July 30, 2012

Ignorance, Not Racism

A barbershop found somewhere between Ikebukuro and Mjiro. Upon first glance, I liked its look.

It's clearly an old-school barbershop that has been adopted by someone younger and hipper.

 But then something caught my eye: the word "niguro" on the top right of the menu. Niguro? Negro. I was appalled, to say the least. Apparently, the hairstyle has been around for some time, adopted most commonly by yanki (a riff on Yankees) -- street thugs. The hairstyle itself is basically short hair permed with a tiny barrel to create meticulous waves. It's not an afro, though; the hair is curled tightly around the head and looks almost like a buzzcut.

It's easy to yell, "Racist!", but that's not what's going on here. It's more blissful ignorance, and joins the larger Japanese practice of adopting "foreign" hairstyles, clothing, and language wholesale without an examination or understanding of what they mean in another culture, or all of the complicated emotions that the people of those cultures grapple with.

In the case of niguro, it appears that word has gotten around that it is an offensive name for a hairstyle. But open a street fashion magazine and you will find other examples of questionable language. It's hard to see what the solution is here, but in an era when one out of every ten babies is not of Japanese citizenship, I hope there will be more people who can point out these issues and educate the people around them.

No comments: