“Selling-out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules, and rewards”
A couple weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with two sistas while in Atlanta. For those who don’t know, Atlanta is a hub for black intellectuals. One lady, who held a PhD in Education, hinted that I was a sell-out due to the fact that I lived in Japan. Both women seemed genuinely surprised when I did not become emotional to defend myself and, instead, wanted to hear more. After a litany of questions, my accusers concluded their interrogation with: “You married a Japanese woman, is that right?”
By this time, I had gotten a pretty good idea of their angle, so I suspected this question was their coup de grace. In other words they thought they had me on the ropes. That is, until I revealed that my mother was Japanese and that, although I had been raised mostly outside of Japan, I was raised by Asian women almost exclusively until I started school in the U.S. Hearing this, their eyes opened wide as their jaws hit the floor.
“Okay,” one of them reluctantly admitted following a long pause, “so maybe you are not the Uncle Tom we thought you were…but the rest of those black men who run-off to Japan are straight-up sell-outs!” she emphasized with a finger pointing diagonally upward to indicate somewhere “over there.”
“Hey, hey, can you stop pointing like that?” I said in a joking tone. “People might start thinking I’m harassing you, or something.” Not only did this comment lighten the mood it signaled the end of this conversation. Perhaps the women felt embarrassed for their erroneous assumption; in any case, they were quick to change the subject. At that point, two more people joined us so I never was able to steer our discussion back in that direction.
After landing in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport a week later I was reminded of this conversation so, during my layover, I attempted to greet over twenty of the darker-skinned tourists. Only six responded. I did not immediately jump to the conclusion that their aloofness was personal; i.e. it had anything to do with me. After all, following a long flight some were probably tired, or just having a bad day. In addition, I surmised, perhaps some of the females may have seen my outward friendliness as an attempt to make a pass at them. Who knows? However, for me, the part that was most telling was how difficult it was just to make eye-contact with my ‘brothers and sisters’ because the overwhelming majority of them were avoiding me like the plague. They did this by staring in the other direction; or some even went great lengths to take an alternate route so as to not have to approach me at all.
Hmm, am I imagining this?
To verify my findings, after returning to Nagoya, I asked five people of color their opinion and each of them agreed that, in their experience, most blacks in Japan don’t like other black people.
Is this true? And if so, does that mean they are sell-outs?
“They (Blacks) act like they don’t see me…they don’t want to know me,” chimed-in one American woman. She went on to explain how she experienced the same thing in South Korea. In response to whether or not she felt this phenomenon was isolated to blacks migrating to foreign countries, she replied. “Black folks don’t act right with each other in the U.S. or abroad.”
“Selling out” is a common idiomatic pejorative expression for the compromising of a person’s integrity, morality, authenticity, or principles in exchange for personal gain. Traitor, treachery, double-cross, duplicity, and even “Judas Kiss” are some of the synonyms associated with this term.
These are some very strong (not to mention insulting and hurtful) labels to pin on someone. But are they deserved? In the next episode of the Nippon Series, we will explore another type of sellout to examine if this peculiar behavior only applies to blacks.
Takuan Amaru is the author of the trilogy, Gaikokujin – The Story.