Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a movement which began in United States in 2013, in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black 17-year-old high school student. The United States has been plagued with anti-Black racism and abuse since the nation's founding. In recent weeks, the unjust murders of Black people including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade has caused BLM protests to take place, not only in the U.S. but all around the world. Here in Japan, protests were held in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto and the Japanese media has also been reporting about the situation in the United States.
However, in Japan, it is still uncommon to discuss the issue surrounding racism. Many Japanese people believe that the issue of racism against the black community is an issue seen only in the US and not in Japan. Furthermore, people sometimes make racist comments without knowing the effect their words have on certain communities. In order to raise awareness of the situation in the US and racism in Japan, I wanted to introduce a friend who took action to do her part in the BLM movement.
I had the opportunity to interview Suzu Kitayama, a senior at the International Christian University, who was among of the first people around me to advocate for BLM and raised awareness through her social media. She added Japanese translations to a video on YouTube posted by Cut called Black Parents Explain How To Deal With The Police. One of the issues in Japan is that, although resources on BLM are flooding into our social media feeds, not many can understand them. Suzu and her friends made this video available for Japanese speakers and it was shared by famous influencers, earning over 150,000 views on Instagram. One of the main reasons I wanted to interview Suzu was to share her story on why she decided to take action and inspire others to speak up!
1) Can you tell us about your background growing up? I know there are a lot of people who feel like racism is not an issue in Japan, so I also want to know your thoughts on that.
I was born in Japan but spent 11 years going back and forth between the Netherlands and the US from second grade to the end of high school. The experience in foreign countries made me think about "race" a lot, especially about myself as an Asian. I myself have been offended for being an Asian multiple times, and they were definitely not pleasant moments. But because I have had such experiences, and because some good friends of mine are black, "Black Lives Matter" was not an issue I could just ignore. Many people living in Japan may think it is not a topic of their concern, but I wanted everyone to know that racism for sure does exist in Japan more than they think. For example, Japanese people have an unconsciously stereotype of halfies—that all of them must be good-looking and that they all speak English. Unconscious racism, often against Chinese people or Southeast Asian people, exists as well. Thus "Black Lives Matter" is not just an American issue, but it is also something Japanese people must think about to try and change their own behaviors and their own society.
2) What made you decide to create the translation for the Black Parents Explain How To Deal With The Police video?
I thought the awareness of "Black Lives Matter" in Japan was surprisingly low. I am judging only from how active people were on SNS, so this may not be accurate and I'm not saying people have to speak up on SNS. But In comparison to how active my friends in America and ICU were regarding the issue, I thought Japanese people were way too ignorant. And I thought one of the reasons was the language barrier. Almost all BLM content were in English, so if they cannot speak the language, they would not spend their time watching the videos or reading the articles, they would just ignore them. So I decided to create Japanese subtitles with my friends. The video we translated was one of the most impactful ones I had watched. We just wanted to make opportunities for Japanese people to first understand the reality and importance of "Black Lives Matter".
I'm so glad that I was able to chat with Suzu and share her voice here on Her Campus ICU. We have a wide range of readers and followers so hopefully, this article will impact others to do what they can. At HCICU we plan to offer resources in Japanese and create to continue to speak out about BLM. BLM is not a social media trend that will gradually disappear but it is a movement that must continue on until the Black community gets justice.
Watch Suzu's translation here!