In Cleveland Ohio there is a place called The African-American Museum. In it there is a hall of stereotypes it’s mostly old Americana: Bucktooth kids black-as-coal eating watermelon, iron banks featuring a bizarre hybrid of man and monkey (indented to be a back man, I guess) who will put a penny in his big black mouth when you push the lever. All of these monstrosities are old and worn, part of a dead age that needed myths of racial inferiority to keep the guilt for keeping slaves from rising up. It’s comforting to look and laugh and know that that day is gone.

Well, not quite. I just discovered the wonderful world of anime. Some fantastic animation and even movies with a political consciousness on occasion (like Night of the Fireflies) but on some I’ve come across those old images. Coonfaced niggers just like in the bad old days, hulking black women who don’t seem like women at all, a short-witted character with misshapen nappy hair. What is going on!

Now it’s especially peculiar if you consider the fact that there are almost no black people in Japan. There’s no slave trade that needs justifying. In fact, most anime has almost no black characters at all. (and that seems about right considering that people make stories about what they know.) How then did fragments of this old American myth of the dark, stupid, muscular, sub-human savages make it over the pacific?

Maybe it has something to do with Japan’s effort to become a western-style world power during world war I and II. My theory is that the western stereotypes were imported during that time and never really left.

Maybe if Japanese people had more opportunities to meet real black people there'd be more understanding. It could help all us black folks out too. Until I was about 8 I though that people from Japan were all named ‘Chang’ and had were glasses because there eyes were so slanty. (And Chang is a Chinese name anyway, WFT?!) But after travelling at bit I purged all that crap from my system. I bet I picked up my racist stereotypes from the lingering residue of WWII propaganda in America.

I’ve sent some stills from the anime to the African American Museum in Cleveland for the hall of stereotypes. May they collect dust.

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