Image and Identity: Japan’s Adoption of Little Black Sambo and Hip-Hop

Fagan, Joanna
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
American Post-Emancipation and Reconstruction Era imagery constructs of African Americans in print and media assumed stereotypical inferences that facilitated racist identity classifications of Blacks. From the 19th century, Japan’s racial identity within the global context was transformed by Western influence. The 1899 children’s book by Helen Bannerman, Little Black Sambo, was introduced and reprinted into the stereotypical depictions, marking one of many racist African American image constructs to cross to Japan. In Japan, this stereotypical image rendering has been perpetuated for 60 years, amidst protests and changes in U.S. depictions of the book. Little Black Sambo and Japanese reprint, Chibikuro Sanbo (1953), has seen a revival in Japanese culture in recent years. Comparatively, the transference of Black image constructs through the hip-hop/rap genre to Japan, has led to the replication and fusion – with Japanese aesthetics – of “blackness.” Over the years, hip-hop culture has become a lucrative business enterprise; in the U.S. the commoditization of rap has been the main vehicle used to reach not only American White audiences but a global audience as well. Notably though, Japan does not have the context of American slavery and racial suppression to identify with the political, social, and cultural connotations of hip-hop’s origins. Thus, through films, music, and literature, the Japanese saw the African American through American hegemonic media sources. This project’s aim is to study the possible restructuring and reinforcement of old negative image characterizations of African Americans in America and subsequently in Japan.
Black visual construct, Japanese identity, Little Black Sambo, King Giddra
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