Hi! My Name is Loco and I Am a Racist
by Baye McNeil
The book’s title is a bit surprising, first of all, but don’t be put off!
I downloaded Hi! My Name is Loco and I Am a Racist to my kindle midway through a spring-break workday, partly because it was something I wanted to read, and partly because I thought I “should,” for various reasons, most of them being I’m not sure I understand racism. Having read a bit of Loco’s blog, I expected to laugh and to be challenged, but I never expected to cry.
Author Baye McNeil, called Loco, is a popular blogger who lives in Yokohama, Japan; he is originally from New York. This book is part memoir, part exploration of a social psyche, and is presented in a very accessible voice. Loco writes like he’s just sharing himself with you as the reader, which he mostly is. Loco is incredibly candid about his adventures (and misadventures—though he never whines like even the best of us are apt to do sometimes), giving us a glimpse into his childhood experiences growing up in Brooklyn, his time in the US military, 9/11 in New York, and his move to Japan. Once in Japan he was first an eikaiwa teacher and later took a job in a junior high school. In Japan, Loco met the woman he would fall in love with, even as he found himself increasingly angry with the rest of her race. Any foreigner living and working in this country will find that his stories about life (and racism) in Japan ring all too true.
It all begins with the empty seat, perhaps so powerful because of its near constancy: that spot beside you on the bench that remains open even though the train is pretty crowded. Fear and distrust push people away, but Loco does not focus so much on the Japanese reaction to him as he does to his own reaction to their behavior. He has invented games to try to keep him from assuming the worst about his fellow human beings, and strives still to give them the benefit of the doubt, lest racism leak in and win over his good sense.
The most interesting thing for me about this book was the unabashed treatment Loco is able to give looking into his own racism. Through this book, we find that racism isn’t something only for the ignorant or evil, and though it may be an exceedingly uncomfortable discussion, we do need to ask ourselves important questions about our reactions to others. Even thoughtful folks with intelligence and compassion can and have been conditioned to be racist; the line Born to Love – Taught to Loathe summarizes it neatly. We all have biases and prejudices whether or not we admit them (or examine them). Loco invites you to explore them through his eyes!
It’s raw, honest, laugh-out-loud funny in some places, seriously challenging in others, and heartbreaking in still others. I highly recommend this for all my fellow JETs and other foreigners who live, love, and even loathe in Japan.
Loco’s blog: http://www.locoinyokohama.com/
Are You a Racist? This Guy is… [An interview with Loco]: http://www.survivingnjapan.com/2012/02/are-you-racist-this-guy-is-interview.html