Black people, other minorities behind low level of literacy in US – How Japan PM sparked outrage on this day in 1986

Etsey Atisu Sep 24, 2019 at 09:45am

September 24, 2019 at 09:45 am | History

Etsey Atisu

Etsey Atisu | Staff Writer

September 24, 2019 at 09:45 am | History

Larry Ingraham (served as director of the East Asian Office of the Indiana Dept. of Commerce from 1983 to 1986) poses with Yasuhiro Nakasone, the 45th prime minister of Japan, in July 1986. (Submitted photo)

On this day in 1986, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone bore the brunt of the African-American community in America, as well as, those of other American ethnic groups of colour, after he made statements that demeaned the people.

In a publication made on the New York Times on September 24, 1986, Nakasone attributed the low level of literacy in the United States to the presence of ethnic minorities in the country.

”In a highly developed information society and a highly educated society such as Japan, the people require politics that bravely faces problems. In the United States, because there are a considerable number of blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, the (intellectual) level is lower,” he is quoted as saying.

His statement, however, got him a lot of backlash from America, as many people regarded it as derogatory and insulting.

Deng Pufang meets with Japan’s then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo in April 1985.   © Kyodo

Nakasone, according to Black Enterprise, made the statements as he was speaking to his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He is reported to have told them that Blacks, Latinos, and other minorities tug down the educational levels of the United States.

Led by BE 100 CEOs, including Clarence Avant, Comer Cottrell, George Johnson, Byron Lewis, and Earl G. Graves, the Black community paid for a full-page ad in the September 1986 issue of the New York Times, pressing for an apology from the PM for suggesting that they are the cause of the country’s low intelligence levels.

black business

Soon, some Japanese-Americans, who disagreed with Nakarone’s statements, joined the Black, Hispanic, and other leaders in pushing further for an apology from the PM.

Civil Rights leader, Rev. Jesse Jackson, spearheaded a meeting at the time with the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, Nobuo Matsunaga, where he, in no uncertain terms, described the remarks by Nakasone as an “insult” to all Americans.

He added that regardless of the explanations Nakasone might give for making those remarks, “We in this country have spent too much time fighting stereotypes, including those against Asian-Americans, to tolerate the perpetuation of stereotypes from Asians against our own people.”

Opposition leaders in Japan’s parliament at the time also issued a statement strongly condemning Nakasone and saying his conduct was “seriously damaging to the reputation of Japan.”

It is reported that a member of the Socialist group had even accused Nakasone of displaying traits “characteristic of Adolf Hitler.”

Related image
Prime Minister Nakasone with President Ronald Reagan of the United States of America | Amazon.com

After a week, a rebuttal eventually came through but was not delivered personally by Nakasone.

In a statement delivered on his behalf by Nobuo Matsunaga, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, to members of Congress and Administration, he expressed his remorse for what he claimed was a misrepresentation of his statement.

”I realize that my recent remarks have offended many Americans. I would like to express my heartfelt apology. Let me make one thing very clear. I have always firmly believed that America’s greatness derives from the dynamism and achievements of her many ethnic communities.

“It was not my intention whatsoever to imply any racial discrimination nor to criticize any aspect of American society. ”

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