Wednesday, February 17, 2010
First off, Kevin Smith was thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight because he looked too fat, emphasis on "looked" because he flew on that same airline later in the day without losing any weight. This frightens me because the airline has done this before and it wasn’t any more justified then than it was this time; some ignorant staffer just made a gut decision that a paying customer didn’t safely fit in one seat without actually confirming said suspicion. Any situation where people are being denied service because they look fat is of obvious concern for me, even when the discriminators are operating a business 5000 miles from my present location.
Given that Kevin Smith is famous, it didn’t take long for the PR people at Southwest to realize that they needed to respond to this mistake. However, they made the curious choice of apologizing for mistreating him while simultaneously asserting their right to do so. That’s like Denny’s refusing to serve a black guy and after they apologize, insisting that "in our defense, you really are black and we’d rather not have your kind in our restaurant."
The other details thus far are irrelevant (talk of safety concerns, standby status, and how many seats were purchased doesn’t matter when the person in question clearly fits in the allotted space) but what nags me are some of the comments on the Southwest Airlines "apology" page. More than a few people are in favor of ejecting passengers who appear obese, with one crazy person even citing the corporation’s right to "free speech."
While the right to refuse service is a logical one, as it protects businesses from legitimately unruly or disruptive customers, should we really accept that people are subject to superficial discrimination like this? Sure, Southwest has the option to remove fat people from their airplanes, but even if you’re not overweight this should be disturbing news. I don’t think an airline should be allowed to decline a passenger based on how they look any more than a hotel or a landlord should.
We’ll get back to that, but let’s get to that second news story that caught my eye: someone made threatening remarks over Xbox LIVE and the police were called. Again, there are commenters jumping to the defense of the angry young man, asserting his right to "free speech" and lamenting Microsoft’s meddling into the privacy of its customers. Even the article initially used the verb "rats out" in its headline before softening its stance.
Never mind the fact that the First Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t apply to private forums, it’s frightening to me that anyone alive today would take a stand against investigating threats of violence. If the 1999 Columbine massacre is too hazy in their memories, perhaps they can recall the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007? Aggressive statements and actions should never be ignored. I don’t know whether this guy was serious or not, but if he’s going to announce his intentions to kill people I want him questioned by the authorities.
How do these two disparate stories connect? In both cases, defenders of the wrongdoers rally behind "free speech" as an excuse for unconscionable behavior. This offends me because the more often people incorrectly cry that their rights are violated, the less impact legitimate complaints have. Call it The Boy Who Cried Free Speech; eventually people stop listening even if you’re telling the truth.
The basic misconception at work in both these situations is that free speech does not equal consequence-free speech. Just because something cannot be outlawed doesn’t mean it cannot go unpunished. I have the right to declare aloud "God hates fags" in San Francisco or proclaim "I hate niggers" in Harlem, but the anger that would follow could not be waved away with the Bill of Rights.
Southwest Airlines may have the right to turn away fatties and this angry Xbox user may have the right to shoot his mouth off, but they both need to face up to their actions when the outraged response arrives. Citing policies or the Constitution is not a defense and I cannot fathom why outside parties would weigh in with such statements.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. Any statement on the Internet, no matter how ignorant, is bound to draw at least one friendly response. It just puzzles me to see strangers defend discrimination and potential violence by citing the same lofty source.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Yesterday was the opening ceremony (yes, Japan has opening and closing ceremonies for every school semester) which meant I saw the students but then quickly waved goodbye and watched them all leave at 11 AM. I can see the logic in not having any classes after a closing ceremony, but why do opening ceremonies get their own education-free days?
I shouldn't complain, really, because we teachers always get together and have a nice box lunch on these opening and closing days. My lunch yesterday was quite substantial, although I could have done without the extra plate of mostly-pickled vegetables. They were obviously homemade and extremely sour. Why would you do that to a pumpkin in the first place?
I enjoy these meals because they offer a nice change of pace from the usual school lunches and because I really like Japanese food. However, the one nuisance factor is that if I attempt to discuss or ask any questions about the food, I then bring upon myself another round of "can you eat Japanese food?" and "oooh, you use chopsticks so well!" inanity. I know two wrongs don't make a right, but some days I wish I could catch these people eating a bowl of fettuccine and ask them "can you eat Italian food?" and "wow, you know how to use utensils!"
It didn't help that throughout lunch, one of the older teachers ("M-sensei") was talking about her trip to China over the summer. All she could talk about was how awful it was to hear so many foreigners talking and how upset she was about having to use English even though she still used Japanese when pointing at maps and asking directions. Her summary of the trip was "In the end I was just happy to be back in Japan" and everyone laughed, not in a "you are a horribly sheltered person" kind of way but in a "I know just what you mean" kind of way.
I know I'm a big weirdo for leaving my home country and moving to another one for an extended, indefinite period of time, but is this seriously how the majority (or even a substantial minority) thinks about traveling abroad? What is it about hearing an unfamiliar language that becomes troubling or upsetting to so many people? I've been to Asia twice now (not counting Japan) and even though English was common enough for me to get by, the dominant language present was still Chinese. It's not a particularly easy language on the ears, in my opinion, but being surrounded by it didn't bother me in the slightest.
Perhaps it's my American or even my New York upbringing that makes a difference. Of course English is my native tongue but I've been hearing other languages spoken around me for decades. Kids at school, people at work, or even just random folks on the street have all exposed me to regular doses of foreign languages over the years. Aside from the occasional foreign pop culture import or an annoying English teacher at school, few Japanese people have had that experience. Maybe if I was as sheltered as they are, listening to a conversation in Russian or Thai for the first time might piss me off as well. But if that were the case, why would I take an overseas trip in the first place? Did someone force this lady onto a plane at gunpoint?
I guess I'm biased, because she happens to be one of my least favorite teachers to deal with in all the schools I visit. She manages to be simultaneously incredibly lax with disruptive students and unnecessarily cruel to students who have too much energy. She gets way too physical with the naughtier kids which isn't that unusual in Japan but that doesn't magically make me accept smacking kids in the head as normal. She also routinely "forgets" about English class even though her classroom is adjacent to mine. Worst of all, she is a first grade teacher so this is the example these poor kids are getting when they first come to English class: a grumpy adult who wants nothing to do with foreign languages.
I don't want to keep harping on this soon-to-be-retired elderly lady but she really crossed the line yesterday when she managed to fall asleep during our meeting about this semester's English plan. I'll admit I've nodded off during meetings before, but those were always massive affairs that didn't particularly apply to me and they were conducted entirely in Japanese. Yesterday's meeting was only for four people (including me) and was entirely in Japanese for her benefit and she still couldn't bother to stay awake. I predict a few "forgotten" lessons in my future this fall.
Too bad she wasn't the only person who couldn't make it through an English meeting with their eyes open yesterday. The sixth-grade teacher, a young man who is very friendly to me and often gives me a lift to school in the morning, said absolutely nothing during our meeting and almost lost consciousness several times. This is a guy who tries his best to participate in class and serves as a good role model for the students and yet he had nothing to contribute to a meeting about English education. If he doesn't care, what hope do I have of ever reaching people like M-sensei?
Of course, I could be overreacting. I wasn't exactly chipper and alert yesterday afternoon either, and even when these meetings serve a purpose there are just so damn many to endure in Japan that it's understandable how people could just tune out right in the middle. What's most important is that, at least at this school, the lesson plans and necessary materials for the entire semester are already finished. That is extremely good news, not just for me but for the students.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need a nap. I've been up for hours.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I managed to home come early and noticed some extra shoes by the door. This isn't easy, as Mako keeps a half-dozen different pairs out for easy access, but even I could tell that she doesn't wear kid sizes anymore. I came inside and saw Mako talking to a woman I didn't know with a small child asleep on the couch. There was the barest of initial reaction to my presence: she threw out the standard Japanese tropes but neglected to offer me her name or anything actually substantive. All she really did was tell me that her kid was asleep and asked me if I could keep quiet. I went about my usual settling pattern - I put down my bag, took off my coat, etc. - but it wasn't until I stood in front of her and said my name out loud that she finally acknowledged me. Still, all I got was a name before she went back to chatting up Mako.
Since our guest was so intent on ignoring me, I went ahead and tried to ignore her. I started my usual after-work routine of flipping on the computer and catching up on Google Reader and my Twitter feeds. After about a half-hour of this, her kid finally started to show signs of life. At first, he turned towards his mother and Mako, but when they encouraged him to turn around, he finally saw me. I offered a konnichiwa but it sent him scrambling for his mother's arms. It seems even her child was unwilling to engage me in the simplest of exchanges.
Of course, I'm used to having kids ignore me. Hell, I had just come back from spending seven hours in an elementary school half-full of children who take please in ignoring me. The kicker here is what his mother told him as he fled from me. I'm paraphrasing and translating (paralating? transphasing?) here, but basically she said "Look at the blue-eyed man!"
This touches upon something Japanese people do to foreigners, and I've been slowly trying to write a humorous yet cathartic piece about these bizarre assumptions for quite some time. Basically, one of their moves is to describe non-Japanese people as "blue-eyed." Everyone reading this blog knows that the world is not dominated by folks with blue eyes, and I would hope that most of you know that my eyes are decidedly not blue either. So having a stranger whip out a dusty old stereotype to pigeonhole me to her infant son in my own apartment was something I took extreme offense to. Still, I didn't attack her - I just mumbled out loud (in Japanese) "My eyes aren't blue, actually." She made no acknowledgment at all.
Everything else she did to piss me off after that - stripping her kid down on our rug before taking him bare-assed across the apartment to the toilet, smacking him in the head when he tried to pick up a magazine - was pretty petty in comparison. I'm slowly getting used to this idea that disrobing babies and infants in front of others is somehow normal, although this was the first time a stranger did it in my home. And while I haven't really considered whether or not my kid deserves to be spanked at some point, and I recognize that her kid is her kid, I'm certainly never going to physically discipline DJ in public for trying to pick up a magazine. That's fucking cold.
So here's a few tips for anyone thinking about visiting my cozy Japanese apartment: Do treat me like a human being. Don't treat me like a theoretical "foreigner." Because if I'm paying the rent, you're the fucking "gaijin."
つづく...(Click here to read more)