Mar 192014
 

This morning, I went to the jinja near my office to pay my respects to the kami. There happened to be a Japanese woman paying her respects at the same time, and as I stepped back to leave, she turned towards me and murmured (in Japanese) “Wonderful!”.

I assume that she was referring to the way I had followed the correct etiquette. It is, after all, extremely unlikely that she was referring to my appearance. On the other hand, would she have felt the need to say anything had I not appeared white? I rather doubt it.

That doubt is the defining experience of not having white privilege.

“White Privilege” is a term used to describe the unearned entitlement of white people. It seems to have been coined by Peggy McIntosh in a paper entitled “White Privilege and Male Privilege” in 1988, and an excerpt from that paper, called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is widely available online. This idea has recently become popular in the phrase “check your privilege”.

White people in the UK clearly have white privilege; white people in Japan do not. First, I want to defend the second half of that assertion. Then I want to discuss some of the implications I have drawn from my personal experience of having white privilege, and then not having it.

McIntosh’s article gives a convenient list of 50 privileges that come with being white. Many of them are not available to white people in Japan. For example, the first one is “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”, which is impossible for white people here. Similarly, number 6 is “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.” Er, no. Or 21: “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” I’ve been explicitly asked to do that; it is part of the job description of the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. Or 38: “I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.” No. And, of course, number 50: “I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.” Welcome, possibly. Normal, definitely not.

More generally, “white privilege” is often described as the privilege of having your race not matter. People do not see your race, they just see a person. That is emphatically not the case in Japan; I am a white person first, and whatever else I may be after people have got to know me a bit.

Unless everyone describing “white privilege” online has the concept completely wrong (and they don’t), I lost my white privilege when I came to Japan.

What lessons do I draw from this experience?

First, it is very hard to notice white privilege if you have it, because there is nothing to notice. That is the point. Your race just doesn’t come up.

Second, all white people in the USA have white privilege. It doesn’t matter how poor you are, or how much you suffer discrimination in other ways, your white skin still means that you have white privilege.

Consider President Obama. He clearly has vastly more privilege than the overwhelming majority of white US residents. He is the president. But they have white privilege and he doesn’t. No-one asked whether people were opposed to Dubya because of his race; people do ask that about Obama. (It is worth noting that, if I became prime minister of Japan, people would wonder about the influence of my race. See also point 38, above.) “White privilege” may not have been the best name for the issue, because the connotations of “privilege” are a bit more positive than what it actually gets you.

Third, however, white privilege really is a benefit. It is wearing and stressful to stand out all the time, to constantly be wondering whether people are judging you on your race, to constantly have to wonder whether your race will cause a problem.

That is even true when you do not really face any racism. I don’t think that there is a significant amount of racism directed against white people in Japan. I’ve encountered almost no personal racism, and there are too few white people for systemic racism to be anything more than an unintended side effect of other policies. Nevertheless, the lack of “yellow privilege” is a problem.

There are two points arising from this.

First, I think the loss of white privilege is what makes some white residents of Japan think that there is a lot of racism directed against white people here. It’s uncomfortable, and it involves things that are called racism back home in the USA.

Second, I don’t think it is racism even in the USA. It is entirely understandable that people of colour would think that it was, because it is impossible, in their experience, to separate it from the racism that they do experience. However, the issues are separable, and white people in Japan get the loss of white privilege without the racism. I think the people who see this as racism are mistaken, albeit for understandable reasons.

That has a couple of practical consequences.

Me and my family, all in kimonos, at a jinja.

And if I really want to stand out…

I think that members of minorities need to suck this up and deal with it. If you are a visible minority, you will stand out, you won’t find members of your race around all the time, and people will take actions and ask questions based on your race. That isn’t racist. It’s just a fact of your situation. If you can’t cope with it, move somewhere where you are not a visible minority. If you decide that moving is harder than dealing with it, that is an important discovery. Thinking of it as racism is a mistake, because it just increases your hostility to the society you live in, for no good reason.

What’s more, I don’t think it can be changed. I am never going to fade into the background into Japan. It doesn’t matter how accepting of white people the Japanese are, or how much they treat me just like a Japanese person. I will always look different, and thus be memorable, and inspire questions and comments that would not be inspired by someone who looked “normal”.

The other side of the coin is that it is stressful, and it is pleasant to deal with people who don’t seem to take your race to be a defining issue, and don’t say anything to draw attention to it.

So, if you’re a white American, you’re quite right that it isn’t racist to ask someone where they came from, or how they got into needlepoint, or gaming, or whatever. On the other hand, if one of the reasons you are interested is because you don’t see many non-white people in that context, it is considerate to not ask, at least not at first. If you’ve been sharing a hobby with someone for a while, it’s natural to swap stories of how you got into it. It’s not a natural question the first time you meet, for someone you’d expect to be in the hobby. (It is notable that the only white Shinto priest in Japan says that he got into Shinto because he thought the shoes were cool. To me, that sounds like the response of someone who has been asked that question too many times.)

It’s important to remember the difference in perspective. There are very few white people with a deep interest in and knowledge of Shinto. A Shinto priest could easily go his entire life without meeting one, so of course I’m interesting, and priests I meet tend to be curious about why I’m involved in Shinto. On the other hand, I am always a white person with a deep interest in and knowledge of Shinto when I meet a Shinto priest, so I get it almost every time. It’s like making a joke about someone’s name — even if it is funny, they have heard it lots of times already. (Unless they only changed their name a few minutes earlier and have been in your company ever since, so you know you’re the first person to do it.)

Let’s summarise.

  • White privilege is a real thing, and not having it is a genuine source of stress and discomfort.
  • White people do not necessarily have white privilege; it depends on their society.
  • If some white people have white privilege in a particular society, they all do.
  • The discomfort resulting from not having white privilege is not the result of racism.
  • Nevertheless, a lot of groups do suffer both racism and the lack of white privilege.
  • White people in Japan do not have white privilege, but neither do they suffer from racism.
  • It is not racist to do the things that cause stress and discomfort to people without white privilege.
  • It is, however, considerate to avoid doing them.
Jan 232014
 

This post may come across as something of a rant, and possibly also as a humble brag. I have to concede that I’m ranting a bit, but I would like to emphasise that there is nothing humble about the bragging parts, and that I am entirely serious about the humble parts.

This rant was inspired by my misreading* of a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s blog by a (different) successful author. In it, she repeats the claim that persistence is essential, even the only essential thing, and illustrates it with her life story. It is true that persistence appears to have led her to success. There are a number of other famous examples of this available.

The overwhelming level of sample bias here robs the evidence of all meaning. What about all the persistent people who haven’t succeeded? Nobody listens to their stories, because they are nobodies. Why would you take life lessons from someone who has failed? Well, because if you only listen to people who have succeeded, you get a seriously distorted picture.

So, in full awareness that essentially no-one is going to read this, because I’m not famous enough, I’m going to tell the echoing ether that persistence isn’t enough, and isn’t even necessary.

Let’s take “not enough” first. I write and develop roleplaying games. I need to say that because hardly anybody has heard of me. I’ve been doing it professionally for 20 years; longer than Chris Pramas at Green Ronin, and a lot more people have heard of him. He even has a Wikipedia page.

I’ve not had a rejection letter for roleplaying games since I returned to them after deciding that they were not Satanic, around the age of 18. So, that thing about everyone having to collect piles of rejection letters? Not true. I’ve won an Origins Award and a gold ENnie award, helped out by the name recognition of Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein•Hagen, but for a product, Ars Magica Fifth Edition, that was essentially my work. The previous four editions, which were not my work, did not win. I’ve been developing Ars Magica for longer than anyone else, and I’m getting close to having done it for longer than everyone else who has had the job put together. John Nephew has not fired me. He’s even given me pay rises and bonuses from time to time.

I do not suck, at least not as a roleplaying game author and developer. Because I am not depressed, I know that I do not suck. I do not suck, and I have kept this up for 20 years. Talent and persistence, getting published, I must have succeeded, right?

Wrong. Obviously, I don’t make a decent amount of money from roleplaying. Nobody makes a decent amount of money from roleplaying (except Robin Laws). But further than that, I have almost no name recognition. I’m working on a new roleplaying game, Kannagara, but does the fact that I am working on a new roleplaying game create any buzz anywhere? No. Now, we aren’t talking about fame. While people in the industry will recognise the names I’ve been dropping, I suspect that only the most dedicated roleplaying fans would do so in general. That’s the level I’m aiming at, and haven’t reached.

So yeah, persistence doesn’t always work.

I’ve also written a novel, and tried the online crowdfunding model. That was Tamao. That didn’t work, either. People I didn’t know did send me money. One guy even sent me $25 a couple of years after I’d finished, when it was obvious he wasn’t going to get any more story out of it. So, it doesn’t suck. Strangers don’t send you money because you wrote something that sucked. And I finished it. Wrote the whole thing in a year. That’s persistence.

No success yet.

Then there’s my blog. Not this one. I’m not so brazen as to claim persistence here, but my Japanese one. Every day, for nearly eight years. Recently, at least 1,000 characters (roughly 500 words equivalent) every day. Frequent and regular updates with new material, sustained over a long period of time. That’s how you make a successful blog, right? I’m averaging about 100 views per day, and no comments. That’s not a successful blog.

But I’ve not given up. I still do it every day. It has been great Japanese practice. Lots of persistence here.

No success, though.

On the other hand, let’s consider an area where I wasn’t persistent. Philosophy. I got a PhD in philosophy from Cambridge 15 years ago. So, yes, I was persistent enough to finish a dissertation. I then spent five years trying to get a job in philosophy. Failed.

So I chucked it in and came to Japan.

A couple of years ago, I was offered a job, which I’m still doing, based on having that PhD. The content of my work has steadily got closer to the content of my dissertation, to the point that, this year, I will be directly applying my PhD to my work, in the private sector. The job doesn’t currently pay brilliantly (start up), but it pays a lot more than minimum wage. And a lot more than roleplaying games, novels, or blogs — at least for me.

This means that the area where I wasn’t persistent, the area that I abandoned pretty much completely for eight years, is the area where I currently seem to have the most success. It has at least as much promise for future success as any of the others as well.

Persistence: not needed, and not enough. Rather overrated, all round.

When you are struggling with something you want to do, but are not succeeding at, the big question can be framed as “Which story am I starring in?”. Are you starring in a story of someone who holds on to their dream, struggles through the difficult years of no recognition and piles of rejection slips, before finally succeeding? Or are you starring in a story of someone who wastes his life producing things that no-one wants to read, dying with piles of manuscripts that do not become interesting even posthumously?

Obviously, if you’re in the first story, you should not give up. Keep pushing! Keep writing! Persistence!

If you’re in the second story, you should quit now. Do something more productive with your life. Everyone has something to offer to the world. In your case, this isn’t it. Abandon the illusion that is holding you back, and find your calling!

So, which story are you in? It’s really, really hard to tell. In fact, I suspect it’s impossible to tell. That makes it unfortunate that the two stories recommend diametrically opposed courses of action.

This is why living a good life is hard. The decisions are not easy. There are no universal prescriptions that will always lead you to the right decision. Sometimes, you should give up. Sometimes, giving up will actually lead to success in the area where you gave up. And sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should be persistent.

Sometimes you should do what you love. Sometimes you should recognise reality and do what is necessary to live. Sometimes your family should come first, and sometimes you should prioritise work for a while to make sure that your family has a home and food. Sometimes you should stand up for what you believe, and sometimes you should keep your head down and wait for the persecution to pass.

There are no easy answers, and most people never get to know whether they made the right decisions. So, if you are a struggling writer, you have to decide for yourself whether you should give up. I’m not going to recommend either option. Giving up worked for me; persisting worked for other people.

I’m afraid you have to run your own life.

* The original post was by Kameron Hurley, and it turns out that her point was that she had redefined “success” in terms of persisting, so that the lack of other kinds of success wouldn’t put her off. Since that is what I have done for my Japanese blog, I think it’s perfectly reasonable. The post above still stands, however. Back

Oct 202013
 

One of my friends on Facebook pointed out a blog entry on the Petrie Multiplier. The basic idea is this. If we assume that men and women are equally sexist, we might assume that men and women will encounter equal amounts of sexism. However, that is not the case if the populations are unequal. There are more men making sexist remarks, and fewer women to encounter them, so women actually encounter far more sexism than men. In fact, the difference in encountered sexism is the square of the ratio between the sexes.

The basic idea here seems sound. However, the assumption that people have a fixed number of sexist remarks to make is unrealistic. It has sexists searching out women if they can’t find them.

I got interested, so I wrote a python script to simulate something more realistic. The conditions are as follows.

Men and women have the same probabilities of making a sexist remark in a conversation. 50% of both sexes never do. 10% have a 20% chance of making a sexist remark, 10% have a 40% chance, and so on. In keeping with the original, 80% of the population are men, and 20% are women.

Every conversation includes a random sample of people from the whole population (which includes 50 people, to have one woman with every level of sexism, and the corresponding number of men). 30% of conversations involve 2 people, 20% involve 3, and 10% each involve 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

There is one other condition. People only make sexist remarks if they are not outnumbered, in that conversation, by members of the opposite sex. In a one-on-one conversation, either side may be sexist.

The script then counts up the number of sexist remarks directed against their own sex encountered by each member of the population, over a total of 500 meetings. (Note that each member only participates in a few of those meetings.)

The results of one run, in increasing order of sexist remarks encountered, look like this:

Men who encountered 0 sexist remarks: 34 (85%)
Men who encountered 1 sexist remark: 4 (10%)
Men who encountered 3 sexist remarks: 2 (5%)
Women who encountered 29 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 36 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 39 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 40 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 41 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 45 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 47 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 49 sexist remarks: 2
Women who encountered 50 sexist remarks: 1

The results are broadly similar if I re-run the script, although the precise numbers obviously change.

It is important to note that men and women are equally sexist in this model. Nevertheless, women suffer from overwhelmingly more sexism.

What happens if we drop the probability of sexism, so that only 10% of men and 10% of women make sexist remarks, and then only do it 20% of the time?

The results of one 500-encounter run look like this:

Men who encountered 0 sexist remarks: 40 (100%)
Women who encountered 1 sexist remark: 2
Women who encountered 2 sexist remarks: 3
Women who encountered 3 sexist remarks: 2
Women who encountered 4 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 5 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 8 sexist remarks: 1

So, even in a situation in which sexism has been almost completely eliminated, women are still encountering a substantial amount of sexism. Indeed, because the logic is independent, we can produce representative results for a situation in which women are far, far more sexist than men, in that women keep the original chances, and thus half of them make sexist remarks at least sometimes, while only 10% of men ever make sexist remarks, and they only do it 20% of the time. We just paste together the results for men from the first run, and for women from the second. The results look like this:

Men who encountered 0 sexist remarks: 34 (85%)
Men who encountered 1 sexist remark: 4 (10%)
Men who encountered 3 sexist remarks: 2 (5%)
Women who encountered 1 sexist remark: 2
Women who encountered 2 sexist remarks: 3
Women who encountered 3 sexist remarks: 2
Women who encountered 4 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 5 sexist remarks: 1
Women who encountered 8 sexist remarks: 1

In other words, given the gender imbalance, women will experience far more sexism than men even if women are far more sexist than men.

The assumptions here are only borderline realistic, but the results should give both sides in the debate pause. It makes it overwhelmingly likely that there is a serious problem with sexism against women in tech, and no problem with sexism against men, at the community level. However, that fact is no evidence that men in tech are, individually, more sexist than women in tech.

Here is the original script (Python 3.3, and I have absolutely no idea whether that matters), which may contain glaring errors as it is the first python program I ever wrote. Yes, the above results might be drivel. The logic looks OK to me, and the probabilities must be the right way round because reducing them reduced the amount of sexism. Still, approach with caution.

Edit 2014/02/09: I’ve added some more comments to the code. If anyone knows why code tags do not preserve indentation, please let me know in the comments.


import random

# Establish the list of sexism probabilities.

probabilities = [1, 0.8, 0.6, 0.4, 0.2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0]

sex = ['male', 'male', 'male', 'male', 'female']

population = []

x = 0

# This section sets up the population. Each element is a person. w is their sex, v how likely they are to make sexist remarks, x their number in the population, and the final element is the number of sexist remarks they have encountered.

for i, v in enumerate(probabilities):
for j, w in enumerate(sex):
population.append([w, v, x, 0])
x = x + 1

print(population)

group = [2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

msexist = 0
fsexist = 0

# The for loop does the 500 meetings.

for count in range(500):

# Choose the group size.

size = random.choice(group)

# Choose the appropriate number of people randomly from the population.

meeting = random.sample(population, size)

print(meeting)

# Initialise the number of men, women, and sexist remarks.

men = 0
women = 0
msexist = 0
fsexist = 0

# Count the number of men and women in the group.

for i, v in enumerate(meeting):
if v[0] == 'male':
men = men + 1
else:
women = women + 1

print(men)
print(women)

# Check for sexism.
# First, if there are at least as many men as women, check to see whether the men make sexist remarks. If they do, increase the count of sexist remarks made by men by one.

if men >= women:
for i, v in enumerate(meeting):
if v[0] == 'male':
if v[1] >= random.random():
msexist = msexist + 1

# Next, if there are more women than men, do the same for women. This should be "equal to or greater", but I think using elif here means that this section is skipped when the numbers are equal. Given that equal numbers will be rare, that shouldn't affect the results too much, but the was a logic problem in the code.

elif women >= men:
for i, v in enumerate(meeting):
if v[0] == 'female':
if v[1] >= random.random():
fsexist = fsexist + 1

# For every man in the group, add the number of sexist remarks made by women to the number of sexist remarks he has encountered. Then copy him back into the population. (I suspect that this is unnecessary, because Python actually operates on the elements on the population rather than on clones, but having taught myself Python to write this code, I'm not sure.)

for i, v in enumerate(meeting):
if v[0] == 'male':
v[3] = v[3] + fsexist
population[v[2]] = v

# For every woman in the group, add the number of sexist remarks made by men.

else:
v[3] = v[3] + msexist
population[v[2]] = v

# Sort the population into order by number of sexist remarks, because the final analysis is done by hand.

population.sort(key=lambda population: population[3])

print(population)

Jul 102013
 

The page for my television appearance is online at last. It has some details about the programme, so feel free to take a look if you are interested.

The programme is half an hour long, and will be broadcast six times over the course of 24 hours on July 16th GMT. The times are on the programme’s page, and people in the UK should not forget to adjust for summer time; the 08:30 showing will actually start at 09:30.

So, how can you see it? This page gives instructions for seeing it on television. It does rely on you having an appropriate cable or satellite service, but the quality will be best if you can see it on an actual television. (Alas, a larger screen will be able to do nothing to mitigate the fact that I am in it.)

If that isn’t an option, you can also watch it online, on the NHK World homepage. There are also iOS and Android apps that allow you to watch it on appropriate devices.

Let me know if you have any questions about how to watch it.

Jun 092013
 

I have a new project, and it has its own website: Mimusubi. It’s a role-playing game about creating things. Those of you with good memories may remember some work on this topic here a couple of years ago. I’ll be discussing the design on the Mimusubi website, and plan to release it commercially in some form. If you’re interested, please go and take a look.

Yes, adding Mimusubi to the Japanese blog probably does mean that this blog will be neglected even more than it has been recently. Insofar as that is possible.

Jan 142013
 

In mid-December, a new right wing government was elected in Japan. Some people have even described it as “far right”. So, now it’s in office, what has it done?

The first concrete policy announcement was a ¥20 trillion (about $200 billion) spending package to boost the economy, with an emphasis on public works, such as reconstructing Tohoku, improving the earthquake resistance of schools, and testing and repairing ageing infrastructure.

The second concrete policy announcement was a rise in the top rate of income tax from 40% to 45%, and in the top rate of inheritance tax from 50% to 55%, with the explicit goal of reducing income inequality in society.

Just like the UK Conservatives or US Republicans, then. Right? Really?

Jan 122013
 

I’ve been having some problems with my server. First, I was massively over quota because of the archives of the development mailing lists I run for Ars Magica. As part of the solution to that problem (which was my fault, although it took tech support about five attempts to work out where the files taking up my quota were; I don’t think many people use mailing lists these days), I was moved to a newer server, with a larger quota.

That server then got blacklisted as a spammer. It’s not clear why that happened, but apparently it can take up to two weeks to clear the blacklisting. So I got moved to yet another shared server.

I appear to have lost at least one email in the transition. Right now (9:30am JST) I think I’ve answered all the emails I received that needed an answer. (Comments about my posting to Facebook don’t need an answer.) So, if you thought you would get an answer and haven’t, please send your email again, because I probably didn’t get it. (I stopped responding to the test emails I requested when I sent out the general “Communication Restored” email, for the people who got those.)

Incidentally, I can recommend Liquid Web as a hosting provider. It works fine almost all the time, and the support staff are very quick about fixing things when there is a problem, even when (as with the spam blacklisting) the problem is not their fault. Also, their tech support does not treat you like an idiot. They might not be ideal if you know nothing about running a web site, because I don’t think they will actually set everything up for you, but if you have a basic idea and are willing to learn, they’re great. They do try to make it as easy for you as possible, in my experience.

Dec 292012
 

Today, Mayuki has to go for her first booster jab for her Japanese encephalitis vaccination. We hadn’t booked it, but there were slots today, so we made a quick appointment. First, however, we had to convince Mayuki that this was a good idea. She remembered last time, so she wasn’t initially enthusiastic, but after Yuriko reminded her that she hadn’t actually passed out last time, I spent about half an hour convincing her that, although the injection did hurt a bit, it would stop her getting ill.

I don’t know how far she understood, but she did come round to the idea, and agree to go to have the injection.

Then, while she was waiting for Yuriko to get ready, she drew a picture book.

This book is the story of Moko-chan, whose mother told her to go and have her booster jab by herself. She was crying on the way to the clinic as she thought about the needle (picture of crying Moko-chan with a thought bubble of the needle), but then she realised that she could throw the needles in the sea. (Smiling Moko-chan, with thought bubble of needles going into the sea.) So she went to the clinics, gathered up the needles, and threw them in the sea.

But then, Mayuki added, the other children at kindergarten told her that she should have the vaccination, so she went back to the clinics to have it properly.

Apparently, the Moko-chan stories are very famous in America, and Mayuki just made them up today. This story is number two, and tomorrow she will make up number one. I’m looking forward to it.