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Doctoral Project

The Elusive Champion – Japanese Aspirations against African American and Vietnamese Hopes in the Context of White Supremacy
Tarik Merida (M.A.)

In recent decades, much has been written about the international meaning of Japan’s ascendancy on the world stage, and scholars agree that in the eyes of colored people, Japan became a possible ally in the fight against racism. However, despite the growing interest in Japan’s symbolic meaning for colored races, no study as yet exists of the nation’s opinion about its supposed role as a champion of the darker races. This gives a false idea of what Japan, especially the Japanese government, was aiming at: in the case of the Russo-Japanese War for example, a close analysis of the government’s actions reveals that everything was done in order not to arouse any suspicion about an alliance between colored and that there was a huge discrepancy between what non-whites were expecting and what Japan was actually doing.

This dissertation is a study of Japan’s attitude towards non-white people and how it created its own racial identity in the context of white supremacy. As non-white actors, African Americans and Vietnamese have been chosen. The focus will be put on the period between the Meiji Restoration and the Paris Peace Conference.

The first aim of this dissertation is to highlight the discrepancy between what African Americans and Vietnamese were expecting of Japan and the goals of the latter.

The misunderstanding that there was a racial bond between Japanese, Vietnamese and African Americans led the two latter to believe that Japan was fighting a war of liberation for colored races. In fact the misunderstanding was less about the existence of a racial bond than about the way Japan saw its own racial identity: Japanese had been classified as a member of the Mongolian race and thus was in fact colored. However, this is not how the Japanese government wanted to see itself, as it sought to be accepted as an “honorary” member of the white race.

The only way to do this was to use the tools forged by western racial theorists and to adopt them, which gave birth to a peculiar situation in which a colored nation defined itself using the western racial theories that had made it colored. The second aim of this dissertation is to analyze how exactly Japan created its own racial identity in the context of white supremacy and how it used the particular cases of African Americans and Vietnamese to distance itself from the category “colored.”