Baye is a good guy and has been kind and encouraging to me since I joined the Japan blogosphere. I'm so excited for him that he's just published his first book, and believe me when I say, it's good. I'm a tough critic. I don't give praise for these types of things lightly, but I believe Baye's book is worth it.
Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist, a perhaps seemingly controversial book title, takes a look at his life journey from New York City to Japan, and the many events in between, and examines how racism and culture have played out in his life in each place. Although rather than complain or criticize those around him, he turns the tables towards himself. He's honest about the mistakes and choices he's made. It's raw. This guy has really lived life.
As he goes through the scenes of his life, it might make you feel uncomfortable at times. But that, I think, is what makes this book worth reading. Change doesn't occur when we're comfortable, and I think Baye is on to something with that.
No, it's not really just about living in Japan, although parts of the book are about Baye's life here. But the topic is a good one and I certainly thought it was worth my
|Baye McNeil, aka "Loco"|
Ashley: First of all, what brought you to Japan, how long have you been here, and what do you do?
Baye: I came to Japan for a number of reasons, but I think primarily it was to escape from New York. Like many Americans, and in particular us New Yorkers, I think I was traumatized by the events of 9/11. I watched it unfold from a rather close distance and could see the collapse of the towers from my rooftop, as well as the fighter jets shooting by overhead. But, not only that, it was all of that post- 9/11 foolishness. The practical police/military state NYC had become. Armed soldiers on the streets, on the bridges and tunnels and bus stations and subways. It was creepy.
So when a good friend of mine invited me to come stay with him for a couple of weeks here in Japan, I jumped all over it and had such a great time without this literal cloud over me (the actual fumes and smoke from the twin towers lingered for a long time…walking around inhaling the cremated remains of people and god knows what other chemicals went into the construction of the towers and whatnot) was like arriving in St. Lucia on a direct flight from Antarctica. Naturally, I became enchanted. If he lived in Malaysia I’d probably be Loco in Kuala Lumpur instead of Loco in Yokohama. Any place was better than NY. I needed to get away!
Eight years later, I’m still away, still here…and still not particularly eager to go back. I’m an English teacher at a couple of junior high schools in Yokohama. I like it; I like the kids and co-workers, but basically it pays the bills while I try to get my writing career up and running.
Ashley: Going straight to the title of your book - You're a racist? What's that all about?
Baye: It’s about my thoughts, feelings and behavior towards Japanese people; particularly the ones I don’t know. The Japanese people I do know, like people anywhere, range from fairly tolerable to the salt-of-the-earth. But, unfortunately, as is the case everywhere, the majority of the people I encounter on a daily basis I don’t know, and will never know. And for these people, as a result of a rather high number of incidents, both great and small, of a nature that has made me feel on too many occasions dehumanized, ostracized, criminalized, demoralized (and a number of other “izes”), I have developed an unhealthy degree of animosity, disgust, distrust and borderline hatred for these anonymous people.
These feelings have not come about as a result of my ignorance of Japanese people and culture -- as is often the case with many racists -- but as a result of offenses (whether intentional or not) I’ve experienced directly. And although these instances continue on a daily basis and are committed by a relatively miniscule amount of the populace of this fine country, I nonetheless retain these feelings. This book is about how I acquired them, manage them, do battle with them, and remain hopeful of overcoming them.
Ashley: This reminds me of something I learned in a Psychology class in college -- we all (myself included) have biases, whether they are towards race, age, gender, weight, religion, etc. We're either not aware of them or we just never talk about it. We (my academic peers and I) had the chance to take an Implicit Association Test to see if any of the tests uncovered any hidden beliefs we had in one of those areas (despite a few flaws as to be expected with most tests, I recommend anyone reading to take one or more and see what happens).
Do you think this goes along with your line of thinking -- that we're either "shit kickers," "posers," or "oblivious," as you describe in your book? Do you believe your definitions of racists also apply (or can apply) to other discrimination types?
Baye: I’m not sure… Most of the psychological tests I’ve encountered and taken have been biased themselves, or begin with questions with dubious orientation and premises. For example, asking someone who has lived any number of years in most places on this planet whether they prefer whites or blacks, with the amount of Europeanization (and black dehumanization) we’ve all suffered for generations upon generations, is like asking male prisoners locked away in penitentiaries for upwards of twenty years whether they’d prefer prison guards to be male or female (mild exaggeration, very mild…)
Ashley: What do you feel are the main differences and/or similarities within the context of "racism" between the US and Japan, at least, from the locations you have spent time in?
Baye: Difficult question. As I mentioned, I’m from New York City and I really think of NY as a little country unto itself. There’s a culture in NY that is unique. Not to say that there isn’t racism, racial intolerance or racial discrimination in NY. There most certainly is. But, at least over the course of my life time, I’ve seen New York sort of evolve into a place where attitudes of the kind you encounter here in Japan, for instance, are becoming intolerable.
I can’t say this is true for the rest of the US. There are places in the US as “homogenous” and isolated as Japan imagines it is. A Chinese person in Idaho, an Indian in Indiana, a Japanese person in Alabama…they all might experience life much differently than they would in NY, where Chinese, Indians and Japanese do not stand out, and the ignorance of the respect, tolerance and acceptance level that ALL people, regardless of skin color or background, are entitled to is less of a factor in their lives. So, I have difficulty answering that question…sorry.
I will say this, though. I think that a great deal of the racist attitudes one might encounter in the US would be from people who actually think of the old days as the “good ole days.” In other words, it’s about power. Maybe there is a human need to class off, or to “look up to” and “look down on” other people, for a number of reasons, race, gender, sexual orientation, weight, age, etc… and maybe “different” is inherently a threat… but until we get to the point, as a species, where we can evolve beyond the incessant need to do such things, we’ll always be looking over the cliff into the abyss.
Ashley: Do you believe that racism (or any other type of discrimination) is something individuals can overcome through time, understanding, or other means?
Baye: I sincerely hope so. As the greatest writer I know, James Baldwin, once said, when asked a very similar question, “I cannot be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means you’ve agreed that human life is an academic matter. So I am forced to be an optimist; I’m forced to believe we can survive!” (No pun intended.)
To me, to believe that racism will persist as long as humans do is to be pessimistic. I mean, this whole idea of race, especially in the US and Europe, was basically created to rationalize and justify crimes against black humanity, like the European slave trade. So, if it was manmade, I don’t see why we can’t un-make it, or make something new that makes it obsolete, the way the automobile made the horse and buggy obsolete. And I believe we’re on that path.
This book, I hope, will just help people of all nations move a little closer to where we need to be and a little further from where we have regrettably gone. So, I guess my answer is, in the words of another great thinker, “Yes We Can.”
Ashley: Most foreigners living in Japan deal with racism and the "being different" factor to some degree, although we all experience it in different ways, positive or negative, light to extreme. How has racism played out in your life specifically and affected you, as an African-American man, living here in Japan?
Baye: Not much…or I should say, I’m not positively sure how much it has.
One of the conclusions I’ve come to living here in Japan is one that may seem a bit obvious but yet still took me a while to accept. That is, I don’t know what the hell people are thinking here or anywhere. Why the table beside me in that café remains empty, or that seat beside me on the train. Why that woman clutched her handbag and turned away, or the man who ran away to the next car after taking a look at me, or why the happy group of revelers about to board an elevator I’m already aboard suddenly become subdued and decline to board…
These people? I have no idea what’s going through their individual minds… I just hate the behavior resulting from these thoughts. I hate the way it makes me feel about them, and about myself. This book is not about Japanese racism. It’s about my own! Because if I can learn to love people who behave this way, then I believe I can do anything I set my mind and heart to, and thus I have undertaken this task.
Ashley: What advice do you have for foreigners living in Japan who might be experiencing similar discrimination to what you have encountered?
Baye: I have not been the victim of racial discrimination here in Japan. I think I should make that clear. The name of this book is not: “Hi! My name is Loco and the Japanese are racists.” In fact, I’ve only been discriminated against ONCE in my eight years here. By this I mean blatant Jim Crow-style discrimination of the sort my parents endured: refused service or entry or employment or housing, etc…only ONCE! (Which you can read about in the book.)
Of course, others may have a great deal more to say in this area than I do. I’m kind of a hermit. I spend a lot of time writing so I don’t go out very much. Maybe if I did I would have experienced more of this discrimination that I hear about. I’m kind of glad I haven’t. Sometimes when I hear the phrase racial discrimination tossed around, it’s being used in a way that’s not so much wrong as it is a way I wouldn’t use it. For example, if some Japanese person tells me, “sorry, no speak English,” when I’m speaking Japanese to them, that is not what I would call discrimination. But I’ve heard it labeled as such. However, based on the behavior I’ve seen from our hosts, and extended conversations I’ve had with friends and students over the years, I find it entirely plausible that a there’s a lot of discrimination going on and some of it is likely racially related.
But, actually, the form of racism I’ve seen in Japan that I find even more disturbing is the brand being dispensed by the foreigners living here. They prompted me to check myself and write this book as much as the Japanese have! I’m talking about the people who willfully go out of their way to protect, defend, and justify the ignorance encountered here. I won’t elaborate on these people here, but I do so in the book. So, my advice to people living in Japan, for what it’s worth, is this: before you call Japanese people out on what you might interpret as their racist ways, check yourself first! Ask yourself these tough questions about race that I’m attempting to address in this interview and in my book. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone… or something like that. I’m not a Christian, but the Bible is full of truths.
Ashley: What's next for Loco? Another book? Staying in Japan or any plans to eventually return to the States?
Baye: Yep, another book, and then another, and another… Staying in Japan? Nah! Think I’ve gotten about as much out of the experience as I can (take). (-;
But, that’s not to say I won’t keep a place here if I’m ever rich enough to do so. I really love this country. And it has been very, very good to me in many ways.
Ashley: Finally, what are your best "living in Japan" tips for SiJ readers?
a) Learn enough Japanese to get by. If you can, for example, arrange a shipment of packages to your house over the phone (like I did the other day when I received my books) then you can probably survive without being dependent on your Japanese friends too much.
b) Work on your smile. It opens a lot of doors here. But I guess that’s true everywhere…
c) Get a Mamachari. I bought a mountain bike last year and now I miss my basket and not worrying about anyone stealing it so much.
d) Get point cards. Most businesses offer them and they can save you BUNDLES! And also snatch up magazines like Hot Pepper and such. They contain deals galore!
e) Don’t believe everything people living here tell you will definitely apply to you as well. Experiences here vary like mileage on cars.
Baye: Ashley, thank you so much for having me! You, my dear, rock! I appreciate you asking tough questions. The better for your readers to get to know what I’m about and also shows the kind of person you are. You know? I mean, you could have Jay Leno’d me but instead you Charlie Rose’d me LOL! It’s been a real pleasure.
Ashley: Aw, thank you! And thanks so much for taking the time to give us such thought-provoking answers. We wish you the very best success with your book and your writing career!
You can find Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist on Amazon in eBook or paperback format. Check out more about the book at Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist. To check out more of Baye's adventures in Japan, head over to Loco in Yokohama.