Just thought I’d share this review of “Hi! My Name is Loco and I Am a Racist” with you guys, written by Orchid 64…enjoy
Sometimes you don’t think at all before you react to what people say. You don’t know why you say it, but you know you’ve spoken the truth. In this case, what this woman said seemed utterly absurd and I didn’t think about why until afterward and having had time to reflect on it. To her assertion that the Japanese were exercising greater tolerance in the face of diversity, I said, “they forgive you because they don’t think you’re capable of understanding their culture or language, not because they are tolerant of differences.” After I said this, the woman turned away and my impression was that she didn’t want to hear that. Of course, she may simply have been bored with the conversation, or at least the part where she was talking and I was listening as these people were less interested in what we had to say than talking about their own experiences in Japan.
I’m sure that there are many people who would say that I can’t know what is in the hearts of Japanese people when they do and say what they do, and they’d be right. However, in a country which is known world-wide for having a culture in which “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”, I think it’s pretty clear that there is a weak cultural backbone when it comes to tolerance of differences. I would labor to say that asserting this is not a criticism so much as an observation based on the way Japanese people treat each other as well as how I was treated, but those who would like to see it that way won’t listen to me anyway and those who aren’t inclined in that manner don’t really need to be told.
Getting back to the point though, one thing that I have learned pretty quickly is that Americans are squeamish about anything which resembles critical commentary on other cultures and quick to deride their own. I’ve read plenty of things which are superficial and positive from people who have never been to Japan or only visited as a tourist. Though well-meant, they are sometimes diminishing or condescending. One person called them “adorable”, and I’m sure meant it nicely, but it seems to reduce them all to cute, little children who deserve a pat on the head. People, and especially white ones and Americans in my experience, don’t want to hear anything deeper than talk about temples, anime, and cuteness. They have an image of Japan, and they will fight cognitive dissonance with all of their might to keep it intact. They have to put up with a lot less mental noise if they turn away and eat their panino rather than listening to people like me.
“People like me” are not just people who have lived in Japan for a long time, but those with the eyes, ears, and psychologically-tuned nose for what is going on around them. Many people sleepwalk through life and can’t understand when other people have certain feelings and experiences that they do not. A few of us have the equivalent of an ear capable of hearing a dog whistle when it comes to human behavior. We can “hear” what others can’t. It’s not that we’re trying to do so, but you can’t not hear such things when you’re a sensitive individual. For us, it’s like a blow horn right next to our heads, but others can’t even hear a faint whisper, so they tell us that we’re hallucinating or making it all up. If you try to convince them otherwise, they get angry at you, or stop listening because they have a precious version of reality to protect.
The real story of “Hi, My Name Is Loco and I Am a Racist” is Baye himself and how his experiences during his entire life including his upbringing in New York, time in the Army, and, yes, time in Japan created self-revelation. The pretty picture that was torn to shreds and put back together again was that he had of himself. The title of his book is not an obscure statement, but the theme of the entire book. Life in Japan was like a pressure cooker that rapidly advanced his personal growth and it is not only a fascinating read because you can see how his life did this, but how this highly intelligent and sensitive person processed it.
The truth is that Baye is a little like me in some ways and that is probably why I enjoy his work so much. He’s clearly also an HSP (highly sensitive person) and someone who spends a lot of time in his own head and thinking about the intricate connections between people, behavior, and experiences. However, where I tend to process intellectually and try to be relatively dispassionate, Baye is very much more human about things. He paints in big, vivid expressions of anger, love, fear, and excitement. For those who think life should be lived in muted tones of beige, cream, and slate, this can seem a bit much, but I found his passionate style invigorating and properly calibrated for the circumstances he was in. He feels his feelings and then he processes them. People like me try to tamp down those feelings before processing them and I think that living life big emotionally is something I used to do and lost. Baye’s book reminded me of that loss, and made me ponder if I’m really better off for having muted my reactions, especially to Japan. I think too many people remain self-consciously dispassionate in their reaction to that little island country for fear of their emotions discrediting their observations or, even worse, appearing racist.
All of that passion and an extremely colorful life make for engaging reading. I insisted on having a print copy of Baye’s book before I left Japan so that I could sit on the airplane and read it. I also think he’s an incredibly talented writer so I wanted something real with a signature as I think he has the potential to be truly successful if he gets the attention he deserves. And don’t mistake me here, I’m not writing a love letter or fan note to Baye. I don’t hand out compliments about writing talent easily because I strongly feel there is precious little of it out there in the blogging world, or even the published world, for that matter. Mostly, there is a lot of content with little more than boredom and a desire for attention behind it and many people think they can write when what they really do is transcribe their thoughts. Writing is much more than that. I’m saying his work is worthwhile because he’s got the goods, and I really enjoyed his book. I found it hard to put down, and I think others will enjoy it, too.
I’m not recommending his book only because he’s a good writer, but also because there is great value in his journey emotionally and psychologically for all of us. As he dissects himself, he provides a model for how we might look a little deeper into ourselves. The amazing thing about it is that he does it unconsciously, so there’s no element of trying to guide the reader. It just happens naturally to even the most marginally thoughtful reader through his process of living out loud in the book. His growth through a series of unique and colorful life experiences is a key through which we can unlock some deeper truths in ourselves if we can tear down our own self-image and illusions as he managed to tear down his.
Note: I previously mentioned Baye’s book in this blog at a point when I had only read some teasers. This was written after having read the entire book. I’m glad to see that all of my praise in the initial post was well warranted.
Orchid, I feel 10 feet tall… Thank you!