1st Quarterly, 2006 No.139

BLHRRI "Discrimination Based on Work and Descent" Project ? 3rd Session

Yugo Tomonaga

Professor Miki Kurokawa of Shizuoka University and Assistant Professor Motoji Matsuda of Kyoto University gave presentations at the third session of the Discrimination Based on Work and Descent Project on December 18, 2005.

Professor Kurokawa focused on the historical development of the relationship between Buraku and race issues since the 1880's. She also critically analyzed the exclusion of Buraku by their classification as a different race in government, academic and humanitarian discourse.

Discriminatory terms applied to Buraku were generally based on and related to the class that Buraku people were defined within until the promulgation of Emancipation Edict by the Meiji government in 1871. The conditions of extreme poverty faced by Buraku drew attention during the Matsukata Deflation of the 1880's when terms such as tokushuka (specialization) and ishu (a different type) were created. In addition, some anthropologists regarded Ainu (the indigenous peoples of Hokkaido), Okinawans and Buraku as outsiders who were to be colonized. Some promoted the idea that Buraku were of a different racial origin. This discourse nurtured a hotbed of 'racial' discrimination and reinforced the perception of Buraku as being of a different race. After the Russo-Japanese war ended in 1907, the previous names given to Buraku were replaced with the name Tokushu Buraku (Special Buraku). Some anthropologists and humanitarians still regarded Buraku as a different race despite the lack of scientific evidence. The government also promoted this idea.

After 1919, a review of the concept of race by international social scientists and the ideas of egalitarianism and democracy that prevailed in international society helped overturn the mistaken perception of Buraku as a different race. Furthermore, with the spread of ideas of national unity and national harmony during the two world wars, the race doctrine ceased to be taken seriously by the state. However, prejudice against Buraku based on their poor living environment continued to support the perception of Buraku as a different race by the general public. Kurokawa ended her presentation by emphasizing that, to date, Buraku have continuously been represented as a different race under the pretext of eugenics and genetics, and that such a belief is still so bound up in people's minds that many believe marriage with Buraku people would 'pollute' their family bloodline and that Buraku are somehow different.

Professor Matsuda discussed the issue of discrimination based on work and descent in Africa. He focused on the mechanism of discrimination during the colonial era, discriminatory structures in communities, the cast system, and current affirmative action against discrimination. For the purpose of consolidating their colonial rule, the U.K. and France adopted 'direct rule' to strictly define ethnicity and tribes. This led to the destruction of a system of ethnic mobility that allowed individuals to move between different ethnic groups and which had functioned to prevent friction and conflicts between different ethnic groups and tribes during pre-colonial times. Conflicts escalated as a result. Under these circumstances, discrimination based on the cast system was reinforced. The cast system was prevalent in West Africa where kingdoms existed before the colonial era. Apprentice indentured servants and those engaged in hunting and gathering were subject to discrimination. Most of these people were not discriminated against because of their occupations, but became landless after losing their farmland. Professor Matsuda concluded that when we discuss the problem of discrimination in Africa, we should keep in mind that Africans and African society as a whole are discriminated against at an international level in the context of modern globalization.

In Africa, during 1960s human rights activists wanted to be government officials, in 1970s to 1980s international public servants, and 1990s international NGO workers. Today, these activists can use universal languages such as English and French to get funds from abroad for their human rights programs. This causes a gap between the marginalized people and human rights activists in Africa. When discussing about human rights efforts in Africa, the above should be taken into consideration.

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