The Japanese, Looting, and the Myth of the “Model Minority”

by Latina Fatale on 03/18/2011 · 12 comments

in News, Racism

If you have a television or follow the news, it’s been pretty hard to miss what’s been happening over in Japan as a result of the earthquake, tsunami and now the crisis with the nuclear reactors. My business partner called me late at night when the earthquake first hit and we watched in amazement as the tsunami hit the mainland. I felt devastated over the destruction and disaster, while at the same time feeling mesmerized over the power and fury of nature.

On the first day I watched the news around the clock. On the second day I began to feel discomfort about something that I was hearing on the news, but at the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

On the third day, as I was dozing in front of the news I heard a newscaster say, “And the Japanese aren’t even looting. It’s not in their nature. They are calm, centered people who work together”. Bingo. I finally figured out what was causing that nagging feeling in the back of my head.

Perhaps I take everything too seriously. Perhaps I psychoanalyze everything. But there is just something about this “no looting” conversation that seems to continue to be repeated over and over again, and it’s really starting to irk me.

I started thinking about all of the recent disasters where the media seems to have over-exaggerated the occurrence of looting. During the hurricane Katrina crisis, the media portrayed many of the victims of the hurricane in New Orleans as wild, violent savages who were robbing, raping, looting and stealing. A similar portrayal of the victims of the earthquake in Haiti was splashed across the headlines.

In fact, just about every time I practically turn on my television and view a disaster that takes place around people of color, I can’t help noticing how much of an emphasis the media places on looting and violence.

Tonight I watched the Ed Shultz show on MSNBC and he showed a clip of Glenn Beck (p-p-p-puke) talking about this very same topic. Of course I had to refrain from puking as I sat and watched Glenn Beck talk about how perfectly well-behaved the Japanese were acting by not looting. I can’t help after hearing Beck’s incessant racist rants about Obama that there is an underlying message to what he is saying: The Japanese are civilized people. Not like the rest of you brown people here in the US.

Of course I’m probably taking it too personally. Of course I’m pulling the proverbial race card. And no, I’m not hating on my Asian brothers and sisters. But I really think that I am on to something here.

There is often a myth that persists in society that Asians are smart, “well behaved”, and respectful. This myth serves as a direct contrast to other people of color such as Latina/os and African Americans who are often portrayed as violent, ungrateful, lazy, unintelligent people who have a sense of entitlement. There have been various books published on the concept of the “model minority myth” as it pertains to Asian people, and this myth serves as a tool that reproduces racist notions about other people of color, namely blacks and latinos.

I know damn well that there are probably Japanese people looting in Japan. If you think about it long enough, you probably know damn well in the back of your mind that some people are looting in Japan. You mean to tell me that with all of those people who might not have food or water, no one is looting? What, there’s no crime in Japan? No criminals? Or, better yet, no desperate people who are freaking starving?

Immediately after Ed Shultz showed the Glenn Beck clip, I was relieved to see that Shultz had a “newsflash” about warehouses that had been looted for food and water. Shultz also addressed the fact that some areas have been so absolutely devastated that there isn’t even anything to loot. I was hanging on the edge of my seat, waiting for him to point out what seems so blatant to me. But of course he didn’t.

It’s obvious that some people are looting, as some people always do in a crisis. So, why have I continued to hear multiple newscasters all night long making such a big deal about people NOT looting?

Because it’s the model minority myth working it’s magic. They will continue to show people in the U.S. how well-behaved the Japanese are behaving in the face of disaster, so that they can later contrast it with images of violent, looting, black and brown people. “If the Japanese can act so respectfully after a disaster,” they will ask, “then what’s wrong with those black people in New Orleans and Haiti?”

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Phillip March 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Yes, some are looting in Japan and they were shown on TV and I hard a British newspaper showed two men breaking into a safe. Remember, the golden rule: He who has the gold make the rules. Television media personalities big salaries are paid by corporations. The Japanese companies have a lot of money.


Latina Fatale March 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Excellent point, Phillip.


Phillip March 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I have noticed a lot of programs that focus of Latin drug gangs. I have Latin neighbors and never hear or see them being the least bit rowdy. Yet, when you turn on the TV, all you see is MS-13, Mexican Mafia and any other group they can think of, dealing drugs, robbing, killing and bragging about it. But, any white person dealing drugs, taking drugs or manufacturing drugs is portrayed as a VICTIM and their actions are because of their “illness”.


Latina Fatale March 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm


Yes, the same thing bugs me about drugs, etc. I go to Mexico and I’m alive and well but judging from the media I should have been kidnapped and murdered. I’m not saying that bad stuff isn’t happening there, but there media just oh so loves to over-exaggerate it because then it just reinforces the myth that mexicans are a bunch of cartel thugs


Joyce March 19, 2011 at 12:44 am

The media can lie all it wants, but people can see problems with substance abuse, domestic violence and other crimes right within their own homes. Does the media really think that people in the places where there are few minorities don’t know what their non-black and non-latino friends and family members are doing? Of course they know that drugs, crime, poverty and any other social illness can affect anyone. That is why we have a black president. Wisconsin and Minnesota have small minority populations, but even most of the voters there don’t believe the lies of the corporate media.


Chantilly Patiño March 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Hermana, you are right on! Don’t apologize for your conclusions…they are well-informed and accurate! I am disappointed to hear that newscasters (and idiots like Glen Beck) pointed out their conclusions…and yes, pointing them out serves as a devise that informs Americans that all other minorities are completely uncivilized. “Yes, black and brown people really are savages,” they’re telling us, “Here’s the proof!” I find it completely disgusting and the “model minority” discussion is definitely one that serves to further racism. Great post chica! This is definitely something that we should be talking about!


Latina Fatale March 19, 2011 at 1:23 am

Sooo glad to see that I’m not crazy. Sometimes I overanalyze things and my logic seems to go off the map LOL.


Mike P. March 19, 2011 at 1:41 am

I don’t think the “look, no looting” commentators are very accurate in their comparison.

I have great respect for the Japanese people, and I feel great sorrow for what they are going through. However, one does not need to a take long walk down their history path to realize that they can be as savage as any other race. Perhaps one difference is that they tend to do it to other races more than their own? That’s my most immediate recollection of history without going back to the times prior to the Emperor.

To compare Haiti to Japan ignores the fact that Japan still has a significant infrastructure. They will be able to help themselves, and they have some great people working on the nuclear issue. Haiti was poor to start with, and did not have the buildings to withstand the quake. There is hope for the stricken.

Look how Egypt managed their revolution. At least in the beginning – to be honest, I haven’t had the time to follow it closely since Mubarek stepped down. While there were some issues early on, neighborhoods organized and kept crime under control.

Many factors come in to play in how a society handles a disaster, and I really do not believe the physical factor of “race” is one of them.


Joyce March 19, 2011 at 7:06 am

The “look no looting” commentators are not accurate in their reporting of the facts. Someone at MSNBC actually took the time to read the Japanese newspapers and found many reports of looting.

We are having forest fires, lava flows, earthquakes, floods and tornadoes in the United States, right now. But, where is the international coverage? Where are the reporters to point out that we are not looting? I live in a hurricane zone. During Ike, I left my home and came back to see that no one had broken into and looted my home or the shopping mall across the street. What help did we get from the international community–zilch. I’ve lived through Hurricane Carla, Alicia, Ike and many other hurricanes and tropical storms. But at no time did the media report how dignified and resourceful we were in the face of a natural disaster.

Now the Japanese government says they are overwhelmed and seeking help from a multi-ethnic country with a black president. So much for the points some in the media were trying to make. Why can’t Americans be proud of being a multi-ethnic country where most people actually get along with each other. This is a far cry from the ethnic warmongering in places like Eastern Europe.


Mike P. April 14, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I don’t get why we don’t make an effort to get along, either. The other day I tried to understand someone’s pt on Twitter, and had to listen to rant about how %99.9 of all white people are racist. When he stated that all black men who marry white woman are race traitors, I stopped listening.

I think the loudest people are those filled with hate. This is essentially what drives the teaparty, but they are cleverly managed so their hatred leads to nice corporate profits instead of the change we so desire.

I hate the thought of having to start yelling loudly, but I don’t know how else to knock some of these people off their platforms, or least make it so that no one gathers around their little soapbox.

I have more to say on this, but comments are supposed to be comments, not posting in their own right :-)


Nate March 25, 2011 at 6:12 am

In full agreement with you on this one, it’s sickening, as it is so obvious that the media filtering that message by ignoring anyone who might think otherwise. What I’ve found the most disappointing is the 18-35 crowd in the US post Obama has in some ways failed to grapple with race issues, with thing like environmental justice relegated to some obscure corner of academia.


Javan September 14, 2011 at 4:52 am

sorry for the late reply, but If that Earthquake happend in Tokyo, it would be a different story. Not to say that people in small towns don’t loot. But remember in WW2 when the US dropped the bombs. It was a mess, people that survived at the time was looting too.

So They are just like everyone else.


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