her help so I think he was right in his observation.
While this treatment was atypical for Japanese restaurant experience (again, this is basically the first time this has happened to us or to me and I don't think it's something that normally happens), I started thinking about what it means to discriminate against another human being based on their physical or cultural differences or because what they stand for is threatening to your own belief system.
I bring this up because a fellow former JET, Miki Dezaki has been under attack online due to a lesson he taught in his class in Okinawa last summer before he left. Though I think his video is simplistic in some ways (I don't think you can teach this topic in one class unfortunately), I do think it's important he raised it.
The question that's been raised on the Youtube video and the comments section of the Washington Post article is, "Why is an ESL teacher being allowed to teach these lessons in the schools?" But I think people don't completely understand that we're here to teach no only ESL but also cultural studies. Some JETs even have Cultural Studies classes at some of the high schools. That being said, I wonder really what the repercussion will be for those of us teaching ESL via JET after this. I think with enough pressure, the Okinawan BOE officials will have to take a stance against this video unfortunately. Though I do think that most Okinawan people probably agree with the fact that there is ongoing discrimination against them. I hope some of those people who might agree with at least the concept of this topic being discussed might stand up and at least suggest that this be addressed, even if it should be address in a different format other than on a youtube video channel.
It's a difficult topic that should be discussed. The most important topics are often the hardest to approach.
It's also something that Americans need to start to honestly approach within our own culture. America is hardly a country that is the pinnacle of equality.
But that's for another post...