“What’s the difference between us?”

I chose this class accidentally because my Japanese major is media. Once I learned about this project while I took this class, I was interested in this project. I was nervous because I am the only Japanese person in my class. However, this was a great experience because I could communicate with my international friends by interviewing them about racial discrimination. Also, I could learn about my classmates’ opinions, and I wanted to share the Japanese perspective with everyone. For example, I do not always talk about political things like racial discrimination with my friends, but I interviewed them to complete my assignment, and I understood their cultures more than before.

My 6-word essay is “What’s the difference between us?” I will explain a personal story in more detail. We could not use the shower in our dorm because the University of Montana stopped the water during summer vacation in 2015. Therefore, I asked many friends to borrow their showers in their houses. Two of them who rented their shower to us were black people. We cooked Japanese foods to express our appreciation. And I sent a picture I took with them to my family. When my mother and my grandmother received my message, they said “Are you okay? Are they not dangerous?” because they are black people. According to the BBC news, when black people live in Japan, almost all Japanese people says discriminatory words to black people like “Are you Beyoncé?” or they are stared at by many Japanese people without reasons. While not every Japanese person discriminates against black people, some people still have incorrect stereotypes.

Fortunately, I could spend a lot of time with my friends, and I could know they are very nice people through hanging out with them. I also had the same stereotypes as my family about black people being dangerous. As a result of communication with them, I could erase these incorrect stereotypes.

On the other hand, I heard incorrect stereotypes about Japanese people from my friends. I have a friend who is an American. I heard many Americans think Japanese people are modest and they cannot travel alone because Japanese people traveled as a group all over the world without talking too much after the war.

Actually, there are aggressive people in Japan. For example, we sometimes debate about issues in our seminar, and we can insist on our opinion. Also, obviously Japanese people can travel alone, because I have many friends who traveled to many foreign countries by themselves. These are stereotypes that are simply not true.

In my conclusion, many adults should be educated about the differences of people all over the world at first. We should not focus on facts of the past but consider the present and future.  Therefore, we should understand diversity, variation of cultures, and people to solve stereotypical problems. Also, Japanese education tends to reflect our past. As I mentioned, we are easily influenced by images of the past. Many people indicated that stereotypes and our images are really connected. However, I think education has a great influence on our stereotypes. In my personal experience, education and spending time with people of other races goes a long way to ending harmful stereotypes.

-Kaori Honnami, who participated in “The Montana Race Project: Everyone Has a Story” for DiverseU 2015. The project is led by faculty advisor, Kathy Weber-Bates who teaches Diversity in Media in the UM School of Journalism.


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