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Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 6

Just a reminder. I am describing some of the factors that formed the basis for discrimination against Okinawans at the time that Karate was introduced by Okinawans to mainland Japan (1920s). For those of us in the west, these factors might not be obvious. It might be hard for us to see how one Asian group could discriminate against another when they pretty much look the same (to us). Of course, the underlying reasons for discrimination are seldom the ones asserted by the majority.

Japanese tended to think that Okinawans are hairy. You might be thinking "so what?" But in this sense, "hairy" means "primitive." Have you ever seen the Godzilla movie where a group of Pacific islanders awaken Mothra? I dare say that the impression of Okinawans was not too far from that.

Are Okinawans really more hairy than Japanese? Some are and some are not.

I get to go to many events with Okinawan people. One thing I and my wife have noticed is that many older Okinawan men have very thick heads of hair. Their hairs are thick and their head is full of hair! They have the hair of young men!

Next month I will turn 50. If you are a man of a similar age, you are probably thinking that a thick head of hair is a good thing. In fact, Americans spend millions of dollars each year on drugs to grow hair and for hair transplant surgery. We want thick hair! We do not want receding hairlines and bald spots.

So if Okinawans do have more hair, that should be a good thing -- not the basis for discrimination, right?

Times change and what people deem as desirable or terrible also changes. Saying that Okinawans were hairy was a way to say that they were primitive and less cultured than mainland Japanese. It was just another reason to justify prejudice.

Fortunately, today we are not so easily tricked into discriminating against our fellow human beings. We celebrate our differences. Don't we?


Charles C. Goodin