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Media Representations of African American Athletes in Cold War Japan

Yu Sasaki

Media Representations of African American Athletes in Cold War Japan addresses the cross-cultural dialogue between Black America and Japan that was enabled through sports during the Cold War era. This topic has hitherto received little scholarly attention in both American studies and sports studies. After World War II, Cold War tensions pulled African American athletes to the center stage and initiated their international mobility. They served as both athletic Cold Warriors and embodiments of a colorblind American democracy. This book focuses on sports in the Cold War era as a significant battlefield that operated as an ideologically and racially contested terrain. Yu Sasaki argues that one of the most crucial Cold War racial contacts occurred through sports in Asia, and particularly, in Japan. The mobility of African American athletes captured the attention of the Japanese media, which created unique narratives of sports and race in US-occupied Japan after World War II. Adopting an approach that integrates the archival and interpretive, Sasaki analyzes the ways in which sports, highlighted by the media, became a terrain where discourses of race, gender, and even disability were significantly modified. This book draws on both English and non-English language sources, including Japanese print media archives such as newspapers, magazines, posters, pamphlets, diaries, bulletins, and school textbooks.

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Chapter Three: The African American Race: Japan and the Black Power Salute



The African American Race

Japan and the Black Power Salute

In 1967, the United States was on fire. More often, the country was described as at war with itself. Vietnam was in ferment, there and here, but prominently there, in Asia somewhere in the area of Japan.

—Frank Murphy, The Last Protest (2006)

My story in this chapter begins with two images: the famous Black power salute photograph and an obscure Japanese cartoon of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games depicting the salute. In the November 1968 issue of the Gekkan Rikujo Kyogi, a monthly Japanese magazine for track and field fans, a Black and white caricature of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics appeared with a caption that read, “Yureugoku Estadio Olímpico” [Stormy Estadio Olímpico] (Fig. 3.1). Estadio Olímpico refers to the location of the track and field races at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. This caricature illustrated events and games being held inside the Olympic stadium while Mexican citizens outside the stadium threw stones toward armed police, a scene reminiscent of the student demonstration against the Olympics. Printed in black and white, the caricature also created a unique contrast between Black and white athletes, highlighting track and field athletes inside the amphitheater, especially the remarkable achievements by Black athletes. Although several Japanese athletes appear in this cartoon, this is a world constituted by Blacks and whites. Tellingly, at the center of this picture are...

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