The Canadian Independent

Quick, Ban the sumo suit, its “racist”

Posted in Fuzzy Philosophical or Moral Issues, Politics by dave on April 1, 2010

Dear AMS members and members of the Queen’s community,
We are writing in regards to an event that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday March 30th, organized and run by a group in the AMS. This event was planned to have students don padded suits, coloured and designed to resemble Japanese sumo wrestlers. The Facebook event created to advertise this event, entitled “SUMO Showdown,” included a picture of two cartoon Japanese wrestlers grappling.

We recognize racism as the systemic oppression, both intentional and unintentional, of individuals and groups based on racial or ethnic identities.

Regrettably, those of us who were aware of the event did not critically consider the racist meaning behind it. Asking students to wear these suits and partake in the activity appropriates an aspect of Japanese culture. This is wrong because it turns a racial identity into a costume; the process of putting-on and taking-off a racial identity is problematic because it dehumanizes those who share that identity and fails to capture the deeply imbedded histories of violent and subversive oppression that a group has faced. The event also devalues an ancient and respected Japanese sport, which is rich in history and cultural tradition.

Student unions and student politics are dominated by minor issues made into major issues. The whole undergraduate world is a bubble of its own substance filled with activists with their own pet issues. Ethnic studies and “anti-racism” is one of them.

However these students get the analysis wrong. Look at their own definition of racism:

We recognize racism as the systemic oppression, both intentional and unintentional, of individuals and groups based on racial or ethnic identities.

The key word here is ‘systemic oppression.’ Oppression in a real sense is the violation of a person’s rights, the initiation of coercion or violence against a person or their property by another person. If someone says something mean about me, this isn’t necessarily a violation of my rights. If someone says something mean about my race or my occupation or gender, this isn’t a violation of my rights either. These things aren’t nice, but there are a lot of things that aren’t nice that aren’t a violation of my rights, and therefore are not oppression.

College kids dressing up in sumo suits, a caricature of a Japanese sport, isn’t oppression, its just fun.

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