[By Tsunehiko Kato]
Japan Black Studies Association was founded in 1954, the year of the Supreme Court decision in America. But it was not the founders’ intention to be timely. Rather, the establishment had its own root in Japanese context. Objectively speaking, the Association was part of newly liberated larger social and academic movements in Japan for enhancement of democracy, peace and human rights in the post-war and the emergent cold-war period. Although people were very poor, this period had liberating effects upon Japanese intellectuals after the long winter of militarism and oppression of speech. The encounter with American democracy and culture was the important part of the liberating effects. But some intellectuals were aware that even in democratic America, there were people who had been excluded from it. It seems to be not an accident that JBSA started from Kobe where there were two kinds of U.S. military bases, that is, one for white soldiers and another for black soldiers. Those people who created JBSA were also aware that a post-colonial world was emerging in Africa as well as in Asia and Latin America. They were keen on learning from their history and experience. So JBSA had from the start an interdisciplinary approach as well as post-colonial concerns.
But the Association did not start from nothing. It had a pre-history. Some of the Japanese scholars in American literature even in pre-war days had written articles and books on black literature in America and when Richard Wright published his Native Son in 1940, there were people who read the Japanese translation of it the next year. So it was not quite extraordinary that JBSA was founded by scholars in American studies, however marginal they were in the mainstream academic world.
JBSA was also unique in the way it was organized. One of the founders, Prof. Nukina didn’t like the idea of hierarchy and he insisted and others followed that there should be no head of our association. So everybody was supposed to participate in the JBSA as an equal. JBSA was not established as an exclusive academic organization, but was open to ordinary citizens interested in racial issues. Although it was objectively part of the social movements, it defined itself not as a political organization, but an academic one with study of black peoples in the world as a sole objective. Another distinguishing characteristic of JBSA is that there is no stiff or formal atmosphere often associated with Japanese academic associations. These are characteristics of this association which, I suppose, made possible the long-life it has enjoyed since its establishment.
Until now we have had 10 workshops a year, which amounted to 500 times at the time of the 50th Anniversary ten years ago. We have published an academic journal at least once a year. This year’s issue is No. 82．
(This paper is the abridged version of the forthcoming article of mine which is to be on the March issue of Journal of Black Studies edited by Molefi Kete Asante).
- Tsunehiko Kato, Ritsumeikan University and JBSA President