There’s a growing fad among Japanese novelty shops and variety television shows. This is dressing up like a “gaijin” (foreigner) and acting like one by donning a large fake nose, bushy wigs (and sometimes beards) then speaking in loud, broken and poor English. A few examples of the types of items can be seen here and here.
The gaijin community that takes notice of such things is uncertain whether or not this is offensive to foreigners or simply amusing.
The fact that white people, who are typified as big-nosed and hairy by the Japanese, even question whether or not this is offensive raises the question of whether or not anything which portrays white folks in a negative light by non-caucasians can ever be considered racist.
After all, if you change the costume to one which would allow a white person to dress up as a stereotypical Japanese person – geeky glasses, buck teeth, yellowish skin, and “slanted eyes” - it can be recognized immediately as an offensive negative stereotype.
Since black comedians can say nearly anything they want about white people as part of their comedy routines while white comedians are forbidden from using any stereotypes about minorities of any stripe in their routines for fear of being seen as racist, one has to ponder whether or not racism against white folks is considered impossible.
On more than one occasion, the argument has been made that it’s not racist to make wholesale negative remarks about white people because they are in the majority and therefore “in power”. The idea is that you can only be a racist if you are in a position to oppress someone.
This argument confuses “discrimination” with “racism”. For behavior to be racist, it is only required to be based on stereotypical (and usually negative) thinking. Most racist commentary is meant to belittle those who are different in appearance from oneself as a means of elevating oneself.
There is little risk that white people will eventually find themselves oppressed or in a situation where they are discriminated against wholesale as a result of spreading racist sentiment. However, that is not the point. Racism of any kind serves to separate people and breeds resentment and hostility based on superficial differences. Even if white adults can laugh at themselves as they are stereotyped by others, this type of humor subtly teaches children who grow up exposed to such humor that it’s okay to make fun of others because they are different. It also increases the likelihood that they will apply such humor to their contemporaries with potentially disastrous results.
While it may sound far-fetched and alarmist, a comment on one of the many blogs about Japan regarding the “gaijin” costumes illustrates just how potentially dangerous racial humor can be when children are exposed to it. According to this comment, a Japanese child grabbed at his teacher’s crotch because he had heard jokes about “big gaijin” penis sizes.