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Carole Boston Weatherford was right

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by , 11th August 2011 at 03:19 PM (3407 Views)
Some time ago, I wrote a Bulbanews article about Jynx. It was too long and not particularly well-structured, and contained some slightly misleading information about Saint Nicholas that infuriated the Dutch. Nonetheless, I thought it was one of my better efforts. And what's interesting - at least to me - is that I began writing it with the belief that Jynx was a parody of Ganguro culture who, probably by accident, also bore a resemblance to blackface.

The Ganguro theory was (and still possibly is) the most common explanation of Jynx's origins. Sure, people stll brought up that racism stuff from time to time, but they were just trolling. Right? Right?

What I discovered as I wrote was that the evidence for a Ganguro connection was actually pretty slim. Ganguro reached its height after Red and Green were released. There's still an argument that the games' devolpment period overlapped with the earliest days of the Ganguro fad, but it would be a brief overlap indeed. That connection can't be ruled out, but it has to viewed as suspect.

On the other hand, blackface was and still is everywhere in Japanese culture. This isn't necessarily a malicious thing: while Japan is anything but sensitive on issues of race, Japan also lacks the painful history that America associates with blackface, and so it simply isn't seen as a bad thing.

And so, I came away with the conclusion that Jynx probably was a reference to blackface, just like our old friend Mr. Popo of Dragon Ball fame. And I ended the article with some overlong pseudo-philosophising about how what one culture views as harmless fun can be deeply offensive to another, and that we should neither rush to condemn the offender or dismiss the concerns of the offended. And that was that.

Oh yeah, Carole Boston Weatherford. She was the journalist who first pointed out Jynx's resemblance to blackface after seeing an episode of the anime. She has also presumably written about other, worthier matters, but nonetheless, to Pokémon fans she is apparently the Jynx Racism Lady. And this means that, for the most part, she's viewed as a villain.

But she was right. You can argue as much as you like that Jynx wasn't actually anything to do with blackface, or that she was, but blackface isn't a controversial thing in Japan. But she wasn't raising an objection to something that was on Japanese television. If she was, then you could quite justifiably point out that Japan has different taboos, and can't be expected to censor its own media for the sake of foreign audiences for whom it was never intended. But no, she was complaining about something on American television. America does have these taboos, and yet something closely resembling a grotesque racial caricature from the past was allowed to slip through unaltered. The fault here lies with the localisation teams who somehow failed to realise anything was up with Jynx until it was too late.

It's a nuanced situation, where someone created something in all innocence, someone else failed to check it and then the end product was racist when viewed by a different audience. The worst you can accuse anybody of is incompetence. But you wouldn't get this impression if you listened to the fandom. No, according to the fandom, Carole Boston Weatherford is a mean lady who said nasty things about a show that we love, and anyway, Jynx isn't racist at all, because of... it's a Japanese thing or something. Anyway, she is dumb and Jynx is not racist.

Sorry, but Jynx was racist. Unintentionally racist, but racist nonetheless. It's understandable that you don't want your favourite series to be accused of racism, but when those accusations are actually justified, it's a fool's errand to keep on denying them. But the fandom would sooner keep on classifying somebody who brought up a legitmate concern as a crank than they would consider, even for a moment, that there might have been some merit in her claims.

Part of the problem, I think, is that blackface has been absent from our screens for long enough that it doesn't provoke the visceral reaction in today's viewers that it would in their parents, or grandparents. This goes some way towards explaining Ms. Weatherford's shocked reaction which was not shared by the fandom, but not the whole way. I mean, I don't remember the Second World War, but I'd be shocked to see Nazi insignia turn up in a children's show, so there must be more to it than the generation gap.

Alas, I fear society has entered a phase where we're being conditioned to believe that racism, or indeed any form of discrimination, doesn't really exist in any sort of meaningful sense. The media has grown to love its "political correctness gone mad" stories, wherein we are urged to believe that any number of harmless practices are being banned to avoid causing offence to some minority group. Hey, did you hear that schools have banned Christmas cards? Yeah, they have to call them Wintervalmastide cards now, to avoid offending Muslims. Oh, did you hear that they've cancelled next year's church fete? Yeah, it was upsetting the gays. Did you know they're going to start rounding up old people and hurling them into live volcanoes? It's to keep the feminists happy.

Of course, all of these stories ultimately turn out to be bullshit, but once they've entered the public discourse, they'll continue to be reprinted for years by lazy journalists looking to fill space. And though people react to these stories with outrage, it's a comforting, self-affirming sort of outrage. Righteous indignation... or it would be, if it was focused at anything real. These stories allow the majority to roll their eyes at society, while at the same suggesting that things like racism, and sexism, and homophobia aren't really a problem: people just think they are. After all, if the gays want to ban Christmas, which is obviously stupid, then all that other stuff they complain about is probably stupid too.

People are now so used to seeing claims of racism or other discrimination presented in these terms that when a legitimate accusation of racism comes up, they'll dismiss that too. Because there's no such thing as racism anymore, right? Just politically-correct busybodies trying to cause trouble. It's like the boy who cried wolf, only nobody actually heard him cry wolf, but we have it on good authority that he actually cries wolf all the time.

And this is the current situation the fandom finds itself in, where nobody apparently has any understanding of what racism actually is. There was an entirely ridiculous storm over Lenora when her character art first came to light. Of course, nobody actually thought that her design was racist (a little stereotypical perhaps, but those things don't always intersect), but plenty of people thought that other people would find it racist, and then we'd have Carole Boston Weatherford on our backs, ruining our fun. Oh no. The fact that a slightly stereotypical black woman (who turned out to be more Lara Croft than Mammy) was a million miles away from blackface in terms of offensiveness seemed to be lost on everyone. Oh, and what's that? You think Iris is getting too much favourable treatment in the anime? Well, obviously the writers are being forced to portray her as strong because of political correctness. That'll be it, yeah? To keep Carole Boston Weatherford and her cronies happy. Implying that the anime writers have some sort of affirmative action mentality, that they even consider Iris to be of another race than the main cast, and that the writers crafted the ending of a particular episode to satisfy a journalist who last noticed the series ten years ago.

Sometimes I wonder about this fandom, I really do.
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  1. Shinobu's Avatar
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    People are now so used to seeing claims of racism or other discrimination presented in these terms that when a legitimate accusation of racism comes up, they'll dismiss that too. Because there's no such thing as racism anymore, right? Just politically-correct busybodies trying to cause trouble
    I don't think that's exactly what's going on in society. An issue is that we don't really know what racism looks like, which causes many people to think racism isn't much of a problem anymore. We think that now that the firehoses are gone, racism is limited to individual highly bigoted remarks and actions. So now many people tend to include not being racist in with being politically correct.
    Updated 11th August 2011 at 03:48 PM by Shinobu
  2. GatoRage's Avatar
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    The media has grown to love its "political correctness gone mad" stories
    So true.
  3. Arc Blader's Avatar
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    This makes me miss Origin of Species. You're such a great editorialist.
  4. The Outrage's Avatar
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    While I generally agree with you:

    CAB

    Cognition, Affect, Behaviour.

    The cognition is giving something a negative appraisal. The affect is the prejudice feelings that arises from those views. The behaviour is the racist caricature of a black person you draw. This is, of course, in terms of the perceiver (or person being accused of discrimination's) perspective. There was nothing inherently racist on the producer's part, so I wouldn't say that it was racist at all. Actually, that may be wrong, perhaps they chose the blackface caricature because they thought it was funny in a demeaning way but saw nothing wrong with that. That is itself racist, but considering Jynx was hardly ever portrayed as a mischievous Pokemon, I'll just make my conclusion that there was no ill will.

    Would I say that, coming over seas, because of differing value systems, histories, and taboos, that the target (those who are the objects of racism) may construe it as racist? Yes. Would I say they're wrong for feeling that? Not really, after all, like you said, there's a localization team in place meant to make sure that when Pokemon comes overseas, those differing value systems, histories, and taboos aren't causing a problem. I don't think there was malice intent at all, but again, it doesn't stop the fact that, overseas, Jynx was a racist portrayal. Actually, I just said what you just said.

    As for Lenora, and Black and White in general (by virtue of the names they've given them), seemed more like the fandom was trying to look for racism where racism didn't occur just so they can "prepare" themselves, so to speak, for the media shitstorm that never came (ironic?). Apron aside, people claimed Lenora to be racist because she had an afro, something a lot of black people naturally do have. I've even heard claims that Game Freak made her skin too dark. Of course, when we have a straight-haired ambiguously brown character, people make the unfortunate implications that Game Freak is trying to make them not too black, creating a lose-lose scenario (what, in this day and age, people don't consider interracial marriage as a source of racial ambiguity with characters like Brock and Dahlia?; not really expecting people to get that our notions of racial boundaries wouldn't really extend to a fictional universe with technicolour hair)
    Updated 11th August 2011 at 04:52 PM by The Outrage
  5. Bikini Miltank's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Psystrike
    I don't think there was malice intent at all, but again, it doesn't stop the fact that, overseas, Jynx was a racist portrayal. Actually, I just said what you just said.
    Yeah, this is basically my conclusion as well. There was no bad intent, but it was still perceived as racist in a different market. An act done in all innocence can still cause unintentional hurt.

    As for Lenora, and Black and White in general (by virtue of the names they've given them), seemed more like the fandom was trying to look for racism where racism didn't occur just so they can "prepare" themselves, so to speak, for the media shitstorm that never came (ironic?).
    And Weatherford was namechecked many times during these discussuions. I think any community that can believe that "Black and White will have their names changed because people will be offended!!!" has completely lost any sense of what is and isn't racially insensitive. I think that people look back at the Jynx thing and, for whatever reason, they don't understand what the fuss was about. That or, perhaps, they don't want to see it. Either way, the series was (in their eyes) falsely accused of racism before, so why couldn't it happen again?

    Apron aside, people claimed Lenora to be racist because she had an afro, something a lot of black people naturally do have. I've even heard claims that Game Freak made her skin too dark.
    Lenora does invoke a few stereotypes, but they're stereotypes of the kind that you'll see on American TV all the time. You don't generally see blackface on TV these days. I think that's a pretty stark difference, but it's one that seemed to go over the collective heads of the fandom.

    Of course, when we have a straight-haired ambiguously brown character, people make the unfortunate implications that Game Freak is trying to make them not too black, creating a lose-lose scenario
    There's a case to be made for Dahlia and Phoebe being of a non-Japanese race (and of course, there was the ridiculously American Surge). But just as when western kids see Ash and Misty for the first time, they perceive them as being white, Japanese kids would see them as Japanese. You categorise the characters according to what you're familiar with. This creates an odd situation with Brock, since he's darker skinned than the others, but not so dark skinned that he's clearly of a different race. To a western audience, who may well live in multiracial communities - or at the very least see diverse races on TV all the time - the assumption is that he's of some other race. But if you're a Japanese kid, the likelihood is that everyone you know is also Japanese, and so dark skin just means this guy is probably outdoors a lot. And that's the established convention. In anime, darker skin is usually visual shorthand for "this character plays a lot of sport/works outdoors". You can make exactly the same case for Iris, though I think she's a touch closer to ambiguity on this issue. I'd be really interested to know what the opinion is of her in Japan regarding her race.
  6. The Outrage's Avatar
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    The skin colour for Brock clearly wasn't what the anime producers thought was racist, if I recalled, it was his eyes that they believed may cause similar problems as Jynx thus prompted his replacement. If that's anything to go by, they may have viewed Brock to be racially the same as the other characters, that is, Japanese, since the eyes were what seemed to them, could be construed as racist. It had been established (though perhaps in later games, can't recall the original dialogue) that Brock often does help with the excavation of fossils in Mt. Moon, and another similarly dark skinned character, Bruno, is well known to be an outdoors-man. Ironically, the way people had been acting during BW's release, I could see them claiming replacing a dark-skinned character with a lighter skinned one is itself racist despite the protagonist being noticeably darker skinned than most characters, again, as a function of cultural differences of what we apparently consider make people's skin darker.
  7. PockyAddict's Avatar
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    I know this is a old blog but I also agree with you on the fact that she was right. I used to deny it for a long time when I first joined the fourm, as a blk woman, I should have knew better than that.

    The sad thing about this is she is considered the "pokemon hate lady" when she only wrote about the topic publicly one 1 time 12 years ago.

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