A Statement by Scholars of American Studies Regarding the NHK Program “Kore-de- wakatta Sekai-no-ima” (Aired on June 7, 2020) and Related Social Media Posts

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June 12, 2020

We the undersigned scholars of American Studies based in Japan, the United States, and elsewhere write to express our strong objections to the highly problematic content aired in the June 7, 2020 episode of “Kore-de-wakatta Sekai-no-ima” (hereafter “Sekai-no-ima”) and the computer animation clip posted on Twitter. We hereby request that the NHK publicly share its understanding of the problems with the show, conduct a full investigation of how the issues came about, and implement remedial measures to prevent similar issues in the future.

 

The 26-minute segment titled “Kakudai-suru kogi-demo: Amerika de ima naniga” in the June 7 episode of “Sekai-no-ima” covered the background for the demonstrations that have grown throughout the United States since late May 2020 in protest against police violence and racial discrimination. The show explained that the recent incident of police violence was driven by “whites’ fear of blacks” and that the people’s “frustrations” underlying the current large-scale demonstrations are exacerbating the “divisions” between the Right and the Left in American society. The computer animation clip explicating “black-white wealth inequality” used in the show and later posted on Twitter generated strong criticisms for its racially offensive representations; NHK issued an “apology” and deleted the post on June 9.

 

We find profound flaws in the show’s content and NHK’s subsequent handling of the matter in helping the viewers’ understanding of what is currently unfolding in the United States. Without clearly articulating what was wrong with the show, NHK issued an “apology” to “everyone who was offended” for “lacking proper consideration,” suspended the streaming of the show, and deleted the Tweet of the animation clip. The “apology” makes absolutely no reference to what it meant by “lacking proper consideration” and what was offensive about the show’s content. The problems manifest in the show and the animation clip are symptomatic of the many issues often seen in the Japanese coverage of “race,” especially “blacks” and “African Americans,” and they should not be trivialized by ascribing its offensiveness to the viewers’ subjective responses to the show. We understand these issues to be not only a matter of this particular program but prevalent among the Japanese media coverage of the protest movements demanding social justice. Outlined below are the issues we find in the show’s content and the subsequent Tweet.

 

First, as many have already pointed out, the portrayals in the animation clip reinforce the existing stereotypes of African Americans and violate their dignity. This is simply unacceptable. In the clip, African Americans are represented in the form of a male figure with a hyper-muscular body and crude vernacular. His facial expressions and manners of speech make him appear as if he was unable to control his rage. Such a representation is a classic stereotype that portrays African Americans as "scary," "threatening" and "hyper sexualized" men, and historically such stereotypes have been used to justify the killings of African Americans by lynching and police violence (1). Some protestors in the demonstrations carry signs that read "I am not a threat," calling attention to the fact that, by simply walking down

the streets, African Americans today can be seen as a "threat” and be interrogated, assaulted, and even killed (2). Yet the animation clip links black masculinity with aggression and unbridled emotion, betraying a biased understanding of race and gender. It is precisely this kind of bias that the demonstrators are protesting against today.

 

Furthermore, the program explains that police violence against African Americans stems from their "fear of blacks." This explanation fails to adequately address the history of slavery and its long aftermath leading up to the contemporary prison industrial complex and how race has figured into this history, all of which are the backdrop for police brutality (3). It also fails toexplain the reasons for the high concentration of African Americans in particular neighborhoods in cities across the United States and the high crime rate in many of such neighborhoods (4). Instead, the program uses a simplistic explanation of "the amorphous fear of blacks" based on anecdotal reporting of the view of one policeman. By foregrounding the stereotype of African American "aggression," the program as a whole comes across as if it condones police violence against them.

 

Second, the animation clip and the show as a whole fail to accurately capture the conditions and nature of the protests and skew the viewer's understanding of U.S. race relations. There were indeed some incidents of destruction and looting in the early stage of protest. However, by June 7, when the program aired, most of the demonstrations were peaceful marches by not only African Americans but also many whites and other minorities holding signs. (Two of the signatories of this statement reside in the U.S. and have witnessed this themselves.) The violence has actually been perpetrated more by the authorities, as in the case of peaceful protestors being tear gassed by the order of the White House and a citizen being shoved to the ground and severely injured by the Buffalo police force. Furthermore, according to the poll results disseminated on June 2, of the people surveyed in the United States, 57% replied that the demonstrators’ anger was perfectly justified, and an additional 21% called it somewhat justified, showing widespread support for the message of the protest movement (5).

 

Even though the conditions of the demonstrations and their impacts had been widely covered in the media by the show’s broadcast date of June 7, the show’s content and direction did not reflect any of those data and currents (6). The show begins with the sound of explosion coming from an unknown source, followed by the description of the situation as "violent rioting." The commentator marks a map of the U.S. with stickers showing the locations of the "mobs," and footage of looting and violence is shown repeatedly to reinforce a skewed image of the demonstration. Moreover, the show portrays "Antifa" as if it was representative of the demonstrators, even though on June 3 Reuters reported that there was “limited evidence” of

its involvement in the looting and violence (7). The program and the subsequent Tweet overly emphasize the division in the United States by showing the scenes of looting and destruction out of context. There is a great divergence between the international reports of the protest movement and that of this program, which purports to report on the state of the world by offering "on-site reports" from its bureaus throughout the United States.

 

Third, the show obfuscates the contours of racism undergirding the incident through the comments that oversimplify the divide between "whites" and "blacks," using such explanations as "deep rooted discrimination," and referencing the "frustration" and "division" among people. Current scholarship understands racism not simply as prejudice and discriminatory sentiments by individuals but as a social structure that sustains and reinforces an inequitable system despite the absence of scientific basis for the category of “race.” Both Danna Kiel’s remark quoted in the show and the phrases chanted repeatedly in the demonstrations clearly convey their understanding of racism as inherent in the social structure, yet the show does not address the point. The protest demonstrations characterize the unequal treatment of African Americans by the police and the court system as institutional and systemic racism and demand its abolition. The demonstrations have gone beyond the black-white binary and partisan conflicts to mobilize a wide range of people of different races, social status, age, and regions precisely because they problematize this racist structure. That is why these demonstrations have reached the people all over the world, including Japan, who share in the condemnation of the history and system of racism. The comments made in the show deviate from both current scholarly knowledge and the coverage of demonstrations and racism in the United States and distort the issue by vague impressionistic accounts and a problematic construction of binary positions.

 

Fourth, we question how such problematic contents and representations so grossly incongruent with the standards of international media reporting were left unchecked and uncorrected within NHK through the process of the program’s production, broadcast, and dissemination. The animation clip circulated through Twitter has generated a great deal of criticisms for its stereotypical and derogatory representations, including the one by Joseph M. Young, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, U.S. Embassy Tokyo, who called it "offensive" and "insensitive." The mainstream media in the United States and Europe have widely covered and critiqued the show’s content. For the program that purports to deliver "international news in an accessible way, to show what the issues are and why they are important and interesting," there must be a particularly rigorous process of fact-checking and verification of the appropriateness of its content and representations. We believe there were serious flaws in the show’s production and review process.

 

As scholars of American Studies, we thus raise strong objections to the content of the said episode of “Sekai-no-ima” and the Tweeted animation clip. Delivering information in an “accessible” way is not the same as reducing issues into simple stereotypes and facile binaries. In light of these concerns, we hereby request that NHK take the following three measures:

 

(1) Publicly share what NHK considers were the problems with the content of “Sekai-no- ima” via its programs, website, and other platforms.

 

(2) Conduct a thorough review of the program’s production process and investigate how such a factually and ethically problematic content came to be broadcast and disseminated through the show, website, and social media.

 

(3) Implement and publicly share concrete remedial steps to prevent the recurrence of similar 

issues in NHK’s news coverage and its reporting of race and human rights.

 

Footnote

1 Fumiko Sakashita, “Jinshu-teki ‘tasha’ toshite no kokujin-sei: Amerika no jinshu sutereotaipu wo rei ni,” in Ayumu Kaneko and Yoshiyuki Kido, eds., “Heito” no jidai no amerika-shi: Jinshu, minzoku, kokuseki wo kangaeru (Sairyusha, 2017), Chap. 1.

2 https://www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd-protests-timeline.html

3 Yujin Yaguchi and Mari Yoshihara, eds., Gendai Amerika no kiiwaado (Chuo-koron-sha, 2006), pp. 261-265; Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010); 13th (Ava DuVerney, dir., 2016); Yasumasa Fujinaga, “Keibatsu kokka to Black Lives Matter undo,” Sekai 908 (May 2018), pp. 162-168

4 For instance, in a 4.5-minute video with Japanese subtitles, BBC provides a concise account of the history and issues of police violence from the era of slavery to the present: https://www.bbc.com/japanese/video-52960232

5 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/politics/polling-george-floyd-protests-racism.html   Although this was published after the show was broadcast, The Washington Post also reported that the support for the protest has reached 74% overall and that even among those who feel that the protest has been violent, the support for the protest is 53%. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support- protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-tochange-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html

6 Based on the critiques of media portrayals of the situations in Los Angeles in 1992 that exacerbated that social conflicts, it is now common in the United States to use the word “uprising” that emphasizes the social movement against injustice in lieu of “riot” that focuses on acts of destruction.

7 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minneapolis-police-protests-extremist/us-assessment-finds-opportunists-driveprotest- violence-not-extremists-idUSKBN23A1KU This has also been reported in Japanese by Jiji on June 4: https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2020060400703

 

Concerned Scholars of American Studies

Signatories (in alphabetical order)

FUJINAGA, Yasumasa (Japan Women’s University) IZUMI, Masumi (Doshisha University)KANEKO, Ayumu (Meiji University)KIDO, Yoshiyuki (Hitotsubashi University)MIMAKI, Seiko (Takasaki City University of Economics) MINAMIKAWA, Fuminori (Ritsumeikan University) SAKASHITA, Fumiko (Ritsumeikan University) SHIMIZU, Sayuri (Rice University)TAKEDA, Okiyoshi (Aoyama Gakuin University) TSUCHIYA, Kazuyo (University of Tokyo) UMEZAKI, Toru (Ferris University)YAGUCHI, Yujin (University of Tokyo) YOSHIHARA, Mari (University of Hawaiʻi)

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