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One Woman's Opinion

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The Writer I Always Want to be

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— In my recent “A year in Japan, 1964-65” series in my One Woman’s Opinion column in the Sentinel, I left out a very important story. I thought it, even these 53 years later, too distressing to write about.

Then I saw a picture of me in the Gloucester Gazette-Journal last week with the caption that called me “a writer that is shy of no subject.” That is exactly the kind of writer that I have always strived to be but when I read those words, I instantly realized that in my series on Japan I had not lived up to those words.

So now I want to add a postscript tale to my Japan series even though the previously untold story still upsets me.

One day Mama-san (my Japanese babysitter) and I were out walking in Yokosuka when an African-American sailor dressed in the striking bright white U.S. Navy uniform crossed the street in front of us. She pointed to him and said a Japanese word I did not understand, then giggled with her hand covering her mouth as was the usual Japanese custom.

“What did you say about the U.S. sailor, Mama-san?” I asked. She repeated the word which I still did not understand. I asked her what that word meant. 

“Crow,” she said, suddenly looking embarrassed. Then she went on to explain. We Japanese call black Americans “crows.”

I stopped in my tracks and gasped at her blatant disrespect. I felt my entire body taken over with an emotion that could only be called rage. I tried not to speak, I wanted to wait until I could settle my sense of blind fury, but my angry words flew out of my mouth.

“Don’t you ever again call any American military personnel such a word!” I shouted as Mama-san visibly cringed in front of me. I was introducing her to an American side she had never seen before in me. Our shopping plans were aborted and we did not speak driving all the way back to our homes in Akiya.

I am still outraged at the memory of this incident. To think the U.S. military was in Japan protecting the citizens from the spread of communism in Southeast Asia and at our great expense and personal sacrifice and Mama-san dared to disparage any of us. I never forgot the incident.

Yet, there was a positive side to this dark event. It taught me what racism was and that it was not only an American problem, but it was a problem all over the world. 

I have asked myself thousands of times why people everywhere in the world seem to have a need to look down on others. I have no answer, but my travels have clearly delivered the truth to me that every country in the world has some sub-group that is disparaged. Whether it is color of skin, religion, ethnic group or whatever reason, there seems no rationale in such behavior other than it seems to be an unfortunate innate human trait.

I knew while in Japan the Japanese also looked down on their immigrating Korean citizens that were fleeing communism. They, too, were treated badly. Whether this has changed over the decades, I do not know.

One thing I do know, however. The American military has done more to combat racism and change other negative attitudes than any other group in the world. Thanks to President Harry S. Truman, the military branches were open to all Americans in 1948 and I believe every branch of service has been successful uniting all Americans who serve their country into one big family. I take my hat off to our military for such success.

Over the years I have thought a great deal about racism and other forms of bias. In my younger years I have even used my pen and the pages of the Southside Sentinel to open society up to more opportunities for women. Yet, I have no special wisdom to share as to how to change human behavior other than simply telling my story.

So I now have told the story. Living in Japan that year was not all perfect and all happiness and roses. But it did open my eyes to many painful things that I had never noticed at home. And I feel better now that I have lived up to the caption of a “writer that is shy of no subject.” That is the writer I always want to be.


posted 06.27.2018

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