The Nancho Consultations

Rev. Jesse Jackson


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Reverend J





Jesse Jackson came to Japan a decade ago at the invitation of local human rights organizations representing the buraku(outcaste) people and Korean minority. Nancho followed his tour, interviewed him and filed the somewhat breathy report for a Japanese student radio piece.

- Radio Script -


JESSE JACKSON
The Prophet in Japan

The Rev. Jesse Jackson - Baptist preacher, presidential contender, and dharma successor to Martin Luther King - recently paid his first official visit to Japan. Invited by Japan's Korean Christian community and sponsored by the Buraku Liberation League, Rev. Jackson came to celebrate the 38th anniversary of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Reverend J: I have come to be with you today from thousands of miles away because you invited me and because I care.
Some reporters found intriguing parallels to the plot of the Seven Samurai with Jesse riding to the aid of Japan's embattled minorities And Jackson himself did not shun the martial analogies.
The buraku people, the Korean people, the Ainu People have been victims of a long war; however, a cold war of racial discrimination.
As a professional partisan Jackson came to assist in that war, and though he was well briefed for his visit he admitted that it had been a revelation.
When the American press covers Japan it never covers the Ainu people, the buraku people or the plight of Koreans in Japan. It's always the big corporations and ideal living conditions. And so I was able to see the other side of Japan today. And it is a moral challenge to this nation, and to the world. to affirm the citizenship and human rights of all human beings.
As a politician, preacher and human rights activist, Jackson's success has depended upon his keen understanding of the media's educational role. And he was thus thankful for odd favors like Prime Minister Nakasone's much publicized racial indiscretions:
Nakasone's statement served to create more press coverage of the seamier side of Japanese society then any other single act. It has served to put light on discrimination by Japanese business leaders and government leaders within this country and abroad... It illuminated the anguish and agony over how the new Japan -- that is, post-World War II Japan -- has related to blacks, Hispanics and women. It has been quite disrespectful and contemptuous and insensitive. They are basically seen us as cheap laborers and as consumers. In so many ways we've been colonized by the Japanese business community in their expansion. On the other hand. his statement illuminated the buraku, Ainu, Korean peoples' struggle within this country. For by saying that this is a homogeneous society and therefore Japan had moved ahead because of homogeneity, it forced the writers to say. "But what about the Korean fingerprinting crisis? What about the buraku people? What about the Ainu people? Japan indeed is a heterogeneous society and you only call it homogeneous because your racial insensitivity ignores their very existence.
Throughout his visit Rev. Jackson spoke out vigorously for all his minority constituencies. But he was said to be truly puzzled over the enduring force of anti-buraku feeling here. He could not see what terrible differences ordinary Japanese could discern between burakumin and themselves. But whatever caused the prejudice he immediately understood its familiar effect - second-class citizenship:
First of all it in obvious that buraku people, like African- American people, are victims of racial and class discrimination which has been taught to the larger population. And as a result of the teachings of racial and class and sex discrimination the broader society operates as if it is the natural state of affairs, when it is in fact a poisoned social state of affairs. There's a parallel at that level.
Jesse had a much more visceral response to the Koreans' situation which so closely paralleled the black experience:
The Korean people were brought here under duress as forced labor - in virtual slave conditions. And now third and fourth generation Koreans are being forced to by law to be fingerprinted, which sets up legal discrimination as much as having to have passbooks and identification badges in South Africa.
From his civil rights struggles in the American South, Jackson understood the importance of symbolic actions in combating discrimination. And he recognized in the Koreans' anti-fingerprinting movement the powerful Gandhian chemistry of moral force and legal savvy. His speeches on the practice boomed with righteous thunder:
The very idea of fingerprinting for identification is morally repugnant and ungodly. We are designated by our personalities and by our character, not by our fingerprints.
His press briefings on the issue illuminated it with logic and sweet reason:
The real issue is not how often you get fingerprinted but rather does everybody have to do it? If everybody has to be fingerprinted, that's equal protection under the law. If some people must have them and others do not, that's a double standard. And therein lies the injustice and the discrimination.
But Jackson's message not only supported Japan's minorities current struggles, it beckoned on to greater aspirations:
Just as I can never be free until an African-American has the right to be President of the Untied States of America, you cannot be free until a Japanese-Korean has the right to become Prime Minister of this great nation.
Jackson placed the blame for all of Japan's problems squarely at the door of her major institutions. He observed the need for enlightened leaders to resolve domestic injustice and international tensions:
But I notice that governmental and corporate leadership in this country are quite elite, quite insensitive, and in many instances downright arrogant.
To catalyze reform and stir discussion, he tried a variety of stratagems. At his press conference he invoked the preacher's power of dire prophecy:
There is a faith factor that will ultimately eliminate those evil forces that will try to gain their stature in life at the expense of other human beings and stand on their shoulders.
In his speeches he resorted to moral entreaties:
Japan knows the pain of rejection, the pain of war, the pain of anti-Asian bigotry, and the pain of racial prejudice. Since Japanese leadership knows this pain, surely there must be empathy for Japanese-born Koreans in Japan. The Japanese must declare that there will never be another second class citizen in Japan. And Japan must use its prosperity to help second and third class citizens around the world. The Japanese people must hold fast to the conviction that human rights in the key to world peace.
These approaches did not prove as effective as hoped, however, and Jackson was soon advocating more worldly tactics. Based on his experiences in Tokyo he recognized:
First of all, it would be difficult to move these leaders with moral appeal. They appear to be mostly profit and loss oriented. Therefore you must engage in collective actions that will alter their margin of profit, and therefore alter their behavior. If in this country, the affected, the locked out people engage in collective direct action, it will have an impact upon the corporations and the image of Japan around the world. That will get action.
In the United States Jackson relies heavily on concerned journalists to spread and empower his message. Unfortunately in Japan, he discovered, the press is very much a part of the corporate fraternity he was assailing for insensitivity:
After meeting with Prime Minister Nakasone, the local media, in its selectivity, chose to delete our concern about human rights considerations. It was a bit blatant because we came here as the guest of the human rights leadership. We spoke to a rally of over two thousand people in Tokyo. We were leaving Prime Minister Nakasone's office going to that rally. And yet the human rights issue was ignored in press accounts. They were more interested in focusing on blacks, Puerto Ricans and women in America; but ignored the plight of buraku people, Ainu, and Koreans at home.
Despite the local media's official indifference, Jackson continued to stress the power of international public opinion. When an interviewer asked how Japan's minorities might best prolong the foreign attention Nakasone had suddenly afforded them, he responded:
Well, certainly the resistance to fingerprinting, and taking the matter to courts and the streets is a way of sustaining it. Secondly, a greater willingness to engage in public demonstrations would be a factor in keeping up mass education. It would be a bit more difficult in Japan because the Japanese press tends to cooperate more in concealing that which the government wants concealed. Thirdly, their willingness to take the matter to the U.N., to keep it in the eye of world opinion.
Though few expected quick solutions to the thorny problems he addressed, Jackson was reportedly surprised by the short-sighted obduracy of local officials. Knowing that time, justice and foreign opinion were an his side he left with a diplomatic warning to Japan's leadership:
My basic reading in that the watchwords of the government and corporate leaders at this point are the yen, the surplus, and technology. Whereas the watchwords for Japan's future, in my judgment. must be fair treatment of all people within Japan and fair and reciprocal trade with the world.
To his minority hosts he offered a parting message of inspiration and solidarity:
Twenty years ago black Americans died marching for the right to vote. Two years ago we marched to gain the White House. And so it can happen. You must hold fast to the dream of first-class citizenship... And so, my friends, it's difficult but let nothing break your spirit. Don't let abuse break your spirit. Don't let jail break your spirit. Don't let the death of the martyrs break your spirit. Rally for freedom. March for freedom. Join hands with neighbors around the world for freedom.
It is too early to judge what, if anything, the Rev. Jackson finally accomplished here. At the least. however, be showed the country the dynamic power of a single committed individual. Lacerating the powerful, inspiring the down-trodden, Jesse Jackson moved across Japan like a Biblical force. He will not soon be forgotten.

- End -

Nancho rep: W. David Kubiak


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